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Speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP in Parliament 

Mr Speaker, it is an honour to speak in this debate on the report of the Committee on Public Enterprises, given how much it has accomplished. Thanks to the indefatigable efforts of its Chairman, the simple but brilliant idea of dividing into sub-committees given the amount of work, and the dedicated commitment of the three chairs of sub-committees, COPE last year was able to cover more ground than any previous Committee. I was reminded, given my idealistic view of Parliaments before 1977 when a sense of public responsibility was paramount, of the incisive work of Bernard Soysa, the then Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, which covered also public enterprises such as have now been hived off to COPE. Bernard Soysa was a Trotskyists, which taken in conjunction with the performance of the current COPE Chair, suggests that the old Marxist parties were strong proponents of Parliamentary responsibility as well as financial probity, however unfortunate their vision of an all-encompassing State was.

That vision, Mr Speaker, continued by President Jayewardene in spite of his claims to have liberalized the economy, lies at the heart of the problems we still face. The combination of a statist vision with the authoritarian practices entrenched by colonialism has led to a situation where the State still provides services in a bureaucratic fashion which others can do better. As a result, what  should be its primary role, of regulation as well as intervention on behalf of those who are disadvantaged and find advancement difficult in a market economy, suffers. Rent seeking replaces concentration on the essential services required to ensure a level playing field. The provision of employment without matching it with productivity destroys the more important goal of ensuring that employment opportunities are generated more widely.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2012
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