COPE: Coping with corruption in the private sector | Daily News

COPE: Coping with corruption in the private sector

A lottery ticket seller.
A lottery ticket seller.

Printcare Secure Ltd. is a fully owned subsidiary of Printcare PLC which has a prominent board of directors consisting of leaders in key industries which include tea and tourism. It boasts of having “one of the most technologically advanced plants in Asia with customers in five continents.”

The Annual Report 2019 of Printcare PLC in the section on ‘Anti-Corruption’ inter alia states: “Ethical practices are placed as one of the core values of Printcare and it maintains a zero tolerance policy towards corruption and bribery in all its transactions.”

It is in this background that the silence of Printcare to the Front Page news item in the Daily News of December 7, 2020 titled “NLB procurement influenced by then Foreign Minister – COPE” (Committee on Public Enterprises) must be viewed.

It is alleged that Parliament’s COPE had found that a “Cabinet decision has been made under the influence of Printcare Secure (Pvt) Ltd.” to suspend the awarding of a tender by the National Lotteries Board (NLB) to ‘Aqua Flex Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd.’ for the printing of scratch lottery tickets. It was found that the suspension had “caused a huge financial loss” to the NLB.

The Daily News story elaborated that the COPE found the influence was through the then Foreign Minister under whom the NLB fell despite a contrary view held by then Minister of Finance.

As to why the NLB was placed under the Foreign Ministry is astonishing. The two have no connection whatsoever. Lottery tickets are sold only in Sri Lanka in any case. This requires a clarification from former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who is projected as a mature leader by the rump of the UNP he continues to lead. It is not known whether he personally opposed or supported this rather unusual move.

If ‘Printcare Secure’ sought to have the awarding of the tender suspended due to ‘wrongdoing’ by the NLB resulting in an ‘injustice’ to them, is it not incumbent on ‘Printcare Secure’ to have sought avenues other than political influence to obtain redress? For instance, did they lodge a complaint with the Commission to Investigate Acts of Bribery and Corruption (Bribery Commission)? If not why?

After all it asserts thus: “Ethical practices are placed as one of the core values of Printcare and it maintains a zero tolerance policy towards corruption and bribery in all its transactions.”

Another matter that needs urgent clarification is the COPE finding of a “huge financial loss” to the NLB due to the suspension of the tender. How could the concerned parties at that time allow this to happen to the people of this country?

This huge financial loss to the people is in the context of the Directors of Printcare PLC having established a Charitable Foundation within their main company to create better conditions for plantation workers, underprivileged children, elders and society’s victims.

A longstanding director of Printcare PLC is even named in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) inspired leak on alleged money laundering linked to an offshore company in a tax haven. This is better known as Panama Papers. While in no way suggesting or implying that the mere listing of names and entities in tax havens is indicative of wrongdoing, it must be appreciated that until the accounts are determined legitimate, they will remain under a cloud for the purpose of determining whether they are fit and proper persons to hold any position of trust involving the public.

It is now more than a month since the front page exposé was published in the Daily News based on a finding by no less an authority than the Parliament’s COPE. To date it has not been refuted by COPE, ‘Printcare Secure (Pvt) Ltd.’ or former ministers Ravi Karunanayake and Mangala Samaraweera.

It is such instances of alleged influence peddling causing huge financial losses to the people that give the private sector which is purported to be the ‘engine of growth’ a bad name. However, it is still not too late for ‘Printcare Secure Ltd.’ to disclose whether they have lodged a complaint with the ‘Bribery Commission’ and if not why.