COPE findings never been dealt with – Treasury chief

Former UPFA National List MP Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha yesterday told that current laws were sufficient to deal with waste and corruption.Unfortunately, successive governments lacked political will and courage to address those issues, hence the current crisis, Prof. Wijesinha said, warning of dire consequences unless tangible measures weren’t taken to tackle corruption.

One-time head of the Government Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process Prof. Wijesinha was responding to a recent cabinet decision to adopt a National Action Plan to curb corruption.

Cabinet spokesman and Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera on Wednesday (Oct 25) said that the cabinet had accepted Justice Minister Thalatha Atukorale’s proposal to compile an action plan in consultation with relevant agencies. The relevant cabinet paper had been submitted on Tuesday (Oct 24).

Asked whether he opposed the new mechanism to tackle corruption, Prof. Wijesinha emphasized that he appreciated fresh initiatives though ongoing efforts to hold up investigations couldn’t be tolerated under any circumstances.

Had successive governments firmly dealt with corruption and irregularities over the years, those who perpetrated 2015 Feb and 2016 March Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries bond scams wouldn’t have dared to do so, Prof. Wijesinha asserted.

Close on the heels of cabinet accepting Minister Atukorale’s proposal, a meeting chaired by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya in parliament was told that there had never been a mechanism to tackle misappropriation of public funds, waste and inefficiency revealed by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE).

A spokesperson for the Speaker’s Office quoted Treasury Secretary DR R. H. S. Samaratunga as having told the gathering that there had never been such a mechanism since COPE inception and even the reports produced by the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) weren’t dealt with though there was a laid out procedure in place.

The official also quoted Speaker Jayasuriya as having said that their failure to act on COPE and COPA reports submitted to parliament was a sin and the Treasury should take the next step in accordance with the Standing Orders of parliament.

Among those present on the occasion were Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, State Finance Minister Eran Wickremaratne, COPA Chairman Lasantha Alagiyawanna, COPE Chairman Sunil Handunetti, Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake, Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe and Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya.

The Speaker’s Office said both Samaraweera and Wickremaratne had admitted that taking action on those reports produced by parliamentary watchdog committees was a grave task and action should be taken after having studied procedures in place in developed countries.

The failure on the part of the parliament to take meaningful measures following COPE and COPA handing over 5 and 3 reports, respectively, to the current parliament transpired at the meeting.

The Speaker’s Office said that both Auditor General G. Wijesinghe and Attorney General Jayasuriya stressed the pivotal importance of setting up a fully fledged mechanism in that regard.

Prof. Wijesinha alleged that successive governments had encouraged waste, corruption and irregularities by turning a blind eye to what was happening at every level of the society. Various proposals meant to tackle corruption should be examined against the backdrop of inordinate delay in adopting the National Audit Bill. Prof. Wijesinha pointed out that the Auditor General had sought constitutional means to address the issue for well over a decade. The administration, in spite of promising to bring in the required legislation within a few months after the change of government was hell bent on diluting the proposed NAB, Prof. Wijesinha said.

Responding to a query, Prof. Wijesinha faulted law enforcement authorities, parliament as well as the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) for not responding to the complaints received from the public. The former MP said that he had lodged a complaint with Justice T.B. Weerasuriya, Chairman, CIABOC in respect of an alleged funding of a political project to bring down President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s government following general election in 2000.

Prof. Wijesinha made available a copy of his letter dated Sept 20, 2017 sent to Justice Weerasuriya to The Island. Prof. Wijesinha alleged that a prominent businessman had made available Rs 60 mn to the UNP in 2000 to pay off some People’s Alliance (PA) members of parliament who crossed over. Prof. Wijesinha said that concrete steps should be taken to stamp out corruption.

Prof. Wijesinha revealed in his letter that the businessman, who had funded that operation was ready to be named in his complaint to Justice Weerasuriya.

The former MP said that the situation couldn’t be rectified unless investigating agencies and political parties promptly acted on complaints. According to him, the CIABOC hadn’t pursued investigations into a complaint regarding a similar bribery attempt that had taken place in Dec 2014 although a statement was recorded from him.

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