The Committee on Public Enterprises, popularly known as the COPE has taken a centre stage in reporting cases of corruption and malpractices at the institutional level. However over the years it has been a committee that was subject to only publishing reports and not taking any step beyond that to prevent corruption. This time over the COPE committee is yet to take one step beyond its conventional tradition of publishing reports and move in to taking action on certain cases of corruption under the vision of its newly-appointed chairman, JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti. In a candid interview with the Daili Mirror , Mr. Handunnetti spoke about his appointment, changes to be done and actions to be taken against certain institutions etc., He had the following to share with us.
We have plans to computerize the entire system so that all institutions could be monitored electronically
20 institutions have been listed for probing
The budget has put the country in danger
Q As a member of a party that follows the Marxist ideology, what comments do you have about being appointed to this seat?
According to the current context, I don’t believe that corrupt practices could totally be stopped. Frauds and corruption have been in abundance and are spreading like cancer. Although we follow a Marxist ideology we are not against democratic moves. There have been certain changes in the 19A and we too have supported it under certain conditions.
Q So far the COPE committee has only submitted reports and have had debates. Isn’t this too a waste of public funds?
There is some truth in that statement. Yet, the COPE committee is a committee that is only second to Parliament. The COPE committee can certainly stop corruption and frauds that take place in various committees and institutions. But there needs to be other parties such as the ministries under which these institutions run in order to analyse their shortcomings. Yet what really happens is an ‘accounts post mortem’, where in the end only a report has been submitted. In reality, those appointed to higher positions are not to be blamed; instead the conditions under which they have been appointed should be considered. If somebody is appointed under Executive powers then he will represent them. So there is a question as to whether he would perform as a member supporting the Executive system or whether he would be responsible to Parliament.
"Under any circumstances the COPE committee can get involved in inquiring about the proceedings of any institution. From January we will be back in action and right now we have listed 20 institutions which critically need inquiries about their proceedings. We will be making the public aware of these 20 institutions in the coming few days."
Q Two previous COPE reports have been highlighted so far and they mentioned many frauds and corrupt practices of institutions. What actions would you take in order to solve these issues?
There have been several reports published over the years, yet, prominence was given to the reports submitted by Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and Dew Gunasekara. Although reports were also published by John Amaratunga, Rohitha Bogollagama and Jeyaraj Fernandopulle; no actions were taken with regard to the malpractices which were reported.
Through analysing the past reports, we could see what would have happened in the past and also see what is happening right now. In order to take action against these institutions, the relevant ministries too should play a key role. Currently we have plans in place to computerize the entire system so that all institutions could be monitored through a common IT system. So people can get an idea about the current situation of that particular institution by accessing the particular website. There are two methods by which the COPE committee can show its strength. One is through reporting and the other is through taking action.
Q Would you be strict?
I just need to say this; the Government officials need not be afraid of me or have any guilt. I prefer if they cooperate with me so that it would make the things easier for everyone. We are responsible for public money all right, but we don’t have the intention of only getting hold of perpetrators but we want to take one step ahead and help institutions protect their assets. Under any circumstances the COPE committee can get involved in inquiring about the proceedings of any institution. From January we will be back in action and right now we have listed 20 institutions which critically need inquiries about their proceedings. We will be making the public aware of these 20 institutions in the coming few days.
Q Don’t you think that the parties in power are always corrupt?
Power corrupts. Of course it happens. But we should take it positively. I have an advantage in this appointment because I am not representing an Executive body and I am from the Opposition. But above all, I am independent.
Q It is a known fact that during the previous regime there were many malpractices taking place in broad daylight. Have these been repeated either during the 100-day programme or thereafter?
I am very open-minded and am not influenced under any circumstances. I will not say whether there were malpractices or not. My concern and duty are to oversee the institutions which are handled by the COPE committee and see if they have been mishandled. We will have to search for what had happened in the past and what is happening at present. Many government officials say that they will not repeat what they did during the previous regime. But we cannot be sure of these promises. People think that malpractices are considered as ‘non-politics’. But they are not so.
"I don’t believe that corrupt practices could totally be stopped. Frauds and corruption have been in abundance and spreading like cancer. "
Q What actions would be taken against loss-making companies?
The COPE committee cannot function alone; it needs the support of the relevant ministries in order to get things done smoothly.
Q The JVP is a very vocal party in the Opposition. But since of late it has remained silent for a while. Does this mean that they too are supporting the National Unity Govt?
When I was appointed, the people said the same thing. I was appointed by the COPE Committee officials after considering my experience and knowledge in politics. Some say that I was appointed by the UNP but that is totally incorrect. The JVP does not have any intention to create chaos and mark their stance. We too have supported the government when it made certain decisions, but at the same time, we have opposed when improper decisions were made.
Q What is your overall view about the budget?
It is very clear that this budget will put the country in danger. When every other country is concerned about its economy and is trying to secure them, what did we do? It is very disappointing.