|Demand for accountability
The issues in 1994 and 2001 are also identical- ethnic peace, good governance, democracy and economic growth with equity. In spite of all the strident allegations of horrendous corruption and abuse of power against the UNP, the PA did not institute even one credible inquiry to make anyone accountable. The signs are that the UNF too seems to be poised to return the favour. Influential sections of civil society too consistent with their traditional servility and their "running with the hare and hunting with the hound" syndrome are silent on the subject. How can they address such issues when they are more busy seeking plum political appointments from their new masters?
Sri Lanka is indeed a very unique country since in spite of even substantiated allegations of rampant corruption and abuse of power by successive governments particularly since 1977, no one has ever been made accountable. The writer wishes to make a clear distinction between a vindictive witch-hunt and the need for accountability for the cause of national development through the due process of law where natural justice which includes the admissibility of the law of evidence will prevail. A vindictive witch-hunt must be avoided at all cost. Apart from other reasons, it is evil and counter productive.
At the same time, the proverbial delays associated with our judicial system must be avoided so as to complete all proceedings and get a verdict within a reasonable time frame possibly a maximum of 4 months. The punishment too for those found guilty must be commensurate with the crime. The point being made is that the absence of accountability makes a mockery of good governance and also results in four debilitating implications with severe adverse consequences - (i) the rule of law is jeopardized (ii) it demoralizes and breeds cynicism (iii) promotes indiscipline and (iv) the best laid out plans are seriously compromised due to the absence of credibility.
Given below are some glaring examples of the absence of accountability in spite of substantiated evidence:
Power & Energy Sector
Power and energy are among the critical infrastructure vital not only for industrial and economic growth but also for the life of the community. The mismanagement and corruption in these two sectors are horrific. The terrible state of affairs in the CEB and Petroleum Corporation have been well documented. The persons responsible for this are also well known. But no one has ever been made accountable. The prolonged power cuts which have been a feature of Sri Lankan life over the past few years have been institutionalised since July last year. The public have also been given notice of a drastic tariff increase to be effected shortly.
The public will certainly make sacrifices if mismanagement and corruption are eliminated and those responsible for the same being made accountable. The Petroleum Corporation in particular has been shockingly overstaffed allegedly with political stooges and its resources also used for some of the violence unleashed during election time. The combined losses of these two institutions is estimated at Rs. 37 billion which is almost 3 % of GDP.
Rule of Law undermined
There is widespread belief of the existence of a nexus between criminal elements on one hand and some sections of the political and police establishments. This is exacerbated by the rot also allegedly extending to sections of the judiciary which includes the higher echelons. People with political influence are reportedly able to literally get away with murder. In spite of substantiated evidence of alleged serious criminal violations extending even to the heart of the political power structure, no convincing action is visible. People allegedly responsible for blatant electoral malpractice are consistently appointed to high public office with no tangible protest from influential sections of civil society. The frightening aspect is the impunity surrounding these violations. Under these circumstances, is it a surprise that the consistent application of the rule of law in Sri Lanka is non-existent?
The severe stricture pronounced recently by the International Bar Association on the poor state of our judiciary, is a shocking indictment not only on our legal system but on all of us collectively. After all, the rule of law is the foundation of a civilized society and is the final arbiter in a functioning democracy. The inapplicability of the rule of law is such that the disease has even spread to the progeny of some politicians. The latest is the ugly new years eve Galle Face Hotel violence which also involved the firing of a gun into the air allegedly by ministerial security personnel. Mercifully none of the revellers were injured. We have still to hear of any convincing inquiry. The reported comment of the minister in charge of the police that it is the responsibility of the unarmed hotel security to check guests for weapons is ludicrous especially in the context of the alleged "roughing up" of the hotel security itself during this incident.
