Sri Lanka’s Body-Politic is infested with a Contagion of Corruption

By Vishwamithra1984 (Colomo Telegraph)

“Virtues, like viruses, have their seasons of contagion. When catastrophe strikes, generosity spikes like a fever. Courage spreads in the face of tyranny.” ~ Nancy Gibbs

Another Rajapaksa was arrested. Once again, the charge is corruption. This time it’s an Ambassador, not just one to a third world country. He was our Ambassador to the United States of America. One time, a merchant of tea whose business involved, among others, export of Ceylon Tea to America, first gained limelight by virtue of his close relationship to then President Rajapaksa, when he was appointed as the Sri Lankan Consul General in Los Angeles- a training platform for the Ambassadorship in Washington D C. At the time, the seat of Foreign Affairs was in the hands, or more accurately stated as the ‘behind’, of G L Peiris and Sajin Vass Gunawardena, another close associate of the regime. What a country we had under the Rajapaksas?


Jaliya Wickramasuriya

Yet the latest Rajapaksa relative who was arrested seemed to have had an impeccable record of integrity and political-purity. Said to be well accepted by the Los Angeles Sri Lankan community, revered by the Buddhist Temples located in this glamorous city, Wickramasuriya, who is now facing allegations of corruption, when promoted to the esteemed position of our Ambassador to Washington D C is alleged to have accepted a USD 245,000 commission while serving his term in the US. We must be cautious. These are only allegations, yet to be proven. But after intense investigations conducted by the Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID), for Wickramasuriya to have been arrested is a logical process of events that have occurred after the investigations. Rule of law may have taken its slow journey but surely it’s taking its victims with pain to the victims and relief to the country at large.

This is a clear and strong argument that the contagion of corruption has infested our body-politic. It seems to spare nobody, whether the alleged culprits are walking into the evening of their careers or leaving behind an evening of their careers. Whichever way one looks at it, it’s sad beyond words, these alleged culprits had been close friends and associates of a greater community that surrounded them; they are members of dignified families of the past and when the contagion took hold of the body, it ate into the flesh, bone and marrow, unmercifully destroying careers, families and may be even generation’s good name. Whoever is at the top must be accountable and one day, they have to face the music. They cannot run, nor can they hide from that stark and naked truth.

It is alleged, although not yet proven beyond a reasonable doubt, that unbelievable practices of corruption have been committed during the last regime and the FCID has not yet spared anyone close to the former First Family. But the burning question at the lips of many is what follows the investigations. The Government cannot just play soft after the vigorous these investigations. If they reveal any misdeeds on the part of any top leaders of the former government, whether they be some incalculable corrupt deals and unscrupulous favoritisms they must answer the call for justice. It seems that what started at the top has seeped down and the entire system; it seems to have been infested with the contagion. Each branch, the stalk, the roots and every leaf of the tree seems to be corrupt. That much is beyond dispute. What amazes the ordinary reasonable men and women is not the alleged addiction to corruption on the part of the former regime; it’s the acceptance by the rest of Sri Lankan society as the normal standard of government business is mind-boggling and infuriating.

In the past, those who engaged in corrupt practices stood out as sore thumbs. Now it’s the other way about. In a collective lot of Sri Lankan politicians, members of the bureaucracy at all levels seem to be infected with the contagion. The rare and the un-addicted and un-infected now stand out and they are scorned by those who command the majority of corrupt as an impediment in the process. They are the exception today. A society leading itself to a profane end, a society hell-bent on enriching itself in a short time, a society that closes its eyes and ears to those who demand change and break from this despicable path of corruption, in short a society that seems to be rotting away yet trying to pretend that, to rephrase a famous quote, there is nothing wrong with Amsterdam, does not deserve a better deal. In order to curb or prevent this dreadful contagion, there does not seem be available to those who are prone to infection, an effective prophylactic drug or a process. (I see no harm in this section at all. No allegation or reference is made to any identifiable individual and it’s a plain commentary on the system) No socio-political laboratory is engaged in discovering one either.

In the midst of all this, the gust of change that seems to have picked up over the last twenty four months with gushing tailwinds of Brexit followed up by the Electoral College victory for Donald Trump in America, bigotry in the guise of nationalism seems to be raising its ugly head all over and Sri Lanka is not spared. The latest tensions that have risen between the Muslim community in Sri Lanka and Bodu Bala Sena sensationalism cum pseudo-patriotism signal an ominous events to befall. If the government is not prudent in dealing with this potentially explosive situation and if no concerted attempt is made to nip it in the bud, the patriotic rhetoric and demagoguery could tear apart our country and the ensuing collapse of our values and law enforcement structures would make the thirty-year old war against the Tamil militants look like an afternoon picnic in the park.

Engagement of top leaders of both communities at the highest levels, highest ranked Muslim Imams and Muslim political leaders in Sri Lanka and the Mahanayakes of all Chapters of Buddha Sasana must be brought before one forum. Prior to that, advance but not-so-public signals must be sent unofficially now itself, if it’s not already done, to them indicating the urgency and vitality of the matter. This must be done by both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. The bigoted group of politicians led by some close associates of the last regime is waiting in the wings to fan ‘patriotic’ flames and if the powers that be lose control at the beginning itself, and ‘July ’83’ riots would seem like an unorganized riot.

Animosity, anger and hatred generated by some Buddhist monks led the notorious Bodu Bala Sena ruffians would reach a tipping point. The sensation of pseudo-patriotism, the fake emotion of safeguarding Buddhism and Sinhala-hood are vital necessities for a massive uprising of an inter-religious disturbance. On the other hand, our Muslim brethren are no chicken when it comes to violence and fierceness of militancy. What the previous rulers nurtured and nursed during their regime will come out in full force. Let us not be cheated by the ostensible peace and calm prevailing in the land. The ember under the ash of peace and calm is sizzling for rupture.

During the Indian Independence movement in the 1920’s and 30’s Gandhi, in order to appease the differences between the two leading communities in India, Muslim and Hindu, walked from one humble village to another. When he visited a Muslim village he opted to spend the night at a Hindu home and when in Hindu-dominated hamlet, he chose a Muslim abode. The leaders of the majority community of Hindus, helplessly watched this spectacle and some chose to desert Gandhi saying that he was betraying his ‘people’. Yet Gandhi persisted. When no Hindu leader accompanied him to a Muslim village, on those desolate paths in remote corners of India, he sang the stanzas of Tagore: “If they answer not thy call, walk alone, walk alone”. Rarely would such self-confidence and such vitality compacted in a frail stature of Mahatma Gandhi manifest itself in human history. That is why there was only one Gandhi in our recorded-history. No Caesar, no Napoleon or Churchill could match the magnanimity and simplicity and awesome force of human values so plainly communicated by Gandhi.

Make no mistake. There is no Gandhi among our leaders today. Those leaders of our so-called ‘movements’ seem to be infected with corruption, nepotism and bigotry. Shortcuts to power in the machinery of politics and other related spheres are magically attractive to those who yearn for power. Whatever means at hand, wealth, muscle-power or sheer naked ambition could all lead a person towards these bigoted, fringe organizations, Sinhalese-Buddhist or Muslim. What follows is mass indoctrination, hypnotic servility and frenzied expression of personal and private frustrations and defeats. They are the willing soldiers of extreme organizations. They are the fodder for ambitious, cruel and crafty men who hide behind a saffron robe or an Imam’s cloak. Some past rulers made it a habit of theirs to train these hapless, unfortunate elements, willy nilly, to indoctrinate them and unleash them to the unpredictable winds of disunion and zealotry. We are condemned to witness it.

*The writer can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com

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