Discerning members of the public value greatly the work which was done by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), during the chairmanship of Mr Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe MP, in inquiring into a number of alleged acts of corruption. To date, the government has not shown any interest in getting the relevant authorities to investigate these misdemeanours thoroughly and have the culprits prosecuted. Instead, Mr Rajapakshe appears to have become persona non grata among many of the rich and the powerful for helping expose to the public gaze many major acts of corruption. In this situation, Sri Lankans owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Mr Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Mr Nihal Sri Amarasekera for the motivation, hard work and persistence shown by them, as duty-conscious citizens, in following up on the COPE report, namely, to bring the Lanka Marine Services Limited (LMSL) deal before the Supreme Court (SC) for its authoritative inquiry, judgment and directions.
Newspaper readers, with even a modicum of interest in good governance, would have learnt what was said by the SC in the LMSL case and thereby gained a revealing insight into the ugly world of collusion that encompasses big business and the executive arms of the State. It is in this context that the lucid and fine judgment given by the SC gives us a measure of hope for the future. It may be noted that the punishment imposed by the SC was quite nominal; the sting was in the tail: AAll parties to the proceedings will take necessary action on the basis of the findings stated above. Among the total of thirty-three Respondents named by Mr Nanayakkara, those on whom the main burden of acting in line with SC’s order are the Secretary to the President, the IGP, DIG/CID, the Chairman of the Bribery Commission and the Attorney General. As tentative optimists, we hope that more shoes will get worn out by diligent hurrying and scurrying around to carry out the SC order than by administrative and executive foot-dragging to protect the crooked. The public must remain vigilant and keep up the pressure to see that the guilty do not get away with their ill-gotten gains.
Mr Rajapakshe, as reported recently in the press, has reminded us of some things we may have forgotten. Referring to the work done by COPE, he has stated that the LMSL deal A… was not an isolated case but a part of a series of similar transactions. He has A… accused some of his ministerial colleagues of blocking the investigations. He has also stated that the Aministers named in the first COPE report should be removed without any further delay and that A… COPE had identified former UNP ministers Karu Jayasuriya and Milinda Moragoda as the two politicians as having played a direct role in the LMSL and SLIC (Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation) transactions respectively. Besides looking into these two privatisations, the first COPE report dealt with the ACentral Bank, Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, CEB, BOC, CPC, National Lotteries Board, Geological Survey & Mines Bureau, RDA, Sri Jayewardenepura General Hospital, BOI, Airport & Aviation Services, National Water Supply & Drainage Board, National Child Protection Authority, Institute of Policy Studies, People’s Bank, State Engineering Corporation, MILCO, LRC, Samurdhi Authority, PERC, SLPA and UDA.
Considering the explicit nature of Mr Rajapakshe’s observations, it is incumbent upon the Attorney General, the IGP and the Bribery Commission, in particular, not to wait for more Nanayakkaras and Amarasekeras to do their work for them but to get on with a purposeful programme of investigation and prosecution of at least those cases where sums in excess of, say, Rs10 Million are believed to have been squandered or robbed. Not least of all, if anyone has been blamed unfairly or inadvertently by COPE or the PAC (Public Accounts Committee, chaired by Mr Rauff Hakeem MP), it would be most desirable to have their good names cleared without delay.
A curious aspect which needs to be investigated meticulously is why the Secretaries to the relevant Ministries did not bring to the notice of their Ministers that Cabinet approval was being sought belatedly for (unlawful) legal commitments that had already been taken by PERC and BOI beyond their authority. Are we expected to believe that these highly experienced Secretaries forwarded papers to the Cabinet through their Ministers which any moderately competent Assistant Secretary would ordinarily have held back for clarification?
In view of Mr Rajapakshe’s charge that some of his ministerial colleagues had blocked the COPE investigations, we are shocked that the voting in the new COPE and the new PAC has gone against the earlier good tradition, with Ministers being now elected to chair these Committees. This does not bode at all well for the future of the fight against corruption, particularly where Cabinet colleagues’ actions may have to be called into question. The honest and gentlemanly thing to do would be for the two Minister-Chairmen to resign their chairmanship forthwith, notwithstanding any pressure that may be put on them, and get moderate members of the Opposition to be appointed in their place.