Empower oversight committees to deal with corruption, malpractices -
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
"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.