Corruption monster gobbling all
How many more committees and reports do the President and his administration need to act on the unending corruption, gross fiscal indiscipline, maladministration, mismanagement and general incompetence at the 'heights of the economy'?
COPE -- the parliamentary oversight committee on public enterprises -- has released a startling report on the way it sees the State sector economy being run over the recent years.
Some of the 'discoveries' go back over a decade -- when the Central Bank, no less, granted finance companies funds that were never recovered.
These were reported ad nauseam in the media, but successive governments did little or nothing to remedy the situation. The official explanation was that the entire banking system would collapse if finance companies -- or even banks -- were allowed to fold up. By the same canny argument, one would suppose the entire prison system would collapse if those finance company directors were sent to jail for their misdemeanours.
The COPE report also has details of, for instance, the scandalous privatisation of the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation during the tenure of the Ranil Wickremesinghe Government, when the President was Chandrika Kumaratunga. The sale seems to have been effected by one then close to Mr. Wickremesinghe to one who was, and still is, close to Ms. Kumaratunga.
Only last year, the Auditor General made two block-buster revelations; one the massive VAT scam that showed that the Department of Inland Revenue was riddled with corruption; the other that bad accounting procedures and rank corruption in the State sector have cost the country a mind-boggling Rs. 389 billion, in just a few years.
The Auditor General's report appeared in the local media, yet Parliament -- the ultimate custodian of the People's Purse -- never bothered to investigate. The Parliamentary Opposition that is constitutionally expected to keep an eye on such matters, was too engrossed in what they called, 'reforming their party'.
The COPE report also contains more such damning evidence on the ransacking of State coffers, but the committee itself throws ice-water on it by saying that its report is only a preliminary finding and more sub-committees must probe still further.
For instance, there are stunning disclosures about the BOI -- the Board of Investment that is supposed to bring in foreign investment to this country. It is an open secret that the investment the BOI relies on today to show impressive figures is in numerous massage-parlours and high-rise apartments -- both of which have had a serious social and health impact on city-dwellers.
What the COPE says is that the Minister and Secretary of the Ministry have not exercised the expected fiscal control and that failure on their part to monitor the overall performances of the BOI "has greatly affected the economy of the country in adverse manner".
Surely this cannot be a preliminary finding, but a conclusion reached after probing the BOI?
What a perilous state this country has slipped into?
Unfortunately, we cannot expect much to come out of these reports. The people involved are too entrenched in the politics of the day, either financing senior politicians and backing their parties or involved directly in politics and sitting in Parliament.
We have always said the current political system breeds corruption and the biggest bribe-takers are the two main political parties -- the UNP and the SLFP.
At the end of the day, no one is held accountable. And then we all wonder why Sri Lanka is plummeting in the table of the world's poorest countries.
There are calls for oversight committees like COPE to make its hearings open to the media and the public, so that there will be some form of naming and shaming. But it seems our public servants and the politicians who back them are too thick-skinned for any of that.
Many years ago, the annual reports of public ventures were tabled in Parliament for debate as a legal requirement. These were often delayed, the report for 1975 for instance, being tabled in 1982. One Leader of the Opposition called this "a waste of time, a waste of energy, and a waste of tongue".
Remedial measures were taken. Private sector audit firms were called in to help audit these reports, but still the post-audit factor -- the implementation of the recommendations and the punishment of the offenders have gone by default.
President Rajapaksa's Government has not shown any mettle in tackling this monster. It may make some noises, but it is to the country's detriment that the COPE report will probably end up gathering dust just on top of the Auditor General's report.