Corruption: Ex-top House official alleges negligence of successive Speakers


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Civil society activist and former Parliament Director Administration Lacille de Silva says that the Speaker should be held responsible for the continuing failure to initiate action in respect of reports submitted to the House.

The outspoken ex-official said so when The Island asked him whether he backed lawmaker Prof. Charitha Herath’s push for the empowerment of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) to directly seek the intervention of the Attorney General. SLPP National List MP Herath recently alleged that his effort, in his former capacity as Chairman, the COPE, hasn’t found favour with the Parliament.

De Silva said that actually the Speaker could forward any report to the Attorney General or any other investigating authority, including the Committee to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC).

Responding to another query, De Silva emphasised that the Speaker was not bound by Standing Orders 119, 120 and 121 as regards the Committee on Public Accounts, Committee on Public Enterprises and Committee on Public Finance, respectively.

Lacille de Silva served as Director Administration from 2003 to 2013. The Speaker didn’t answer his hand phone. His staff promised to arrange the Speaker to call The Island though it didn’t materialize at the time we went to press.

The former official said that incumbent Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and his predecessors owed an explanation as to why disclosures made by watchdog committees hadn’t been sent to the Attorney General, CIABOC et al.

Emphasising the primary responsibilities of the Parliament as public finance and enactment of laws, De Silva said that the recent declaration by the UN Human Rights Commissioner that economic crimes had been perpetrated in Sri Lanka should be examined by the Parliament. The UN has called for punitive action against those responsible.

De Silva said that though Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, in his address to the ongoing 51 session of the Geneva-based UNHRC challenged the body for taking up an internal issue of the country, the Parliament couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for the current debt crisis.

The ex-official said that there had been only a few instances of the parliamentary reports being used against corruption. De Silva cited the Supreme Court ruling in respect of the acquisition of Lanka Marine Services by John Keells as a glaring case in point.

The historic judgment was delivered on July 21, 2008. De Silva said that the Supreme Court annulled that particular transaction and should have influenced the Parliament to use findings made by the watchdogs to fight corruption.

The ex-House administration head compared the responsibilities of the judiciary and the Speaker. Emphasizing he wasn’t targeting any individual, De Siva alleged that the Parliament still seemed to be on the same agenda even after the government accepted Sri Lanka’s bankrupt status.

The public protest campaign that forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa to give up executive office in July and continuing public agitation should prompt the Parliament at least now to take control of public finance. But, extremely serious allegations, directed at the Parliament by former COPE Chief Prof. Herath, meant that at least a section of lawmakers didn’t have faith in the parliamentary system. De Silva said that if the incumbent Speaker felt that Prof. Herath’s accusations were unjustifiable, the lawmaker should be appropriately dealt with.

Had successive Speakers exercised the powers without serving the interests of their respective parties, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have ended up bankrupt, De Silva said. Perhaps the Parliament should categorize reports received over the years and take tangible measures to have those on waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement examined, the ex-official said.

De Silva said that whatever party exercised executive powers, the legislature always managed to cover up corruption. Could any of the Speakers, since the enactment of the 1978 Constitution, explain why action hadn’t been taken in respect of findings made by the parliamentary watchdog committees, he asked.

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