The main reason why Sri Lanka failed to win her war on terror for nearly three decades was that she never made an attempt to account for terrorist leaders. The military was made to launch much advertised large scale operations scores of miles away from Prabhakaran`s bunker. The country under successive governments naturally suffered more losses than victories. The inevitable outcome was that terrorism thrived and grew resistant to traditional remedies. In the end, the present government decided to go for the terrorist leaders in an all out war and terrorism was eliminated within less than three years.
The same strategy going for masterminds instead of lesser minions must be adopted in tackling all other social evils, if we need positive results. But, unfortunately, we are still trying to battle corruption which has eaten into the viscera of society the way we had been fighting war on terror until 2006. Ambitious anti-corruption drives launched from time to time only result in the capture of sprats while killer sharks escape. If a petty clerk is nabbed in the act of accepting a bribe of one hundred rupees or pilfering some stationery from a government department, he is thrown behind bars immediately. But, little is done about mega corrupt deals in which precious State assets have gone for a song. The culprits responsible for them have risen above the law and their sordid operations are taken for granted!
Besides the impotence of anti-corruption mechanisms in place, the super rich do not have to account for their wealth. That is why most parliamentarians have not declared their assets. Interestingly, those worthy lawmakers wave the bludgeon of privileges at the drop of a hat and haul journalists before the Parliamentary Privileges Committee over lesser matters, but mum`s the word on their part as regards severe criticism in the media of their noncompliance with the legal requirement that their material assets be declared. They obviously do not want to open a can of worms for themselves.
The Supreme Court has, of late, shot down three illegal deals involving Waters Edge, the Lanka Marine Services and the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation. As former COPE Chairman Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, who was instrumental in exposing the plunder of those public assets said at a seminar on whistle-blowing on Tuesday in Colombo, in spite of the landmark Supreme Court rulings, no action has been taken against those responsible for corruption. Some politicians evidently lined their pockets but they have not yet been probed. The Bribery Commission, which descends on clerks, peons and coroners like eagles on hares, is dragging its statutory feet on investigations into those daylight robberies which shook the country.
The situation couldn`t have been better for the robbers of public property: They are safe even after their illegal deals are shot down by the apex court! It was for their benefit that successive governments systematically rendered the Bribery Commission toothless.
Everybody knows the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats who stood to gain from the aforesaid corrupt deals but nobody is doing anything about them. In this country, there are many organisations to campaign against corruption. Why aren`t they taking to the streets demanding action against the plunderers of public property? We are sick of their awareness campaigns which sadly amount to preaching to the choir. What is called for is action!
Even the pugnacious Rathu Sahodarayas who dance down the track over innocuous issues have baulked at launching a campaign against the government`s failure/refusal to deal with the corrupt politicians who gifted public land to cronies and divested state ventures at ridiculously low prices. Will the JVP hold a public rally to pressure the government to probe them properly and resort to prosecution without further delay?
We have seen other lawmakers take bullock cart rides, wear black arm bands and stage raucous protests in the well of the House over various political issues. But, there is no such hullabaloo over the plunder of state assets. Why?
We have a situation where lawmakers of all hues, civil society activists and the statutory bodies are silent over the robbery of public property. Only some civic minded citizens, a few parliamentarians and a section of the media are trying to have those robbers brought to book. The judiciary has done its part but much more needs to be done by others in battling corruption, which hampers the country`s progress more than terrorism.
Former US Ambassador Robert Blake pointed out at a seminar in Colombo in October 2007 that but for corruption Sri Lanka`s economy would have recorded a growth of two more percentage points. MP Rajapakshe has recently said the COPE report prepared under his chairmanship had helped save a whopping sum of money equivalent to one half of the country`s GDP! If corruption could be rooted out or at least reduced to a bare minimum, perhaps the government may be able to do without foreign loans.
The Supreme Court judgments in the Waters Edge, LSM and Sri Lanka Insurance cases have revealed how corrupt the private sector is. We are not short of private sector bigwigs who try to project themselves as paragons of virtue capable of running this country efficiently. But, on the sly they are making use of corruption in the public sector to make a fast buck. The infamous oil hedging agreement reeking of corruption is also a case in point.
One cannot but agree with Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe that there is no point in trying to fight corruption at lower levels in society and that the battle must begin at the very top. Else, we will have to settle for nabbing errant petty officers in the State sector till kingdom come by way of eliminating bribery and corruption.