Deputy Defence Minister, Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, was the Chief Guest at last week's convocation of the Sri John Kotelawala Defence Academy. The event was held at the BMICH. Among the participants were Defence Secretary, Cyril Herath, Chancellor of the Academy General (retd.) Denis Perera and Vice Chanceller cum Commandant of the KDA, Rear Admiral Nandana Thuduwewatte.

Army perks cut, but politicos ride on
Some two weeks ago, 400 officers and sailors of the Sri Lanka Navy crowded a gymnasium to hear of dangers posed to them by bribery and corruption.

Two top officials of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption - Director General Piyasena Ranasinghe and his deputy, C.A. Chandrakantha - spoke to them for four long hours. Even if no one raised questions when it ended at the Eastern Naval Area Headquarters in the Dockyard in Trincomalee, the message was very clear.

The drive against bribery or corruption in the armed forces and the police is being stepped up by the Commission. The prelude is an awareness campaign they have embarked upon. In the Navy, this was the second one. The first was held in Colombo.

One of the speakers in Trincomalee lamented that two awareness sessions, one with the Army and the other with the Air Force, were not up to their expectations. The reason was a lack of co-operation and enthusiasm.

"The Commission has conducted 120 awareness programmes so far in Ministries, Departments and statutory boards," Piyasena Ranasinghe, Director General of the Commission told The Sunday Times. (See box story on this page for interview). They are now focusing on the armed forces. Besides ones for the Army and the Air Force, two have been held for the Navy. More will follow soon, says Mr. Ranasinghe. Today a similar awareness programme for the public will be held in Weligama.

Reports of bribery and corruption being rampant in the armed forces came to the fore when the then People's Alliance Government embarked on "Eelam War III." This was after peace initiatives failed in 1994 and a string of military offensives were launched starting with "Operation Riviresa" to re-capture the Jaffna peninsula from Tiger guerrilla control.

The PA Government relaxed procurement procedures including tender formalities to help armed forces obtain sophisticated equipment without delay to crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). What followed is now history.

But, without any fanfare or the glare of publicity, the Commission has been probing those who made it rich, both in uniform and outside it. Many of their actions were highlighted in these columns since 1995. In a move to distract the public, some of the exposures were covered up through a censorship. Others that came out were branded as "information to the enemy" by some government politicians and bureaucrats in a bid to prevent further disclosures by The Sunday Times.

Many of those who acquired wealth through corruption had won wealth for themselves. This is even if the wars the soldiers fought proved otherwise. Many paid with their lives. Others were maimed or suffered injuries. Even this week, members of the Army's Seva Vanitha took the unprecedented step of walking the streets with the till to collect money for the welfare of these soldiers.

And now, the Commission's untiring efforts are yielding results. At least 13 officers - from Lieutenant to Major General, both serving and retired, who reportedly had enriched themselves are being probed. Complaints against them range from amassing large sums of money they cannot account for in their bank accounts, building luxury houses, purchasing land or acquiring motor vehicles.

Most of the young officers had come under investigation for bribery. An example is a major serving in an Army camp in the North Western Province. A supplier deposited funds regularly into his bank account in Colombo. The Major had withdrawn these funds by using his credit card from a bank located near the camp.

The Commission is also probing a series of complaints against policemen and politicians. However, Commission officials say they have so far not received many complaints from the Air Force or the Navy. In the Police, allegations have been made from constables to those holding higher ranking positions.

In the case of politicians, some former Cabinet Ministers are among those under investigation. Former United National Front (UNF) Minister and one time strongman in the People's Alliance, S.B. Dissanayake has already responded to a show cause notice issued by the Commissionon on the acquisition of his assets. The three member Commission is to now study the answers filed by Mr. Dissanayake's lawyers. That is to determine whether they are satisfied with the answers filed or whether the Commissions should proceed any further.

A similar show cause notice over acquisition of assets by former Cabinet Minister and one time Deputy Minister of Defence, General Anuruddha Ratwatte is now returnable on November 2. Here again the Commission will study the answers before determining further action.

The term of office of the three Commissioners - Ananda Coomaraswamy (Chairman), K. Viknaraja and Kingsley Wickremasuriya - ceases on December 15, this year. The Constitutional Council will be required to submit to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga the names of three members to replace them.

Probes by the Commission in most cases have been time consuming. For example, inquiries into assets acquired by persons against whom there are complaints, like houses, would have to be valued. Such valuation would have to be both at the time of construction and current values. In the event of an acquisition of a house, the value at the time it was purchased and the current market value has to be determined. In the case of malpractices relating to tenders, the procedures involved have to be carefully documented.

These developments come at a time when Army Headquarters effected drastic cut backs on transport facilities to all their officer cadres. The move, The Sunday Times learns, followed a directive issued by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda.

