Corruption is something that everybody talks about but nobody does anything about. Even the self-righteous campaigners against corruption have made a lucrative business out of it, if the amount of funds they receive year in year out disproportionate to their performance is anything to go by. They are squandering millions of dollars on raising awareness of an already informed public aware of the ill effects of corruption! The sheer cost of some of their publications on corruption makes one wonder whether they themselves are above board.
What the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar said in a BBC interview on being questioned about alleged misappropriation of Tsunami relief funds way back in 2005 comes to mind. He did not prevaricate or trot out cock-and-bull excuses. Instead, while admitting that there were such allegations and they had to be probed, he beautifully drove home the point that wherever there were money and humans, there was corruption. This, more or less, is the situation anywhere in the world.
However, the fact remains that the canker of corruption eating into the vitals of society must be battled with might and main. We do not want NGOs and INGOs to tell us that the public sector is corrupt to the core in this country. That it is so is public knowledge. What needs to be done is not to go about preaching to the choir but to initiate a course of action aimed at putting the kibosh on bribery and corruption or at least reducing them to a bare minimum.
It is intriguing that the vociferous campaigners against corruption are silent on the private sector which is equally corrupt. John Perkins of the Confessions of an economic hit man fame reveals how the corporate sector or `corporatocracy` uses bribery, among other things, to expand its global empire in the developing world. It takes two to tango and the champions of transparency etc. ought to take on the private sector as well as part of their much advertised battle against corruption without being a handmaiden of neo-colonial forces to harass the countries that refuse to toe the western line. One cannot control the gush of steam from a boiling cauldron with a lid without dousing the fire under it first of all, said Mahatma Gandhi.
It has been proved that the public sector corruption could be tackled without any external help. The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has blown the lid off several high profile corrupt deals involving public institutions such as the Waters Edge scandal, the LMS land deal and the sale of the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation. All those deals were declared null and void by the Supreme Court. Sadly, the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption is still dragging its feet on investigations into them.
Former COPE Chairman Wijedasa Rajapakshe, MP has proposed in an interview with this newspaper that no ministers/deputy ministers be appointed to either the COPE or the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) so as to prevent ministerial interference with probes into public institutions. He wants only ordinary MPs appointed to those watchdog committees. He has a strong point. Having ministers on committees probing irregularities in the public sector is like, as a popular saying goes in this country, `soliciting the help of a female soothsayer to catch a thief who happens to be her own son` horage ammagen pena ahanava vage.
As for parliamentary committees, we may set a thief to catch a thief pun intended but we must not make the mistake of setting a thief to catch himself or herself!