Auditor General and empty wallet
Posted on October 4th, 2017

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe has recently been adjudged ‘Ada Derana Public Servant of the Year’. Public officials of his calibre and integrity with an unfaltering resolution and courage to carry out their duties and functions without fear or favour in the face of political pressure and other such evil influences deserve to be honoured. Let Wijesinghe be congratulated and Derana thanked.

Derana should thank the incumbent government for making the task of selecting the Public Servant of the Year easy albeit unwittingly. If the yahapalana leaders hadn’t arbitrarily put off elections indefinitely and left the National Election Commission (NEC) open to mockery and public ridicule in the process––of course for no fault of the good commissioners of that vital institution––the Derana panel of judges would have had a hard time, trying to choose between the polls chief and the Auditor General. The incumbent NEC Chairman won laurels for the courageous and impartial manner in which he conducted the last presidential election, whose outcome led to a regime change. But, today, he is like a gallant knight who has lost his steed, sword, shining armour and, above all, bearings. He has been one of the many casualties of yahapalanaya, which has eaten into many state institutions and rendered them hollow.

Auditor General Wijesinghe has, in a brief interview with this newspaper, likened the public purse to a wallet which has fallen on a street; anyone is free to do whatever he or she likes with it. He has beautifully driven his point home. But, we think it is more like an empty wallet discarded by a gang of pickpockets aka politicians and their cronies.

Wijesinghe says he has brought the need to pass the National Audit Bill (NAB) without further delay to the notice of President Maithripala Sirisena. The problem is that the President is not unaware of the situation; he knows the National Audit Commission will remain an empty shell unless the NAB is ratified by Parliament. But, he does not care to have it ratified as a national priority. There’s the rub.

Transparency is to corrupt politicians what light is to demons. It is only natural that the yahapalana politicians are wary of passing the NAB.

President Sirisena talks the talk in such a way that listeners think he really means what he says. But, he does not walk the walk. Addressing Parliament on Tuesday, he waxed eloquent on the ill-effects of the executive presidency. But, he won’t have it abolished! He contested the last presidential election on an anti-corruption platform. The top guns of the then Opposition, who threw in their lot with him, also undertook to implement the NAB within 100 days of forming a government. But, ensconced in power, they can now line their pockets at the expense of the public; they are, therefore, all out to stifle the NAB as they fear it will be used against them and their cronies whose rackets have caused colossal losses to the state coffers.

The Joint Opposition (JO) has chosen to ignore the NAB issue, which is about 13 years old. Its leaders and their equally corrupt bureaucratic lackeys did not allow the NAB to be presented to Parliament for 10 long years! Today, they only make some noise about it from time to time to prove their existence but do precious little to ratchet up pressure on the government to have it ratified without watering it down further. The JO worthies apparently think they will be able to savour power again and the NAB, if passed, will prevent them from plundering the state coffers.

Political leaders of every stripe talk a blue streak about the need for battling corruption but never do they put in place robust mechanisms which can be used against them. It may be recalled that in the early 1990s under the People’s Alliance government, the UNP, the SLFP and the JVP (which had an MP elected on the Sri Lanka Progressive Front ticket) worked in tandem to strip the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption of powers to initiate investigations without waiting for others to make complaints. This is why, as for the government and the Opposition, the irate public says, ‘unuth ekai, munuth ekai—there is no difference between them.

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