16 October, 2019

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A Bottle Of Wine Throws A Premier Out!

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

This is a case of ‘accountability and responsibility’ that all Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers, Ministers and all Members of Parliament or members of any such representative institution in a functioning democracy should abide by.

The Premier of the New South Wales (State) of Australia, Barry O’Farrell, announced his resignation yesterday morning (16 April 2014) over the issue of receiving a bottle wine as a gift that he failed to declare in 2011 in the ‘Pecuniary Interest Register.’ When the matter came before the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) the day before, as a potential issue of corruption, O’Farrell first declared that he cannot recollect receiving such a gift. However yesterday morning, the ICAC asked him again to appear before the Commission and informed that a ‘Thank You Note’ written by him is available as evidence. The note was submitted to the Commission only yesterday morning as evidence by an interested party.

Having realized that an ‘omission’ has been committed by him under the required law and code of ethics, and also what he revealed day before has been disproved by the new evidence, even appearing before the Commission, the Premier gracefully announced his resignation yesterday expressing his commitment to the principles of ‘responsibility and accountability.’ That was commendable.

What he lacked in the first instance, when he received the ‘bottle of wine’ in 2011, was the required ‘transparency’ by a Member of Parliament. It should have been declared, however small in value it was. Otherwise, it could have, although it has not been the case according to the prevailing information, led to a corrupt dealing between the ‘giver’ and the ‘receiver.’

The Bottle of Wine  

The person who sent the wine bottle was Nick Di Girolmao, who was the CEO of the Australian Water Holdings (AWH), with whom the NSW Government has had several contracts and dealings. It could be surmised that the gift which was sent was aimed at lobbying for more contracts or any other favors although there is no evidence to that effect. On the other hand it could also be argued that the matter was revealed to the media and the ICAC by the same person after having failed to obtain favors from O’Farrell.

The AWH in recent times was implicated in several scandalous dealings with a number of state governments involving several politicians of both political parties of the Liberals and the Labor. Girolmao also was at the ICAC yesterday, and it was the handwritten ‘thank you note’ received by him that finally forced the Premier to resign. Premier however claimed that he has a momentous memory loss on the incident.

The parliamentary group of the Liberal Party this afternoon elected Mike Baird, the Treasurer, as the new leader and he will be soon sworn in as the new Premier. The matter thus became settled within three days, without any disruption to the day to day functioning or governing of New South Wales. The incident might have repercussions for the Liberal Party fortunes at the next parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in 2015. The opinion polls overwhelming endorsed or asked the Premier to resign.

However, there were no chaos or break downs in the system as a result of this ‘debacle,’ thanks to the governing institutions that are in place firmly based on the rule of law and democratic principles. This includes the political parties which respect rule of law and capable of producing new leaders when existing ones are no longer reliable, especially on the count of potential corruption or transparency. The system didn’t fail. The strength of the system is such, when the individuals fail on the count of transparency or accountability they are thrown out of the system.

This is not the first time that a Premier had to resign as a result of the ICAC findings. In 2002, then Premier, Nick Greiner, also had to resign. Ironically, it was him who created the ICAC in 1988/89. The Commission Against Corruption was Independent and therefore he had to respect the findings of the Commission (of his own creation) although some of them were controversial and turned down by the Court of Appeal.

In addition to the above two cases, which may appear minor offenses, there have been a number of other cases, some serious, that have been investigated by the ICAC throughout years and the offenders have been eventually reprimanded and/or punished through the due process.

Both Barry O’Farrell and Nick Greiner were considered efficient and honest Premiers compared to even many other Australian politicians. However, the country and the people ask for absolutely high standards in respect of ‘transparency, responsibility and accountability.’ Otherwise, they know democracy cannot prevail. When O’Farrell resigned yesterday he expressed his complete faith and respect for the ICAC and its independence. It was the same when Greiner resigned in 1992 that I could even remember. I have seen him walking to the Parliament House carrying his own briefcase after getting down from the bus.

ICAC

The ICAC in New South Wales is one of the most exemplary mechanisms available in Australia or any other country for that matter, against Corruption. In contrast to many of the legislations in Sri Lanka, particularly the “Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC),” this Act is written in most simple and direct language for anyone to understand and adhered to. Most importantly, it is Independent and not a tool of any ruling party or any other entity.

The Act declares “the principal objects of this Act as:

(a)  To promote the integrity and accountability of public administration by constituting an Independent Commission Against Corruption as an independent and accountable body:

 (i) To investigate, expose and prevent corruption involving or affecting public authorities and public officials, and

(ii) To educate public authorities, public officials and members of the public about corruption and its detrimental effects on public administration and on the community, and

(b) To confer on the Commission special powers to inquire into allegations of corruption.

