Sampanthan makes common cause
Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan has often been accused of speaking only on issues affecting the people of the North. This voicing of sentiments only of a particular people or community naturally attached the racist label onto him and other members of the TNA. There were misgivings across the political spectrum if the octogenarian politician would fit the bill as an effective Opposition Leader whose primary interest lay in voicing the grievance of the Tamil people to the exclusion of all national issues.
On Tuesday though, in parliament, Sampanthan strayed from the beaten track and touched on a topic that has been the talking point of the nation as a whole – corruption. The Opposition Leader lashed out at all governments since independence for doing nothing about corruption. “All governments present and past defend the corrupt he said. He said people who are patently guilty are not punished. “Is there anyone who was punished by a court for corruption? There is no one. You are just fooling the people” the Opposition leader noted. Sampanthan said political parties hit out at each about corruption, but when one party is defeated and replaced by another, corruption continues. There is finger pointing at each other but nothing happens, he said, adding that the people were getting sick of this situation.
Cartoon from Internet
Corruption by politicians of all hues is not a recent phenomenon and had been accepted as a matter of course since the dawn of independence, although it must said that corruption in the past pales into insignificance when considering its scale and scope in the present day. In the past, corruption was largely confined to what is called santhosams where a politician may have received a consideration for a favour granted. Corruption was by no means macro, as it is today, where the illegally amassed wealth of politicians are stashed away in foreign banks. But there is no denying that there was corruption in the past too, but these did not get exposed, as is the case today.
Sampanthan mentioned the names certain post independence politicians such as D.S. Senanayake, Dudley, SWRD and Srima as examples of politicians who were untainted by corruption. But corruption did exist under their rule, engaged in the by the lesser minions, of which, those mentioned above may or may not have been aware of. Particularly the era of the 1970-77 United Front Government under Mrs Bandaranaike was marked by large scale corruption involving members of her government and which formed the chief plank of the UNP election platform in 1977. But corruption soared to new heights under the Jayewardene government, with the liberal economy adding grist to the mill for corrupt acts. JRJ increased the salaries of his Ministers and MPs on the basis that this would keep them out of temptation’s way. But corruption thrived on an unprecedented scale, with top ministers in his government named in many of the crooked deals.
This state of affairs gave CBK and her team to come up with an attractive and very effective slogan of eradicating dooshanaya and bheeshanaya in her general election campaign. But the situation only turned for the worst with corruption getting institutionalised and the trail leading even to the very top echelons of power.
Corruption, needless to say, became a way of life under Mahinda Rajapaksa and for the first time in post independence Sri Lanka, an oligarchy ruled the country which apportioned for itself 70 per percent of the national budget. What is more, the chief anti corruption body was paralysed while the Attorney General’s Department was taken under the wing of the chief executive, putting paid to any attempts to rope in the corrupt. No wonder, no politician has so far been convicted for corruption by a court of law, as Sampanthan says. Even at present, we see Opposition politicians only being paraded before the various commissions. Whether they will actually be convicted is another matter. No wonder politicians are being described as a “special breed”.
The Opposition Leader said accusations have also being hurled at the Yahapalanaya government. True, but it is too early to say to what degree this will be taken, although it is already tainted with issues such as the bond scam, against which even government functionaries have spoken out openly.
Hence corruption is deeply ingrained in the country’s body politic where no party or government could claim innocence. Try as they might, no leader will succeed in combating corruption if it is done in a halfhearted manner. A steely will is required by those at the helm to rid the body politic of this canker. But political imperatives sometimes make even leaders baulk at tackling this problem, the way it should be done. They tolerate the corrupt acts of party members for a multitude of reasons, chief of which is their ability to deliver votes at an election through popularity or muscle power. No anti-corruption body will dare pursue such individuals. Sampanthan’s outcry will hence remain a cry in the wilderness.
Sri Lanka becomes more corrupt
Sri Lanka ranked at 95 in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2016, dropping down the rank by 12 slots when compared to 2015.
The report released by Transparency International, the global movement against corruption, ranks countries according to the perceived level of public sector corruption.
Sri Lanka was ranked at 95 out of 176 counties with a poor score of 36 when compared to 2015 when the country was ranked at 83 among 168 countries.
Denmark together with New Zealand topped the list with a score of 90 followed by Finland, Sweden and Switzerland ranked 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively, as the least corrupt countries.
India was ranked the least corrupt in the South Asian region with a score of 40 and was ranked at 79 in the overall index. Following India, Sri Lanka and Maldives were jointly ranked at 95.
The ranks based on a scoring system that ranges between 0 (public sector perceived as highly corrupt) to 100 (public sector perceived as very clean).
The Corruption Perceptions Index aggregates data from a number of different sources such as the business community and country experts on the level of corruption in the public sector. CPI 2016 is calculated using 13 different data sources from 12 different institutions that capture perceptions of corruption within the past two years.
Globally, the data reveals that a staggering 69 percent of the 176 countries scored below 50 in the 2016 CPI, indicating high levels of perceived public sector corruption prevalent throughout the world. 2016 also marks an alarming trend where more countries declined rather than improved in the overall performance.
Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) Asoka Obeyesekere said that despite the passing of the Right to Information Act and the adoption of the Open Government Partnership National Action Plan, Sri Lanka was yet to see anti-corruption rhetoric which would lead to strong action.
He said a legislative reform agenda alone is insufficient to put an end to impunity. Controversies such as the Bond issue, the alleged Australian corruption scandal implicating the President and delays in corruption related prosecutions have raised serious questions about the government’s commitment towards ‘yahapalanaya’ and anti-corruption.
Obeyesekere added that “it is often forgotten that the 19th Amendment gave CIABOC (the Bribery Commission) the power to institute prosecutions – therefore beyond the government the public must hold the Independent Commission to account”.(DS)