Flogging a lame horse

Island Editorial

It has been reported that the government is planning to legislate for the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) to be vested with powers to deal with the private sector as well. This is something long overdue. We have, over the past several years, pointed out, in this space, the need for new laws to tackle bribery and corruption, involving non-state actors, who, in most cases, operate hand in glove with the corrupt in the state sector. It takes two to tango, but action happens to be taken against only a handful of corrupt public officials.

It is not mandatory for political parties to declare their campaign funds and sources thereof, and this has not only enabled some business tycoons to bribe prominent politicians but also led to a nexus between politics and the nether world of crime and drugs. The general consensus is that politicians and their parties benefit from the largess of even anti-social elements, including drug barons, who, use their slush funds to bankroll election campaigns. It may be recalled that a powerful minister of the last government helped Kudu Lal, the biggest supplier of heroin in the city, flee the country, when the former realised that the latter’s life was in danger. The ministerial potentate took the drug czar all the way to the airport, in his own vehicle.

The SLFP and the UNP are currently at the forefront of a campaign against bribery and corruption, we are told. Will they care to disclose how much they received by way of campaign funds for the Feb. 10 local government polls? As the self-proclaimed campaigners for good governance, the SLFP and UNP leaders are duty bound to reveal their election war chests. The same goes for the newly formed Sri Lanka Progressive Front, which also received a great deal of funds from various sources for the last local government polls and its impressive anti-government rallies. Where has it got all its funds from?

It was revealed, at a press conference, given by the National Election Commission (NEC), the other day, that a candidate, in Moneragala, had shelled out as much as Rs. 40 million for votes, at the Feb. 10 polls. One of the main arguments for introducing new electoral reforms, which have proved to be a failure, was that candidates had to spend colossal amounts of funds, on their campaigns, under the previous electoral system. Earlier politicians had to bribe a large number of people, spread out, in a bigger area, but now they are in a position to give bigger bribes to fewer people in a smaller area!

In 2014, Prime Minister of New South Wales in Australia, Barry O’Farrell, had to resign, as he had not declared a bottle of wine, received as a gift in 2011. We have to introduce such laws if corruption is to be curbed, if not eliminated. In this country, nobody in power, has to resign even if he is found to have received an entire brewery as a bribe.

Meanwhile, the CIABOC must be vested with powers to initiate investigations, on its own, without waiting for complaints to be lodged. It was stripped of these powers, in 1994, under the SLFP-led People’s Alliance government. The despicable move received the blessings of all MPs, representing the SLFP, the UNP and even JVP, whose MP had contested the 1994 general election, on the Sri Lanka Progressive Front ticket. Now, the self-righteous leaders of these parties harangue the public on the need to rid the country of bribery and corruption.!

One cannot but welcome the moves, reportedly being made to tackle the private sector corruption. One, at the same time, can’t help asking whether the CIABOC is planning to bite off more than it can chew. It is terribly understaffed, and has never been free from political interference. The Opposition claims that its complaints against key government politicians have gone unprobed. One may, therefore, argue that action should be taken to ensure that the CIABOC is provided with required facilities, freed from the clutches of politicians and made to investigate complaints against corrupt government politicians before it is burdened with additional tasks. Flogging a lame horse is an exercise in futility.

 

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