Under this Act and under the investigative procedure, however small an act of potential corruption is, the matter is thoroughly investigated. The public and the Media have a great leverage to raise issues of potential corruption and in fact they do for the public interest and public good. It was the Daily Telegraph which raised the issue last month for the first time, however without divulging or knowing the full details. It was then up to the ICAC to look into the matter thoroughly. The talk first was about ‘boxes of wine’ or a ‘box of wine,’ plural or singular. Then it became a bottle.

Although it was one bottle of wine, it was a rare kind of 1959 Penfolds Grange, worth $ 3,000. Moreover, the principles behind the issue undoubtedly were bigger than the bottle and its worth. On one hand it was an issue of ‘transparency’ that the Premier undoubtedly failed in this case in the first instance. On the other hand, it was a matter of ‘accountability and responsibility’ which the Premier finally decided to uphold when he was confronted by the ICAC. Therefore, the important factor behind the ‘correction of the aberration’ was the institutional setting and that is the ICAC. This is something that any country should learn.

Transparency is a requirement of rule of law and constitutionalism in mature democracies however imperfect they may be from country to country, or state to state. Transparency on the part of all Members of Parliament is a requirement in NSW and in Australia. The Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament in NSW deals with (1) conflicts of interest (2) bribery (3) gifts (4) use of public resources (5) use of confidential information (6) duties as a Member of Parliament and (7) secondary employment or engagements.

A Conclusion

The last few decades have seen considerable innovations and improvements in the public sector integrity management throughout the world. One of this innovations are undoubtedly epitomized in the structures and functions of the ICAC. At the same time, corruption constitute a significant and damaging phenomenon in many countries including Sri Lanka. The Transparency International among other organizations seek to give us a comparative picture of the world situation however defective their methodologies may be.

There is a great deal of work still to be done in addressing these problems in many countries. A crucial question in Sri Lanka is not so much of the absence of legislation, however archaic the way these legislations are written in my opinion, but the lack of independence for the established and relevant commissions or organizations. If we take the independence of the ICAC as the backbone of the success and exemplary work of the Australian anti-corruption measures, the repeal of the Independent Commissions under the 18th Amendment could be considered one of the most damaging acts that the present regime has perpetrated against the democratic system in Sri Lanka among many others.

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Latest comments

  • 6
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    Corruption is not new for Australia or the Liberal Party. But, someone owned up to his mistake and resigns from a top position is new. This happens only in dreams in Sri Lanka!!

    • 2
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      Dammit! Our [politicians ARE really smart cookies after all. All these years I have been thinking that they had bad manners; only now do I appreciate why they do NOT write Thank You notes.

      • 0
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        Good One Spring Koha! I was wondering why I did not receive a thank you note for my contributions.
        Now I understand that it was not bad manners or ignorance, but Shrewdness.

    • 0
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      Rohan,
      Your comment as ‘corruption is not new in Aus’ is misleading and I guess Laksiri didn’t intend to pass such msg. If you go back 50 years, corruption and injustice to public were much higher compared to now in Aus, this was the same in Britain or USA. Westerners continued their civilization and humane development, much rapid phase than the rest of the world in the last 100 years.
      There were more corruption and in justice in 1960~70, and there was NO ICAC at that time. Creation of new Gov policies, law enhancement, ICAC type bodies reduce corruptions and injustices in western world. Finally, Western scholars believe these improvements in general public values lead to economic developments of their countries, so they believe uncivilized countries like Siri Lanka or Somalia should try to focus on human rights and core values. Now China is proving this western theory is wrong, or try the opposite approach.. they do the economic development first and belive it would lead to better social justice and lesser power corruptions.

    • 1
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      “A Bottle Of Wine Throws A Premier Out!”

      We are unfortunately living in two different worlds.

      In Srilanka, even heavy loads of heroin (the largest- 250kgs ever to have been found by customs in the regions) import to the country by direct mediation (proved by the douments issued by his PM office), did not work on removal of country´s premier.

      Nevertheless, the body both type of memebers represent – CW – keeps SRILANKA´s president as the current CW chairman not just 1 month, but for a period of two years – highly hypocratic world, Dont you guys think so ?

      • 0
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        Sirimal I agree. I wonder how the Pres gets any sleep, knowing all these antics of his followers.

