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Sheer negligence on the part of Treasury, Parliament revealed

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ICTA, a state entity outside public scrutiny; billions of rupees lost

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) of Sri Lanka has not been subjected to proper Treasury or parliamentary oversight though it is a vital state institution, the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has revealed.

The failure on the part of successive governments to ensure proper oversight has revealed massive losses amounting to billions of rupees over the years, recent COPE investigations have found.  

Responding to The Island queries, authoritative sources said that the ICTA, established in terms of the Information and Communication Technology Act No. 27 of 2003, (ICT Act) and amended by Act No. 33 of 2008, had operated outside government scrutiny.

Their response to AG’s query on its operations had been callous with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) asserting the institution did not have to answer such questions.

The ICTA was set up in 2003-2004 with funds made available by the World Bank, during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as the Premier received WB backing, in 2011. ICTA has since been funded by taxpayers’ money though the Treasury and Parliament have turned a blind to what was going on, according to sources.

Top ICTA management had been paid outside the public sector salary structure with the CEO entitled for Rs. 755,000 a month, Legal Advisor Rs. 620,000, Senior Project Manager Rs. 525,000, Chief of Projects Rs. 535,000 and eight Project Managers Rs. 245,000 each, sources said.

Parliamentary watchdog committee COPE under the leadership of SLPP National List MP Prof. Charitha Herath recently inquired into the ICTA operations during yahapalana administration. However, the ICTA, during its existence has operated irresponsibly resulting in massive losses, parliamentary sources said.

COPE headed by Prof. Herath includes Mahinda Amaraweera, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Rohitha Abegunawardena, Susil Premajayantha, Jayantha Samaraweera, Dilum Amunugama, Indika Anuruddha Herath, (Dr.) Sarath Weerasekara, D.V. Chanaka, (Dr.) Nalaka Godahewa, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Rauff Hakeem, Anura Dissanayaka, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Jagath Pushpakumara, Eran Wickramaratne, Ranjan Ramanayake, Nalin Bandara Jayamaha, S.M. Marikkar, Premanath C. Dolawatte and Shanakiyan Rajaputhrian Rasamanickam.

COPE inquiry has revealed sheer negligence on the part of successive governments, which allowed ICTA to pursue an agenda of its own, causing massive losses though recent media reportage focused on  the UNP-initiated Google Loon project that resulted in over Rs 1 bn loss in addition to a staggering Rs 6,427,941 spent on project promotions.

Parliamentary sources acknowledged that ICTA hadn’t been subjected to scrutiny since the change of government in Nov. 2019. Regardless of change of government, the ICTA had continued the way it had been operating under successive governments, sources said.

Sources said Sri Lanka needed ICTA to be in charge of digital platforms besides the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC). However, at a time the country was facing a severe financial crisis due to the , the public sector couldn’t be allowed to cause further losses.

The COPE is expected to summon 16 more state enterprises in January and February, 2021 for examination of their status.

Recent revelations by watchdog committees-COPE and COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) had sent shockwaves through Parliament, sources said, adding that the decision to issue statements on behalf of the committees by Communications Department helped efforts to set the record straight. Therefore, there couldn’t be any ambiguity as regards the findings, sources said, underscoring the right of the public to know what was happening.

Recent COPE investigation revealed how ICTA had, in Nov 2013, abandoned a project meant to pay several categories of pensioners, including armed forces in Western Province online after spending a staggering Rs 278.54 mn.

Another failed ICTA project-Lanka Government Network cost the taxpayer Rs 148.33 mn during previous UNP-SLFP administration.

One of the most shocking findings was the rejection of ICTA 2017 Corporate plan after having spent Rs 2,737,000 on it. To the dismay of ICTA, COPE has called for a progress report on ICTA corporate plans since 2003.



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About 232 out of 500 escapees from K’kadu Drug Rehab Centre arrested

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Two hundred and thirty two inmates out of the 500, who escaped from the Kandakadu Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre, yesterday morning, following a clash with soldiers guarding the facility, had been arrested, Maj. Gen. Darshana Hettiarachchi, Commissioner General – Rehabilitation, said.

Hettiarachchi denied allegations from certain quarters that they had allowed inmates to escape to divert public attention away from the burning economic issues, and crippling fuel shortages.

He said an impartial inquiry would be conducted into the death of an inmate.

Hettiarachchi said that they were confident that other escapees too would be arrested soon.

Police Spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa said a 36-year-old inmate had died under mysterious circumstances on Tuesday. The deceased was a resident of Mutwal. The death of the inmate had been reported to the Welikanda police, he said.

The Police Spokesman added that a team of policemen from Welikanda had visited the Rehabilitation Centre. However, a large number of inmates had surrounded the body and did not allow anyone near it and that had led to a clash between inmates and the military personnel at the centre.

At around 8 am yesterday, a large group of inmates had broken the two main gates and escaped, he added.

The Police Spokesman said that the police and Army had brought the situation under control, after several hours.

They have also launched a joint operation to arrest the inmates, who are still at large.

There are around 1,000 drug addicts being rehabilitated at the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Center at any given time.

