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DateLine Sunday, 3 June 2007

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Empower oversight committees to deal with corruption, malpractices - COPE chairman

The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) is not a white elephant and another report similar to other committee reports that are put under the carpet but has exposed corruption and malpractices of officials in public enterprises who will be taken to task, said Chairman COPE, Wijedasa Rajapaksa at a Key Person Forum organised by the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka on Wednesday.

Rajapaksa said corrupt practices in public enterprises run into Rs. 160 billion which is rampant among organisations that provide essential services to the public such as the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), State banks, BOI and the Water Board.

The CEB is in debt to the tune of Rs. 1.5 billion every month to other institutions and the Water Board loses Rs. 1 billion per month due to mismanagement of water. The Water Board spent Rs. 460 million to computerise bills to ensure accuracy but after 10 years has failed to rectify 10 percent of the issue.

Questions have been raised as to what steps would the Government take to penalise the culprits following the COPE Report that has exposed 26 public enterprises after the Committee was set up last August.

The participants questioned whether the powers vested on COPE are confined to mere investigation and reporting to the Parliament and not resorting to take legal measures against institutions and its culprits.

The Chairman said corruption and malpractices in enterprises and State institutions cannot be eradicated but steps could be taken to minimise them.

"The committee level powers are limited and there are no statutory provisions to empower them to independently and impartially probe into corrupt practices and mismanagement of institutions," Rajapaksa said.

In most developed countries oversight committees are statutorily empowered to investigate and take steps against public institutions that are corrupt and not functioning in the interest of the country.

Ministers are liable to appear before the Committee. In Australia, if ministers misuse or swindle public funds the government will slash the money allocated to the ministry and penalise all culprits.

There is a misconception among people that if a Minister does something good there is no harm in plundering public funds. The people are responsible to a great extent for corruption and malpractices among politicians because it is they who elected them.

According to the Constitution Government officials cannot spend even a cent without the consent of the Parliament but that does not happen in Sri Lanka. Public funds are often misused and wasted in a haphazard manner in most public enterprises, Rajapaksa said.

The country imports goods worth over Rs. 11,000 billion annually and a considerable number of items are for the industrial sector but how far they are used for industrial development is a question.

He said despite Lanka Marine Services (LMS) making monthly profits the institution was privatised and the shares of Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation were transferred to gain undue benefits.

There is no method to control and regulate the financial system. Politicians decide on preparing Budgets and they are bureaucratic Budgets. Often decisions are shortsighted since allocation of funds are done taking into account the money allocated in the previous year's Budget, the Chairman said.

In many developing countries the people are consulted and pre-Budget debates are held to ensure that the interest of the country is taken into consideration. In Sri Lanka the Treasury says it does not have funds for the projects approved after the Budget is passed.

The absence of the Rule of Law in the country is the main reason for corruption and malpractices. The Government has to strengthen oversight committees and empower them, he said.

lalin@sundayobserver.lk 

 

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