(This article was originally published in Daily FT on 10th August 2016)

By Ashwin Hemmathagama – Our Lobby Correspondent

The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) interim report for the first three months of 2016 was yesterday presented to Parliament by COPE Chairman Sunil Handunnetti, outlining details of investigations on 19 public enterprises.

Sunil Handunnetti MP

Sunil Handunnetti MP

Deviating from the traditional summary on the loss-making public enterprises and their issues, MP Handunnetti proposed ways to improve COPE operations. He proposed foreign and local training for COPE members and the staff while enhancing the facilities and to introduce a software solution for information management.

“The staff attached to the COPE office is very limited and that number should be increased concurrently with the increase of the huge workload in the office. The COPE office should be established in a more spacious place with storage facilities,” he said.

Improving the levels of transparency and public right to information, Chairman Handunnetti proposed to open doors to the media.

“According to the schedule ‘A’ No. 9 of the Parliamentary (Powers and Privileges) Act ‘Publishing of the proceedings of a Parliamentary Committee before reporting it to the Parliament is an offence,’ and necessary action should be taken to amend that to open the investigation activities of Parliamentary Committees to the media and to provide the power to discuss the facts revealed from investigations inside and outside the Parliament before the reports are tabled in Parliament,” said Handunnetti, who insisted on the presence of an officer from the Attorney General’s Office.Provide the opportunity to debate the tabled committee reports, increase the limited powers vested in the committee and equipping the committee with enough powers to force the institutions to implement the recommendations made by the committee were some of the other proposals he moved, promising to table the special investigation report on the Central Bank bond issue within two weeks.

“The reports submitted by the committee to the Parliament are sent to the Minister in charge of the subject of Finance and other Ministers in charge of other subjects and those Ministers respond to the report within a month and should point out the recommendations that will be accepted along with a specific timeframe. Clarifications should be supplied with regard to the recommendations that cannot be implemented and details about the remedial measures that will be taken regarding the issues raised should also be supplied.

“The necessity to focus attention on income has been aroused since it is only the expenditure that is examined by the committee at this moment under the Standing Orders. Although the Auditor General has been assigned with the power to audit the companies under the Government or government institutions there is no mandate for him under the Standing Order 126. So it is essential to amend the Standing Orders to provide that mandate to cover the said area,” he added.

Acknowledging COPE’s contribution to produce a timely report, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said: “The new Standing Orders would cover most of your concerns. The Attorney General has also agreed to appoint an officer to support COPE in its investigations. I strongly remind the party leaders to appoint members who could take part in COPE activities.”