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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Massive fraud at Public Trustee Department

The Lanka Academic: 08/03/3006" By Munza Mushtaq in Colombo

The Committee appointed to investigate activities of the Public Trustee Department has recommended the removal of the Public Trustee and his two Deputies for allegedly committing fraudulent activities with monies taken from Trusts that are currently under the Department's purview.
"Public Trustee N.S.A.S. Seneviratne, and the two Deputies F.R. Fernandopulle and Tilak Dewagiri Bandara are not fit to hold office any longer," the Report stated.

The three member committee headed by retired High Court judge and Ex Governor of North Central province G.M.S. Samaraweera citing an example of a fraudulent activity, disclosed that the Samarakoon Trust, which is a very wealthy Trust has instructed the Public Trustee to use the monies for the benefit of poor children in a certain rural village, the Department has however utilized the Trust's monies to send an Officer to India on a 'scholarship' at a cost of Rs. 300,000.

The Public Trustee is also alleged to have sold properties belonging to this Trust and utilized the money derived from this sale to purchase two vehicles for the personal use of certain Department officers.

"This is a clear violation, what is more, the vehicles have been registered under the Public Trustee Department. But this is the money of a trust, and at least even if they utilized the money for other purposes the vehicles should have been registered as an asset of the Samarakoon trust and not under the Department," Mr. Samaraweera, the Chairman of the Committee told the Weekend Standard.

Meanwhile, even the Department's Finance Director has been allegedly found guilty of cheating. He is reported to have sold the coconuts from these estates at higher prices but shown the Department documents containing a lower price.

"We have recommended for his transfer, now its upto the authorities to take action," Mr. Samaraweera said.

The committee which included two other members K.E.S. Nanayakkara and T. Piyasoma took approximately ten months to prepare this report. The report was completed on January 31, 2006, and a copy of it was handed over to President Mahinda Rajapakse on February 27, for the execution of their recommendations.

"When we first began investigations, it was obvious to us that the entire Department was in disarray, and the beneficiaries of the Trusts too had suffered owing to discrepancies, because we learnt that the money from these trusts have been utilized for various other purposes other than the beneficiaries," Mr. Samaraweera noted.

The Chairman also pointed out that the Public Trustee is a department that caters to the masses to create trusts for the benefit of beneficiaries. "But the beneficiaries have not been able to get the real benefits from their trusts, and so our main aim was to go into this aspect as to why the intended intension of the public trustee department was not functioning properly," he noted.

The Committee has also pointed out that the Public Trustee Department has not been audited since 1976 till 2000 by the Auditor General's Department.

The Samarakoon Trust clearly states that a sum of Rs. 10,000 should be given to the Director, Education Ceylon to be held and invested by him and out of the income thereof award at his discretion periodically scholarships called the 'Samarakoon scholarship' to deserving poor students born at Wewalle and Dumbawila. However these monies were instead utilized by the Department to send one of their officers to India.

"This is a clear example where the Department has violated the law," the Retired High Court Judge pointed out.

The Department has also failed to maintain many tea and coconut estates which belonged to several trusts, therefore the income derived from these estates have also crumbled over a period of time as the productions from them have decreased.

He also emphasized that from the time he along with his two other Committee members set foot upon their task; they had to undergo numerous obstacles. "And the Public Trustees Department officers never cooperated with us," he highlighted.

The committee has also recommended a complete 'cleaning up' of the entire department and the implementation of a new structure. The new structure will comprise a head called the executive president who should be appointed by the Constitutional Council under the recommendation of the President of Sri Lanka

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