ICTA, a state entity outside public scrutiny; billions of rupees lost
The Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) of Sri Lanka has not been subjected to proper Treasury or parliamentary oversight though it is a vital state institution, the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has revealed.
The failure on the part of successive governments to ensure proper oversight has revealed massive losses amounting to billions of rupees over the years, recent COPE investigations have found.
Responding to The Island queries, authoritative sources said that the ICTA, established in terms of the Information and Communication Technology Act No. 27 of 2003, (ICT Act) and amended by Act No. 33 of 2008, had operated outside government scrutiny.
Their response to AG’s query on its operations had been callous with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) asserting the institution did not have to answer such questions.
The ICTA was set up in 2003-2004 with funds made available by the World Bank, during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as the Premier received WB backing, in 2011. ICTA has since been funded by taxpayers’ money though the Treasury and Parliament have turned a blind to what was going on, according to sources.
Top ICTA management had been paid outside the public sector salary structure with the CEO entitled for Rs. 755,000 a month, Legal Advisor Rs. 620,000, Senior Project Manager Rs. 525,000, Chief of Projects Rs. 535,000 and eight Project Managers Rs. 245,000 each, sources said.
Parliamentary watchdog committee COPE under the leadership of SLPP National List MP Prof. Charitha Herath recently inquired into the ICTA operations during yahapalana administration. However, the ICTA, during its existence has operated irresponsibly resulting in massive losses, parliamentary sources said.
COPE headed by Prof. Herath includes Mahinda Amaraweera, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Rohitha Abegunawardena, Susil Premajayantha, Jayantha Samaraweera, Dilum Amunugama, Indika Anuruddha Herath, (Dr.) Sarath Weerasekara, D.V. Chanaka, (Dr.) Nalaka Godahewa, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Rauff Hakeem, Anura Dissanayaka, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Jagath Pushpakumara, Eran Wickramaratne, Ranjan Ramanayake, Nalin Bandara Jayamaha, S.M. Marikkar, Premanath C. Dolawatte and Shanakiyan Rajaputhrian Rasamanickam.
COPE inquiry has revealed sheer negligence on the part of successive governments, which allowed ICTA to pursue an agenda of its own, causing massive losses though recent media reportage focused on the UNP-initiated Google Loon project that resulted in over Rs 1 bn loss in addition to a staggering Rs 6,427,941 spent on project promotions.
Parliamentary sources acknowledged that ICTA hadn’t been subjected to scrutiny since the change of government in Nov. 2019. Regardless of change of government, the ICTA had continued the way it had been operating under successive governments, sources said.
Sources said Sri Lanka needed ICTA to be in charge of digital platforms besides the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC). However, at a time the country was facing a severe financial crisis due to the , the public sector couldn’t be allowed to cause further losses.
The COPE is expected to summon 16 more state enterprises in January and February, 2021 for examination of their status.
Recent revelations by watchdog committees-COPE and COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) had sent shockwaves through Parliament, sources said, adding that the decision to issue statements on behalf of the committees by Communications Department helped efforts to set the record straight. Therefore, there couldn’t be any ambiguity as regards the findings, sources said, underscoring the right of the public to know what was happening.
Recent COPE investigation revealed how ICTA had, in Nov 2013, abandoned a project meant to pay several categories of pensioners, including armed forces in Western Province online after spending a staggering Rs 278.54 mn.
Another failed ICTA project-Lanka Government Network cost the taxpayer Rs 148.33 mn during previous UNP-SLFP administration.
One of the most shocking findings was the rejection of ICTA 2017 Corporate plan after having spent Rs 2,737,000 on it. To the dismay of ICTA, COPE has called for a progress report on ICTA corporate plans since 2003.