The UNP has asked the government to reveal assets seized from the LTTE and sought to create an impression in the public mind that the confiscated terrorist property is being siphoned off for the benefit of the powers that be. When Chief Opposition Whip Joseph Michael Perera raised a question on this issue in Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake replied that all LTTE property being acquired would be used for the country`s development.
Last week we exclusively reported that three captured LTTE ships were being brought to Sri Lanka and yesterday we revealed that those vessels had entered Sri Lanka`s territorial waters. A huge amount of money and gold recovered from LTTE hideouts is in the custody of the State and much more is expected to be seized with the help of information ascertained from the self-appointed new Tiger leader and chief LTTE arms procurer KP now in custody. The government must not only handle the LTTE`s ill-gotten wealth soaked with blood, sweat and tears of innocent civilians in a very transparent manner but also be seen to be doing so.
This however is not the first time terrorist assets have been seized in this country. Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe recently accused the government of trying to dispose of a part of the Central Bank gold reserves, a charge that the government has denied. Nothing has been heard of that allegation ever since! It is hoped that the UNP will follow it up and keep the public informed. Interestingly, while levelling that allegation, Wickremesinghe happened to say something to the effect that the gold `to be sold` had been recovered during the JVP trouble. Hundredweights of gold and cartloads of hard cash that Rathu Sahodarayas had looted from the masses and banks during their second abortive uprising aimed at preventing the implementation of the 13th Amendment were recovered during the counter-terrorism operations. Some of the JVP s arms caches and hauls of gold have not yet been detected.
What has really happened to the JVP`s gold and money taken into custody? A part of it may have been handed over to the State coffers but what has become of the balance? The people have a right to know where their gold and money robbed by the JVP are. Will Joseph Michael Perera, MP or anyone else raise this matter in Parliament for the benefit of the victims of JVP terror?
Accountability and transparency however should not be limited to the handling of seized terrorist assets. Politicians, too, must be made to account for their personal wealth as well as campaign funds. Moneybags do not fund political parties and the election campaigns of individual politicians for nothing. They do so with an ulterior motive they expect returns on their `investment`. There is nothing called a free lunch, it is said. Financiers always make it a point to cash their cheques after their favourites win. In some cases, they shower funds on all leading contestants at an election so that whoever wins, they will stand to gain. Undisclosed campaign funds, which amount to bribery, and the attendant quid pro quo pave the way for corruption.
We have had several political worthies who captured power by vowing to battle bribery and corruption. In 1994, Chandrika Kumaratunga campaigned on an anti-corruption and anti-violence platform. She said she wanted to eliminate the twin evil of dooshanaya and beeshanaya. What became of her crusade was seen from the sale of profit-making state ventures for a song like the Sri Lanka Distilleries Corporation and from the famous Supreme Court judgment on the Waters Edge land deal, which was declared illegal.
The UNF came to power in 2001 promising to clean the Augean Stables for us. Two reports filed by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) under Wijedasa Rajapakshe`s chairmanship bear testimony to the fact that corruption continued to flourish in spite of a change of government. The illegal sale of the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation under the UNF government is a case in point.
The government and the Opposition are girding themselves for the presidential contest and they are bound to spend billions of rupees on the campaigns of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka respectively. Where do these funds come from? This is the million dollar question which both sides must answer. Will at least the crusaders against corruption reveal the sources of funds for their campaign and pressure the government to follow suit? Charity, they say, begins at home.
Transparency is the most efficacious antidote to corruption and solemn vows to eradicate bribery and corruption amount to mere sanctimonious humbug, unless coupled with tangible action.