Corruption in State Banks
The basis for much of the ill gotten wealth and social inequity is founded on the alleged blatant corruption in the technically bankrupt state banks where billions of rupees have been doled out even without tangible collateral. Even in instances where collateral has been offered, there have largely been no meaningful steps taken towards recovery. On the contrary, those devoid of political influence are hounded to recover much smaller sums. These monies have been given mainly on the basis of political patronage. The top management of these banks have evidently acquiesced in this conspiracy against the national interest. The unrecoverable loans in one of the state banks alone is reported to be a whopping Rs. 23 billion which works out to almost 2% of GDP! Adequate provisions are also not made in their financial statements to reflect the true position.
A similar situation less palpable exists in the so called development banks with the difference being that some of the monies given out have been in virtually unrecoverable equity and debt instruments. Some of the persons presiding over these appalling misdemeanours have been rewarded with key appointments both in the private and public sectors. The inefficiencies in state banks have also contributed to the high interest rate regime which adversely affects the countrys competitiveness. It is incumbent on the regulatory authorities to give prominent publicity to the names of large scale defaulters together with the amounts. The stock excuse of banking confidentiality is untenable where there is blatant misappropriation and the public have to ultimately pick up the tab.
The allegations of rampant corruption in military purchases is shocking in terms of its impunity. This is in spite of some of the large deals being well documented in the print media. The allegations involve some of the key players in the political, bureaucratic and military establishments which include their progeny. The vested interests for the continuation of the armed conflict are a powerful force which will always attempt to stymie the peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict through a negotiated settlement. The vulgar lifestyles and undue influence wielded by the beneficiaries of this corruption are a threat to the stability of this country.
Nowhere is the rot in our national psyche more visible than in the absence of accountability in regard to state assets. We have the celebrated cases of even influential ministers of the former PA government still holding onto state housing, vehicles and other assets which include sophisticated sound systems bought at state expense. It is not a trifling matter of a few vehicles. It literally amounts to hundreds of vehicles which include bullet proof Mercs, BMWs, Monteros and Volvos. It is also reported that hundreds of elite security personnel are still in the service of some former ministers. The UNF and particularly its leader are giving a clear indication of weak and indecisive "leadership." What must be realised is that when a person takes to politics he/she must realise that along with the considerable rewards which in some cases may include an ego trip, there are also some risks. These risks too are very often due to government mismanagement for which he/she is also responsible. The point being made is that one cannot eat the cake and have it as well! The public cannot be made to carry such burdens.
Already 1 plus months have lapsed since the UNP dominated UNF took office. In spite of the UNFs pre-election promises to make those responsible for serious wrong-doing which has brought this country to its knees accountable, there has been no visible action. What is more shocking is that some of those politicians and bureaucrats allegedly responsible for this have been retained in their positions. The rumoured excuses that they need to be in their respective positions to run the government, elicit information or in some cases the fear of "upsetting" the peace process do not hold water. If the government is honest and explains things to the people in its proper perspective, the people who are the final arbiters will support all corrective measures. By this inaction, the wrong signals are going out to the people, the bureaucracy and investors.
The media must be used professionally and transparently with responsibility as a tool also for education and awareness on national issues. The signs so far do not seem very encouraging, although it is still early days. The absence of internal democracy at least in the major political parties will eventually impact adversely on the country. On the ethnic front, there is reason for cautious optimism. The positive steps taken so far towards the peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict must be strongly supported by civil society. At the same time, civil society must demand immediate accountability after the due process of law. This is critical for sustained social and economic progress.
In spite of some sections of particularly the print media, very boldly exposing with detailed documentation, allegations of terrible corruption and abuse of power also involving key members of the political and bureaucratic establishments in relation to military purchases, Airlanka and plantations privatisations, Channel 9, Thawakkal, Orient Lanka, Steel Corporation, Galle Port, locomotive engines, Kumar Ponnambalam murder, Udathalawinna massacre and others, there has sadly and irresponsibly been no convincing movement towards an inquiry to date. This is most distressing. After all, what is urgently needed is a cleansing of the body politic. Inaction in this regard will inevitably lead to a severe negative fallout on the country. Civil society, wake up!
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