to the core
Last week this newspaper published some damning details of arms
procurements in the Sri Lanka Navy which implicated the then Navy
Commander. The report included very serious allegations against
the then Commander, who currently holds a very senior post in the
said that not only did he get entangled in shady arms deals from
which he benefited financially but also he fudged his Declaration
One offence is as bad as the other, because not only is one not
expected to put one's hand in the public till when holding public
office, but fiddling with a document that was introduced to ensure
honesty in public life is inexcusable.
The declaration of assets that public servants are supposed to fill
in and which is to be kept in the custody of the Head of Department
is practised in the breach. These assets declarations are either
not available in the record rooms of public departments or are not
even filled and filed.
some quarters, there are those public servants who enhance their
assets in anticipation of acquiring new ones because there is no
matching done by the Inland Revenue Department. But what happens
when the Head of Department himself fiddles with his own assets
is the classic case of a former Deputy Defence Minister who was
nabbed by the Bribery Commission more than three years ago. The
inquiry is still proceeding when all the Commission has to do is
compare his explanation to them with his declaration of assets made
to the Speaker.
brings us to the entire question of fighting graft in Sri Lanka
-- and what a joke it has become. A fortnight ago, four policemen
were nabbed trying to solicit a bribe from detectives of the Bribery
Commission. This ought to have sent shivers down the spines of other
traffic cops, but has it?
the question that keeps popping up is -- are only the sprats going
to be caught while the thoras and moras (the big fish) break through
The President, we hear, is going to appoint a panel of High Court
judges to probe the Navy deals. And one might say, that is the end
of the story. There is no need for a panel of High Court judges
IF the Bribery Commission can get its act together.
Court judges will only be listening to evidence produced before
them. The Bribery Commission has investigative powers. We have long
advocated the need for the Bribery Commission to find itself more
accountants rather than just lawyers and policemen. The Commission
must take on the role played by some French Magistrates who have
investigative powers as well and are not limited to being just a
judicial functionary. In France, some Magistrates even have powers
to investigate terrorism.
Lanka has become a state where corruption is a chronic disease.
Bribery and corruption are endemic from the very top. Take the cases
of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga that have
been highlighted recently. Did she take Rs. 600 million from the
President's Fund and transfer it to a trust she founded? Did she
get state land worth Rs. 300 million as a free grant when she was
President of the Republic (in addition to Rs. 25 million for her
annual upkeep and an official bungalow as her office)? Did she spend
Rs. 800 million to build a Presidential Palace for herself, and
the area remains abandoned?
this not a colossal waste of public funds, quite apart from blatant
abuse of power? But what's the use, if none of these is investigated
and new standards are not set for those who hold public office?
incumbent President is also on a bad wicket -- having asked that
an investigation against him for misuse of public funds (Helping
Hambantota) be stopped. What do you expect from the next set of
leaders -- Ministers who stay at star-class hotels in New Delhi
on BoI funds and Deputy Ministers who want the Sri Lankan embassy
to foot their mini-bar bill in Bangkok? No action is taken against
Public Trustee of this country has some 30-odd charges against him
for defrauding public funds -- and the man is on bail. Bribery Commission
officials bungled the case against S.B. Dissanayake and its competence
came in for serious questioning.
country's leaders cannot say that their focus is entirely on the
insurgency -- and allow this silent haemorrhaging of the body politic
to continue. While the Courts, the last bastion of justice, have
a crucial role to play, the political leaders of the day and the
Commission itself, born after much labour, cannot abdicate their
role in cleansing public life in this country.
irony is that there are no examples to show of why bribery and corruption
do not pay. But there are plenty of cases to show - that it does.