Among the many comments circulating on social media is one where they say there are two types of people on Facebook nowadays; one set who while walking on the street, trip on a stone and ask, “is this the Yahapalanaya they talk of”, and the other set who find a rupee on the road and [...]


Corruption probes, Sift wheat from chaff


Among the many comments circulating on social media is one where they say there are two types of people on Facebook nowadays; one set who while walking on the street, trip on a stone and ask, “is this the Yahapalanaya they talk of”, and the other set who find a rupee on the road and say, “here is our money that the Rajapaksas stole from us”.

In the immediate aftermath of the defeat of the nine-year Mahinda Rajapaksa regime and the 20 years of UPFA rule, an avalanche of protests and petitions of corruption seem to be pouring out like an overflowing sewer. Quite a lot are by the very people who were part and parcel of the regime.

Such a flood of accusations is to be expected with each new administration. And as that new administration settles into office and gets busy with the mundane matters of running government, the enthusiasm will fizzle out. All the culprits need to do is duck their heads for a while and ride out the storm. In the meantime, they will be looking for patrons in the new dispensation. That is the name of the game and many are the willing partners to offer their patronage to these shady characters.

During the past fortnight since the Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe Government came into office, there has been a steady trek of politicians, accompanied by their respective lawyers to the Bribery or Corruption Commission. Impotent as it is, the Commission is legendary for its inaction. It was created by bad law, some of its members wrongly picked and it never quite knew if it was an investigating arm or a prosecuting arm or an inquiring judicial body. It even has a record of officials investigating each other once upon a time.

Its investigations are replete with stories of a ‘kappan’ syndicate and its legal team has been so weak that senior counsel defending the accused ran rings round them. Several high-profile cases before the Commission viz., the R. Paskaralingam case, the S.B. Dissanayake case and the Public Trustee N.S. Seneviratne case, crashed on legal technicalities – not on the facts. The accused would then say they were found innocent by the Bribery or Corruption Commission. In the case of (Retd) Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte, one-time Deputy Minister of Defence, caught by the CID with an undeclared Rs. 40 million in a private bank vault, a cast iron case existed but it dragged on and on and the accused died without either a conviction or acquittal.

That there is a plethora of corruption cases that have to be investigated, there is no doubt. There is also a lot of misinformation and disinformation. This week alone, the Government has gone back on two allegations made by senior Government leaders and the embarrassed politicians have reacted by asking Ministry Secretaries to shut up quoting some archaic Establishment Code when the same Government is talking of a Right to Information Law. What about the Cabinet spokesman Minister who misled the whole country by saying the Chief Justice has promised he would resign.

What is required is to sift the wheat from the chaff. Identifying priority cases and forensic audits are important. Some of the allegations being made are so devoid of material evidence one wonders if these are mere smokescreens for the real rackets of the past. The doings of the Stock Exchange, a hora-guhawa and known as “The Launderette” for money laundering is one sure place to find a treasure trove of unscrupulous deals. The Government tenders given to businessmen with dubious credentials are another area that can be easily investigated. The unsolicited foreign contracts and the kickbacks from these mega-projects are a little more difficult to probe.

The Bribery or Corruption CoFishing fiasco
One of the major issues escaping the radar in Colombo but still an irritant with neighbouring India is that of poaching in the Palk Strait. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera rushed to New Delhi last weekend, hopefully armed with the facts on this vexatious issue, a matter that involves multi-issues; Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, the livelihood of Lankan fishermen, the Lankan economy and its marine environment.

India seems to be parrying the issue (Please see interview with the Minister on Page 8). Citing the “livelihood” of it citizens, India wants to drag it out. In an INSIGHT investigation by this newspaper (which won a Journalism Award last year) we pointed out that the powerful boats that invade Sri Lankan waters thrice a week, every week, are linked to Tamil Nadu politicians and the southern Indian state’s hugely profitable fish export industry — at the expense of Sri Lanka.

The Minister’s next trip appears to be to the European Union to negotiate on the ‘red flag’ notice on Sri Lankan fish exports due to illegal fishing methods adopted. He is surely not going to complain about the illegal fishing methods of the Indian fishermen in the Palk Strait. The EU is an importer of Tamil Nadu fish products.

The two Governments, India and Sri Lanka, have left it to the respective fishermen’s associations to thrash out a compromise when they meet in Chennai next week. That is exactly what the Indian side wants; a delaying tactic. Sri Lanka has no formula of its own and allows India to lead the way. And until then, it seems an ‘arrest and release; arrest and release’ policy by Sri Lanka. For the Indian side, that is an occupational hazard; for Sri Lanka, an occupational disaster.mmission as it stands, clearly doesn’t have the wherewithal to inquire into these big deals. It can catch a school principal for accepting a tea set as a bribe, but it just cannot handle the big files now landing on its tables. The Police can be put to investigate the drug mafia, not much more. One set of professionals urgently required for this onerous task of big-time corruption are the accountants who can follow whatever paper trails and study the volume of documentation that might still be available. They will know how to fix the jigsaw puzzle in the maze of statistics.

This work is beyond Police work. In America, the notorious underworld bootlegger Al Capone was sent to jail not due to the cacophony of the politicians or the expertise of the lawyers or the police, but by one conscientious, humble, hard-working tax clerk who systematically pored over Al Capone’s income tax returns.

Already, these persons who benefitted and profited by the former regime are befriending and establishing contact with those in high office in the new administration. There is no other way than to scrap the Bribery or Corruption Commission or quickly give it more ‘teeth’ by arming it with qualified professionals and changing its personnel. Seek international experts and establish an Anti-Graft Commission like in countries that treat this subject seriously rather than pay mere lip-service to it. If the near hysterical screams about corruption are not to end in a whimper or go up as a hot air balloon, we hope the Committee Against Corruption (CAC) under the Prime Minister will be a step in the right direction.


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