Parliament is only a glorious talk shop

By Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe,

MP in Colombo

Sri Lanka has experienced a gruesome and horrendous war for a period of three decades, at a cost of over 80,000 lives and leaving several thousand disabled people, countless widows and children who have lost their parents. Terrorism was eliminated in May 2009 and the constant threat to life was ended.

Throughout history there are examples of political abuses causing setbacks in every aspect of nation- building, including: the economy, development, maintenance of law and order, culture, social practices and much more. Well ingrained principles, norms and best conventional practices in democratic forms of government are gradually diminished and the sovereignty of the people is reduced.

Since 1970, all major decisions taken in Sri Lanka by both of the two major political parties or alliances have been dominated by plans either to retain power or to gain it. Even minimum standards of good governance have not been visible in our political firmament.

One much-debated and criticized factor has been the virtually unlimited powers that are vested in the executive presidency From 1994 to the present day, former and incumbent Presidents gained power promising their unflagging and relentless determination to abolish the executive presidency which is considered by some to be the most power-concentrated office in the world and a harmful element to the country. The immunity granted to the President by the constitution shielding him or her from any criminal or civil litigation is unprecedented and unsuitable for any civilized society. This impunity has been legitimatized by the constitution itself.

It is common ground that Parliament is only a glorious talk shop in the absence of vibrant and meaningful oversight committees functioning on an apolitical basis. I resigned from the portfolio of Minister of State Banks Development in April 2006 as I could not conscientiously agree with the fiscal policies of the government. Then I was elected as the Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises. It has the same functions as the Public Accounts Committee, whose duties in the Sri Lanka Parliament are divided between two committees because of what I consider to be the excessive number of our state institutions. I led the committee to function on a non-partisan basis and I presented two reports to the House in which we reported startling news where the loss caused to the state had exceeded Rs. 300 billion due to alleged corruption, fraud, misappropriation, irregularities, maladministration et cetera in a few institutions. The government revenue for 2009 was Rs. 756 billion.

It was prominently highlighted in the report on the ministry in charge of privatizing state enterprises – those which provided essential services such as power, energy and water – that this was an area more vulnerable to corruption.

A case in point was the privatization of 90 per cent of the shares in the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation which was running in profit at the time. Privatization was reportedly done against the relevant laws and guidelines approved by the cabinet. Six billion rupees had been fixed as the price without ascertaining assets and liabilities. A total of 90 per cent of shares of the state-owned Lanka Marine Services (a bunkering service company in Colombo Harbour), another profit-making venture, had been subjected to the same fate. It was also found that there had been a presidential grant of 8.5 acres in the Colombo Fort to a private company with apparent consideration whatsoever.

The committee also insisted the Monetary Board and Central Bank initiate urgent remedial measures against a large number of companies which were accepting deposits from the general public without obtaining necessary licenses from the Monetary Board. The Governor of the Central Bank gave an undertaking on 1 December 2006 to adopt and implement a procedure to legalize them or to ensure the safely of the deposits within two months. It was proved that this had not been done sufficiently as some finance companies later collapsed leaving several thousand depositors in the lurch.

The committee continued a relentless and unwavering effort to discover white-colour crime and the country was shocked with the revelations made in two reports presented in January and in August 2007 respectively which disclosed the activities of 46 corporate enterprises.

(Mr Rajapakshe a

President’s Counsel is an

opposition United National Party (UNP) Member of the Parliament of Sri Lanka. Formerly a Sri Lanka Freedom Party MP, he resigned as a Minister in 2006 and contested the 2010 parliamentary

election for the UNP.)

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