One year has given way to another and the world is poised for a journey into the unknown. While wishing our readers a very happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year, we dwell on something that, we reckon, warrants a comment in the public interest.
The biggest challenge the country is faced with is said to be battling terrorism. The government promises us that in a few months we will be able to put the war behind us. Whether that promise will be honoured or reneged on remains to be seen. However, it is not only against the separatist terror that this country needs to be protected. There are two more equally destructive and insidious enemies rendering many state and social institutions hollow. They are bribery and corruption.
It was to battle these twin evils effectively that the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABC) was established with the ambitious mission `to spearhead the fight against bribery and corruption through the execution of programmes of prevention, investigation and prosecution in a just and fair manner, without fear or favour, within the framework of the rule of law.`
But, has the CIABC lived up to the expectations of the public? We are afraid that it hasn`t. It has been catching all sprats and no sharks. It is like having a sledgehammer to kill flies. Why should we have a trawler to do a stilt fisherman`s job? If it is only fingerlings that the CIABC is capable of or intent on catching, then we might as well do away with it and save funds. We can make do with a smaller institution for that purpose and it may be called `The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption against Lesser Persons!
Many an eyebrow has been raised over the sudden transfer of Chief Inspector C. A. Premashantha, who was in charge of asset investigations at the CIABC, to the Eastern Province. The Commission claims such transfers are routine, but insiders insist that he was moved out as he was probing the assets of a former top bureaucrat who is alleged to have robbed the public purse to the tune of millions of rupees. Premashantha had held on to that investigation with the tenacity of a bulldog in the face of pressure from various quarters, while the CIABC allegedly chose to soft-pedal the issue for reasons best known to its bigwigs. So, the only way to get rid of Premashantha was to send him to the East on the pretext of a transfer. That is the price an efficient officer has to pay for doing his job!
Transfer of officers to derail investigations is not something new in this country. There have also been instances of even police units being disbanded to protect lawbreakers. The fate that befell the Crime Detection Bureau (CDB), the Bureau of Special Operations (BSO) and the special police unit at Walana is a case in point. It was only recently that the present government claimed that there had been a plot to defeat it at the budget vote on Dec. 14 so as to derail its war effort. So, who says the transfer of a police officer to hush up a bribery and corruption investigation is not possible?
Unfortunately, the officers who get transferred or kicked out for doing their job without fear or favour cannot speak up for fear of reprisals in the form of disciplinary action. In this country, they know being honest and outspoken never pays off. Only bootlickers go places. Had Premashantha compromised his conscience and professional conduct, he would still have been with the CIABC. By not giving in to pressure and diktats of higher ups, he has proved the police are not yet devoid of good cops.
The corrupt are usually rich and have enough funds to have politicians and police top guns in their pocket. The bigger the shark, the greater the chance he has of breaking the bribery net. After all, in this country the `punishment` for politicians who commit fraud and own up to it in Court is settling the State costs! They can also storm public institutions with goons and unleash violence without being brought to book.
The CIABC appears to be, with due respect to the good commissioners, functioning as a washing machine for politicians to wash their dirty linen. They go there with TV crews in tow and make all sorts of complaints against their rivals and the investigations predictably draw a blank. That is the end of allegations of bribery and corruption against them!
It looks as if the best way for any big-time crook to clear his name is to be probed by the CIABC as he can rest assured that no charges against him will be proved. If he has the slightest doubt that investigations are not going in his favour, he can always have the investigator/s concerned transferred.
It behoves the CIABC to make public the names of the sharks whose assets CI Premashantha was probing at the time he was moved out so that the people will know who was responsible for his transfer. The silence of civil organisations advocating transparency and good governance on the surreptitious moves being made to hush up a bribery and corruption probe is deafening.
Let ridding this country of bribery and corruption be our New Year resolution!