Aldoris, the choon-paan karaya, came down the lane with his tinkling music fitted on his tuk-tuk, stopping at the gate where the trio had gathered. “Aiyo…….eeiye godak prashna thibba weda warjanaya hinda [Aiyo… there were many disruptions due to yesterday’s (Wednesday’s) strike],” he said, selecting maalu-paans for the trio and putting them into a bag. [...]

Business Times

Commissions and Omissions


Aldoris, the choon-paan karaya, came down the lane with his tinkling music fitted on his tuk-tuk, stopping at the gate where the trio had gathered.

“Aiyo…….eeiye godak prashna thibba weda warjanaya hinda [Aiyo… there were many disruptions due to yesterday’s (Wednesday’s) strike],” he said, selecting maalu-paans for the trio and putting them into a bag.

“Thathvaya godak darunu wuna, rohal walin leddunwa harola ariyane (The situation was terrible at hospitals as patients were turned away),” noted Serapina.

“Anith prashne thama leddunta aanduwe rohal walin beheth ganna bari eka, adu paadu thiyena nisa saha janathawata mudal nethi nisa poudgalika farmasi walin ganna (The other situation is where patients can’t get their medicines from state hospitals as there is a shortage and people don’t have money to buy them from private pharmacies),” said Mabel Rasthiyadu.

“Anivaryayenma mae weda warjana walin janathawa thama peedanayata path wenne (Invariably in these strikes the people are the suffering masses),” said Kussi Amma Sera.

She is right because strikes and protests by trade unions result in agony for the public as the government is unwilling to meet the demands of the unions while the latter resorts to strikes to put pressure on the government. Both sides are intransigent, leaving the public in dire straits!

As the conversation continued, the home phone rang. It was from ‘Koththamalli’ Fernando, the Kokatath Thailaya (oil for many ailments) expert who has a remedy for any issue.

“I say…….I have been following many stories on corruption but there seems to be little action by the authorities,” he said.

“That’s the culture in Sri Lanka – to forget these issues and sweep them under the carpet. It’s nothing new unless you have some fresh thoughts on this,” I said.

“Well, I was wondering about the whole idea of a system change to get rid of the culture of impunity and corruption. What happened to the system change proponents?” he asked.

“The situation has changed with the new tax regime and rising food and electricity prices dominating the current issues,” I said.

“I hope the current government or any new government will take action against the offenders irrespective of their standing in society,” he said, hopefully.

His concerns are understandable, for the authorities have failed to take action on a host of issues of corruption prominently including the Treasury bond scam in 2015 and the sugar scam (during the tenure of the previous Gotabaya Rajapaksa-led administration).

As far as these corrupt deals are concerned, there have been many instances of government audits highlighting these irregularities but no action has been taken despite this scrutiny. No one in government seems to be listening to these persistent woes of audit reports.

Here is a sample from recent reports in the Business Times and the Sunday Times on audit queries
and related issues:

  •     Reports: Over 200 audit reports presented by the Auditor General (AG) exposing corrupt practices, financial misappropriation and irregularities of state institutions have been sent to the recycle bin without taking any action against relevant perpetrators and recovering losses caused to the state, department sources revealed. Among these reports were the files of the AG’s findings on massive financial misappropriations and irregularities in recent mega transactions in the importation of essential commodities causing a loss of more than Rs. 40 billion to state coffers.
  •     Power: An independent power producer selling electricity to the national grid since the early 2000s had by March 2021 made a net profit of Rs. 14.8 billion amounting to 855 per cent of its initial investment, a Government audit has found. From 2005 to 2015, this private operator earned a net profit of Rs. 8.57 billion or 511 per cent of its initial capital of Rs. 1.67 billion. The company’s profit during 2005-2007 alone totalled Rs. 1.8 billion
  •     Fertiliser: A special audit report has recommended prosecuting officials who were responsible for the transaction of US$6.9 million (Rs 1.38 billion) for an unsupplied fertiliser stock and directed to claim compensation from the Chinese company for attempting to unload a stock of unsterilised fertiliser that contained destructive bacteria. What happened to this inquiry?
  •     Sugar: The National Audit office in a recent report has recommended that the government should immediately recover the revenue due to the state which was lost in the sugar tax scam. This is one of the major losses as against corporate profit made at the expense of ordinary citizens. The report recommends these sums of money to be recovered from importers who made a huge profit as a result of tax cuts but no action has been taken so far.
  •     Insurance: An insurance scheme for domestic workers to West Asia by entering into an agreement by the Foreign Employment Bureau with the Gulf Insurance and Reinsurance Company has been stained with irregularities and financial misappropriation, a Committee on Public Enterprises recent report exposed. The tender was awarded to a company which quoted a higher bid of $200 per premium without considering the bids of $90 and $100.
  •     Milk: The state-owned dairy production company, Milco (Pvt) Ltd., has come under allegations of irregularities in awarding a tender called to sell a stock of 649 metric tons of milk powder unsuitable for human consumption in 2020, Agriculture Ministry sources divulged. A ministerial inquiry was underway to find out as to how this expired milk food tender for animal feed has been awarded to the buyer who purchased similar stocks in two previous tenders. What happened to this inquiry?
  •     Digitalisation: The Government’s latest initiative of digitalising various stages of the Examination Department including exam results releasing, evaluation system and the issuance of certificates has been made ineffective owing to official incompetency, an internal audit report highlighted. The department has purchased a new IBM branded computer system at a price of Rs. 200 million but it has not been properly used by the officials of the ICT division due to their lack of knowledge and incompetency and hidden agenda  of claiming payments for piece rate work, the audit query observed.
  •     Drugs: The State Pharmaceuticals Corporation is facing a financial crisis as it has to service a bank overdraft of Rs. 16 billion arranged by a former chairman of the corporation who persuaded the Finance Ministry to grant a Treasury guarantee without board approval, an internal audit query revealed.

As I pondered over these issues, Kussi Amma Sera walked in with a smile and my usual mug of tea, leaving me to reflect also on the number of Presidential Commissions of Inquiry whose recommendations have not been implemented. Sadly this is Sri Lanka, a land like no other!


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