29th March 1998
From the blue corner
Viruddha Paakshikaya, writing in his green corner last week laments yet again about what he calls "corruption" in this government.
Permit me, Viruddha Paakshikaya, to change the topic of discussion this week. As an always loyal SLFPer I can only relish what is happening in Viruddha Paakshikaya's green corner where two very important members of the UNP are trading verbal blows without any decorum. Anyway, arguing with Viruddha Paakshikaya on corruption is like pouring water on a duck's back.
We knew that Viruddha Paakshikaya's colleagues are crossing each day on the calendar waiting for the year 2000 to come back to power to do what they know best to do - to cream the fat off this launch; to purchase prime property at four rupees an acre; to get millions to salvage their dud finance companies and to transfer barren properties to lush ones!
So, Viruddha Paakshikaya, permit me to shift gear, because this week we saw the sorry spectacle of how "united" the United National Party is. Even more unfortunate is the fact that this sabre rattling is being carried out by two prominent ex-SLFPers.
Both of them were, quarrelsome, even when they were in the SLFP. One was quite rightly kept as a back-bencher. He tried servile best to suck up to our leader Ms Sirima Bandaranaike and went on to call the then Leader of the Opposition, J.R. Jayewardene, "the Mahanayake of Capitalism," the "Pope of Capitalism", "the biggest rascal in the House" etc., only to, a few years later, say what a pleasure it was to be in JRJ's Cabinet and how he liked to associate himself with the free market policies of the UNP. Even today he considers himself (and not J.R. Jayewardene!) as the architect of the Open Economy in Sri Lanka!
As a young political cadet, I remember how Mr. Jayewardene came to Parliament and told that SLFP back-bencher to withdraw certain remarks he had made against JR. The MP came the next day and made an apology of sorts but what JRJ said then (for students of politics, it is in the Hansard) is that unless he got an apology he would see that this particular MP would be disqualified from sitting as an MP.
Now, we don't know whether the Old Fox was playing bluff in political poker. But if he was not, there are only a few things on which the Constitution stipulates an MP could be disqualified. And those are indeed rather damning!
Then, much later when our back-bencher made amends with JRJ and assumed high office, he slammed all his critics using Parliamentary privilege, and they include two newspaper magnates Sepala Gunasena and Upali Wijewardene, on whom he used Billingsgate language with gay abandon.
Then, at the height of JVP terror he deserted the UNP and jumped back into our camp, at the end of JRJ's tenure. During the Premadasa years he got his wife to join the DUNF and during the post-Premadasa years he jumped back into the UNP. A great jumper indeed and at his age we wonder whether his jumping days are over, but not so, by the look of it.
God forbid him coming back to our party. Let him be in the UNP and continue to do what he is doing. And more strength to his elbow to write more statements to the "esteemed" Daily News which his leader only last year wanted his party supporters to boycott.
As for the now not so young "Crown Prince", it seems he will forever be Crown Prince and never the King. It almost seems that the words of JRJ when he was President and the "Crown Prince" was the Leader of the Opposition - "May I wish you many happy returns to the Opposition" - not only his prophetic, it is also going to last.
Suffice to say that much about him (I do have a soft corner for him. After all, we stood shoulder-to-shoulder once upon a time). It may be said of his family that his father achieved greatness; his mother and sister had greatness thrust upon them, but our friend was only born great. Unfortunately for him, he has always been at the wrong place at the wrong time. (Viruddha Paakshikaya's Leader, in contrast, has always been at the right place at the right time. On May first, 1993, for instance he was far away from Armour Street and thereby earned a ticket to Temple Trees!)
But for our "Crown Prince", he must work harder and be a little more disciplined with his lifestyle. He must look after his health. I think his friend JRJ (who also had a soft spot for him - remember the Kalaweva by election?) also advised him on this aspect.
He must know that the Prime Ministerial or Presidential Crown is often full of prickly thorns and there are those who are prepared to wade through slaughter to wear that crown of thorns.
