By Shamindra Ferdinando
Business tycoon Harry Jayawardena, now under heavy fire over alleged irregularities in the crisis hit Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) yesterday called for an investigation into all transactions conducted during his tenure as the Chairman of the loss making public enterprise.
Now that Petroleum Minister Susil Premjayanth had requested the Auditor General to conduct a probe into all spot purchases made during Aug 1, 2011 to July 31, 2012 following the controversy over the import of a stock of substandard diesel from Vitol Group of Companies in last month, it would be necessary to investigate all transactions, the former CPC Chairman said, urging Auditor General to expand the scope of the inquiry.
Jayawardena quit as CPC Chairman on Jan 12, 2012 citing personal reasons.
Accusing Minister Premjayanth and senior officials at the Petroleum Ministry as well as the CPC of a grand cover-up, the businessman said that he welcomed a thorough inquiry. "Let the AG expose all those involved in irregular transactions regardless of their social standing," Jayawardena told The Island in an exclusive interview yesterday.
An irate Jayawardena said that those who made unsubstantiated allegations should be prepared to face the consequences. Asked whether he could furnish any documentary evidence to identify those involved in the decision making process as regards petroleum imports, particularly the re-admission of Vitol Group of Companies, which had once been blacklisted, Jayawardena insisted that he didn’t initiate the move to sanitize the blacklisted company. "In fact, I never acted on my own, though the company repeatedly pushed for their readmission. For over one year, the company tried to get back into our list of suppliers. Having failed to convince me, the company wrote to Minister Premjayanth, who decided to explore the possibility of accommodating the blacklisted company. Relevant letters can be found at Petroleum ministry and CPC," Jayawardena said.
Asked whether he could explain the events leading to the re-admission of the blacklisted company, Jayawardena said that he had received instructions from the then Petroleum Secretary to inquire into the possibility of accommodating Vitol. The Secretary had intervened after Vitol made representations to Minister Premjayanth, Jayawardena said, adding that the board had unanimously decided to impose a fine of $ 175,000 and include Vitol in the list of suppliers pending approval by the Cabinet-appointed Tender Board.
The Petroleum Ministry and the CPC have accused Jayawardena of manipulating internal procedures in favour of Vitol Group of Companies. Jayawardena came under a sustained attack last Monday (Aug 6) on a live political programme on Rupavahini.
A smiling Jayawardene said those targeting him over Vitol deal had forgotten that at the time he took over as Chairman of the CPC, Vitol had been blacklisted by the Treasury probably in consultation with the Attorney General’s Department. Asked why the Treasury had to interfere in the import of petroleum products, Jayawardena said that the Treasury had moved in after the mega crisis caused by the import of a stock of contaminated petrol in June 2011. Jayawardene said: "The Treasury remained in charge of the process until I took over. The bottom line is that CPC Chairman was nothing but a puppet as far as the import of petroleum products is concerned. The final authorization is with the Cabinet-Appointed Tender Board. That is a fact."
Jayawardene lashed out at his critics for being ungrateful to Vitol whose management had gone to the extent of providing GoSL with four month long credit facilities. He challenged the CPC and the Petroleum Ministry to dispute any of his claims as regards import of petroleum products, re-admission of Vitol group of companies or provision of the credit facilities. He recalled how several other suppliers had got into trouble over the supply of low quality petroleum products. It would be also pertinent to mention how a major supplier had pulled out of the tender process as it didn’t want to provide credit facilities, he said.
Asked whether re-admission of companies found guilty of violation of tender procedures, supply of low quality petroleum products etc was a regular feature or whether Vitol had been given preferential treatment, Jayawardena said that there had been many re-admissions over the years. An inquiry would reveal the current state of affairs and expose those playing politics with national economy, he said.