Did BASL misappropriate monies sent by JICA for anti-corruption programme?

22 May 2024 12:01 am – 0      – 284

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There are allegations that monies sent by JICA to implement a survey and conduct workshops to combat bribery and corruption in the country have been misappropriated

JICA acknowledges that it collaborated with the BASL to initiate a drive against bribery and corruption in Sri Lanka

BASL maintains that it is erroneous to say that JICA has given a grant or money to BASL to conduct a programme

 


What can the citizens of this country expect from the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), which plays a crucial role in administering justice and upholding the rule of law when its principal office bearers are allegedly involved in massive corruption? This seems to be the question raised by law abiding citizens of this country regarding the BASL.

Five members of the incumbent BASL are under the spotlight for allegedly syphoning money the Association received from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to implement a survey and conduct workshops to combat bribery and corruption in the country.
As per the information received, JICA had given Rs 21 million to the BASL for this purpose. It is alleged that these five members have pocketed out Rs.19 million out of the total monies the BASL had received.

As per the BASL Financial Report April 2024- a copy of which this newspaper is in possession of- BASL President Kaushalya Navaratne PC has received Rs.6 million while Deputy President Nalinda Indatissa PC has received Rs. 3 million. But when this issue was taken up on May 11, at the Organization of Professional Association (OPA), it was revealed that both Navaratne and Indatissa had ‘donated’ Rs.6 million and Rs 3 million respectively a few days before to the BASL for an undisclosed purpose.

“As a member of the Bar Council, this is the first time I came to know that these two PCs, have made such a large donation towards the BASL. They should tell us as for what purpose this money was given? This act shows that they got money from this project. This is a bad precedent. People of this country keep faith on the BASL’s elected office bearers to stand by them, but if they are engaged in bribery or corruption who can take action against them,” a Bar Council member said on strict condition of anonymity.

In order to obtain comments regarding the allegations levelled against these officials this newspaper send text messages to President Kaushalya Nawaratne PC, Deputy President Nalinda Indatissa PC and former Deputy President Shavindra Fernando PC. Other than the incumbent President, the other two officials had not responded to the message this newspaper sent, until the paper went for publication.

 

BASL President Navaratne PC said that it is erroneous to say that JICA has given a grant or money to BASL to conduct a programme, but it’s a payment channeled to the BASL to be paid to the team members for their professional services in addition to the payment made to the BASL by JICA.
“Unfortunately people with ulterior motives have spread the false news. This has damaged the reputation of the BASL and the entire legal fraternity. Thus, depending on the Executive Committee decision, steps would be taken,” said Navaratne PC.

Meanwhile, responding to an email this newspaper had sent to JICA Colombo Office to find out how much they released to the BASL and for what purpose, Senior Representative for JICA in Sri Lanka Office Ms. Ide Yuri sent their response by email dated May 14 which states as follows: ‘Dear Ms. Nirmala Kannangara, Thank you for your inquiry. Please kindly be advised that JICA recently conducted a survey and some workshops on anti-corruption issues which went on very successfully. We had a contract with BASL to implement that survey and workshops. The contract and all payments to BASL were completed based on JICA’s procurement rules. We are not in a position to explain what happened at BASL regarding the contract with us’.

‘Please contact BASL if you need more information. We do appreciate your understanding. Kind regards, Ms Ide Yuri, Senior Representative, Sri Lanka Office JIC

Meanwhile, JICA has also sent a link to the newspaper, regarding this project which states that JICA and BASL collaborated in the drive against bribery and corruption in Sri Lanka.

It further states, ‘As a key step of JICA’s initiative in supporting the Sri Lankan authorities to combat bribery and corruption, a series of introductory workshops were conducted between the 19th and 28th February, for the officers of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) as well as other key actors of the justice system.
‘The Workshops introduced the topics of Whistleblower Protection, Deferred Prosecution Agreements and Anti Money Laundering measures which come under the purview of the CIABOC through the new Anti-Corruption Act, No. 9 of 2023, which came into operation in September 2023.