So much for Dis-United Non-National Party. They who tried everything in the book and outside it (and often wrote their own book of rules) to split the SLFP after stripping our leader of her civic rights; they who sowed the seeds of splitting Opposition parties are now reaping the whirlwind. They must know the pithy Sinhala idiom - "Anunta Kala De Thamanta Palade".
We know there are other differences in the UNP. Those who support the package and those who oppose it. Those who support the leader and those who oppose him. Those who want to be Finance Minister, Foreign Minister and of course, Prime Minister. We will leave these for another day.
For now, my friend Viruddha Paakshikaya can ponder on the fact that politics makes strange bedfellows, but sometimes cohabiting with such bedfellows becomes impossible and results in all this talk of glass houses and stones.
But for now, Viruddha Paakshikaya, we in the blue corner are happy to watch our discards ruining the unity of your party. Be careful, Viruddha Paakshikaya, because the night of the long knives has begun in the UNP. When it ends many will be politically dead and the UNP will still be in the Opposition!
Anura Bandaranaike wishing Bagladesh High Commissioner's wife at the Bangladesh National Day reception this week
By Roshan Peiris
Pic by Gemunu Wellage
A: I can't understand what he is getting at. Of the 2,500 acres the LRC took, 1,800 acres were mine. But he talks big of 500 acres he gave to the LRC. I inherited land from my grandfather, but in his case it was from Leo Fernando his father-in-law's he got it as a dowry. I believe, he never owned land in his own right nor inherited any.
Q: What do you feel about government moves to take over what it calls plundered land.
A: Very good. The government must retake such land. Personally I am all for it.
Talking of land, I resent the cavalier fashion in which Ronnie de Mel and some others talk of the Bandaranaikes. Why should we Bandaranaikes take any cracks from him or for that matter from anybody. We have ruled the country for 18 years and that is because the people of this country think well of us Bandaranaikes.
Q: Why are you opposed to the motion to strip Wijeyapala Mendis of his civic rights on account of his land deal?
A: I am acting on a principle. I am against Presidential Commissions be they of JR's making or Chandrika's. Why should a man or woman like my mother be deprived of civic rights by a Presidential Commission? It is wrong. Nowhere in a civilised country which practices Parliamentary Democracy is such a thing done. So the question is not Wijayapala but a matter of principle.
Q: Ronnie de Mel and the State Media are saying that wherever you are that you create divisions. What is your comment?
A: Even my enemies will admit that I am an honest and honourable politician. I have no mud on my hands, this is acknowledged by both the UNP and the government.
So when something wrong is done, I am not afraid to hit out. I have nothing to fear or hide. This does not mean that I am creating divisions within the party.
Q: Ronnie and others say you are trying to oust UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe?
A: Rubbish. Ranil and I have always been friends despite some differences. Why won't Ronnie or anyone else who thinks so, ask Ranil himself?
Q: At a Cabinet news briefing on Thursday Minister Mangala Samaraweera said you and Ronnie were looking for fig leaves to cover your political nudity and that all the fig leaves in the country won't be enough to cover the political nudity of the UNP?
A: All I can say is that men who love to be nude naturally do not need leaves to cover up their political nudity. Policywise I think he is as bent as a clip.
Q: Will you join the SLFP again. There is speculation you might do that.
Q: After all it was your father's party.
A: So is the UNP which is also my father's party. If there is a move to form a national government I will join. Not otherwise.
Q: There are reports that you will be asked to contest for the post of chief Minister in the Western Provincial Council .
A: If the UNP wants me to I will. If the Party offers it how can I say no.
Q: But if you lose it won't it be a major setback for your political career?
A: I am confident of a massive personal vote as I got once and it was much larger than Chandrika's.
Q: This brings me to ask you why are you still not in friendly terms with your sister Chandrika?
A: I have nothing personal against her. Ours is a purely political battle. I have not met her for a long time. I here she is more grey than I am. This is a Bandaranaike tendency to sport grey hair while still relatively young.
Q: On Friday Reuter's News agency reported Ranil Wickremesinghe holds with the idea of talks with the LTTE. What are your views.
A: I will one hundred percent support talks with the LTTE if it means bringing peace to this country. I have always held the view that for a lasting peace, talks with the LTTE are essential. There is no other way to solve this crisis, which is costing us so much in human and financial terms.
