Sunday Leader’s Leader
Amidst the verbal carnage, character assassinations, self-righteous breast beatings and ringing calls for the corrupt to be brought to justice in the debate on the alleged ‘Central Bank Bond Scam’ last week in Parliament, there came a calm, sober and rational contribution by the Leader of the Opposition and TULF Leader, Sampanthan which surprisingly was listened in silence by the usually raucous House.
He made a salient and uncontestable fact: No single politician had been convicted in a court for corruption since Independence. The patently guilty have not been punished. Has anyone been convicted by a court? He asked and replied: There is none. You are just fooling the people, the octogenarian politician told parliament.
Cartoon added by TW from internet
The Sunday Leader would like to remind its readers that we too had been thinking on similar lines. In our Editorial of Sept 18 last year we said: ‘It is strange that not one politician who has held political office been prosecuted in our courts during the 68-year period of our Independence. It is just hard to believe that all of our political tribes of four to five generations were squeaky clean but no government action has been taken to besmirch the pure white national dress’.
How did these political rogues escape being brought to justice while ordinary citizens, in particular the poor are brought to courts daily and taken back in Black Marias to prison?
Often in vindication of dishonest politicians it is said that our political leaders were untainted by corruption. Indeed almost all, save an exception or two, were honest upright standing men and a woman who exhausted their wealth on politics rather than make money out of it. But a political leader being untainted by corruption is not enough. As a leader, he or she is bound by law and morality not to tolerate the corrupt around them or hold office. If there are allegations or suspicions they are bound to take action to bring the crooks to book.
A political leader and his party is elected to office not only because of his saintly qualities and impeccable record but the ability to government and prevent the state being fleeced and thereby the people.
To stop corruption in today’s democratic countries, where an open and free economy prevails, is a mind boggling task. There is widespread corruption in Communist China as well. In former colonial countries where a rigid system of governance prevailed and officials were held accountable verily for every cent, the task was much easier. Today in the developed western world CEOs are being frequently found out not of diddling the office till but making millions if not billions vanish electronically.
But that does not mean that in poor countries like ours with scarce resources criminals should be tolerated, particularly at high places. It may be impossible to take on the whole behemoth of corruption but at least when the offenders are caught exemplary punishment should be meted out.
A reason for political and bureaucratic criminals to thrive here is that Sri Lanka has not got down or even attempted to take the bull by the horns. If corruption is to be halted it has to be taken on at the source – the people themselves.
The people, with whom the sovereignty of the nation lies, must hold leaders of political parties responsible to choosing the representatives of the people: MPs and ministers. If they give nominations to rotters who are elected and creep into high and responsible offices, the leaders are accountable. This unfortunately does not seem to happen in any political party here. Rogues are welcome if they have the money and can win their seat.
During the last parliamentary election campaign, revered leaders like the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha and even NGOs that supported the Yahapalanaya government called for minimum educational qualification of candidates and corruption free records. Unfortunately that does not seem to have happened. The worst possible happened with those rejected by the people – some defeated candidates – being elected to high office!
Eradication or attempts to eradicate corruption requires re-organisation and restructuring of government departments and institutions that involve bringing the rouges to justice – police, administration of courts, judiciary, the Attorney General’s Department, prisons and many other associated institutions which will take a very long time not just another three years. Above all legislators must be free of corruption.
The National Unity Government has adopted a pragmatic method of expediting investigation of alleged offences of bribery and corruption during the previous regime with the creation of the FCID which is another extension of the police. Even though delivery of speedy justice is not possible because it has to go through the time consuming established legal procedure, it can produce results quicker than the usual police investigations.
Any change of procedure will naturally result in allegations of extra judicial methods such as witch hunting. Spurious arguments are being made that prominent personalities of the past regime are being singled out while recent allegations made against the current government offenders are not given the same priority. It is incumbent on investigators to go through cases already taken up without spreading out their limited resources thereby delaying all probes.
The duty of a democratic opposition is not to hinder probes into corruption on the basis of political parties but support probes irrespective of political colourations. But that is an impossibility in the current context.