corruption – properly
A refreshing bit of news this week, in an awkward kind of way, is
that the Bribery and Corruption Commission (The Commission to Investigate
Allegations of Bribery and Corruption) hitherto in hibernation,
has now sprung to life with 23 public officials indicted before
the High Court.
more than two years, this Commission had fallen by the wayside due
mainly to some bad drafting of the law. Passed unanimously (though
with great effort) through Parliament, the law stipulated that all
three Commissioners must be available for indictments to take place.
gaping loophole allowed one of the super-bureaucrats during President
R. Premadasa's tenure to get away with a legal argument propounded
by a clever President's Counsel. To compound this farce, a more
recent government gave the bureaucrat a special assignment to oversee
numerous development contracts, even though the then Finance Secretary
kept him on a tight leash.
the early years of the Commission, its prosecuting arm was riddled
with in-fighting. They were investigating each other. In later years
the Commission's shortcomings in fighting bribery and corruption
have been highlighted ad nauseam. Weak Commissioners, lack of trained
staff and most of all, the lack of will on the part of the political
leadership of this country to fight this canker in the nation's
body politic were all part of the malaise.
majorities in Parliament have contributed to this lack of will on
the part of the political leaders. Rogue-politicians have been able
to exploit this situation at their will and pleasure. Then, there
has been a surfeit of elections that requires big spenders, and
most of these financiers are those who have adjusted their books
to bankroll as many parties as possible.
is for this reason that this newspaper has repeatedly said that
the biggest bribe-takers in this country are the political parties.
They say it's the done thing in all democracies, but in Sri Lanka,
while the Elections Commission doles out a princely sum of 50 cents
per voter for candidates (depending on their vote bank in a previous
election), there are no laws, no controls, no transparency, and
no accounting when it comes to collecting the money-sacks. The IOU
time comes once the elections are over.
it is not even a case of observing the law in the breach, it's a
case of a lawless, free-for-all situation. Those indicted this week,
are mainly persons employed in the Police involving the suppression
of evidence for offences ranging from narcotics to transporting
illegally felled trees. No doubt, they are innocent until proved
are these policemen the only people suppressing crime in this country?
What about the politicians themselves? If the Bribery and Corruption
Commission wants to win any confidence with the vast majority of
the people, it might have to put a minister, past or present, in
the dock. It is public knowledge that there are several complaints
of bribery and corruption against former and incumbent Cabinet ministers
before the Commission.
are cases even before the normal courts which have gone into a state
of suspension because 'big names' are involved. Investigations start,
then stall when people with influence are involved. Take the case
of the Public Trustee of this country, the public servant bearing
that distinguished title who is on Rs. 1 million bail for corruption.
Take the case of the men heading the Department of the Registration
of Persons, those responsible for a state security task. They are
now being investigated for issuing false National Identity Cards
for a bribe. The case was unearthed only when a suicide-bomber's
bogus NIC (issued by the Department) was found.
is almost no place for honest businessmen and traders, and the credo
seems to be 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em'. While on the one
hand, public opinion is overwhelmingly weighted on the need for
action on this front, very little will be achieved unless the three
fundamental deficiencies are corrected, i.e., stronger and more
dynamic leadership at the Commission's helm; a better trained and
equipped staff, and most of all; the will on the part of the political
leaders of this country to break the vicious cycle they are embroiled
major shift required is to get the accounting profession (not just
the legal and police) engaged in this onerous exercise of cleansing
the Augean stables. When the dreaded gangster Al Capone could not
be roped in any other way during the prohibition era in US history,
it was a conscientious tax accountant who was able to nab him and
see him in jail.
public, quite naturally, is crying out for reform in an area where
even foreign donors have expressed serious concern. The political
leaders have the option of radical reform or careless complacency.
Our bet is that they will continue to find the path of least resistance,
the easier way to go.