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Over 2,000 recommendations of parliamentary watchdog committees ignored



COPE and COPA toothless tigers?

by Saman Indrajith

More than 2,000 recommendations made by the parliamentary watchdog committees, COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) and COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) with the objective of preventing corruption in public institutions have not been implemented by the relevant state agencies and officials, parliament sources told the Sunday Island.

Corrupt practices continued despite repeated warnings and recommendations by the two committees which uncover frauds after expending much effort and time, these sources said pointing out that among those institutions ignoring the implementation of recommendations were the Department of Inland Revenue, Customs Department, Excise Department, Education Ministry, Department of Wildlife Conservation and some local government bodies.

Sources alleged that some officials who had charges against them have deliberately kept away from committee sessions.

“It has been noticed that officials responsible for many instances of financial misappropriation find excuses such as leaving the country when they are summoned before the COPE or COPA,” a senior parliament official said.

Former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya in an attempt to promote transparency and accountability of the COPE and COPA opened previously closed door meetings to the media.

“The committees expose wrong doings of officials in public sector institutions and ministries and then the media reports them. COPE and COPA make recommendations to rectify the errors but the malpractices continue. There is no way for the Committees to compel the officials to act on their recommendations. So the committees have been often called toothless tigers,” the official said.

Incumbent COPE Chairman, Prof Charitha Herath, said that the situation could not be changed without amending Standing Orders of Parliament. “We expose massive losses and waste of public money. Yet we have no powers to compel the officials to implement our recommendations. For that purpose existing Standing Orders should be changed,” Prof Herath said.

Asked to comment, incumbent Chairman of COPA, Prof Tissa Vitarana said that this issue had been raised several times at COPA meetings. “Some officials have acted on recommendations while many have ignored them. When the officials do not rectify bad practices that would raise a question of accountability of state owned enterprises and other public sector institutions such as ministries.

“COPE and COPA are key committees that oversees state owned enterprises and examines the accounts relating to appropriation of the sums granted by Parliament to meet the public expenditure. Since there is continued non-compliance, at the last meeting I suggested seeking the opinion of the Attorney General to find whether the Auditor General could file legal action on behalf the COPA against the official who fail to comply by deadlines given to them by the committee.

“We intend to give a deadline of one or two months and if the officials continue to ignore the committee recommendations they could be taken before the courts under the proposal that I have made,” Vitarana said.

Parliament should amend Standing Orders to give more teeth to the COPE and COPA, he added.

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US Cardinal Raymond Burke has been a leader in the Catholic Church for decades (BBC)

Pope Francis is evicting US Cardinal Raymond Burke, an outspoken critic, from his Vatican apartment and revoking his salary.

Cardinal Burke is part of a group of American conservatives who have long opposed the Pope’s plans for reforming the Catholic Church.

A Vatican source told the BBC that Pope Francis has not yet carried out his intention to evict the 75-year-old and the decision is not meant as a personal punishment, the source added. Instead, it comes from the belief that a person should not enjoy cardinal privileges while criticising the head of the church.

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White warned that the decision could “provoke significant backlash” and deepen divides between the Vatican and the US church, where there is already “fragmentation”.

Cardinal Burke has yet to respond to the news and the BBC has reached out to his office for comment.

The Pope revealed his plan to act against the cardinal at a meeting with heads of Vatican offices last week. His frustration with US detractors who take a more traditional or conservative view on several issues appears to be coming to a boil.

Earlier this month, he fired Joseph Strickland, a conservative Texas bishop who had blasted his attempts to move the church to more liberal positions on abortion, transgender rights and same-sex marriage. The removal followed a church investigation into governance of the diocese.

A few months before, the Pope told members of the Jesuit religious order in Portugal that there was “a very strong, organised, reactionary attitude in the US church”, which he called “backward”, according to the Guardian.

Tensions with Cardinal Burke, who was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, have been simmering for nearly a decade, with the American prelate openly criticising Pope Francis over both social and liturgical issues.

“Cardinal Burke’s situation seems to stem from his gradual alienation from the Pope,” said  White. “It appears the Pope perceives Burke as fostering a cult of personality, centred around traditionalism or regressive ideals. This action seems aimed at limiting Burke’s influence by severing his ties to Rome.”

Pope Francis with hand up in front of Vatican building
Pope Francis waves to crowds while leaving St Peter’s Square (pic BBC)

Most recently, the cardinal held a conference called The Synodal Babel in Rome on the eve of the Pope’s synod, or meeting of bishops, last month.

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The Pope, in turn, has demoted Cardinal Burke within the church hierarchy or moved him to posts with less influence over the years.

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