The news that a former Navy Commander had placed an order for old cannon instead of brand new guns and settled part of the massive bill in advance is shocking. The controversial deal initiated during the UNF regime, as we reported a few years ago, ran into stiff resistance initially. Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, who was a UNF minister, opposed the deal tooth and nail and locked horns with the then Defence Minister Tilak Marapane, prompting the Prime Minister at that time Ranil Wickremesinghe to appoint a three member committed to probe the allegations. The probe came to an end when the UNF government was dislodged and the deal was clinched in 2004 under the UPFA government.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. But for corruption within the defence establishment, the war would have been a thing of the past many years ago. All defence bigwigs, save a few, have lined their pockets at the expense of the national security interests. Nothing from aircraft to flak jackets or even food is free from corrupt deals. It was only a few weeks ago that we reported a large number of flak jackets imported for the army could not stop bullets! What is the difference between flak jackets that bullets can pierce and windbreakers?
That the generals, the admirals and marshals?there are always exceptions to the rule?have made a business of war is no secret. The perpetuation of the conflict has been a blessing to them?a spring of ill-gotten wealth. They extract a buck from anything they can lay their dirty hands on. While fattening on public funds and jeopardizing the national security, they go great guns by licking political boots and honest brave officers become victims of their politico-military machinations.
Those corrupt elements in uniform are difficult to get rid of even in their retirement. They get catapulted to top seats in the defence establishment and continue to harass the deserving officers and further demoralize the armed forces.
They have made their contribution to the emergence of the LTTE as a formidable guerrilla outfit, in no small measure. Their wrong strategies have helped the LTTE overrun camps and seize armories; their corrupt deals have prevented the armed forces being properly equipped and they have prevented the right men from being in the right positions. Allegations are also rife that their acrimonious internal politics has resulted in battle plans being leaked out to the enemy.
Successive governments have, on the other hand, with corrupt politicians on board, never given serious thought to rationalising the defence procurement and ridding that process of corruption. Every government without an exception has waited till the LTTE acquires a new capability to shop for weapons. The Elephant Pass would have been safe, if the army had been given Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs) to counter the LTTE`s fire power. The PA government waited until the LTTE encircled Jaffna to place the order for MBRLs, which, hurriedly brought in, proved effective in stopping the marauding Tigers in their tracks. Why was it that the same army, which had blown the myth that the LTTE was invincible in Jaffna by flushing it out from that terrain in 1995, had to bolt up to the Jaffna beaches looking for ships to come back to Colombo, a few years later? It was because the war had become a business with the defence top brass and politicians in charge of the war effort developing a taste for corruption, which blinded them to the real needs of the security forces. The inevitable happened: camps fell like pins!
Those who believe that Sun Tzu has said everything about war in his legendary military treatise?the oldest in the world?The Art of War stand corrected. There are, Tzu has said, five dangerous faults which may affect a general:
(1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction;
(2) Cowardice, which leads to capture;
(3) A hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults;
(4) A delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame;
(5) Over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.
Had he been alive today, he would have updated his work, based on his experience with Sri Lankan defence chiefs and their crooked deals and added as No: 06, `Proclivity for corruption.`
The LTTE is issuing war cries once again and the time has come for the Rajapakse government to properly equip the security forces urgently as a matter of national priority while treading the path of peace. And he mustn`t baulk at weeding out corrupt officers, if the costly military blunders of the Chandrika government are to be averted. The arms procurement ought to be rendered transparent and all allegations probed forthwith so that the security forces will have the best at lower prices. This done, he can rest assured the war is half won without firing a single bullet.
All it takes to sink a navy is a corrupt admiral, to bury an army a corrupt general and to down an air force a corrupt marshal.