30th December 2001

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It's time for cleaning up

By Victor Ivan
Given the depth to which the country has fallen, the task of getting back to a state of normalcy is not that easy. People must understand that the country is on a path to gradual recovery. But at the same time, the government must also give them a sense of hope.

A state vehicle without number plates: Security concerns or crime?A state vehicle without number plates: Security concerns or crime?

An opposition party achieving power may be considered a real victory in the Sri Lankan sense. But those who achieve power should act with responsibility. Discipline and humility are very essential, not when one is out of power, but more so when one is in power. Pride is a serious illness that usually afflicts those in power. It caused the death of the PA administration. Therefore, it is necessary to use the power achieved for the benefit of the people in humility to promote the well-being of the people.What the country needs more than anything else is an exemplary leadership. We need leaders who are themselves exemplary and who will urge their rank and file to lead an exemplary life. Such exemplary behaviour should be seen at the top so that those in the lower rungs could take a cue from them and behave themselves.

One of the main factors that have slowed the progress of the country is inefficiency. Productivity can be raised to the maximum level only if the ruling party becomes efficient. If that happens, the bureaucracy will be efficient and the entire social machinery could be brought to a level of efficiency. In this context, one of the main challenges facing the new government is to restore the rule of the law. 

For that purpose, the government must, before everything else, ensure that all the persons connected to the government, including the head of the government himself, should not only be law abiding but should seem to be law-abiding. But what is happening is the opposite. Take for instance, the manner in which road rules are enforced. It appears that road rules are applied only for the ordinary people and not for politicians, especially those from the ruling party.

By applying the law equally irrespective of political power one wields, it will be possible to make the people see that politicians are not above the law. The practice of politicians using vehicles with no number plates or with bogus number plates must be abolished immediately. The number plates on the Defender vehicles allegedly used in the killing of ten persons at Kandy have been found to be bogus. Also police inquiries revealed that the number plates on the vehicles used by former minister Mangala Samaraweera's security men to indulge in alleged pre-election violence were bogus number plates. It is said vehicles used by the Presidential Security Division men also carry bogus number plates.

The purpose of a registration number is to establish a vehicle's identity. Granting permission to use bogus number plates ostensibly for security reasons has led to a situation where criminal acts are committed freely and criminals escape without leaving a trace. 

If altering a person's identity card fraudulently is an offence, then this too must be a serious offence of similar magnitude. Use of bogus number plates even for reasons of security must be made illegal immediately.

The practice of giving political protection to noted criminals should be abolished and disarming of all those who possess illegal arms should begin immediately as these are essential conditions for suppression of crime and establishment of the rule of the law. The practice of offering political protection to noted criminals has prevailed in this country for some time now. There were occasions when politicians scrambled for the services of men who committed grievous crimes. The official quarters of ministers and MPs had become popular haunts of IRCs. The Police as well as the general public were aware that IRC Dhammika Perera who reportedly was wanted by the police was living under the alleged protection of a former minister. Criminals who live under political protection commit crimes not only for their political masters but also for their own private needs. However, because of their political protection, the law is not applied against them. The new government has an obligation not to allow such happenings under any circumstances. After Julius Nyerere came to office in Tanzania, he gave a grand dinner for the criminals who had helped him and ordered the police to take all of them into custody. It is such a policy that our country needs today.

The aim of the Bribery and Corruption Commission, too, must be reviewed. An institution like the Bribery and Corruption Commission must not be a puppet that can be manipulated by the ruling party to suit its own political requirements. On the other hand, such an institution must aim, not at minnows at the base of the power pyramid but at the big ones at the top. 

The large scale frauds and corruption can be prevented to a great extent only if the commission which closely looks at activities of top level politicians and officials including the head of state. A commission inquiring into corruption must be endowed with the power to order prosecution in connection with offences falling under the assets and debits law. However, the present commission has no power to initiate even an inquiry except when there is a plaint before it. 

Although it appears that the institutional structure of the commission is independent, it cannot have the ability to play a progressive role in curbing bribery and corruption if political yesmen who have no understanding of and an interest in the subject are appointed to it. 

In the absence of any moves to strengthen this commission, the alternative is to introduce a freedom of information act so that the media could play a positive social role in eliminating bribery and corruption in our society.

The writer is the editor of Ravaya

Circus of coloured names goes on

What's in a name, asked the Bard. Well, judging by the Sri Lankan scenario, everything and more and if you have any doubts about that, just ask Tyronne Fernando.

Last week, so the newspapers said, the Moratuwa stadium was re-named the Tyronne Fernando stadium, a mere fortnight after the general elections that swept the United National Front to power and Mr. Fernando to the coveted post of Foreign Minister. Co-incidence, perhaps!

We are not trying to cast aspersions on Mr. Fernando here. Instead, what we would like to focus on is the malady that seems to afflict Sri Lanka's policy makers-that of confusing everything- including the naming of public places and events- on party lines.

Examples are galore, the most famous of which is the Airport. Whenever the blues were in power it was christened the Bandaranaike International Airport and when the greens took charge, it transformed into the Katunayake International Airport-and this happened many a time. At the moment it is still BIA, but that might all change in the near future.

Then we had the ludicrous spectacle of our National Day changing with every change of government. Under the blues, it was May 22, the day the country became a Republic. Under the greens, it was February 4, the day we were granted independence. And no marks for guessing that it was D. S. Senanayake who was instrumental in obtaining independence while the republican constitution was ushered in by Sirima Bandaranaike.

Perhaps the most extreme case of this party bias came when September 26, the day S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was assassinated, was declared a public holiday. United National Party governments vetoed that, only for the holiday to be restored by Sri Lanka Freedom party-led regimes. (R. Premadasa's death anniversary will hopefully stand the test of time by default, by virtue of being assassinated on May Day!)

And so it goes on at many levels. Sirima Bandaranaike had her picture on a postage stamp during the Non-Aligned conference in 1976 when the lady was very much alive. J. R. Jayewardene and R. Premadasa had their profiles engraved in coins while they were in power. On a smaller scale, the stripe on the side of state buses turned either blue or green, depending on the party in power. And old-timers will recall that a similar colour change was once seen in hospital curtains, from blue to green, after an election. (Thereafter however, it has mercifully stayed green, perhaps because someone forgot to do the needful in 1994!)

And the battle continues in the sports arena as Minister Fernando will testify, because Tyronne Fernando stadium promptly became Moratuwa Stadium, just as much as Premadasa Stadium became Khettarama Stadium-only to be renamed once more.

So, in Sri Lanka to have your name perpetuated, you must not only be of some service to the nation but you must have your party in office. J. R. Jayewardene- the man who despite all his shortcoming, ushered in a new economic era- for instance has no statue in his memory in Sri Lanka, though lesser mortals have been accorded that honour. His crime? Dying when the government of an opposing party was in office.

But then, that might change soon because the UNP is the Uncle Nephew party and the nephew is in charge now!

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