COPE Report to be tabled in Parliament soon
Pic: Susantha Wijegunasekera
The Chairman of Parliamentary Watchdog, the Committee on Public
Enterprises (COPE), Senior Minister D.E.W. Gunasekera said the report
this time around has made fundamental recommendations to push
institutions for transparency and financial accountability.
He said the committee is working overtime to finalise the
much-awaited report and to table it in Parliament by April end.“We have
completed scrutinizing all 235 institutions. We are in the last lap and
in the process of writing the report.”
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: When will the COPE report be submitted to Parliament?
A: We are preparing it now, may be by the end of April.
Q: How would you describe the work that has already been completed?
A: I have submitted an interim report to Parliament in October last
year. We listed some thirty odd institutions in the report. But now we
have completed scrutinising 235 institutions. We are in the last lap of
writing the report. We summoned entire boards of institutions and
officials in the course of our scrutiny into their internal affairs.
There will be another round of meetings with COPE members to finalize
the report before tabling it in Parliament.
Q: When the report was submitted the last time, I remember you called
for more powers for COPE to question ex-heads of State run institutions.
Did you get this authority this time?
A: There was no need, because there were no immediate changes in top
positions of institutions under scrutiny. Last time, by June 2010 they
had not prepared the financial statements and annual reports, in some
cases they had not done it for the past ten years. That is why we had to
summon these previous people. Now the statements are in order, all
records are up to date, up to 2011 the institutions have submitted
reports to Cabinet and Parliament. There was no need to call the former
Q: Are there any changes in the new COPE report or is it similar to
the previous one?
A: This time we devoted a lot of time to gauge performance. Rather
than going through the financial aspects, we looked into the overall
picture. Generally we go through the Auditor General’s report to see
where discrepancies were. But this time we took a decision to
concentrate more on performance. That is why we undertook visits to
We visited the Sri Jayawardenapura Hospital in Kotte about two months
ago. There were many problems there. We listened to their grievances and
made certain recommendations and are now happy to see the those
recommendations being implemented. The Treasury and the Ministry of
Health took into consideration recommendations and agreed to release
There was a shortage of doctors, we intervened to facilitate
obtaining the services of doctors from the Health Ministry pool. Earlier
the practice was to advertise for new placements when a vacancy was
created, but this was a time consuming process.
Another issue was that if specialist doctors did private practice in
Sri Jayawardenapura 10 percent of their salary was deducted, but if they
engadge in private practice in private hospitals there is no salary
deduction. As a result all specialist doctors were about to leave the
hospital. We recommended that this practice should be done away with, so
that the hospital will retain the services of specialists.
There are 1,100 beds in the hospital and the occupancy rate was only
50 percent. A hospital in the heart of Colombo, where 50 percent of beds
were empty, we knew there was something wrong. That was the reason why
COPE members decided to visit the hospital. Altogether about ten
members, Government as well as from the Opposition visited the hospital.
We spoke to the management and the doctors and made on the spot
This is a fee-levying hospital subsidised by the Government since it
caters mostly to middle income State workers. We knew it deserved more
assistance from the Government. The Health Ministry Secretary has
informed us that there is improvement following our visit.
COPE has powers to inspect institutions. We want to undertake such
visits more often in the future.
Q: Will the report be the same in structure?
A: No. There are fundamental changes this time around. There will be
a number of vital recommendations.
We are not satisfied with the standard of accounting and auditing in
the State sector.
It urgently needs to be brought up to international standards.
Otherwise funding institutions like the World Bank and IMF will not
assist Sri Lanka in the future.
We must attract professional accountants to the State sector with
higher salaries. Remuneration for a qualified accountant is way below in
the State sector.
The gap between the State and private sector is about 70 percent, we
have to narrow the gap.
One of the recommendations is the introduction of proper cost
accounting in the State sector. We have to calculate professionally and
see whether they are really running at a loss. The burden is passed on
to the consumer without proper cost accounting of the losses incurred.
