busting: The action and the inaction
The dramatic, if heavy-handed arrest this week of a former cabinet
minister on charges of corruption has come at a time when there
is some renewed focus on tackling this evil, if tackling it is ever
manner in which the former Co-operatives Minister was dragged before
a magistrate does not befit a democracy. In unleashing policemen
the way it did, the government runs the risk of promoting a police
state. This, however, does not make the offence, if later proved,
any less offensive.
was only last week that we urged the authorities concerned to indict
the sharks - cabinet ministers, senior officials and big business
that was corrupting the whole system - at the very apex.
the arrest of ex-cabinet minister Abdul Cader this week smacks of
a political vendetta of a government trying to distract the public's
attention following some sharp price increases and also in the face
of more imminent hikes.
yet, let it be clear that corruption must be rooted out from the
top. We have been told by the Bribery and Corruption Commission
that it has more than a dozen complaints pending against cabinet
ministers, past and present.
should not be forgotten is that this government came into office
in 1994. Apart from the interregnum from Dec. 2001- Apr. 2004 when
the UNF Government turned a blind eye to their ministers riding
on the gravy train, the balance period has been one where PA politicians
ruled the roost.
that a once powerful PA minister was discovered with Rs. 50 million
worth of certificates of deposit in a private bank vault by the
same CID that arrested Mr. Abdul Cader and that the ex- minister
had not put this money down in his Declaration of Assets, there
are bound to be legitimate questions as to why Mr. Cader is in remand
and not a Mr. Ratwatte.
are the contradictions that need to be avoided. Thus, while we support
the fresh initiative against the people who betrayed the public's
trust, who helped themselves to monetary gains from public funds
and the meagre resources of the State, we need to stress that this
initiative cannot be selective. It cannot be partisan because then,
the government is itself engaging in a corrupt practice of providing
a protective shield for those who support it, while launching a
witch-hunt against those who oppose it.
International is one public-interest group that is at least trying
to make a difference. In its latest report, it states the obvious
that corruption is rife in Sri Lanka, but goes on to say that there
is more to combating this evil than through the Bribery and Corruption
these very columns only last week we urged that the Commission itself
needs reform on three fronts, i.e. a more dynamic commission, better
trained staff (with more accountants in it), and the will on the
part of the political leadership of this country to stamp out this
International goes one step further, and rightly so. It says that
to curb corruption, public administration reform must include the
strengthening of parliamentary oversight and accounting bodies,
a more forceful Auditor-General's Department, new laws like the
proposed Freedom of Information Act with whistle-blower protection
for those inside public institutions who expose corruption, and
a proper declaration of political party funding.
coordination of all these laws and agencies by an independent Anti-Corruption
Authority is what it asks for. The existing commission was introduced
during an unprecedented but happy moment of agreement by the divergent
parties in Parliament when the people could stand the corruption
no more - in 2001, at the tail-end of the PA's first stint in office.
So, we have a commission already in place, with only some amendments
required to give it the teeth to bite, instead of the virtual false-teeth
it has now. The question is whether the government and the opposition
can join hands and get the act together, again.
Freedom of Information Act is already drafted, and we cannot see
any political party opposing such a law aimed at transparency and
good governance. There can easily be unanimity in this non-political
piece of legislation. Unfortunately, the focus of our political
leaders is elsewhere.
this maybe too much to ask for, but that does not mean one must
stop asking. Now that there is a renewed drive on this front, let
there be a roll. Otherwise, tackling bribery and corruption will
only be an act of political revenge while paying lip-service to
the fight against those who cream off the fat of the land while
the majority of our people have to pay dearly for the sins of their
so-called leaders, and to live in a country now fast being left
behind by the rest of the progressive world.