Corruption and 'NATO'

If there is something in this country that everybody protests against but nobody does anything about, it is corruption. Terrorism flourished as our attempts to extirpate it had been half-hearted and there was no proper leadership for war until about four years ago. It took us thirty long years, in spite of the availability of means to remove the scourge, to get our act together and grasp the nettle. The on-going ad hoc campaign against corruption, too, would go the same way as our previous war efforts.

Newly elected UNP Western Provincial Councillor Rosy Senanayake fired a salvo on the government on Monday. Addressing the media, she said there were 79 allegations of corruption against members of the present Cabinet. Only79? Did she miss a couple of zeros at the end of that figure?

There is no reason to doubt what Rosy says. But, none of the corrupt politicians will be deterred by her revelations even if they are named and shamed. Their hides are so thick and they have taken all precautions against being probed. They ––together with the UNP and the JVP!––rendered the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption toothless by taking away its powers to initiate investigations on its own in the early 1990s. It has also been stuffed with former judicial and police officers long in the tooth and starved of resources. Parliament does not care a damn about corruption even when politicians and bureaucrats are exposed with specific instances of their crooked deals.

Rosy has said corrupt ministers must be dealt with appropriately. Yes, they must be! But it is only wishful thinking that the government will bring its ministers to book on its own. It is up to the Opposition to bring adequate pressure to bear on the government to do so. The question is whether Opposition heavyweights have the courage to do so, given the sheer number of skeletons in their cupboards. They are wary of opening a can of worms for themselves in the process. Otherwise, they would have been on the streets by now protesting against corruption in the government ranks.

On the question of corruption, the government and the Opposition seem to have a tacit understanding. In 1994, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga missed a golden opportunity to prosecute a bunch of politicians responsible for many corrupt deals from 1977 to 1994. After all, she sought a mandate to eradicate Bheeshanaya saha dooshanaya (Violence and Corruption). Her party even promised to subject corrupt UNPers to kangaroo trials at the Galle Face Green. The outgoing UNP regime consisted of some ministers whom none other than the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa, reeling from an attempt to impeach him, had accused of having 'swallowed ships' and bought estates down under with kickbacks from development projects.

But, the Kumaratunga government chose to fight shy of having any of them probed. Finally, her government became corrupt to the core, as evident from the Waters Edge land deal etc.

All that the UNF government did by way of bringing corrupt PA ministers to book in 2001 was to descend on a bank vault of one of them and seize a bundle of certificates of deposit. But, nothing predictably came of the subsequent investigations.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the present government is baulking at probing a damning COPE report which has exposed several key UNP politicians and mega corrupt deals implemented at their behest between 2001 and 2004.

Not even Supreme Court orders that those responsible for the Waters Edge, LMS and Sri Lanka Insurance deals be probed have yet been carried out.

The government has turned a blind eye to that COPE report and as a quid pro quo, the UNP has chosen not to bay for the blood of those responsible for the disastrous oil hedging contract reeking of bribery and corruption.

The SLFP and the UNP may fight fierce political battles over political power but they cooperate on the plunder of public assets. They are notorious for their so-called NATO (No Action Talk Only) policy towards corruption.

Rosy's attempts to battle corruption are to be highly commended, though it is doubtful whether she will be able to secure the support of even her senior party members for her campaign. However, try she must. And she can rest assured that the discerning are with her on this score.

It was a newcomer on the political scene like her who courageously made the aforesaid COPE report public and paved the way for a number of path-breaking Supreme Court judgments. Wijeyadasa Rajapaskha is his name.

Now that Rosy has publicly taken on corrupt politicians and mandarins, she ought to pressure her own party to call for action against those named in the COPE report at issue. Charity, they say, begins at home. If she manages to do that, she will have won half the battle.

We wish her good luck!

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