Smaller institutions need not worry, but bigger institutions must
introduce advanced methods of cost accounting. Losses incurred by the
CPC cannot accounted. The CPC is a huge institution, we don’t know at
which point they are incurring losses, you produce energy, you supply
it, distribute it, market it. we must know where the greater portion of
losses is incurred at which point this happens needs to be checked. What
they give now is the overall picture, but that is not enough. If there
is a proper cost accounting system we can pin point the losses and give
Q: In your last report you said there were a total of 40 loss making
institutions including the CPC, Mihin Air, Ceylon Shipping Corporation
and the Ports Authority. Have they implemented the last recommendations
A: I can say that they have improved. There is a list of loss making
and profit making institutions. It will also show that institutions
recorded increased losses or increased profit since our last report. The
COPE report this time will be an analytical report. We have classified
institutions, as service-oriented, regulatory bodies and profit
oriented. For instance the University Grants Commission is a regulatory
body whereas the CEB is a profit oriented enterprise.
The Official Languages Commission is a service-oriented institution
and our job is to ascertain if State allocations are spent appropriately
and their performance is satisfactory.We cannot say all 235 State
institutions are running at a loss when some are not really intended to
Q: Why do you think that COPE should be there in Parliament?
A: As far as finances are concerned only Parliament is responsible to
the people. Neither the Executive nor the Judiciary or the President is
responsible to the people. It is the legislature which is responsible
for every cent that is being spent. Financial control lies with the
Legislature, COPE is carrying out this scrutiny on behalf of the
Q: Is COPE adequately facilitated for the role that they are expected
A: We have about 11-12 officials in COPE. It has become a full time
job. In the Public Accounts Committee, Only Dr. Sarath Amunugama and I
am there. Dr. Amunugama is dealing with Ministries and Departments and I
cover the rest. The facilities are not adequate, but the work is carried
out as expected. We used to sit on non sitting days to clear the
Q: Tamil Nadu State assembly passed a resolution demanding the Centre
to move a resolution in the UN Security Council against Sri Lanka. Their
demands include Indian economic embargoes and pushing for a referendum
for a separate Tamil Eelam?
A: Tamil Eelam is the demand of the LTTE. From the time of
independence, we did not have direct relations with any State Government
in India. We dealt with only the Central Government. But so long as the
Governing Congress Party is also the governing party of the State, there
were no problems. From 1967, Tamil Nadu is being governed by regional
parties. They change hands between DMK or AIADMK, but till the end of
the war on neither the terrorism, DMK or the AIADMK ever interfered with
our affairs. They may have had soft corner for LTTE but after Rajiv
Gandhi assassination the sentiments turned.
After a lapse of four years there has been a marked shift in their
stance. That is strange. In 1996, we won the World Cup for cricket.
There was no issue.My personal feeling is that the DMK and AIADMK, is
playing a political game in the wake of the impending Lok Sabha
elections, not that they have a soft corner for Lankan Tamils.
‘The Hindu’ quotes that the PMK party says that the main slogan in
the next Lok Sabha election is going to be the Sri Lankan issue. They
are competing with each other to woo Tamil voters, and to show that
Tamil people, ‘we are pro-LTTE than the DMK’. This is a domestic issue
for the Indians. We must not over react to these domestic political
compulsions. We must solve this problem diplomatically there is no other
way. Unfortunately, a Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu has never visited Sri
Lanka. Jaffna and Tamil Nadu are just 20 miles apart. Even a head of
State from Sri Lanka has never visited Tamil Nadu.
We have restricted relations with the Central Government and with the
Nehru family or the Gandhi family. But it’s time to think afresh. We
must take our foreign relations to new levels. We must establish
relations with State governments, at government level, religious
leaders, political level and with artistes. There is a wide gap between
thepeople of the two countries and this has given room for petty issues
to be raised, at the cost of both countries.