18th February 2001

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Power corrupts

The President's apparently chagrined statement that " the Ceylon Electricity Board'' is corrupt to the core, and that she has already had to sack one chairman on account of this corruption, seems ex facie at least to point the finger at some of her own appointees. If she is saying the CEB is a corrupt organisation, it is improbable that she is entirely exonerating the Cabinet Minister in charge from at least condoning the corruption that she is talking about.

But, she has appointed this same Minister to the same post a second time, which is to say that she wants the status quo to continue, however corrupt she says it is. Why was that particular chairman who was sacked, not taken before the Bribery and Corruption Commissioners, who as we said last week only succeeded in investigating themselves? To repeat , the Parliamentary Select Committee report on the Bribery and Corruption Commission is hidden, and this act of covertness appears to be a cheeky act of corruption in itself.

What is the moral legitimacy of the claim "I sacked the chairman'' if the offender who was sacked is allowed to get away with the spoils of his embezzlement?

Not only is he free and unfettered, but is in fact at the current time doing business with certain Ministers of Cabinet, which shows that in this government's vocabulary the word accountability scarcely exists. The President's apparently scorching statements against the CEB, in the backdrop of these facts make no sense, because her lofty claims notwithstanding, it is apparent that she has not had the gumption or the moral courage to bring the culprits to book.

The current power outlook, which looks bleak with power outages predicted in the coming weeks, is we know, partly the fault of the United National Party as well. An Asian Development Bank loan was blocked by a powerful Ministry Secretary who acted in collusion with the Secretary of the then President during the time of a past UNP government. The loan was blocked, because the tender for enhancing the power grid did not go to a high profile local business group.

Though the newspapers exposed the scandal, nothing came out of these reports as the two Secretaries concerned were powerful enough to ensure that their strategy for blocking the loan went unimpeded. Eventually, the tender was awarded when President D. B. Wijetunga assumed duties.

Such workings in the murky corridors of power, no matter which government is in office, make it imperative that a functional Bribery and Corruption Commission with honest and efficient people constituting it needs to be established. But, such an institution is not likely if the government of the day does not have the political will to punish those officials who make a lifestyle out of living off what little is left of the fat of the land.

Bleeding farce

The tying up of a morale boost for the forces with that commercial institution of St. Valentine's day seems to be a dubious honour bestowed on our national heroes. In one sense, it seems to be a final conscription of the forces in order that business interests legitimize this alien event that finds no real resonance in a local context.

Soldiers who sometimes get pilfered provisions in the battlefield, or don't get paid on time, and who know that their treatment at the hands of the powers that be can be impeded by bureaucratic red tape and institutional lethargy, will not necessarily be amused by this show of "bleeding heart'' aimed at them, ostensibly, by a nation that cares.

Reaching out to the hearts of the soldiers, literally and metaphorically at a crucial moment in the nation's history, can be better done by ensuring their safety in the battlefield - for example, by providing quality body armour preventing rogue tenders of those profiting from the war.

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