Parliament has failed, says DEW

Warns of dire consequences unless financial discipline is restored


by Shamindra Ferdinando

Senior Minister DEW Gunasekera yesterday said that the Sri Lankan parliament had pathetically failed in its duty to uphold financial integrity and transparency in the public sector.

The outspoken Chairman of the parliamentary watchdog committee on public enterprises admitted that the national economy was in a mess due to failure on the part of parliament. "Parliament has failed the country. In fact, the Opposition should raise the issue in parliament at least now. We are wasting time on some insignificant issues, whereas a matter of national importance is not touched."

The General Secretary of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL) was responding to a query by The Island on whether the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) would intervene to stop several State enterprises from paying PAYE (Pay as You Earn) tax to the Treasury on behalf of their workers.An irate Gunasekera said that since 1999 successive governments had allowed the CPC, CEB, SLPA, NWSDB, BoC and People’s Bank to pay the taxes of their employees in violation of the Inland Revenue Act and the Appropriation Act. The veteran politician said that those were the major violators. According to him, there are several other public enterprises, which operate outside the financial regulations.

Had parliament intervened, the officialdom would have been forced to take corrective measures, he said. But, unfortunately, all political parties, including the SLFP-led UPFA, in which the CPSL is a constituent, had turned a blind eye to the gross violation. The National List MP alleged that political parties, officials and trade unions affiliated to political parties were responsible for massive frauds. The minister asserted that theirs was an alliance, which cooperated with each other to get the maximum benefits even at the expense of the national economy.

The Communist Party leader said that in 2010 alone the aforesaid State enterprises had paid Rs. 2.3 bn on behalf of their workers. Asked whether he could provide a breakdown of payments made by each enterprise, he said he had received the information from the Auditor General’s Department. "I have asked the AG to furnish all data pertaining to these payments since 1999. Those struggling to make ends meet have a right to know what is going on in the country."

Commenting on the widening budget deficit and the rupee depreciation , the minister asserted that the people hadn’t been able to enjoy peace dividends due to the failure on the part of the managers of the economy. He said he had taken up the issue with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, ministers and Secretaries to ministries.

"We need to realise that whichever party is in power, it should generate adequate revenue to provide services. Those who demand free education, free health services and higher salaries are silent on the gradual decrease in State revenue over the years. Today, we are struggling to maintain even the basic services due to lack of adequate resources. They don’t realise that the government needs funds to provide services to the public."

MP Gunasekera said that when Sirimavo Bandaranaike had handed over the government to J. R. Jayewardene in 1977 state revenue accounted for 24 per cent the GDP. By 2004 it had come down to 13 per cent of the GDP, though now the UPFA managed to increase the figure to 15 per cent.

Had Sri Lanka managed its economy prudently, it wouldn’t have had to depend so much on international lending institutions, Minister Gunasekera said, emphasising the urgent need to review the financial policies and accountability on the part of the government.

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