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MPs quit from Sri Lanka's COPE, citing corrupt leadership

Opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Eran Wickramaratne resigned from his position on the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) stating that members to the committee must not be associated with allegations or convictions or corruption, and the appointment of a Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) member as chairman failed to meet those checks and balances.

“COPE has been established to ensure the observance of financial discipline in Public Corporations and other semi-governmental bodies where the Government has a financial stake," he said in a statement. "By appointing a ruling party member as its Chairman, the committee fails to meet its objectives of keeping a check on the executive arm of the government.”

Wickremaratne is specifically referring to the appointment of SLPP MP Rohitha Abeygunawardena as chairman of COPE. Abeygunawardena recently tried to assault Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi (ITAK) MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam, reportedly inside the president's office.

Wickramaratne stated that the qualification for membership should have been outlined at the start for the 31-member team and anyone who wishes to be part should not have prior convictions or allegations of corruption. “It is evident that the present government that lacks legitimacy compounds the fact by appearing to cover up and defend mismanagement and corruption by the more recent appointments,” he added.

"The Committee has to report to Parliament on accounts examined, budgets and estimates, financial procedures, performance and management of Corporations and other Government Business Undertakings. COPE has come to be a redundant committee. Mismanagement and corruption have largely gone unchecked due to limitations in Standing Orders. Standing Order should be widened, where irregularities and fraud when in light, should reach the Attorney General directly and Bribery Commission proceeding to act. The government blocks the process by limiting Standing Orders, thereby the effectiveness of COPE is now in question."

Following the resignation of Wickramaratne, several more MPs followed suit. Accordingly, MPs Charitha Herath, S M Marikkar, Nalin Bandara, Prof Charitha Herath, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Gamini Waleboda, Shanakiyan Rasamanickam, Hesha Withanage tendered their resignations this week. They expressed their inability to function as members of the COPE under Abeygunawardena. Leader of the NPP Anura Kumara Dissanayake also tendered his resignation along with Duminda Dissanayake, Wasantha Yapa Abeywardena who have relinquished their positions on the committee. 

Addressing a press conference in parliament, Rasamanickam said he has decided to step down as COPE since it is no longer focused on public enterprises but instead is on “Pohottuwa Enterprises” with someone as Abeygunawardena serving as its Chairman. Rasamanickam ALSO asked the speaker in parliament as to why a private television broadcaster had censored comments that he and others have made during the first sitting of the COPE committee. 

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