A note signed by Chief of Staff, Major General Chula Seneviratne and circulated to all locations on October 25 sets out the new policy on the use of vehicles. He has given two reasons for the move:

The Army has been given limited financial resources for 2005 due to the current financial crisis in the country. According to these allocations we will not be able to provide for the high allocation for fuel and for vehicles taken on rent.

Taking into consideration the above situation, the Army Commander has directed the implementation of a new vehicle policy. Accordingly previous directives on this subject stand rescinded.

Among the highlights of the new transport policy are:
Officers holding the rank of Major General will continue to enjoy the existing practice of one staff vehicle and one vehicle for the appointment they hold. They will, however, not have an escort / back up vehicle.

Brigadiers or officers holding office as a Director will be required to use the one light vehicle assigned only for administrative duties. This will mean the withdrawal of vehicles assigned to their appointments. They have been called upon to request the Director, Supply and Transport for their urgent travel requirements. Similar restrictions also apply to Colonels, Lieutenant Colonels and Majors (holding Lt. Col. appointments).

A host of other officers serving in one time operational areas and wanting to travel to Colombo on leave or on official duty will be required to make a request to the Director of Supply and Transport. They will have to provide in advance the date and time of travel. This will mean they will be debarred from using vehicles assigned to their appointments. Those covered by this rule are Security Force Commanders, Division Commanders, their deputies, Divisional Commanders (51 HQ, 52 HQ, 53 HQ, 55 HQ).

Commanding Officers have been told they should use the vehicles provided to them for official duties. When they are on leave, they have been called upon to use their personal issue. "All other officers should make use of the vehicles provided, or the Liberty Bus service maintained by the Army or make use of public transport to report to duty or leave after their duty," says Maj. Gen. Seneviratne's note.

Another note circulated by Army Headquarters this week relates to the suspension of two senior officers - Major General Sisira Wijesooriya (former Director General-General Staff) and Col. Sumedha Perera (Military Spokesman at the Op Hq of the Ministry of Defence and Director Media at Army Headquearters).

The officers concerned, Major General K.B. Egodawele, the outgoing Military Secretary has said in an "All Lists" notification dated October 28 "have been suspended from the exercise of duties and functions of office as provided for in Regulation 2 (1) of the Army Officers' Service Regulations (Regular Force), 1992 as mentioned below:

"O/50576 Maj. Gen. D.S.K. Wijesooriya RWP RSP USP with effect from 18 October 2004 without pay.

"O/50944 Col A.K.S. Perera WWP RWP RSP with effect from October 25 2004 with half pay.

"By virtue of the suspension of the above mentioned officers," Maj. Gen. Egodawele states "the following restrictions are imposed:

"a. The officers under suspension are not permitted entry to military establishments unless authorised for specific purpose. However, they shall be permitted entry to military hospital for medical treatment.

"b. The said officers are not permitted to attend any military functions." Vehicles and escorts assigned to Maj. Gen. Wijesooriya and Col. Perera have been withdrawn. They have also been called upon to return any Army property in their possession.

Maj. Gen. Wijesooriya has been released on bail by a Magistrate's Court pending indictments by the Commission to Probe Allegations of Bribery or Corruption.

Col. Perera is indicted in the High Court of Colombo for aiding and abetting in forgery. This is involving an allegedly fraudulent land transaction. Maj. Gen. Egodawele retires from the Army today. He is to be recalled from the reserve on pay and pension and posted to the Army's Training Centre in Kukuleganga, Kalawana, where UN Peace Keeping troops are put through their paces.

The Army hierarchy cannot be faulted for effecting drastic changes in transport facilities for their officer cadres. They are acting on orders from above. But the move is clearly one that has not been properly studied.

The vast majority of the officers who are not corrupt enjoy only a few perks. The use of transport facilities afforded to them is one such major privilege. The fact that it has been withdrawn or curtailed no doubt will cause them inconvenience, and in some instances, even humiliation. It does not bode well for morale either. That cannot be the reward for most officers who have courageously faced a 19 year long war and paved the way for politicians to talk peace.

The fact that there is a ceasefire does not mean the war has ended. Whether the UPFA or any other Government in power would have to turn to the same officers in an hour of need to meet any threats to national security, be it in the North and East or elsewhere.

The politicians themselves have not set an example. Take for instance the UPFA Government's recent move to increase the number of Deputy Ministers leaving behind only three MPs of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) without assignments.

And these Deputy Ministers are entitled, besides other perks, on an average, to five vehicles. Two are for their personal use and the rest for their personal staff. This is in addition to back up security vehicles. They are allocated on the basis of each person's security needs. But not for some Army officers on whom threats from Tiger guerrillas still remain.

