By January 6, 20170 CommentsReport

Are we serious about eradicating corruption?

president31Pre-election, January 2015, we heard fierce noises about a revolutionary dispensation that would relentlessly pursue the many fraudsters that a delinquent government had spawned and nurtured. The unaccounted for wealth that they had amassed will be recovered, credited to the exchequer and used for the relief of poverty and the development of our nation who are the rightful owners. Corruption will cease forever. Exemplary punishment will be meted out. Practice has proved to be spectacularly out of step with promise. Just credit this to the account of several other unfulfilled promises.

The eloquent accusers have fallen strangely silent. Some of the earlier accused are now in Cabinet and spotted bearing trays of pristine white flowers, almost elbowing each other in holy fervour. As our Prime Minister proudly claimed in Parliament, “We have successfully converted rogues to Yahapalanaya”. How very nice!

But there are contrary views. Phrases such as “Honour among thieves”, “back scratching” and “same lump of but different flies”, are indelicately bandied.

It has been said that the Wheels of Justice grind slowly. But when sensitive cases come up in July and are assigned a hearing date for next year June – one may legitimately wonder whether the wheels have got detached from their axle. True, characters should not be besmirched lightly, nor needless hurt be inflicted recklessly, but when reinforced by the sequence of arrest, remand and release on bail that follow rapidly, when the high and previous mighty are entrapped, suspicions do arise.

It has been held that prevailing Banking Laws prevented certain countries from disclosing client information. But relevant to us, I understand that big depositors have been informed by their Dubai Banks, that beginning 1 January 2017, such protection will no longer be on offer in deference to certain UN and International rules. Are we sensitive to this? Does this open doors for us? Did Marcos, Duvalier, Suharto and certain African potentates provide precedents even earlier? For recovery of ill gotten assets is infinitely more important than mere punishment.

Are we really serious about eradicating this menace from our society? If so, “zero tolerance” is imperative and the only answer. One cannot have a little bit of nepotism, pregnancy, infection or corruption. It is all or nothing.

We have just heard that the henchman Ambassador to Ukraine, had some dozens of accounts in local Banks, amounting to some 1.5 million US Dollars had been judicially frozen. This may be just “petty cash”. But what of KP of LTTE fame, who was said to operate some hundreds of huge LTTE Accounts Worldwide and to control their valuable Merchant Shipping Fleet. Where have the tonnes of gold claimed to have been siezed from the LTTE gone? What of the 200 odd kilos of Heroin, suspiciously close to an incumbent of very high office? These are cases of symbolic importance and certainly not all of what was alleged..

If all these spoils are confiscated to State coffers, together with the massive daily savings from the ending of a costly conflict, be wisely used for national needs, instead of being frittered away on needless tamashas, populist actions or selfish desires, what a relief it would be.

Could we consider and if necessary legislate for, transparency requiring a declaration of assets covering periods transcribed by the “windows of opportunity” – times when office was held? This “before and after” exercise, perhaps, supplemented by Inland Revenue declarations, should be revealing. While not wanting us to become a “nation of spies”, the public should be encouraged, and perhaps reasonably rewarded, for exposing cases of corruption. The recent episode concerning a luxury mansion in Malwana which had no claimant owners is indicative. It was perhaps a Guinness record for “An Orphan House”. To set an example, the assets of MPs that are required by Law, to be declared to the Speaker, should be publicly revealed and provision enforced to disqualify those who do not comply. Surely, it is but just that those who enjoy enormous emoluments should be above even a whiff of impropriety. This is what being “Honourable” demands. So far, we have cause for disappointment.

Dr U. Pethiyagoda


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