According to the vision of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, the President and other politicians are elected by the sovereign people to be just stewards of the people’s wealth and resources for a specified term. Whether what we see today is a democratic, socialist or republican administration is a major question. Whether the elected representatives are servant leaders or just stewards of the people’s wealth and resources is the bigger question.
Some answers to these questions were exposed in the latest report of the parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE). The Committee, chaired by Senior Minister and Socialist Stalwart D.E.W. Gunasekara has been widely commended for the honest and courageous work it has been doing since the time it was headed by the outspoken parliamentarian Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, who apparently crossed over because he could not do or was not allowed to do much about corruption and fraud, reckless waste and mismanagement by state enterprises of billions of rupees in public funds.
According to the latest COPE reports to Parliament on Tuesday one of the biggest loss-making enterprises last year was the controversial budget airline Mihin Air, which many independent analysts say is flying high mainly for the personal gain or glory of some VIPs. The COPE report said Mihin Air’s losses had soared to Rs.3.3 billion last year compared to Rs.1.9 billion in 2012. The COPE chairman said the reasons for these huge losses were not only corruption but also the failure by the Government to provide capital for this institution, forcing it to get commercial loans at high interest rates. The COPE chairman agreed with what most independent economic analysts are saying and proposed that Mihin Air and SriLankan Airlines be amalgamated. Sri Lanka apparently does not need two national carriers just as we do not need two international airports as seen by the large number of birds and local tourists who come to see the Mattala airport.
COPE said it examined 47 public enterprises, of which, 18 were business ventures and 29 non-profit institutions. The biggest loser by far was one of the most important state institutions – the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation which lost Rs.6.3 billion in 2013. This was not only because of rising world oil prices but report after report of fraud, corruption and mismanagement such as what happened this year when the Sapugaskanda oil refinery broke down and millions of dollars were paid as demurrage to oil tankers which were stuck at the Colombo harbour.
During the past few years, corruption and frauds mainly by ruling alliance politicians, their supporters and financiers including criminal gangs have reached unprecedented proportions. As political leaders and top officials are known to be indulging in corruption with immunity, impunity and contempt for the law, low-ranking officials also are being tempted to make more money, unaware that what they are taking, robbing or plundering is the people’s money. The law lays down that if the amount involved in some fraudulent act is more than a few lakhs, it amounts to a criminal breach of trust with the penalty being a jail term. That means if this law is applied strictly, many of our politicians and officials will be found guilty of criminal breach of trust and be not in an august assembly but behind bars.