Patriots or public swindlers?
Only last week in these very columns, we virtually prayed that the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), the Parliamentary Oversight Committee's preliminary report containing a damning indictment on the way State institutions have been managed, would not gather dust atop last year's similar report of the Auditor General.
These fears seem not entirely misplaced.
The Chairman of COPE himself has gone on record that he feared that a section of Opposition MPs preparing to cross over to the Government anytime now, are canvassing to have this committee disbanded on the pretext of calling for yet another 'good governance' committee.
He said that one of the Opposition MPs seemingly crossing over to the Government is allegedly responsible for financial irregularity of a sum amounting to one-seventh of the country's revenue -- a terrific censure.
Corroborating what the COPE Chairman said, the Minister of Irrigation and General Secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) told a mass rally at which President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself was present, that the Government came in with the promise of eradicating corruption. It was a broad hint to the President that the mandate received from the people was for that, and not to clean the dirty slate by embracing the very persons in the Opposition responsible for massive fraud.
The revelations in the COPE report -- much like the previous Auditor General's report -- no doubt, rub the present Government and many of its officials on the wrong side as well, so there may be some joint collaboration in sweeping things under the carpet.
The Treasury Secretary, cornered by a sprightly journalist this week, and asked if he was not going to take the rap for some of the damning allegations on the way public enterprises have been mismanaged and privatized, evasively replied that while they would be investigated further, he need not take any 'egg-on-his face' because there are no 'personal allegations' against him.
The facts are impossible to ignore. Coming in the wake of the independent Auditor General's report on wastage and corruption in the State sector, it is a compelling reason for a responsible Government -- and Parliament -- to take note and take remedial measures.
From some of the early revelations, it is evident that many people in business, the public service and politicians have lined their pockets from these State ventures. Some of these ill-gotten monies seem to find their way into the political arena as well.
It seems that even those who are orchestrating the present rift in the Opposition camp and thereby scoring Brownie-points with the Government are doing so to save their own skins from investigation.
President Rajapaksa said this week that those who love the country can join his Government. But those who love the country cannot be public swindlers.
This is a country where a President has bestowed the country's second-most prestigious honour, the Deshamanya (Pride of the Nation) to a businessman who is perpetually at odds with the State's revenue collectors.
The Minister of Information says these things happen in other countries and yes, in the United Kingdom, there is the 'Cash for Peerages' scandal in the US, there are amnesties to favourites -- but at least the name and shame game takes place.
This week there was also a report that a report on bribery and corruption in the Police -- the single largest corrupt Government institution in the country is locked up in a cell somewhere.
While the shocking details revealed in both the Auditor General's report and the COPE report -- involving billions -- are splashed in the media, we hear this week that a special Bribery and Corruption Commission team has arrested a Colonization Officer in Anuradhapura for taking a Rs.5,000 bribe to provide a deed.
While not belittling the Commission's efforts to stamp out the menace, the enormity of the gap between protecting the high and mighty and prosecuting the lowly and humble is there for everyone to see.
It was the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who said in the State Council back in the 1930s when six Councillors were charged with bribery how "everything is done to protect the influential, while all the others are thrown to ravenous wolves".
President Rajapaksa's Government has still been unable to show positive signs of tackling bribery and corruption across the board, and especially within his own Government.
Now, by taking some 'serial suspects' into his Government, the President may end up with a Parliamentary majority, but what use would that be to the country, if it stinks to high heaven?