‘The Act significantly widens the scope, authority and responsibility of CIABOC, and provides it with instruments some of which no other law enforcement agency possesses. The Workshops were intended to support CIABOC and other stakeholders in effective use and implementation of these provisions.
‘The Workshops were organized by JICA in collaboration with the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL). The Workshops brought together eminent Sri Lankan legal experts who were joined by international experts from Japan, The United States Department of Justice, FBI – Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Crime Agency and the Asia Pacific Group for Anti Money Laundering, enabling the participants to gain from a wide array of insight and experience’

Meanwhile, as a member of the Fourth Estate, whose duty is to support good governance, transparency and rule of law, this newspaper sent a letter to the office of Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya PC, to know what meaningful action his office will take regarding such a heinous conduct by BASL officials; individuals who are supposed to belong to the esteemed legal profession.

Excerpts of the letter sent by this writer to the Chief Justice’s office state, ‘Your Lordship, I am Nirmala Kannangara, Editor Investigations, Daily Mirror Newspaper.
‘I am writing this letter to bring to Your Lordship’s kind notice of a matter in which the principal office bearers of the BASL, the apex body of the legal profession which is also vested with power of disciplinary control of Attorneys at Law, has misappropriated millions of rupees given by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
‘I have been writing many reports on BASL over the past several decades; many of which were complimentary. During the last few decades BASL has become a role model in pinpointing and acting against corruptions and irregularities of the consecutive regimes from time to time which is very encouraging.

‘But, today, I am dismayed and greatly purported of certain revelations that I have come across of recent happening at the BASL involving its very top office hierarchies..
‘It has become known that JICA has funded Rs.21 million to BASL for a certain anti-corruption project that is supposed to have been formulated by the latter

 

Unfortunately people with ulterior motives have spread the false news. This has damaged the reputation of the BASL and the entire legal fraternity. Thus, depending on the Executive Committee decision, steps would be taken
– BASL President Navaratne PC

 

‘It is not known, whether this project had been approved by the Bar Council. It appears that both President and the Deputy President of the BASL have involved themselves as resource personnel of this project, including Rashmi Indatissa (niece of the Deputy President) and Nuwan D’ Alwis (son of the incumbent President’s senior). Shavindra Fernando (former Deputy President) has also been named in this panel comprising resource personnel.
‘It has become known that neither the Executive Committee nor the Bar Council has approved these payments of approximately Rs. 19 million paid to these five individuals.

‘According to JICA, they had a contract with BASL to implement a survey and conduct workshops on anti-corruption issues in the country and all payments to BASL have been completed based on JICA’s procurement rules. It has been reflected in the BASL accounts and I have attached copies of the accounts for your perusal to show how money has been paid to President Kaushalya Nawaratne PC and Deputy President Nalinda Indatissa PC; which amount to a staggering Rs.6 million and Rs.3 million respectively from the funds they received from JICA.
‘It has shocked my conscious to learn of such a fraud, as the Bar Association membership has kept total trust on the elected principal office bearers to perform an honourable service  with no remuneration. It has also become known that Rashmi Indatissa too has been a ‘beneficiary’ in this episode obtaining Rs.4 million payment while Shavindra Fernando and Nuwan de Alwis, received Rs.4 million and Rs.3 million respectively..

‘Upon realizing this, it become the focal point at the Executive Committee meeting of the BASL held on Saturday May 11, at the OPA. It was revealed at that stage that both the President and the Deputy President have made donations to the BASL to the tune of Rs.6 million and Rs.3 million respectively, few days after they received the money from the BASL

‘Hence, they are liable for prosecution under the law of the country, I am bringing this to Your Lordship’s notice in order to examine the fraudulent conduct of these Attorneys –at-Law and to inquire and deal with them on professional turpitude and or misconduct accordingly..

