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COPE Will Investigate State Universities – Sunil Handunnetti

The Committee On Public Enterprises (COPE) says investigations conducted by them had been done fairly and without any bias. However, the Chairman of the COPE Sunil Handunnetti added that it was a cause for regret that the government has so far failed to take tangible measures to address the issues mentioned in its last report. He also said that COPE will investigate almost all the state universities in the country and submit a report to Parliament.

Following are excerpts of the interview:-

 

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

Q:  The recent report by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) shows that corruption continues in state institutions. Does your report expose only a small section of bigger corruption taking place in government institutions?

A:  State institutions come under investigation as these are institutions that run with public funds and they are accountable to the people. By investigating their accounts, all corruption and fraud can be exposed. The investigation of 15 state institutions carried out during a period of four months was put into a report by COPE. However, we have investigated around 70 state institutions in total.

 

Q:  What are the other state institutions that you will investigate?

A:  We have received a large number of investigations that have to be conducted, but these cannot be finished by this year. We have given priority to the main institutions. We will investigate almost all the state universities. We intend to carry out investigations of the universities and submit the reports to Parliament.

 

Q:  While the COPE Committee is conducting these investigations and submitting these reports, are you, as the Chairman of the COPE Committee satisfied with the response of the government and do you think they are taking it seriously enough?

A:  Let alone taking it seriously; there is doubt whether the government is even looking at these reports under the available powers. The Speaker, Finance Ministry Secretary and Auditor General were called and a meeting was held at the parliament as to what happens to the COPE Committee report and the Audit Committee reports. But, it is regrettable that nothing is done beyond the reports to address these issues.

 

Q:  As the Chairman of the COPE Committee can you certify that these COPE Committee reports are 100 percent accurate and impartial?

A:  I can guarantee that these investigations and reports are done impartially and accurately. However, there is also room for those who criticise it to give their input.

 

Q:  There is speculation that you are to be removed from the COPE Committee. Is this true?

A:  I have no clue as I myself read it in the newspapers. The government does not have the power to remove me from this position as and when they please. This is because the government does not have such powers. The COPE Committee Chairman is appointed under the powers vested with Parliament.

 

 

Q:  The Joint Opposition (JO) is now raising allegations against the JVP that it is supporting the government and not doing its part as the opposition. They also allege that the JVP is supporting the government in selling off national resources. It is also alleged that in order to distract the people from the real issues, the JVP is harping on the SAITM issue? 

A:  So what has the JO done so far to preventing these misdeeds of the government? What have they done with regard to Hambantota harbour, farmers’ compensation, reduction of cost of living etc? When we were in the opposition the people know what we did for them. There is no need to respond to these allegations levelled at us out of animosity as they have lost their power. The people are now ready to go beyond just the opposition duties but they are ready to hand over control of the country to the JVP.

 

Q:   As a solution to the country’s crumbling economy, the government’s solution is to bring in foreign investment. Do you think this is a good strategy to uplift the country’s failing economy?

A:   No country can prosper alone and it definitely needs to connect with other countries. In the case of Sri Lanka no foreign investment is coming in. What we are getting is foreign loans. In addition to the loan repayments, interest also has to be paid for these loans. Eventually it is the people who are burdened with these payments and we cannot do what we want. We are compelled to oblige the country that provides the loans by obtaining equipment and services from parties they specify and we also have to pay back these loans including interest.  Eventually it is the people that have to pay. The main issue here is the commissions. For instance, projects such as the Hambantota port, Mattala and Port City are all not investments. Today even the footwear manufacturing factories in the country are affected because Indian footwear factories have been brought here. This is a detrimental investment that will destroy the local industry. These sorts of investments destroy local resources as well. Today the investment policies are not to bring in investment but get loans. But, even these loans are obtained based on the commission that is paid to the relevant minister and his ministry officers.

 

Q:  On the subject of elections, while the dates are set for the Provincial Council elections in January, there is also some talk of it being postponed again. 

A:  The government is afraid of an election which means the government is afraid of the people. The government always went in for elections only if it was favourable to them. However, now the government is forced to hold the elections even in a situation that is unfavourable to them. Corruption is rife, the Bond investigations loom and the cost of living has increased drastically. Further the SLFP has split into two factions. The villages have deteriorated. But the government may have an idea of postponing the elections. But, our stand is that the election should not be delayed even by a day and it should be held on the decided date. We will force the government to keep to its word.

 

Q:  Under the new electoral system the number of council members will almost double. This in turn will bring in many other issues such as space problems, extra costs for wages etc.  Do you not think a proper mechanism is required to deal with these issues?

A:  It is easy for the people to choose their candidates and it is also easier for the candidates. Instead of high propaganda expenses under the new system it will enable participation within a smaller unit. This will break that system where only those who can spend can contest and afford to win by spending. What the people need to do is not to vote for the corrupt and undesirables and instead choose their representatives wisely. The people need only worry about rogues being appointed. Better people who will work for the people is not something that people need to worry about. Therefore people must choose good people to be appointed to serve them.

 

Q:  Is the JVP ready to face any election?

A:  We have no problem as we have served the people whether there was an election or not. We are ready to face any election at any given time because we are with the people and committed to serving the people of this country.

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