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Noballing chuckers

It looks as if the Supreme Court were the only institution available in this country for people to have their grievances redressed and the plunder of public assets halted. This is a damning indictment of the legislature, the executive and the other state apparatuses.

On Friday, the Supreme Court (SC) delivered a massive gavel blow to a pacie and his political boss much to the relief of the public bowled over by them; and a disastrous hedging agreement the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation had entered into at their behest was suspended. But for the SC intervention invoked by a group of civic-conscious people, the CPC would have continued to haemorrhage whopping sums of precious forex in the name of hedging.

The SC order that de Mel be suspended as CPC chairman and Minister Fowzie be stripped of his portfolio came as a blessing. Both of them have proved themselves to be total misfits capable only of busting CPC (read public) funds. The hapless people are fervently hoping that the tax revision the SC ordered will lead to a substantial reduction in fuel prices.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with hedging considered a standard practice. What went wrong for the CPC as well as this country was that the authority of the CPC bigwigs to decide on hedging or any other deal was not properly hedged around. The hedging disaster has exposed a severe lack of institutional safeguards to prevent arbitrary decisions being made as per whims and fancies of top guns of the public institutions. They must be made to refer the drafts of all vital agreements to experts at the Attorney General's Department, the Treasury, the Central Bank etc., and obtain approval before making any irrevocable commitment so as to ensure that the small print does not contain anything unfavourable to the State.

However, it is not only de Mel and Fowzie who must be blamed for the hedging crisis. Its genesis is in de Mel's appointment as CPC chairman. He is a former fast bowler whose appointment the CPC unions opposed tooth and nail. For once, trade unions did something sensible! But, the government routed their efforts to noball the pacie with right political connections and, true to form, bulldozed its way through.

Even a sanitary labourer in the state sector is required to have certain basic qualifications. Does de Mel's have any? He is only a cricketer and managing an ailing venture like the CPC is a different ball game! He epitomised the proverbial square peg in a round hole. The government must take the full responsibility for his appointment and the attendant crisis.

Successive governments have treated the state ventures as ambalamas for their failed cronies and party men. They have a gala time at public expense and give an impetus to those institutions' journey down a slippery slope. Little surprise that state corporations–CPC included– have come to resemble ships with pirates on board.

Someone should explore the possibility of moving the Bribery Commission against all those responsible for the hedging debacle to see if any palms were oiled.


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