‘I am making this complaint to Your Lordship, as the Editor Investigations of Daily Mirror Newspaper and as a member of the Fourth Estate whose duty is to support good governance, transparency and rule of law
‘It is my duty individually to bring such matters to the relevant authority seeking meaningful action to be taken on such heinous conduct of people who are supposed to have belonged to this esteemed profession’.
Be that as it may, it is alleged that this issue has been brought to the notice at the Ex.Co. Meeting held on May 11, 2024 at the OPA.

“If this was not brought up to the notice of the ExCo members by the newly appointed Secretary, this fraud would have gone unnoticed and would have been easily swept under the carpet. Although initially it was not revealed how much money Shavindra Fernando PC and Nuwan de Alwis syphoned, we came to know that they have obtained Rs.4 million and Rs.3 million respectively all amounting to Rs.19 million in between five of them. Why these five members didn’t obtained prior approval from the ExCo and Bar Council before the money was taken has raised eyebrows among our membership. The Bar Association membership perform an honourable service with no remuneration.  If they are now claiming that this money was given to them, they would have clearly inform the ExCo and Bar Council members about the money they received from JICA. We are going to take up this issue at the next ExCo meeting on May 25th,” sources said on strict condition of anonymity.

The sources further said that it is up to the law enforcement authorities to take action against these five BASL members for committing the offences of criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of funds, as they are liable for prosecution under the law of the country.

 

BASL President et-al in hot water

At the Bar Council meeting held on May 18 (Saturday), this matter had been discussed for more than three hours. At this meeting it was proposed and accepted to appoint a Five Member expertise panel comprising Dr. Kanag Isvaran PC, Dr. Faisz Musthapha PC, Rienzie Arsekuleratne PC, Ikram Mohomed PC and Geoff Alagaratnam PC to inquire into the professional propriety of getting paid out JICA grant and to report it to the Bar Council.

Generally it is a three member panel that is appointed to inquire on such disciplinary matters of Attorneys at Law. However in this instance, it was unanimously decided upon to appoint a five member panel to look into the professional conduct of those who were resource personnel,” Bar Council member said.
Meanwhile Senior Attorney, Upali Gooneratne was appointed as Acting President of the BASL while Kaushalya Navaratne PC was asked to desist from making personal / public statements until the the inquiry concludes.

“The Bar Council rejected the April accounts of the BASL unanimously. It called upon all those who received monies totaling Rs. 19 Million to return them voluntarily to the BASL and not as donations,” sources added.

Meanwhile, it came to light at this meeting how an email has been sent on Proposal for Assignment to Navaratne’s personal address by Namal Ralapanawa of JICA on November 21, 2023, requesting to send the ‘BASL Team’ CVs on their experience in training.

“When there are very senior Attorneys in the Bar Council who had worked as Director Generals of the Bribery Commission, what was the methodology adopted by the President to select himself, the Deputy President, former Deputy President and two very junior attorneys for this training programme? Was it ethical for Navaratne to select himself and the others when there are more than two former Bribery Commission DGs in the Bar Council? When there is a complaint against any Attorney/s, it is the BASL that conducts the inquiry and sends the report to the Supreme Court for further action. But since the top notch of the BASL is involved in this fraud, who is going to hold an inquiry against them” sources said.

According to the sources, the JICA / BASL agreements has been signed in between last October and November 2023 during which several ExCo and Bar Council meetings were held; although these were not brought to their notice.

Upali Gunaratne, speaking from the chair as the pro tem President, commented that in other countries when such conduct has revealed members concerned have even been removed from the Apex body handing discipline of the Lawyers.

“When a member needs a very nominal amount of money from the benevolent fund, permission has to be taken either from the ExCo or the Bar Council. When funds were dispersed amounting to millions of rupees to these five members, why wasn’t the permission of the same ExCo or the Bar Council requested? This has to be investigated and they should be removed from serving as Attorneys in future,” sources claimed.

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