Fighting corruption | Daily News

Fighting corruption

President Maithripala Sirisena, in a New Year message, has prioritized the elimination of corruption in public life, unusual in itself for a New Year message from a Head of State in this country. He said they should all treat 2019 as a year where several programmes will be implemented to confront the grave challenge posed to the development of the country due to corruption.

Fighting corruption had been a focal point in all the speeches of the President since his election to office on January 8, 2015 on a largely anti-corruption platform. It is therefore ironic that the deposed Yahapalanaya Government led by President Sirisena signally failed not only to bring to book even a single perpetrator of mega corruption under the Rajapaksa regime but had the ignominy of presiding over some of the worst corruption scandals that unfolded in this country, not to mention the arrest of a key official of the Presidential Secretariat, no less, for corruption.

But not many will find fault with the President for his resolve to fight corruption whether this was contained in a new year’s message or not. President Sirisena also conveyed this same message when he met all Secretaries to Ministries following the swearing-in of the new Cabinet. He prevailed on them the need to maintain probity in all financial matters in their ministries. As the Chief Financial Officers in their ministries the secretaries no doubt would have to ensure that the President’s edict is followed to the letter. After all, it is the President who appoints all Ministry Secretaries at present, taking this task out of the hands of the respective ministers who would like to appoint their favourites and ‘yes’ men, as in the past.

However, it is also true that corruption in the ministries often takes place outside the purview of ministry secretaries as has been amply demonstrated in the past. The massive corruption that took place at the national carrier was just one instance where the secretaries did not fit in with the scheme of things, what with the pilot-in-chief being a kinsman of the Head of State, no less. Nay, even the Deputy Minister of Civil Aviation, at the time, confessed that he was helpless to stop certain irregularities at SriLankan, while giving evidence before the Special Presidential Commission probing the affairs of the national carrier. The plight of the ministry secretaries, therefore, needs no elaboration.

Corruption has assumed monstrous proportions in this country, particularly in recent times, and, what is more, the canker had made inroads into every aspect of public life, not sparing even the institutions of education and sports. Nay, the latter was described by a former Sports Minister as heading the list followed by education and the police, in that order. Sri Lanka is presently placed at the very bottom of international ratings of countries described as ‘basket cases’ where corruption is concerned, so much so even investors have had second thoughts in commencing projects here, according to reports.

The remedy, as most experts agree, is to strengthen the institutions set up to tackle corruption, such as the Bribery Commission and the various arms of the law enforcement dealing with corruption. Tough laws should be introduced and all loopholes in prevailing laws plugged to ensure the guilty do not break through the net. The President recently declared that his efforts to bring in amendments to the Bribery Act to decisively deal with the perpetrators of the Bond scam were scuttled by the previous Yahapalanaya Government. He should lose no time in reintroducing this piece of legislation in keeping with his New Year message and expose those who attempt to circumvent it this time around.

A fish they say starts rotting from the head. Therefore, the President’s crusade to cleanse public life of corruption should ideally begin with the country’s Supreme Legislature. It is then that public institutions could be made to fall in line. We say this because during the recent political crisis there were attempts to bribe MPs to cross over to the other side. A certain MP went public exposing the whole sordid drama of how he was offered massive inducements to switch sides while the President himself revealed of ceilings imposed by MPs as the price for crossing over.

This, needless to say, was unbridled corruption. There is today a growing skepticism among the public that since Parliament itself was corrupt, what is to stop lesser minions following suit. If this trend of thought is allowed to flourish there is no knowing to what proportions corruption will soar in this country. Hence, it is important to start at the top. Ideally, a Special Presidential Commission, with full powers, should be appointed to probe these attempts to offer massive bribes to induce crossovers of MPs, on the lines of the Commission to investigate the Bond scam.

If not, since all the actors involved are still in Parliament, the public are bound to come to the inescapable conclusion that more of the same will follow in the future as well, notwithstanding the President’s genuine intention of fighting corruption.


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