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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Monday, April 11, 2005

A question of transparency

Online edition of Sunday Observer - Features: "It is encouraging to find that the Chairman, Ceylinco Group, Lalith Kotelawela, had come forward in the name of public-spiritedness, to espouse the cause of the Sri Lankan public in moving Court to compel Tara de Mel, Sunethra Bandaranaike and 20 odd others to publish details of the aid received for tsunami victims.

It is to be hoped that Kotelawela will not stop at that but extend the concern and his public-spiritedness to the private sector as well, including NGOs and other organisations which have since sprung up like mushrooms. The government itself would do well to have some control over all such organisations through a process of registration and constant monitoring.

Activities in taking an unsuspecting public for suckers have become a very lucrative trade not only in times of distress but during festivals such as Sinhala/Hindu New Year and Vesak where there is no dearth of charitable organisations, individuals and do-gooders going about house-to-house collecting funds and noting all those who refuse for vengeance later. This has now become a fine-art with the public relenting against their will for fear of reprisals.

Quite apart from these small-timers, the clean up has to commence with big-time racketeers who do not believe in transparency and accountability to those whose funds they collect. In the not-too distant past there were quite a few organisations that emerged in the name of peace and good governance attempting to save the country and the economy.

The country witnessed advertising campaigns and demonstrations hardly witnessed before with membership in these organisations zooming and well-advertised activity in place with funds collected from companies and individuals. TV shows were galore - all costing tidy sums of money. No press advertisements, however, appeared as to how this money was spent and with what returns. The private sector should have indeed set an example to the government on transparency and accountability.

Ironically, there was not a whimper except that the initial enthusiasm of some had waned and funds became a trickle! The public does not hear of them as much nowadays. The lack of transparency and accountability is nothing new on this score considering how some of the public limited liability companies are being run with public shares by a self-appointed few who, although in Annual Reports submitted take great pains to refer to your company etc but keep the public stake-holders in the dark in regard to many a transaction and dealing, virtually treating them like dirt.

Some of them do not show patience and understanding in dealing with shareholder questions and clarifications. Some act like Gogia Pashas in make-believe statements and actions meant only for the moment or the immediate future. Frauds are often covered up by assurances of investigations and even prosecution in Court with due press coverage.

Such 'ingenuine' concern is kept alive even for a couple of years and when it is thought that shareholders have forgotten the issue, the matter is dropped by private arrangement and the accused goes scott free to live happily ever after. Some of the companies are one-man shows though public limited liability companies and therefore authoritarian. Anyone trying to be smart sometimes lay themselves open for letter demands and court action. Employees in certain companies have no option to contribute to various funds, other than the legal ones such as the EPF and ETF.

Either they do it or lose their employment. Such funds are being used in charity and pseudo-philanthropy focusing the image of the company or an individual, when the actual donors are the employees. Whom to tell? Despite all the. "hanky-panky", they masquerade as the purest of the pure covering up all what is happening with talk and deed quite capable of engulfing the confidence of the public with tsunamic effect.

Millions of shareholder funds are being diverted in risky or non-existent projects at the whims and fancies of a few, sometimes written off or only operational profits focused. Scape-goats are easily found and those who should take complete responsibility go unscathed.

It is in this back-drop that Kotalawela intervention has to be appreciated and a plea extended to him that his start with the public sector be extended immediately as a necessary corollary to the private sector in a bid to cleaning the augean stables. His BOI stint in the North-Western Province would stand him in good stead with both public sector and private sector experience entwined in one in that assignment. There could be no doubt that he would have acquitted himself well in that assignment and taught a lesson or two to the BOI and the government on good governance, transparency and accountability.

- Snowhite"

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