The Rajapaksa government earned notoriety for bribery, corruption and the abuse of power. One of the main allegations against it was that its leaders thrived on fraudulent cost overruns as regards mega development projects. Those who raked them over the coals for such corrupt practices and claimed that the Southern and Airport expressways could have been constructed at much lower costs, but for corruption, are currently in power; they stand accused of adopting the same deplorable methods to line their pockets.
The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has told Parliament that the cost of the Central Expressway has been overestimated. It is said to be 40% higher than the engineering cost estimates.
Now that the parliamentary watchdog committee has shed light on these huge cost differences, which cannot be considered a mistake by any stretch of the imagination, a thorough probe is called for to figure out what has happened and who is responsible.
Time was when the country was blessed with true statespersons who managed the national economy frugally and developed it without foreign aid. Never did they help themselves to state funds or live high on the hog, at the expense of the public. They spent their personal funds on electioneering so much so that some of them were reduced to penury in their twilight years. They remained above suspicion. The country achieved considerable progress under their leadership. It may be a gross exaggeration to say that, at present, the country is without a single honest politician. There are some men and women of integrity, but they are a microscopic minority.
It is not for the love of the people that the present-day government leaders allocate borrowed funds, with a generous hand, for mega development programmes; the bigger the project, the higher the kickbacks! Some yahapalana politicians have made a shameful U-turn collectively on the Port City project, which they, while in the Opposition, vowed to scrap, first thing after capturing power. They said that the project would destroy the entire coastal belt from Negombo to Beruwala. Today, they are ardent supporters of it for obvious reasons. It has become the jewel in their Megapolis crown.
It has now been revealed that a large number of MPs have received dosh from the company involved in the bond scams. The need for a probe into the allegation that government politicians have their palms greased by foreign companies, cannot be overemphasised.
The COPE revelations about the Central Expressway reminds us of a story doing the rounds in political circles: a yahapalana politician who, during his Opposition days, met a minister of the Rajapaksa government on the rooftop of the latter’s palatial house, wanted to know how funds had been raised for that pile. The minister pointed at an expressway over yonder and said, “From that.” After the 2015 regime change, the yahapalana guy, now a minister, entertained the former minister, on his own rooftop. The latter asked where on earth so much of money had come for the construction of that ‘palace’. The new minister pointed at a distant, mist-clad mountain range, saying, “From that expressway.” The Opposition politico strained his eyes for a few minutes, and unable to see anything, said, “I can’t see any expressway.” “Yes, there is no expressway,” said the minister with a chuckle. Many a true word is said to be spoken in jest.
President Maithripala Sirisena has appointed a presidential commission of inquiry to probe alleged malpractices at state institutions from Jan. 2015 to Dec. 2018. This is a welcome move, as we said in a previous column. One can only hope that the commission will pay special attention to serious allegations of corruption against politicians, under whose purview development projects come.