With the ever-increasing marvels of modern technology making the concept of a global village more of a reality and with the newly-inaugurated United States President Donald Trump bringing about chaos in the international political and economic order, paradigm shifts are necessary.
For instance, there is little relevance in the old labels of capitalism and socialism. In any event, even in the cases of the so-called socialist giants such as the former Soviet Union and China what we saw to a large extent was state capitalism. Now with technology changing the face and the ways of the world, practicalism is emerging as the most realistic approach to political and social economic affairs. It is in this scenario that we need to reflect on last Wednesday’s latest report by the powerful and popular parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE). The committee, headed by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna’s (JVP) proactive parliamentarian Sunil Handunnetti, reported to Parliament that 15 state institutions had lost a shocking and staggering Rs. 110 billion in public funds during a stipulated period. He said that during COPE’s investigations from May 1 to August 31 last year, it found the wretched situation of these wasteful and uneconomic state enterprises.
Most economic analysts are of the view that the latest report raises major questions about the viability of state enterprises and whether the current trend of private-public partnerships will help to make them more enterprising, creative and active participants in the eco-friendly and all-inclusive economic development strategy.
According to the COPE report, one of the worst cases of wasteful expenditure without accountability or transparency is the Suriyawewa Cricket Stadium of Sri Lanka Cricket. A payment of Rs. 5 billion is pending and there is no particular owner. Without allowing officials to throw some full tosses or no balls on this issue, civic minded citizens need to make use of the new Right to Information Law (RTI) and demand information as to who did what to bring about this colossal if not criminal waste of public funds.
The COPE report says that the Cooperative Wholesale Establishment (CWE), the Road Development Authority (RDA), Sri Lanka Insurance, State Engineering Corporation, Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, Sri Lanka Cricket, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, National Lotteries Board, Ceylon Electricity Board and Sustainable Energy Authority of Sri Lanka, Football Federation, Sri Lanka Ayurvedic Medicine Corporation, Maga Neguma institutions under the RDA, Sri Lanka Ports Authority, Kurunegala Plantations and the Employee Trust Fund were investigated by the committee.
The huge investment on the show-piece Nelum Kuluna or Lotus Tower was a total waste of public funds. Giving a good kick, COPE said the Sri Lanka Football Federation had received millions of Euros or dollars in donations but the manner in which the funds were used could be called foul by the referee.
According to COPE, the State Engineering Corporation loss is Rs. 2,918 million and ministers are responsible. Several cases relating to this have been filed in court.
The CWE has to recover a rental of Rs.124 million from subsidiaries and no inquiry was conducted against persons involved in fraud amounting to Rs. 1.3 million.
The Maga Neguma project has spent Rs. 5.86 million to maintain 54 consultants and 94 public relations officers in 2015. The abrupt closure of Sri Lanka Insurance branches would cause big losses. It was further revealed that the CEO and Managing Director had drawn Rs. 165 million and Rs. 55 million as a salary during a stipulated period without making much of a contribution to the institution.
Shame, shame and shame despite the promise of good governance and justice the plunder of public funds seems to be continuing. This must be stopped and the plunderers brought to justice if the national government wishes to restore its credibility among the people.