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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Metamorphosis Of A “Corrupt” Regime

“The Committee (COPE) reports to the Parliament and the recommendations contained in their reports are deemed to be directives to the respective Corporations or Statutory Boards for due compliance.”
(Official web site of parliament)
 In Sri Lanka, where politicians are the most stupidly superstitious, number “13”, which is not used in any hotel for any room or floor and is avoided by many when registering their vehicles, Senior Minister Dew Gunasekera was proposed to chair the Committee on Public Enterprises as the 13th Chairman of the COPE, since its inception. Claiming to be a “Marxist”, Minister Gunasekera would not have thought of “13” as a bad number. Nor would most heads of those 229 State owned enterprises. COPE recommendations have not been of any importance in the past, after they are tabled in parliament and after the media loses its partial interest, in a week or two.

 Yet its being written about here and its present Chairman Minister Gunasekera, was quoted as wanting more teeth for COPE, to summon former heads of State enterprises, listed among the 22 recommendations. Even in the past, then COPE Chairmen had asked for more teeth and had recommended many solutions to reduce corruption and waste. Minister Seneviratne as Chairman COPE, recommended in 2009, that all State Enterprises should recruit qualified personnel as Internal Auditors and vacancies in the Internal Audit staff should not be allowed to stay vacant. That has not changed the situation. No State enterprise takes internal audits seriously. Internal Audit unit in all State enterprises is the most neglected and is manned by very docile clerks. Not by a qualified Accountant.

 The COPE report presented under the Chairmanship of MP Wijedasa Rajapaksa that made quite a noise on corruption, only helped the Chairman bolster his image. None who were taken to task in the findings were ever investigated upon or publicly censured. Nor was the Opposition, both the UNP and the JVP, consistent in asking for recommendations of that COPE report to be made effective.

 Now the present COPE chairman, Minister Gunasekera says, Secretaries to Ministries as Chief Accounting Officers should take the blame for most losses and corruption in State enterprises that come under their ministries. He is perfectly right on that. He was quoted saying that some Secretaries don’t even respond to audit queries by the Auditor General. That leaves a very serious question. Has the COPE listed those ministry Secretaries who have not responded to audit queries ? Listed those the COPE would hold as responsible for losses and corruption ?

 There is also the observation that most losses are due to bad management and that it is due to appointment of unsuitable, unqualified persons to head those State enterprises. Again, none would say Minister Gunasekara or the COPE is wrong on that. Again the issue is, has the COPE recommended that they should not be re appointed, for which they have to be named ?

 Will the Opposition ask COPE to table all such lists of names ? That of Secretaries who should be held responsible for losses and corruption, and of persons who should be blacklisted and not appointed hereafter to any State enterprise ? Will the OPA ask for a list of names and press for disciplinary action for breach of professionalism, if there are any who are members of a professional organisation ? Will members of the Corporate world expel from their governing boards or from any responsible position, if any one so named is in their company board or in a responsible position ?

 Sadly, none of it would ever happen in this “Land of the Gauthama Buddha”. Not even the “Most Reverend” Buddhist Monks who speak and advice on all “governance issues”, would ask for names of those responsible for losses in the 40 enterprises listed so, or for the Secretaries under whose ministries they are.

 No. The COPE and its Chairman don’t have to go that far with naming names. There is no perceived social demand for such action. No serious “civic sense” in our society to know who is wasting “our money” and  robbing “our people”. That reflects very much in how Sri Lanka jumped 03 notches up in the corruption table from previous year’s 91 to the present 88 as ranked on social perception by the Transparency International.
 Minister Gunasekera can, for his own guilt in being with this Rajapaksa regime promise scrutiny of all public enterprises every quarter year and report to parliament as Chairman, COPE. He knows too well too, that for these parliamentarians, discussing such reports are not even a pastime hobby. Minister Gunasekera is perhaps the 06th COPE Chairman, since the Rajapaksas took control of this UPFA government. Yet his COPE ended up with 40 bankrupt enterprises, scrutinising some 229 enterprises and telling the media, running some of them is not worth.  That’s what all COPE reports and recommendations have left, being paid by public money, for all sittings.

 This regime is not for cleaning up dirt, but for piling them up, for personal benefit. The COPE would remain a procedural matter.

 The “civilian slip” in war

 Outside the parliament, left to a few individuals who now control the most corrupt regime since independence with a “tailor made dynasty script”, proposing Rajapaksa as the “King of this Asian Wonder” on Jackson Anthony’s fictionally sensuous advice, the world is now told, the patriotic war against Tamil separatists, wasn’t that war they claimed a “zero civilian casualty war”.