It is still not too late for President Kumaratunga to re-think this drastic decision to deprive all officers of a rightful privilege they have enjoyed. Of course, there is certainly a need to crack down on abuse and misuse which is at peak level. It is not the withdrawal of vehicles that can bring about a saving. It is a control on the use of fuel. There are also many other ways in which the Army could save millions by cutting down waste and stop paying more for their requirements.

Corruption threatens national security
Bribery or corruption in the armed forces and the Police can not only endanger public lives but also national security says Piyasena Ranasinghe, Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption.

A Magistrate for eleven years, Mr. Ranasinghe is now spearheading an awareness campaign on behalf of the Commission. That is to make those in the armed forces and Police aware of the dangers of bribery, corruption and the consequences that follow when they are caught up.
Here are excerpts from an interview he gave The Sunday Times:
The message to the armed forces and the Police:

We explain the consequences that follow if one is found engaged in corruption or bribery. We explain to them in detail how these evils affect basic human rights, the environment, the health of the people, how it poses threats to the public, how they encourage terrorism…

There were reports of sale of maps (during military offensives) giving locations of military camps. If that really happened, lives of soldiers would have been endangered. The nation's sovereignty would have been placed in danger. Such things are done for money. We want to educate them to refrain from such acts.

We know some deserters are engaged in armed robberies. We have also got to know some of them have gone beyond, even to sell information.
During our awareness campaign to the Navy in Trincomalee, we spelt out the dangers that arise from bribery or corruption. We cited the recent revelations at the Registration of Persons Department where National Identity Cards were issued reportedly for bribes. Now, this is a clear case of how bribery affects national security. This matter is now under investigation. I cannot therefore say anything more.

On the conduct of investigations:
We conduct investigations on public complaints. At present 98 per cent of the complaints are anonymous. We do not throw away a complaint just because it does not bear a name or address. We carefully study the contents. There are occasions when some of the complaints are frivolous. An example - when a Police officer is promoted, there are complaints against him. We have found such complaints sometimes contain personal allegations that turn out to be incorrect. But we do not discourage anonymous complaints. Acting on them, we conduct our own discreet inquiries before taking the next step.

We want to create greater public awareness so citizens will be courageous enough to come forth with more complaints. I also believe this will lead to citizens bodies committed to deal with bribery and corruption to join hands to help us. They could do so by becoming parties to a common forum. Such a forum could use the print and electronic media to generate public debate on the need to deal with these two issues. One avenue is TV talk shows which interest the public. That will become a strong weapon against those engaging in corrupt activity.

How the Commission works:
There is a link between the Commission and the investigators who are Policemen. There are 98 Police officers under the charge of a Senior Superintendent of Police. There is also a Superintendent of Police and an Asst. Superintendent. Our task is to investigate (a) Corruption (b) Assets, and (c) Bribery.

When the Commission receives a complaint, it is sent to the Legal Division. That is to ascertain whether there is sufficient material to conduct an investigation. There are 17 Legal Officers. If the Legal Officer feels there is sufficient material, they refer it back to the Director General. He in turn sends it to the SSP, the head of investigations to conduct the inquiry.
Upon completion of the inquiry, the file returns to the Director General. He refers it again to the Legal Division to determine whether any offence under the Bribery Act has been committed. If they confirm an offence had been committed, the Commission institutes legal proceedings.

Once the Commission gives a directive, the suspect is arrested and produced in Court. At a later date a charge sheet or indictment in the Magistrate's Court or the High Court is made.

On the awareness programmes:
It is not easy to eradicate bribery and corruption. We can only ensure preventive measures are taken to minimise it. Most public officers and even those in the armed forces or police are unaware of the consequences of corruption. This is why the Commission decided to go ahead with an awareness programme. So far 120 such programmes have been conducted in Ministries, Departments and statutory boards. In the Navy, two such programmes have been concluded, one in Colombo and another in Trincomalee.

We have dealt with 30,000 cases - from a peon to Secretary - in the public service. Last year we handled 13,500 cases.
Difficulties faced by the Commission:
We are hit by the lack of funds. This causes difficulty in reaching out to the public. We have investigation officers from only the Police Department. At any time they have to revert to their department. Like in Singapore and Hong Kong, we need to have our own investigators too. We need a multi disciplinary team conversant with various aspects. Financial constraints prevent us from doing so at present.

On their own the Commission cannot fight corruption. Complaints from the armed forces are not commensurate with public revelations about corrupt activity. There should be greater public co-operation.

The role of the media:
Commitment of the media is vital. That is an important area, as important as the commitment of the political leadership. Investigative reporting is important. That helps us when they investigate and expose corruption. When such exposures are made, there is a greater public awareness. If for example politicians are exposed, they will not be elected by the people.

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