By Shamindra Ferdinando
Declaring that Muslim National Alliance (MNA) MP Ali Sabri Raheem couldn’t continue to be an MP after being fined for an abortive attempt to smuggle in Rs 78.2 mn worth of gold and smartphones, the March 12 Movement has appealed to the executive, legislature and the judiciary to sack the MP, who, they say, has brought Parliament into disrepute.
Civil society activist Rohana Hettiarachchi, on behalf of the March 12 Movement, told The Island that MP Raheem should be dealt with the way the late President J.R. Jayewardene had handled the case of Kandy District UNP MP Anura Daniel. Jayewardene had removed MP Daniel, who was nabbed for a similar smuggling offence, Hettiarachchi said, urging President Ranil Wickremesinghe to take the initiative.
Pointing out that Customs had fined MP Raheem Rs 7.4 mn over two weeks back, Hettiarachchi found fault with the President and Parliament for failing to take tangible measures in that regard. The All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), which fielded Raheem from the Puttalam District at the last parliamentary election (2020), couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for the MP’s despicable action, Hettiarachchi said.
Vanni District MP Rishad Bathiudeen, who entered Parliament on the SJB ticket, is the leader of ACMC.
Hettiarachchi, who is also the Executive Director of PAFFREL (People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections), said that the government conveniently forgot to investigate whether MP Raheem smuggled in gold, smartphones or any other items on earlier occasions, since he entered Parliament. Since 01 March this year MP Raheem had gone abroad (to Dubai) on five occasions before he was caught, Hettiarachchi said, finding fault with Parliament for not going the whole hog.
There should have been no holds barred investigation, Hettiarachchi pointed out and said Customs owed an explanation why a maximum fine was not imposed on the gold smuggling MP. Instead, the MP was fined Rs 7.4 mn and allowed to proceed to Parliament where he voted against a government motion.
Hettiarachchi said that the Customs response to the detection should be examined taking into consideration Customs (Amendment) Act (No 83 of 1988).
Responding to another query, Hettiarachchi said that in spite of leaders of several political parties requesting the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to take up this issue, the Speaker seemed to be determined not to get involved.
SJB MP Harshana Rajakaruna yesterday told The Island that though ACMC nominee Raheem entered Parliament on the MNA ticket, only President Ranil Wickremesinghe could compel the offending MP to quit Parliament. “That is the reality,” the Gampaha District MP said, pointing out that MP Raheem served the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa administration.
Recalling how MP Raheem voted for the 21 Amendment to the Constitution in October 2020, MP Rajakaruna said that the MP also voted for Ranil Wickremesinghe at the House vote to elect an MP to complete the remainder of ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term.
MP Raheem voting with the Opposition on the motion to remove Janaka Ratnayake as the Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission hadn’t changed the relationship between the two parties (the government and the MNA), MP Rajakaruna said. According to him, those responsible turned a blind eye to the incident.
Civil society member Hettiarachchi said that they sought information relating to MP Raheem’s case from Customs in terms of the RTI (Right to Information) Act as the crux of the matter is the imposition of a lower fine regardless of the provision to declare harshest fine in terms of Customs law.
Hettiarachchi raised the possibility of the government interfering with MP Raheem’s case as there couldn’t be any other reason for Customs to impose a relatively lower fine.
MP Raheem is on record as having claimed that Customs fined him Rs 7.4 mn whereas a close associate of him who smuggled the undisclosed gold and smartphones was fined just Rs 100,000.