brand logo
Full disclosure

Full disclosure

17 Nov 2023

Isn’t it time to introduce full disclosure legislature for Sri Lankan policymakers and bureaucrats? Given what’s transpired over the last two weeks, with a Senior Deputy Inspector General (SDIG) of ill-repute outed for being on the payroll of the now controversial Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), and to be this week reinforced with reports that the leader of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has been on the same payroll whilst trying to inquire into alleged misdeeds at SLC. The now famous “hush” sigh that COPE Chair Ranjith Bandara gives whilst the SLC had to answer some awkward questions will likely sentence him to be guilty in the court of public opinion. 

The fact that a senior police officer and the COPE Chair did not report their affiliations and employment with another entity, until it was flagged by third parties, is symptomatic of many who hold high offices in Sri Lanka. This is one of the core reasons that influence and corruption are rampant in the Sri Lankan governance structures. In most countries, when such conflicts of interest are revealed, those who did not disclose them resign from their post. However, like the lyrics of Lankawe song by famous band The Gypsies say “Even though that happens in England, it doesn’t happen in Sri Lanka”.  Neither the SDIG nor the MP Bandara have resigned or distanced themselves from the investigation processes which they are involved in, which they clearly create a conflict of interest. 

Yesterday, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa also called for an investigation and an explanation from the Speaker of the House about the presence of COPE Chair Ranjith Bandara’s son, Kanishka Bandara, at a recent COPE meeting held with Sri Lanka Cricket officials. Premadasa also urged that the required measures be taken for MP Bandara to be temporarily suspended as the COPE Chairman until its meetings with SLC have concluded due to a conflict of interest. Premadasa presented several documents in Parliament, evidencing the fact that Prof. Bandara serves as a consultant for SLC on the Kandy cricket campus project, apart from another consultancy firm, owned by Bandara providing its services to SLC. Premadasa also questioned whether Bandara should be allowed to serve as the COPE Chairman at all, on the account that he did not disclose his connection to SLC and continued to act as the COPE Chairman despite this possible conflict of interest. As usual, the Speaker said he will “Look into it, and report back”. The answer itself indicates where that process will go. 

In many countries, when a person is elected or appointed into high office, there is a vigorous vetting process to find conflicts of interests, weaknesses, and criminal records, state of mind, affiliations or political leanings of the person proposed to hold that office. In the United Kingdom, there are multiple layers of such in vetting a prospective official or policy maker will have to undergo before being appointed to a high office, or will be called to sit on a committee which handles sensitive matters. However, Sri Lanka lags behind in such practices, content with our ineffective and corruption-riddled governance culture. 

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, another opposition MP raised a key question about full disclosure, opening up another aspect of the issue. Samagi Jana Balawegaya MP Harsha de Silva questioned why the President, in his capacity as Finance Minister, didn’t elaborate on what the proposed increase of Value Added Tax (VAT) will be applied to? An interesting question, because neither the President, Treasury nor any revenue agency have disclosed which goods and services will be affected. Stating that the VAT increase will affect a range of items from white goods to medical equipment, de Silva questioned why the President didn’t disclose such details in the Budget speech. He proposed that MPs should write to the President stating that as Minister of Finance, the President should inform the House, in his Budget speech, what will be affected by the VAT hike. “That is his responsibility, he is not only responsible to tell us that he is going to increase public sector pay, welfare benefits. We should also be told how the Government will pay for such. Should the public not know how the Government will find the money? They should,” de Silva opined. And he is right, just as with conflicts of interest with state officials, the State must also have full disclosure about how it will enact their plans. It is the right thing to do. The public has a right to know.      

More News..