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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Will ministers be able handle corruption in Mihin Lanka etc

There are bigger worries, both domestically and internationally, that are formidable challenges for him. In fact, last Wednesday he made a bold announcement at the weekly cabinet meeting to tackle governance issues within the government. Even if it was not formally announced by official spokesperson and Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, the move was welcomed by ministers. Noting that he has great respect for parliamentary traditions and being a democrat, he wanted ministers to study the latest report of the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) and initiate prompt action.
He said that officials named in the report for being responsible for irregularities, mismanagement or alleged corrupt activity should be summoned and questioned.

If anyone is found guilty of such activity, immediate action should be taken. Rajapaksa said he did not care whether the persons concerned worked for him or the government in 2005, or were supporters or not. The ministers should deal with them sternly. If the government had acted on the previous Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha COPE report, and then acted on the latest one, it could have killed two birds with one stone, he pointed out. The latest COPE report came under the chairmanship of D.E.W. Gunasekera. He led a 30-member team of both UPFA and opposition parliamentarians. He tabled the 176-page first report dated December 1, last year, in Parliament. That last report by COPE dealt with 152 state corporations, statutory bodies and other institutions.

Whilst ministers will no doubt be able to take to task errant officials, there is still an area where they will remain helpless. This is particularly in respect of ventures where the losses are infinitively high. An example, previously reported, is the gigantic waste of public funds on the fledgling Mihin Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd. The losses listed by COPE are as follows: (a) 2007/2008 – Rs 3,356 million, 2008/2009 – Rs 4,657 million and 2009/2010 – Rs 5,722 million. The COPE has noted that the current liability of the company is Rs 2.4 billion and pointed out that figures furnished by the company are different from those provided by the Auditor General’s Department. The company has also submitted insufficient evidence. The COPE has also observed that the company has not paid interest on a loan of Rs 500 million obtained from Airport and Aviation Services. It has also obtained a bank overdraft amounting to Rs. 381.7 million. The country’s national carrier, SriLankan Airlines had suffered a loss of Rs. 9.3 billion during the financial year 2008/2009. For the same period, a net loss of Rs. 352.89 million has been incurred on Fuel Risk Management Programme.

Another glaring example has been the shocking goings on at Sri Lanka Cricket, an issue which was also reported earlier. The shameful revelations include the loss of the compact disc (CD) containing accounts of the World Cup Cricket tournament, part of which were held in Sri Lanka in 2010. The following SLC shortcomings have been listed. (i) Total liabilities being Rs. 6.1 billion, with the total assets were only Rs. 3.1 billion. (ii) Requesting of a loan from the Bank of Ceylon. (iii) Income receivable from the International Cricket Conference (ICC) not yet being recovered. Payment of Rs. 650,000 has been made to some officers for “doing a good job”. The COPE observed that the initial estimate for construction of three playgrounds – Hambantota, Pallekele and Kettarama – had been Rs 3.3 billion where the total expenditure had been Rs. 7.18 billion.

Just two weeks ago, COPE Chairman and Minister D.E.W. Gunasekera told a group of ministry secretaries that there was an urgent need to enforce financial integrity and accountability in the state sector. As Chief Accounting Officers, he said, the secretaries to ministries should take responsibility for financial transactions. He made special mention of the financial irregularities at Sri Lanka Cricket. Gunasekera made it clear that the secretaries had the authority to seek the help of state investigating arms including the Police and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption on matters relating to financial irregularities.

Another area of difficulty for ministers would be dealing with colleagues and their deputies. In one instance, a former Minister had taken vehicle bearing number 65 – 4013 from the State Timber Corporation and had not returned it despite several reminders. In another, the COPE noted that an expenditure of Rs. 9,292,676 has been spent by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority to carry out repairs to the official quarters of a former deputy minister who had no connection with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. At the Telecom Regulatory Commission, a contract for Rs 22.2 million has been awarded to a private company only to prepare the Corporate Plan “which is behind quality”. The catalogue of irregular financial deals and how officials and politicians have helped them is voluminous
from ST political column


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