For several years on the trot parliamentary watchdog, the Committee On Public Enterprises (COPE), has been exposing the staggering extent of losses as a result of the mismanagement, plunder and waste in several state-owned entities.
The second interim report of COPE, headed by former Senior Minister D E W Gunasekera, which covered the period from May 7 to September 26, 2014 revealed that three state-owned institutions, namely Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, National Paper Company and national carrier SriLankan have incurred a collective loss of Rs. 40.2 billion in the previous year.
In April this year COPE submitted its third report to Parliament which included the findings of investigations carried out from 9 October 2014 to 6 March 2015. According to the 87-page report the Paddy Marketing Board, Official Languages Commission, Rehabilitation of Persons, Properties and Institutions Authority, Ranaviru Seva Authority and Botanical Garden Trust Fund had failed to submit annual reports to Parliament and the Cabinet for three consecutive years. The Open University of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka Council for Agricultural Research Policy have earned unfavourable audit opinion repeatedly for four years running.
Since his appointment as Chairman of COPE in June 2010, Gunasekera’s committee has presented six reports, which included the three final reports and three interim reports, having completed investigations during the period from June 2010 until March this year.
Gunasekera during his five-year tenure when presenting his report had consistently demanded that COPE needed more muscle to carry out its work more effectively. In many instances while tabling reports the former COPE Chairman, the last of the old guard leftist heavyweights came out his red corner with a barrage of blows aimed at pummelling inept and corrupt politicians and their bureaucrats.
And characteristically, the old socialist warhorse never did rein in his galloping charge either, while reiterating that it was the duty of the administration to investigate all that had occurred in public enterprises and if the law was broken to prevent it from happening again.
Time and again his unfailing appeals that more muscle be provided to his committee to knock the stuffing out of the miscreants who administer them came to nothing. Indeed, Mr. Gunasekera and his team had been far from satisfied with simply scenting out irregularities and bringing them to the notice of their fellow lawmakers.
That is what had been expected of the custodians of the Assembly. To point out such deficiencies and allow the relevant authorities to take appropriate action. No one in his right mind can say that COPE has not played its role with admirable efficiency and forthrightness.
But the custodial working group had not unnaturally been frustrated that there had been no effectual follow- up action to bring the perpetrators of waste, corruption and mismanagement of state funds to book. So it had sought more teeth to summon both present and past heads of such institutions to be answerable to the panel. COPE had recommended amendments to the Standing Orders of Parliament to give it powers to make such summonses.
It is no secret that our nation’s legacy has been a huge, inefficient public sector and a heavily-taxed private sector with more and more burdens being foisted on the average consumer. There is an outlandish quality about such corrupt behaviour that has eluded understanding and seems to demand further inquiry, because of allegations and the grave nature of the premeditation of the acts themselves. If anything, it illustrates the loose financial and other controls that typify the world of our state enterprises. The Government must not be seen to display leniency and indecision in situations that require prompt, tough action.
COPE reports have consistently uncovered cases of gross mismanagement by public employees year after year, but these were regularly ignored after the appropriate shocked outrage had worn off. Damning reports by the Auditor General’s Department on the position of many cash-strapped state enterprises have been highlighted over the years
COPE has also called for greater scrutiny of the eligibility of persons appointed as heads of state corporations, departments and authorities saying that, they should not only be academically but also professionally qualified.
It is an open secret that many of these appointees largely comprise political flunkeys, bootlickers, hangers-on and camp-followers of our main and to a lesser degree the peripheral parties
This image of cronyism and nepotism has been endorsed by every successive government, and the amoral trend appears to be getting totally out of control. Because of their powerful patronage, they enjoy the political immunity to continue to indulge in plundering the State coffers with outrageous impunity.
It is time now to bring in new management, prune the plump payrolls, banish the ingratiating double-dealers and give the economy a hefty kick-start. But that would be a towering requirement. The administration seems frail and sick, its health deteriorating rapidly with the present political circus turning out to be too much, even for COPE to cope with.
Clearly, the panel of COPE under DEW Gunasekera has displayed commendable activist bent to their mission. The delegation would have certainly been able to continue its assignment far more effectively had it been empowered with more teeth to stop the rot with prosecutors’ zeal.
The people and pundits have sounded their doomsday warnings. Now it is left to the Government to make a clinical diagnosis of itself and some of its seemingly mentally crippled ministers and bureaucrats.