Leaders or followers?

The Magistrates Courts and the Police Department are among the most corrupt state institutions and departments, according to the latest report of the Commission Appointed to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption, The Island reported yesterday. Bribery Commissioner Kingsley Wickremasuriya says that this grading of departments was done on the basis of the most number of offenders caught in the bribery net. Thus, the classification is based in the performance of the Bribery Commission which has been functional only for a comparatively short time and does not necessarily reflect the spread of the twin evils in all state institutions.

From our experience as journalists, we can say that all state institutions concerned, from birth to death – state maternity clinics to general cemeteries– are plagued with these twin evils. We doubt whether even one state institution can be exempted. And the virus is fast spreading to private institutions as well – not only commercial establishments but even those run by religious bodies such as schools where the heads of the institutions have to be given hand outs for 'building funds' and something extra in addition to producing forged certificates etc. The only difference is that private institutions are proving to be more costly.

There is grim humour involved about the Bribery Commission itself. Chandrika Kumaratunga swept to power in the armour of a Joan of Arc vowing to cleanse the country of bribery and corruption. The first act of her government was to set up a permanent Bribery Commission but soon the key officials fell out, tied themselves up in legal knots which none could undo and the commission was paralysed for greater time of her administration. The Wickremasinghe government appears to be doing a repeat performance. The Constitutional Council whom the public anticipated would be their panacea – 'Kokatath Thailaya' – has not lived up to to its expectations. Following the death of one of the three commissioners the vacancy created has to be filled but due to selection procedures set up by the Constitutional Council to fill the vacancy, they had not been able to find a replacement of the required standards. So once again the Commission is at a standstill with President Kumaratunga now evincing very keen interest to have the commission going. Last week, she asked the commission to change its selection procedure. There has been, as the president said, an 'inordinate delay' in making the required appointment. Whether it would hold up the working of the commission as long as it happened in the previous administration is anybody's guess. Meanwhile, bribe takers, bribe givers and the corrupt are having a whale of a time without bothering to look over their shoulders.

It is apparent that the Bribery Commission, even if it is working on top gear, can do but little when one does survey the whole sordid scene. We now have regular reports of the blatant abuse of power by the people's representatives, their sons and now even sons-in-law. Who punishes these apparently omnipotent personages? Perhaps, justice may be done if a new government takes office, as has been the experience. Not otherwise.

Who breaks up the vicious triangle of the criminal, police and the politician? There too it could happen with a change in government but only to be replaced by a new triangle?

How can this criminalisation of politics and politicisation of criminals be brought to a halt? These are comparatively new ugly sores that have developed on our body politic.

All this malfeasance can be traced to the 1978 constitution but it can be stopped if there is a sincere and dedicated political leadership of the two main political parties of this country.

Today's political system is such that the two political leaders of the SLFP and the UNP hold the whip hand over their political parties. They are the undisputed leaders and are called 'the leader'. But both leaders are hamstrung because of the razor thin parliamentary majorities they have. Thus, a few members could make or break a government. Not even party members but even members of coalition parties too wield that clout. Thus, the leaders today have become followers of all sundry. The tail is wagging the dog. Even in the opposition the leader is in no better position. That is the reason why the peoples representatives and their kith and kin can go on the rampage assaulting or even murdering people and get away.

In another context, that is why a group of terrorists can dictate to an elected government and no solution can be worked out constitutionally.

Had we leaders who do not fear to take action against their own party offenders and outside supporters and risk being thrown out of power, this anarchy would not have prevailed. We had only one such leader before, Dudley Senanayake. We need leaders of that calibre now.

A way out of the impasse was suggested recently by the eminent lawyer H. L. De Silva. He suggested a practical way of sharing power: each party being allocated ministerial posts on proportion to the number of seats they hold in parliament. But for that to happen we need mature statesmanship from both sides.

The people of this country contended themselves for long in the belief that: 'Our leaders are honest, only their followers are corrupt'. But the fact is that they tolerate the corrupt and thereby foster corruption, wittingly or unwittingly. They are responsible.

How long can this go on? That is the question that the public poses quite often to people like journalists. It is likely to go on till the country goes up in flames or till leaders cease to be followers of criminals and the corrupt and take up the mantle of leadership. We need leaders not followers.

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