These are vapourings of a mind indulging in its usual plight of acute frustration and disappointment in not being able to achieve even after 20 years his political ambitions.
"I am really sorry for my old friend Anura Bandaranaike because I still wish him well".
Nihal Jayawickreme, the powerful Secretary to the Ministry of Justice in the 1970-77 period, now holds a director post at the Berlin- based Transparency International, a body that is committed to eliminate corruption. Transparency International, which has little good news for Sri Lanka as far as corruption is concerned, believes that for stability and sustainable development, a country must have strong civic groups. The following article is based on an interview with Mr. Jayawickreme.
In an acknowledge- ment of their respon- sibility in stemming the tide of corruption in developing countries over 29 developed nations have put their signatures to a recent convention that would make it an offence for their nationals to offer bribes to foreign public officials for the performance of official duties.
The signing of the convention comes in the wake of the collapse of the East Asian economies and the reality that corruption played a significant part in their spectacular fall from grace. It was no coincidence that the two economies suffering the least damage were Singapore and Hong Kong, a measurable factor being that they were the two most corruption free systems. It was an admission in a most telling fashion that corruption, far from greasing the wheels of progress, was in fact substantially damaging them.
The call for developed nations to eliminate the practice of deducting taxes for bribes has also been successful to a great extent.Western countries whose tax regimes allow or tolerate tax deductibility of foreign bribes as of October 1997 included Belguim, Luxembourg, France, Sweden, Greece and Germany.In some nations, companies claiming such deductions can do so openly, stating 'bribes' as a reason. However, a slow but sure change in country attitudes towards prohibiting this practice is also apparent now.
Foremost in this drive for international recognition of the importance of banding together to fight corruption is a Berlin based agency called Transparency International that has embarked on a world wide crusade. Founded in 1993 by former World Bank director Peter Eigen, TI, as it is popularly known, has chapters in more than 60 countries, including Sri Lanka. Its efforts have borne fruit in some South Asian countries, the most visible being Bangladesh where the World Bank has reserved some 60 million US dollars to revamp the national judiciary, identified by Bangladeshis as being the most corrupt institutions there. Other countries have also noted progress.
In Tanzania, politicians recently signed a document known as the Arusha Integrity pledge that they would "proceed by conducting a free, fair responsible corruption free election campaign" and "by supporting an independent judiciary." Again, supporters of Transparency Ecuador pushed the government there to pressure four international consortiums, among them the US firm Raytheon into signing a pledge not to use bribery in pursuing a 160 million US dollar oil refinery contract.
"It is important for the public to realise that they are the persons getting shortchanged by corrupt deals," explained Nihal Jayawickreme, a director of the International Secretariat of TI.
"In some cases, those who have to deliver on requested commissions cannot do so except by handing over substandard goods. Ultimately, it is the people who get cheated," he said. Mr.Jayawickreme is the director in charge of TI for Asia, the Pacific and Anglophile Africa.
He explains the philosophy behind TI as being based on a number of practical measures.
" We have National Integrity Workshops that work on the rationale that for stability and sustainable development, a country has to have certain integral structures such as strong civic groups, a democratically elected legislature, a strong press and so on. In each country, we examine how strong these structures are, and what could be done to remedy the situation. To do so, we bring together the decision makers of the highest levels from all structures of governance, and have extended discussion on these matters to build up some kind of consensus. This method has proved to be singularly successful, " Mr. Jayawickreme says.
He also says that TI operates on the co-operation given by governments in combating corruption, particularly when political parties have come to power on an anti corruption plank, and are eager to achieve concrete changes. The best method in this case would not be to haul up miscreants of the previous regime for summary justice but rather to ensure that an effective system is in place to contain present and future acts of corruption by public officials.
"Once this is accomplished, and the public have faith in the system, then those violators of the previous governments could be dealt with. Or else, the prevalent government could even opt to wipe the slate clean," he says, adding that at present, Sri Lanka continues to have an unsavoury reputation as far as corruption is concerned, making systematic change essential.
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