By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament held its national awards ceremony at the Parliament complex last Tuesday. It was presided over by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Evaluation of information gathered from 842 state institutions has resulted in the categorization of their performance into several categories. 81 or less than 10% received ‘highly performing’ ranking.
The news bulletin broadcast by Ada Derana included sections of the presidential and prime ministerial speeches.
The Prime Minister stated, “The President knows what has happened to SriLankan Airlines. Planes have been purchased on huge loans. We cannot easily settle those. The loan amount is USD 740 million. I cannot even tell you as to which one we should pay, during 2018 and 2019 now. The previous government did not even have a proper finance management. However, I would like to say one thing. We should not pass this loan amount to the next generation, and we should pay for the sins we committed.”
The President stated, “it will take time to uproot bribery and corruption from society. These things cannot be corrected in a month or two. The projects run by them have both positive and negative effects”. President Sirisena highlighted an example of funds passed for a three-storied building in a school in Polonnaruwa. The school currently has only two floors even though financial allocations have been exhausted. No action has been taken against those responsible to-date.
The President suggested a separate event for the state institutions which were at the bottom of the list, an explicit reference to the ‘hardly performing’ category!
It would appear, both our President and Prime Minister have taken the entire population of the country of being fools.
It is a given, the deal entered into by the Rajapaksa administration with Airbus Industries at the cost of USD 740 million was enmeshed in corruption. That said, the yahapalanaya government wasted more than a year in canceling the first four of eight aircraft ordered. The second four are still in the order books of the manufacturers. The fact is, the longer the delay of cancellation, the higher will be cancellation charges when eventually canceled. The report by Weliamuna BoI on SriLankan Airlines, prepared at the cost of over Rs 3 million is gathering mothballs. Meanwhile, mismanagement of the national carrier continues. Lease agreements of two unwanted Airbus A330-200 aircraft recently extended for three years cost the airline over USD 24 million. Attempts by some board members to hold the official responsible accountable went awry due to a sub-committee appointed by the Prime Minister concluding no error in extending the lease agreements. The two-unwanted aircraft are currently severely underutilized. By such actions, the yahapalanaya debt burden will further increase the Rajapaksa debt burden. As for Finance management of this government, the less said, the better. The bond scam took place at the Central Bank under the Prime Minister’s watch. The findings of the three UNP party lawyers appointed to investigate the scam, to say the least, leaves much to be desired. Their detections were so ‘thorough,’ the then Finance Minister’s directive to three Chairmen of state banks to underbid at the bond auctions, paving the way for the windfall received by a private primary dealer was not in their report.
No one expected or expects the uprooting of corruption in a “month or two” as observed by the President. However, many expected the prosecution of at least some of the most corrupt (and criminal) individuals of the Rajapaksa regime. In less than two months, the President will complete three years in office. He has passed the mid-point of his term of office. Barring those convicted in the ‘Sil Redi’ case, investigations of many other wrongdoers are in limbo. The Lasantha Wickrematunge, Thajudeen, and Eknaligoda murder cases remain unsolved.
Meanwhile, what is happening in the country indicate no signs of corruption and waste of being contained, let alone eradicated.
As requested vide cabinet paper cabinet paper no: 16/ 0309/ 702/ 010 submitted by the Prime Minister, approval was granted by the cabinet of ministers to lease a building at 288, Sri Jayawardenapura Mawatha, Rajagiriya to house the Ministry of Agriculture at the cost of Rs 21 million per month. It also required a down payment of rent for two years amounting to Rs 504 million. The government valuer’s valuation for the same building amounts to Rs.13.5 million a month. On April 7 this year, Committee of Public Accounts (COPA) informed Secretary to Agriculture Ministry of its inability to approve the leasing of the proposed building without following government procurement guidelines. Nevertheless, the building’s owner DP Jayasinghe Tours & Transport and Secretary Agriculture signed the lease agreement on April 08, 2016. The need to relocate Agriculture Ministry from Govijana Mandiraya to free space for parliament was supposedly a prime ministerial initiative. According to sources, despite payment of rent, the Agriculture Ministry is yet to relocate to the leased building.
Meanwhile, sixteen floors of office space at the newly built and government-owned Suhurupaya building in Battaramulla remain unoccupied.
The President who chairs cabinet meetings was a party to the cabinet approval granted to the Prime Minister’s cabinet paper to relocate the Agriculture Ministry.
These are but samples of a mountain of misdeeds of yahapalanaya government currently in the public domain. It is clear proof; this regime is no more sincere than the former in eradicating corruption and waste.
It is obvious, neither of these two leaders has read Abraham Lincoln who once said: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”