The tragedy of the Treasury

The resignation of the Secretary, Ministry of Finance, a.k.a. the Treasury Secretary, this week, is quite historic in the sense that it is the first time since Independence sixty years ago, that a public servant of such rank has quit office following a very serious reprimand on allegation of corruption. The Secretary to the Treasury has been an office that was the plum of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) - the former Ceylon Civil Service (CCS). The holder of that office was often considered primus inter-pares - first among equals - among the elite secretaries to ministries.

He was not only the chief accounting officer of the Finance Ministry, by virtue of which, he was the chief keeper of the public's purse, but also the un-official head of the public service. It was in such high esteem that his predecessors were held, though standards began declining in later years, due mainly to political interference. But above all, the holder of that office had to be, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion, more so on financial propriety.

The Supreme Court judgment on the Lanka Marine Services case has received wide coverage since the order was delivered on finding the Treasury Secretary, Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, guilty of connivance in awarding a Government tender to a private company. The judgment, to say the least, was a damning critique of the Secretary's official conduct. One must give the public spirited citizens who painstakingly raked out the muck from this sordid rip-off of the people's assets, credit for their actions.
Many years ago, the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike told the State Council during a debate when corruption charges were brought against some councillors, that everything is done to protect the high, the mighty and the influential, and only the poor and un-influential are thrown to 'ravenous wolves', when it comes to bribery and corruption. Seventy years later, one could ask whether anything has changed.

Whatever maybe the pros and cons of the judgement - and these arguments will be eternal - the Treasury has been run under Dr. Jayasundera's stewardship with secrecy akin to that which was witnessed in the Kremlin in the old Soviet Union during the Cold War years.

Transparency - the key word in good governance today, was the last thing that emanated from the corridors of the Treasury. All information was controlled, calibrated and calculatedly leaked to friendly media, and the doors were closed and telephones un-answered to all others prying into the goings on within the four walls of the Treasury. The Supreme Court verdict gives us a hint of why that might have been so.

Efficient and qualified public servants were purged from the Treasury. Politicians started giving orders, and the Secretary taking them. The Ministry of Finance was replete with thundering accusations of corruption and inefficiency. Dr. Jayasundera's role in ignoring the successive reports of the Auditor General, the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is inexcusable. He showed scant regard for the incisive findings of corruption, mismanagement, waste and inefficiency in the various public departments, including the Treasury, worth billions of rupees of public funds.

The billions spirited away during the VAT scam, and the manner in which the public servants responsible were protected, with nary a word from the Treasury; and the manner in which further billions have been thrown to the winds in the running of the so-called budget airline, Mihin Lanka, falls squarely at the door of the Treasury Secretary.

It is not nice to kick a fallen man, but has he really fallen? He continues as Chairman of the national carrier, the majority of whose shares are owned by the Treasury, and there are unconfirmed reports that he will continue as a senior advisor to the President.

Dr. Jayasundera complains that he was only carrying out the orders of the political leaders. And he may rue the absence of a truly independent Public Service Commission from which he could have got some justice, had he been truly honest in his dealings in the Lanka Marine Services case, and was only carrying out orders, which in any event, is no excuse at all.

With the devaluing of the SLAS, and the politicisation of the office of the Treasury Secretary, no doubt there will be predators eyeing the job once Dr. Jayasundera's successor retires, which is expected to be later this year. The downfall of the Treasury Secretary is not only appalling for what happened with this particular incident, but is also a sad indication of the fate of what was once a proud administrative service of this country.

Top to the page  |  E-mail  |  views[1]

Reproduction of articles permitted when used without any alterations to contents and a link to the source page.
© Copyright 2008 | Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka. All Rights Reserved.| Site best viewed in IE ver 6.0 @ 1024 x 768 resolution