ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday November 4, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 23
Financial Times  

Budget debate a waste of time - Wijedasa Rajapakse

The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) report, detailing widespread corruption in several public institutions, submitted to Parliament in the beginning of 2007 and subsequently sent to the Bribery Commission for further investigation will soon be in the hands of the President for action.

According to COPE Chairman Wijedasa Rajapakse, parliamentary select committees such as COPE have little authority to take action on the allegations in the report once corruption is revealed, unlike other developed countries.

Addressing the Sri Lanka American Society (SLAS) this week, Rajapakse said the prevailing situation Sri Lanka faces is the absence of good government. "Corruption has eaten into the essence of our society," he said, adding that the public cannot expect improvements in the economy or quality of life if corruption is prevalent. A lack of good governance leads to the deterioration of public assets and the distortion of truth.

Corruption exists in several forms such as the siphoning of public funds, nepotism and favouritism. An exchange of trust between voters and rulers should exist in democracies but Rajapakse asserted that good governance has continuously deteriorated after Sri Lankan independence and described the present situation as being dismal. The country must work within the rule of law to implement the principles of democracy and ensure that nobody is above or below the law. Rajapakse also said there has to be balance between the legislature, executive branch, judiciary and the media, which he said was the eyes and ears of the public and plays a pivotal role in the dissemination of truth and information.

Members of Parliament (MP's) are elected representatives functioning in Parliament as public agents. One of their responsibilities is to have financial control and scrutiny as well as make policy decisions but over the last two to three decades, Rajapakse said Parliament has ceased to function efficiently and has merely become a place to play politics. In fact, he said that playing politics within the house and committees is the reason why nothing has been accomplished over the years.

Rajapakse said MP's are clueless when it comes to budgetary allocations because they are usually drawn up by others. While other countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom have budgetary offices with economists and experts, Sri Lanka has accountants. Debating the budget after the final document has been presented is a waste of time for everyone, Rajapakse said.

He added that corruption is inextricably linked to terrorism. There is a big scarcity of national politicians but plenty of 'regional politicians', concerned with their district and electorate but not with national issues. Rajapakse said the Parliament is not there to look after the interests of people living in a particular area or community but this is exactly what the present situation is. He also believes this is the main reason why terrorism and the ethnic conflict still exist today.

Rajapakse also faulted the public malaise when it comes to allowing corruption to seep into the government. He said everyone wants someone to stop corruption but so far, no one has done it. The public blames and curses members of the legislature for inaction but no one does anything about it. According to Rajapakse, the ethnic conflict can be solved through political will and a change in the attitude of the people. "We can't afford the silly luxury of human conflicts anymore," he said.

Deputy Chief of Mission at the United States Embassy, James Moore also addressed the gathering and said the US supports a negotiated settlement which meets the expectations of Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese as just and necessary in ending the ethnic conflict. Moore said a political solution rather than a military solution is in the best interest of the country. The human, economic, social and political cost over the last 25 years of violence and conflict has been enormous.

Moore further added that the US supports and encourages greater transparency in government and firmly believes that there is no place for waste, mismanagement or corruption. Good governance is a fundamental right for every citizen. In addition to upholding human rights, the responsibility of the government is also to promote economic development.


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