We are obliged to return to the subject of corruption in Sri Lanka for the second week running after a report released this week by the United States’ foremost whistleblower.
Listen to this: “Continued lending on the scale of the IMF standby arrangement is irresponsible, and continued silence by the World Bank on the issue of corruption in public sector ‘reforms’ in the country is indefensible.”
This is stated by the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a non-profit group based in Washington, in a report which has dealt a severe blow to the government and its hierarchy on the lack of punitive action against officials involved in corrupt privatizations.
GAP is a non profit public interest group that promotes government and corporate accountability and is the leading whistleblower protection agency in the US. It questions why the IMF went ahead and approved the larger-than-requested $2.6 billion Standby Arrangement facility to Sri Lanka when there are serious accountability issues in Sri Lanka. Some may argue whether ‘US interests’ was behind this report.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has criticised the government on human rights issues and questioned whether it was the right time to provide the IMF loan, much before it was approved by the executive board. When the matter came before the IMF board meeting, two weeks back, the US, France and the UK abstained from voting, allowing easy passage of the approval of the facility.
However a counter-argument is whether or not there is external concern about corruption in privatisation deals, which is not new as some other agencies too have raised such concerns, the fact remains that we should hide our heads in shame to see or allow the guilty to go free. What would have been the real situation if the culprits were ordinary people, people on the street who didn’t have influential godfathers to protect them? Your guess is as good as mine.
Justice should be for all and equal to all, which the Supreme Court has proved in recent times and had resorted to the maximum penalty possible within its jurisdiction. GAP says in both privatisations, Lanka Marine Services (LMS) and Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (SLIC), which were slammed in Supreme Court judgments, officials and corporate barons responsible for such transactions got away with just fines and no follow up action by the government or its agencies. The court had directed government agencies to act but the Bribery Commissioners’ Office and the Police are dragging their feet in this process.
The report says that if the guilty is ‘not sanctioned in any way and can openly display their contempt for the distinction between public resources and private wealth, then it is safe to assume that these cases are only indicative of the true level of corruption and fraud among the elite in both the public and private sphere of Sri Lanka.’
It said that civil society organizations and the ethical public servants who brought the lawsuits that resulted in the Supreme Court decisions have advocated for transparency and accountability in government. Again, what are the government agencies doing? “The attorneys representing the two complainants in the reversals demanded that the CID investigate and prosecute suspects in terms of the Penal Code and Public Property Act,” the report said.
Another matter that drew attention and anxiety to some others this week was the refusal by the Supreme Court to reverse decisions in the Water’s Edge judgment. Many legal watchers have been expecting a few cases seeking a revision of the judgments issued during the tenure of the former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva.
But the Water’s Edge case is likely to result in a serious re-think by these parties who were hoping to get ‘vindicated’ with the changing of the guard. One of those, former Treasury Secretary Dr P.B. Jayasundera has gone to court ‘to proclaim his innocence’ and seek court’s permission to withdraw an affidavit submitted earlier that he will not accept any government position.
Ironically even though the Supreme Court found Dr. Jayasundera to have acted above his authority, violated provisions of the Constitution and disqualified him from holding public office, an amended petition submitted by the former Treasury Secretary proclaims: “I am not guilty of any misconduct’. While governance and accountability is boldly violated, it is pitiful that the main chambers and their corporate czars who have been pontificating on many an occasion about corruption, transparency and governance in the public service have sought to be silent – just because members of their own tribe have been implicated.