After all these years, after their emotive and racist campaign in establishing the Rajapaksa regime and having branded every person who opted to see the war campaign differently as a “Traitor, an Eelamist informer, or as a Tamil Tiger accomplice”, the JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe now tells BBC Sandeshaya, “Every war is a dirty war. The war is the worst thing in the world” and wants a Sri Lankan probe on “war crimes”.

This shift in JVP politics comes in the wake of the Rajapaksas trying to wriggle themselves out of their “humanitarian operation” lingo. Taken by sheer surprise  on how evidence on military excesses, on civilian casualties and government implications on crimes against humanity was and is being collected by the Tamil Diasspora, against a war the Rajapaksas made certain would be a “war without witnesses”, the Defence Ministry started pulling back on their most sanctimonious statements about the war.
 In July this year, the Defence Ministry, claiming to disprove accusations made by the British “Channel 4” production, launched its own comprehensive official statement, “Humanitarian Operation; Factual Analysis / July 2006 – May 2009”. For the first time after 02 years and 02 months since concluding the war, the Defence Ministry publicly accepted, this was no “zero civilian casualty” war. It said, “Despite the clear intent of the Government of Sri Lanka and the numerous precautions taken, it was impossible in a battle of this magnitude, against a ruthless opponent actively endangering civilians, for civilian casualties to be avoided.” [page 03]

 Neither the JVP now outside the government, nor the still piggy backing Champika’s JHU offered to comment on that. Nevertheless, the story making rounds in Colombo gossip circles, said the JHU is not happy with Gotabhaya taking control of most political issues they sacrificed in socialising by taking to the people. The “zero civilian casualty” issue perhaps was one, the JHU wished to keep strictly within the earlier script, while they sent signals to Delhi political decision makers, for a compromise on the 13 Amendment. A political manoeuvre to weaken Gotabhaya’s position.

 Over a week ago on 24 November, Gotabhaya made another move, addressing a high profile, select gathering at the Kadirgamar Institute for International Studies by saying, the government is officially counting the war deaths. Explaining the census that he said is in its final stage, Gotabhaya said, there are 04 categories of deaths being counted. The last of the 04, is on deaths due to military action. “It is only for the deaths of people in this last category that the Sri Lankan military can bear any responsibility” he said.

 While claiming the numbers are too small for absurd allegations on “genocide and war crime” he had his own reason for such deaths. Gotabhaya was careful with his words, saying, “….. the Sri Lankan military had to be expanded at a rapid pace. In the circumstances, it is possible that a few individuals who lacked the capacity to withstand the pressures of warfare with the required composure may have been recruited. This is not a very unusual thing in warfare, and there have been unfortunate examples of excesses by individuals in each and every war that has been fought, whether in the World Wars, Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq.”

So that was how, the only official who maintains complete authority in deciding how the war should be interpreted, now explains “civilian deaths due to military action”. What is not told is Gotabhaya’s bench mark for a big enough number to allow war crimes allegations. For him the numbers the Census & Statistics Dept. is said to be collating, could be too small for such allegations. But, it would not be the case, for those family survivors of the victims.

 In such  a major political turnaround in Colombo, what is more important is the distancing of Sinhala political extremists from the regime. The JHU and Weerawansa of JVP time, were the Sinhala campaigners for the Rajapaksa regime. It was they who led the racist assaults in all TV talk shows, in public meetings and in the media. The left over JVP campaigners for the war has also taken a “war is not ours” position, showing the more opinionated Sinhala voter base and their funding source, the Sinhala business community, is now being sidelined by the Rajapaksas. Their displeasure and resentment were not camouflaged, when they missed out on voting for the Expropriation Bill and talked critically about the Southern Expressway. Nor did the Rajapaksas decide to call for any explanations.

 This now seems a “parting of ways” for the Rajapaksas to compromise on economic support from the West that would step in, given an excuse. For there is always the talk of China at the door step of the Rajapaksas, valid or not. For the Rajapaksas, its now a struggle to survive within a neo liberal economy, that the famous Chicago gangster Al Capone said, “Capitalism is the legitimate racket of the Rulers”.  Rajapaksas are the Rulers here, and for some time.

 Then Chairman of COPE had stated in parliament, “I am proposing to the Committee on Standing Orders that when Standing Orders are amended, any company which has at least 15% of its shares held by the General Treasury, or, any enterprise owned by the government, should be brought under the purview of the COPA and COPE.” (12 January, 2007)

(By Kusal Perera – Sunday Leader)


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