Lessons from the Mayor
It was Robert Knox, who famously said
that if you wash the mud off the Sri Lankan farmer,
he is fit to be a king.
In contemporary times, one might be
inclined to paraphrase that to say that "if you
wash the grease off a three-wheel driver, he is fit
to be His Worship the Mayor of Colombo".
This week, the new Mayor of Colombo,
nabbed nearly two hundred employees of the Colombo Municipal
Council claiming 'OT' (over-time) payments while being
'MIA'(missing in action). He proceeded to cut their
OT for that day when they were found missing from their
workplaces despite having signed as present.
Many of these employees were habitually
claiming OT while doing other things in other places.
Then, they had the impudence to 'strike' over the cut.
This is the kind of workforce that
is common in many Government and statutory institutions,
and the charade that takes place in a country where
trade union rights have sometimes been misconstrued
to mean a licence to flout the rules.
The errant employees made it sound
as if it was the Mayor's fault for catching them cheating
and that they have a right to OT even if they are not
For too long now we have seen CMC
employees busiest on Sundays, Poya days and other public
holidays. It is on these holidays that they work hardest
- because they get paid OT. On the days they are supposed
to work - they are on holiday. The Colombo Municipality
is not alone in such dishonest practices. They seep
down to the lowest Pradeshiya Sabha in the country.
Even to pass a routine Certificate
of Conformity for a boundary wall, a Chairman of a Pradeshiya
Sabha could brazenly solicit a bribe.
In Colombo especially, it is an open
secret that some officials of the CMC and the Urban
Development Authority (UDA) accept gratification to
pass building plans or in some cases, to block them.
Oiling their palms makes a mockery of the laws and by-laws
that have been enacted to ensure the country's capital
is a clean and well-planned city, but in most cases
citizens will argue that they have no option but to
comply or be left in limbo for months on end.
The ugly truth is that all the great
visions and grand pontifications of city planners, city
fathers and politicians come to naught in the face of
a bundle of green notes and other inducements.
The Bribery and Corruption Commission
is unable to keep pace with the sleaze going on. In
fact, we see it spiralling completely out of proportion.
At the very highest levels of Government, bribery is
The Auditor General recently brought
out the fact that millions, if not billions of rupees
have not been properly accounted for, yet the Government's
response is so lukewarm that it arouses further suspicion
as to why it is so. There are rumblings about the new
Auditor General who is to be appointed, and accusing
fingers are being pointed at the Ministry of Finance
as to why this kind of shilly-shallying is taking place.
The recent VAT scam shocked the President himself initially,
but even that has gone onto the back-burner for some
It was left to a JHU monk-MP, to ask,
just this week, what has happened? There was a deafening
silence from the Government in reply.
Other Customs and Excise investigations
are not given the priority they deserve, and again,
questions will naturally surface why the Treasury is
so disinterested. Scandals keep surfacing; A major scam
involving the purchase of urea (fertilizer); A Cabinet
Minister accused of a visa scam, but nothing moved on
that; even the South Asian Games held in August rife
with accusations of graft -- all pointing quite clearly
to the fact that bribery and corruption has now become
endemic under this Government. At every turn, nothing
moves without a bribe here and a commission there.
This week, in China, the powerful
Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in the newly
rich international trading city of Shanghai was sacked
by the party leadership on charges of corruption under
the country's tough anti-graft laws. It is because countries
like China consider corruption as 'acts against the
people', that powerful ruling party members could get
axed. Closer home, in Thailand, less than a fortnight
ago, public wrath against the otherwise popular Prime
Minister saw him ditched in a military coup while attending
the UN sessions in New York.
There could, therefore, be dangerous
ramifications from the fallout of 'open season' corruption
in any country.
But in Sri Lanka it seems, there is
a feeling that since corruption is tolerated at the
very top, it is permissible down the line: a police
constable openly takes a hundred rupee note to let a
traffic offender go; the Municipality's dengue programmes
are non-starters; a superintendent of a coconut plantation
sells estate fertilizer to the 'black market'; and CMC
iron rods are found in a 'bottle-shop'.
We, therefore, commend the Colombo
Mayor, at least for making a start somewhere and the
CMC Opposition for lending their support to him to clean
up the city.
Let us only hope this is not simply
soda-bottle fizz and that the small start at Town Hall
would spread to other institutions, especially the Ministry