Buccaneers aboard the ship of State

The fate that befell Treasury Chief Dr. P. B. Jayasundera should serve as a warning to all public officials in this country. When they find themselves in hot water, having violated administrative and financial regulations, hardly anyone rushes to their rescue, whether or not they did so on orders from above. They have to fight their own battles and face the consequences. That the public service is highly politicised and they have no alternative but to carry out political orders is no defence at all before the law. Their political masters who make a cat's paw of them to put crooked deals through are the first to ditch them at the first sign of trouble. It is they who have to face the cat-o'-nine-tails. That is the way with the law.

The Supreme Court deserves public plaudits for its recent landmark judgment against the sale of Lanka Marine Services Ltd. And the public must be thankful to Vasudeva Nanayakkara et al, who invoked the jurisdiction of the SC against that deal, which had apparently been taken for granted. The SC has impressed on all public servants that the sky is not the limit in plundering or helping plunder public property.

But, the question is whether it is only the errant public officials who need to be punished. What about their political bosses at whose behest they commit wrongful acts?

It is not possible that Dr. Jayasundera as PERC Chairman under the UNF regime could have acted without the knowledge of his political masters at that time. In this country, where not even a public convenience gets built without political involvement, it is unthinkable that such deals as the sale of public land could be carried out without political blessings. Else, the UNF government should have taken action against Dr. Jayasundera.

An investigation is called for to trace the politicians of the UNF government believed to have been behind the illegal sale at issue. The divestiture of the CPC bunkering facility has taken a heavy toll on the public purse. The CPC used to cover a part of its losses with the massive profits earned from bunkering. Its sale aggravated the CPC's economic woes and the losses were passed on to the public, who have had to pay more for oil as a result.

A government may be able to justify the sale of loss incurring public ventures, though it is not the proper way to handle them. But, why on earth should state institutions earning huge profits be ever privatised? The Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (SLIC) used to be the State's milch cow. Cash-strapped governments were dependent on income generated from such ventures even to finance the country's war effort. But, the SLIC was divested! The same was true of the Distilleries Corporation which was a goldmine for successive governments, boozing being our national pastime. But, it was sold for some mysterious reason.

The Werahera CTB depot, which was once the epitome of efficiency, was sold to a racketeer, who plundered all its assets and fled the country, leaving an empty shell behind. Before that, CTB buses in running condition had been fraudulently condemned and sold to political henchmen. At auctions, many buses were purchased by racketeers, pushed out of depots and driven away!

The Colombo Gas went for a song. And the people were placed at the mercy of Shell. Today, cooking gas has become a luxury which the majority of people cannot afford. They are reverting to firewood and cursing those who sold Colombo Gas.

Was there any need for the Indian Oil Company to be brought here? The distribution of oil was something that the CPC carried out without difficulty in spite of its corruption and inefficiency. But for protests by the CPC workers, more and more state-owned filling stations would have been sold to Lanka Indian Oil Company. That would have not only caused the CPC to lose control over fuel distribution but also dealt a severe blow to the CPC refinery dependent on the CPC distribution network to dispose of its output. (The JVP should be thanked for having torpedoed that deal. Rathu Sahodarayas are not all that bad, eh?)

It was revealed in Parliament a few moons ago that a section had been surreptitiously incorporated into the Consumer Affairs Authority Act in favour of Prima Company. No one has so far been held answerable for that anti-people act. This, too, must be investigated and culprits brought to justice.

There have been many such instances of plunder of public property. But, both politicians and their bureaucratic stooges responsible for them have gone scot free. Politicians may question one another's paternity and wash dirty linen in public but never do they dig out corrupt deals. They seem to abide by the code of silence––omerta––practised by the Mafia about their criminal activities.

When the COPE blew the lid off a number of questionable deals and named the culprits, the present government chose to ignore its findings. In the end, COPE Chairman Wijedasa Rajapakshe defected to the Opposition out of frustration. All that the government did about his report was to wash its hands of it by palming it off to the Commission to investigate bribery and corruption. Now the culprits can rest assured that nothing will happen until they cross the Great Divide!

It is not only from the clutches of terrorists that this country should be liberated. It must also be delivered from the grip of corrupt politicians and their bureaucratic lackeys who are plundering public assets. Fining them or stripping them of their civic rights by way of punishment is, in our book, far too lenient.

They deserve, if we may say so, public hanging!

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