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Women parliamentarians’ Caucus calls for greater accountability and transparency

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International Day of Parliamentarism

Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle says accountability and transparency in a parliamentary system have become vital issues as the country makrs the International Day of Parliamentarism today (30).

In a statement issued to the media by the Caucus, Dr Fernandopulle said: International Day of Parliamentarism, which recognises the role of parliaments in national plans and strategies and in ensuring greater transparency and accountability at national and global levels. This Day was first established by the UN General Assembly through a resolution adopted in 2018 which also marked the 129th anniversary of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). The IPU, which was first established on the same day in the year 1889, is a global organization that works to promote ‘democratic governance, human representation, democratic values, and the civil aspirations of a society’.

This Day further solidifies the unique and enduring system of parliamentary democracy as the standard for political representation. Last year, in 2021, the Day focused on “Youth Empowerment” in Parliament whereas the theme for the International Day of Parliamentarism 2022 is “Public Engagement”. Conspicuously, the word ‘parliament’ originates from the French word ‘parler,’ which means ‘to talk.’ Thus, public discourse and engagement lay the very foundation of the parliamentary system of governance.

At a juncture where public engagement in the democratic process is at an all-time high, the theme for International Day of Parliamentarism aptly suits the current democratic and economic discourse taking place in society.

The Parliament is a cornerstone of any democracy as it must fulfill its fundamental role of providing a voice to the voiceless. The main responsibilities of a Parliament include the formulation, enactment and overseeing of the implementation of laws and policies that are sustainable and crucial for the progression and stability of the country. The Parliament also has a duty to hold the Executive or Government of the country accountable. Accordingly, representing the interests of the public, it must also fulfill the role of acting as a “check” to “balance” the power that the executive holds.

The Parliament must also perform “checks” and “balances” on Government expenditure as it has the responsibility of approving budgets for Government expenditure. Thus, during this economic crisis, the Parliament of Sri Lanka has a crucial role to play and effectively realize such roles and responsibilities. To do so meaningfully, public engagement is a necessity.

Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle said: “I believe we should make this Day an occasion to remember the importance of accountability and transparency in a parliamentary system. The Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus recognizes that it has a role to play in initiating a conversation towards realizing a process by which the Parliament can conduct self-evaluation utilising the feedback received by the public discourse. This would be vital in order to gauge the progress the Parliament has made and identify challenges and devise strategies and mechanisms to overcome such challenges to be more representative of the voices of people.”

MP Thalatha Atukorale said: “In the face of crisis, if our parliamentary system fails to realize its purpose, then we must re-evaluate the practices of our Parliament. Therefore, I believe that this Day should be used as an opportunity to formulate an effective strategy to improve transparency and accountability of the Parliament of Sri Lanka.”

MP Diana Gamage said: “On this Day, I pledge to be a voice to the people of Sri Lanka, particularly the more vulnerable, and play my role in initiating mechanisms and formulating laws that reflect the current needs of the people of Sri Lanka whom we are representing in Parliament”.

Parliament is the bedrock of a functioning democracy. In Sri Lanka, let us realise this goal for all Sri Lankans, leaving no stone unturned to ensure quality of political representation, which means gender equality and social inclusion too.

MP Manjula Dissanayake said: “To be effective and successful, the Parliamentary system must encourage public engagement and must also be based on principles of equality and inclusivity in order to better comprehend and prioritise the needs of the public”.

Vice-Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, MP Rohini Kumari Wijeratne said: “The parliamentary system is founded upon the sovereignty of people. Therefore, the success of the parliamentary system depends on public engagement in the democratic process and how well the parliamentary system responds to such public engagement.”

MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya said: “We as Parliamentarians must not be oblivious to the fact that the public has lost confidence in the Sri Lankan Parliament and by extension, the Parliamentarians. A strong contention can be and is being made that the Parliament of Sri Lanka falls short of effectively realizing one of its main purposes: to formulate and implement policies and laws that benefits ALL people, particularly the more vulnerable. To meet that end, we must harness public discourse and engagement.”

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Proposals to revive agriculture sector unveiled

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By Ifham Nizam

The Department of Agriculture has handed over proposals with an action plan for the revival of the agriculture sector to the Minister of Agriculture, Wildlife and Wildlife Conservation, Mahinda Amaraweera.

Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture Rohana Pushpakumara, Director General of the Department of Agriculture, Ajantha de Silva, and its Directors, representing respective divisions, were also present.

The focus of the proposals is on the importation of chemical fertilisers and organic farming, increasing rice production in the country, promoting the cultivation of indigenous crops for export, taking measures to meet the national vegetable and fruit demand, prioritizing agricultural research and development, and other agricultural Inputs.

The proposals also deal with a number of other issues such as the misuse of pesticides and fertilisers.

The proposals consist of 11 short-term plans to uplift agriculture.

Speaking at the event, the Minister of Agriculture, Mahinda Amaraweera, requested that the proposals, aimed at increasing the income of the farming community, be implemented without delay and that everyone be committed to make the Yala season, and the forthcoming Maha season, a success. “We must make the current Yala and the next Maha season a success. The country’s economy depends on the stability of the agriculture sector.

The Director General of the Department of Agriculture handed over the relevant proposal to the Minister.

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