By Rusiripala Tennakoon –
Sri Lanka parliament COPE committee is a strange body. Bizarre in its objectives as well as the fate of its determinations. The activities and findings of the COPE have been subjected to public criticism from over a long period of time. This situation developed into a controversial stage due to a recent decision taken to open its proceedings live to the media both electronic and print. But the question that remains to be answered is whether this opening has delivered any tangible or meaningful outcome to the many awesome revelations made there, other than serving as a mere media show to appease the masses.
From time to time due to the appointment of personalities of different attitudes, cultures and commitments the nature of the COPE outlook has taken contrasting positions. They have been able to introduce concepts and reveal findings making it possible for the parliaments to take, if they are so interested, further action in pursuing the recommendations made. But what we have observed so far is pathetic to note, in that we have never seen any actions being taken initiated by the parliament in respect of the COPE findings despite such being tabled at the Parliament in the form of reports. This happens because it is the Government of the day that finally determines whether the findings will have to be followed up for rectifications or to take action against any perpetrations that warrant action.
The legal and the constitutional position that underlines the COPE is as follows;
“The Committee on Public Enterprises, which consists of 31 Members reflecting the party composition in the House, is established under the Standing Order 126 at the beginning of each Parliamentary Session and the Chairman is elected by the Members of the Committee at its first session. Its quorum is four.
The duty of the Committee is to report to Parliament on accounts examined, budgets and estimates, financial procedures, performance and management of Corporations and other Government Business Undertakings.
The accounts of these organizations are audited by the Auditor-General and form the basis of the investigations of the Committee. It has the power to summon the relevant officials and such other people as it thinks fit to obtain evidence and call for documents. The Committee reports to the Parliament and the recommendations contained in their reports are deemed to be directives to the respective Corporations or Statutory Boards for due compliance.”
In a hypothetical sense this constitutional frame work covers an important ambit essential for the well being of the GOBEs, SOEs which have become the topics of major concern these days in the context of the highly critical status of the economy and the crisis the country is facing. Fuel, Power Or Food products (imports & exports) are the main causes of the economic debacle and all are controlled by the State Sector. We have seen several reports, findings and revelations highlighting shortfalls in the performance, management and financial irregularities that underpin those. This leads to the stark truth of the responsibility falling on the legislators to take corrective steps on all such matters. That means legal scholars, economists, and policymakers must come together to find new ways to uncover, prohibit, and prosecute the collusive rules that underpin this behavior.
Today when we talk about the ailing economy, we invariably will have to acknowledge that the GOBEs SOEs and the Corporations come into the equation very prominently. This is despite the fact that they have been subject to constant audit verifications and the reports have been examined by the COPE and subsequently tabled for perusal by the legislators. The logical conclusion we can come to in this regard is that it is the legislators who have allowed this state of affairs to continue due to their dereliction of the responsibilities vested in them by the voting public. If necessary, corrective and punitive actions were taken the repetition of gross violations year after year by the same bodies would not have happened. So the ruination of our economy is by no one else but the legislators themselves. Be it the Governing side or the vociferous opposition making hues and cries making mountains out of molehills they are equally responsible for putting the country into this position.
Many examples of the shocking revelations made at the COPE could be cited. But it would suffice to state that they have all fallen over the deaf years of all parliamentarians in this country. We have not seen or heard any one demanding debates or discussions highlighted in the COPE reports. So the only conclusion we can come to is that the whole operation is a farce and an eyewash jointly shared by all in the parliament. We have witnessed many queer happenings like prorogations, dissolutions of the sessions when faced by extremely difficult and embarrassing situations.
One of the most important areas subject to audit verifications is the financial operations part of any institution. CEB, CPC, Sri Lankan and Paddy marketing Board, for example, have been increasing their bank borrowings at a rate over several years now and the State banks have been showing massive profit incomes on account of the interests charged on these borrowings in turn adding the hypothetical interests so calculated to the Loan balances because these loans are not repaid regularly. Our legislators are happily commenting on the performance of the State Banks confused and misled by the billions they are shown as profits. As a result they have over a period of time assisted, helped and have been deaf and blind to what was happening in the GOBEs, SOEs and other Corporations, State Banks despite the fact each of these fall within the purview of cabinet Ministers in addition to State Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and a whole range of officials who are duty bound to examine and rectify these positions by taking early actions.
Recently there was a concern about the prorogation of the parliament suddenly which automatically terminated the effectiveness of the COPE on some of the SOEs they were examining and some of the highlighted allegations of fraudulent operations such as Sugar Deal, Yugadanvi, Chinese bacteria laden Fertilizer shipment etc. etc. Some conjectured that the exercise of prorogation was resorted to change the structure of the compositions of the COPE. But the same were reappointed diffusing those suppositions. So, what we can conclude from this is that the government is not very much disturbed about the COPE their findings or who is at the top of the COPE because the ultimate evaporation of the COPE report is done by the parliament. The majority obediently endorsing what they have been asked to endorse will have the final say. COPE therefore is a mere eye wash.
This is further established by certain highlights we witnessed recently in this parliament as well as the previous. Entire Board of Directors and the top management of the Peoples Bank were summoned before the Committee and the session was shown live in the media. We saw in the proceedings and the reports that followed how the Chairman of the bank admitted that waste of funds close upon a Billion LKRs were spent unnecessarily on account of a irregularly decided IT, digitalization exercise, due to the lack of their knowledge and the board taking decisions depending on the recommendations made by some officials below. Some of the findings were concluded as recommendations for recovery of monies spent irregularly etc. For some of the Audit queries they had no answers. Some matters raised were repetitions coming over from the previous COPE reports unattended by the Bank.
What happened. Nothing. The whole thing vanished into thin air. Some findings in the verbatim reports were not even included or considered for any recommendations in the final reports that came before the Parliament. Worst of all is that some of the officials who deserve to be severely punished and surcharged for their lapses were appointed to high places in the banking Industry itself under this government showing overflowing concurrence and connivance even between different regimes. Regimes are only a label. The wine and the contents are same in different bottles. Ultimately the economy pays and the People suffer.