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The greatest challenge

Sep 23, 2011 2:30:16 PM - www.ft.lk

THERE is so much wastage happening in Sri Lanka that discussing mismanagement of public resources seems to be a worn-out topic. Then, suddenly, the all important Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) releases its report and the subject hits headlines temporarily.
New reports have stated that COPE has revealed that the Government has lost a staggering Rs. 10 billion due to the mismanagement, inefficiency and corruption at 24 State institutions from 2010 to date. This is in addition to the annual losses incurred by some of these institutions.

COPE has identified the budget airline Mihin Lanka as an institution running at a significant loss right from its inception. The company has incurred a loss of Rs. 3.3 billion in 2007/2008 and this has risen to Rs. 4.6 billion the following year, with the accumulated losses now amounting to Rs. 5.7 billion.

Apart from the massive losses it has incurred so far, Mihin Lanka now faces a liability Rs. 2.4 billion. COPE observes that figures provided by the company with regard to its financial position were incompatible with the findings of the Auditor General. The company has also failed to provide sufficient evidence in this respect.
The company has failed to pay interest on the Rs. 500 million loan obtained from Airport Aviation Services (Pvt.) Ltd., and this had led to the Treasury having undertaken to settle the loan, thus adding another cost to State coffers.
Regardless of this, Cabinet last month decided to infuse a further Rs. 250 million based on the rationale that the budget airline must be maintained so that migrant workers to the Middle East can have cheap flights. If these losses are to be counted, the Government would be better off buying each worker a plane ticket in another airline than attempting to run one on its own.
The National Gem and Jewellery Authority, State Mortgage and Investment Bank, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation and Sri Lanka Telecom have also been mentioned as institutions with serious operational losses over the past years. COPE said it was alarming to see the accumulation of losses at a rate as high as 90 per cent.
The list does not end there; universities, ministries, State-sponsored programmes and corporations too numerous to mention are all haemorrhaging public money. It is almost as if they are in competition with each other to see who can tack up the highest losses. The offenders are not punished and the circus is repeated year after year.
So where is the solution? Possibly with the public that must take the responsibility into their own hands and seek better governance and transparency from Government ministers and other officials. Those whom the COPE report has named and shamed should not be allowed into positions of power again. However, it is obvious that this is a rather utopian expectation, given our history.
Not so long ago there was a newspaper article stating that the Bribery and Corruption Commission receives an average of 25 complaints per day. It is staggering how deeply the roots of corruption have embedded themselves into the country’s very soul. Fighting this menace is the greatest challenge in Sri Lanka’s future.

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