Fight the terror of corruption
Readers of this space may have seen a frequent, almost repetitive commentary on the snowballing cases of corruption in this country. As much as we are concerned that nothing very much has been done to redress these wrongs, we are just a little heartened that there is now a semblance of movement in the right direction.
For starters, we find the hitherto hibernating Bribery and Corruption Commission finally indicting some public officials other than a sub-inspector of police or school principal. Though still not anywhere near the sharks, at least they are chasing the seer and not the sprats. In Parliament, the joint Opposition of the UNP and the JVP are pressing for a Select Committee to probe the interim report of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee - COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) further. There seems to be some resistance from Government ranks to this and one is at a loss to understand why.
When on the eve of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's recent state visit to China he was interviewed on all television channels on various aspects of his Government, and asked about the COPE report, he made an incomprehensible response.
He said that he had no problems with the report (which found billions of rupees had been squandered by politicians and officials in state enterprises by way of wastage and corruption). The one question that he wanted to raise was why people were thinking that these malpractices had occurred during his Presidency.
The answer to that question is that nobody says these malpractices occurred during his Presidency. Some may have happened when he was a Minister and later Prime Minister, but one cannot apportion any blame on him, and place any, even vicarious responsibility, on him for this. So, then, why is the President not giving his stamp of approval to go ahead with these investigations? After all, he is Minister of Finance in addition to being President, and public money squandered is his responsibility.
It is a known fact that some politicians implicated in the COPE report have now joined the Government as ministers, and one might expect the President to want to defend them, and thereby his majority in Parliament. But even that is a bit far fetched. Then one is left with no answer and only wild speculation as to why there is no great urgency in chasing the culprits in these multi-million rupee frauds, while all the King's horses and all the King's men are hounding a solitary MP — and rightly so — for criminal misappropriation of a vehicle.
It was only a few months ago that the President, speaking in Matara, was astounded by the revelations of the VAT fraud involving top officers of the Inland Revenue Department and some businessmen.
That is possibly why an alliance of public sector organisations against corruption called Clean Hands has now sprung up to combat this situation. And giving much needed support in his address made to the alliance was the country's senior-most public servant, Lalith Weeratunge, the Secretary to the President.
He told them that 90 per cent of the public service comprised honest officials and only 10 per cent spoilt the image of the once pristine service. He said that many did not want to join the public service not so much because of the low salaries, but because of its bad image, and blamed the private sector for also contributing to this situation.
We welcome those in the public sector joining hands against corruption and against those from within the service and outside who are trying to sully its longstanding reputation. We support their every effort to campaign against the canker that has afflicted the service.
Public servants are often easy meat for unscrupulous businessmen and politicians and they need to ward off these evil forces to defend their good name.
The Ministry of Finance appears to have lost all control of public accounting and is directly responsible for all that the Auditor General and the COPE have to say about the billions lost over the years. The Brahmins of this Ministry prefer to remain deaf, blind and dumb on these findings which are a total embarrassment to themselves.
The Opposition has begun making direct references to the President himself about the appropriation of public funds coming under his purview, and there are increased reports of untidy handling of public funds taking place using the President's name.
Mr. Weeratunge must have learnt from the Helping Hambantota Fund (when the President as Prime Minister started a post-tsunami relief fund) that wrong procedures could also lead to problems -- even if there's no corruption involved.
While a large section of the country may back the President in his war against terror and want him to remain in office to 'finish the job' -- they cannot accept his feet-dragging in tackling the mounting cases of raw corruption in high places of his presidency.