A panel discussion attended by Prof. Razeen Sally, Deputy Minister Eran Wickremeratne, JB Securities Managing Director Murtaza Jafferjee, Prof. Rohan Samarajiva and Ravi Ratnasabapathy in progress at the launch of the report
The findings of a new Colombo-based think tank show that the absence of crucial financial details of most of the state-owned enterprises (SoEs) in the public domain is a major obstacle holding them accountable to the people, whose funds are invested in them.
Publishing its maiden report – ‘The State of State Enterprises in Sri Lanka’ – Advocata, a policy think tank, which promotes freer markets and a small government for Sri Lanka, said it encountered numerous difficulties in assembling the required data to gauge the state presence in the market place through the SoEs.
According to Advocata, there is no single document, where information is available of the total of 245 SoEs Sri Lanka has. The most comprehensive, as they say, was the Finance Ministry annual report, which summarises the financial performance of 55 SoEs, which are considered as “strategically important” to the economy.
But Advocata says even the information it extracted from the treasury annual reports from 2006 to 2015 remains patchy. For example, the think tank says, information of 21 of such strategically important SoEs was unavailable prior to 2010.
“Suffice to say that the published data on the SoE performance is woefully inadequate with the performance of around 190 enterprises remaining unknown,” Advocata said in its preface to the report.The advocacy group therefore called on the civil society to join hands with them to lobby the government for the better dissemination of information pertaining to the SoE performance in an accessible format.
“We must collectively call upon the government to publish a comprehensive summary of the performance of all SoEs. The SoEs are run with public funds and supposedly for the benefit of the public; therefore, their performance should be open to scrutiny,” Advocata noted.
Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, who delivered the keynote address at the launch event of the report at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Centre, said with the impending adoption of right to information laws, Advocata should be able to obtain more information about the SoEs in the future.
Though the present coalition government appears serious about SoE reforms, the privatisation option seems to have been conveniently ignored, probably given the political costs such a move could entail.
The country’s Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake in the lead up to the November budget last year said his government had removed the word privatisation from its dictionary.
But Advocata sees this as a mistake and urges the government “to engage in an open discussion that at least keeps privatisation in the mix of