        The latest being the Gun Toting Mayor of Hambantota, and his excuses.

        How can he reconcile going to the Temples and receiving Blessings, when he knows his Party members are indulging in illicit and blatantly illegal activities that Sane people denounce!

        Is he a Christian at heart, who believes that the Buddha is a God who can absolve him of the Sins of his followers?

        • 0
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          We the normal ones would not have gone to sleep, but Person MR would behave as nothing occured as it is his nature. His perception and sensititives however seem to be miles away from any comparable leaders. Not even Premadasa would have stayed calm and quiet to the levels of MR, if things would have reached this much.

          As Hindu times of India pointed out, his men have now found his pet Macaws that went missing for last few days, but his political administration has paid contnous blind eye in finding any journalists went missing, criminals that harm the general public to a increasing manner, high crimes investigations that is only unique to his regime, ascending from his 2nd term is started. This is where not only locals like us but also International communities repeatedly question whether the effort said to be being made by his admin towards the devleopment of HR issues in the country are HEARTED enough.
          Looking at all these, if any impeachment has no room in current context, any other means should work to set the country free from Rajapakshe dictatorship.

  • 4
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    I hope that the officers of the Bribery Commission and the relevant minister,and the president read this and hopefully take steps to establish a truely Independent Commission Against Corruption.

    • 0
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      I hope that the officers of the Bribery Commission and the relevant minister,and the president read this and hopefully take steps to establish a truely Independent Commission Against Corruption.”

      you expect them to establish independent commission after reading this Article ? you must be joking !do you know that all the opposition parties have been crying out for this very same commission to be implemented from day one , then the LLRC panel had also recommended exactly the same thing to implement without any further delay , now UNHRC has been pressuring/forcing to implement exactly the same thing for the last for three years ! current Junta can’t survive with these independent commissions , if they do , then they know it would be curtains for them.

    • 0
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      Don’t day dream to have transparency, justice and democracy in Sri Lanka, wiled ruled by Gang of Thieves, elected by people of this country. They started with Helping Hambantota and now robbing our money till we all become bone dry. Our only hope is the next presidential election.

  • 3
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    Don’t hold your breath thinking this is going to happen in SL. I will always remember what Dr Colvin R de Silva had to say when on one occassion they were calling of Felix Dias Bandaranaike to resign as Minister of Food and Agricultue and the Minister showed no signs of wishing to oblige. Observed Colvin in his own inimitable way, somehting on the lines of ‘In this country, ministers don’r resign from office . They resign themselves to the situation’.

    • 5
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      The only politician I could think of, who would have resigned from the position for a similar ‘error of judgement’, is Dudley Senanayake.

    • 0
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      Dear Gamarala and Rohan
      we always tend to deviate from the message carried in an article, by writing history & how it happened. I am just one in that category along with you.
      1. Felix resigned from Finance portfolio in 1962 July-August during the budget winding up, on rice ration issue, while Colvin was barking from the opposition (your incident was just after that, when FRDB accepted the post of Agriculture). So Rohan, Dudley is not the only gentleman politician.
      2. Gamarala: MN Proposed in his 1964 budget to allow “cottage industry Coconut Toddy Tapping in any house hold”, which was withdrawn due to outcry of that time ‘BBS’ but Colvin’s “Brother NM” resigned himself to the situation!!!!

      • 0
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        You are right but my reason for quoting Colvin was because the quotation seemed apt, not because Colvin or his colleagues were necessarily the exemplars of consistency.

    • 1
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      ‘In this country, ministers don’r resign from office . They resign themselves to the situation’.

      That was the good old colvin days.Now we have improved.The guy who asks a powerful person to resign,will have to resign himself to the fate of a white van ride,or hours of interrogation by the cops.

  • 3
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    I wish to add something to stimulate the discussion.

    In many cultures it is customary to carry a gift when a relative or friend visits another family or friend. It is accepted as a symbol of cordiality.

    The gift may take different forms.

    Tamils take with them home-made snacks (palahaaram). The exchange is mutual.

    In Nigeria, the poor gift live chicken. The richer may gift a goat. Sri Lanka gifts elephants!

    Once, such a case was taken to court as instance of bribery. The Lawyer argued that the gift was customary and within the means of the giver.

    The case was thrown out.

    I am not condoning anything.

    There is always more to it than meets the eye. Each has to be looked at on a case by case basis.

    The Premier did right by resigning.

    • 0
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      Unreal ,

      what is your point ?

      • 0
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        Srilal, ‘No thank you’, for asking.

        Choose, one of the 3 likely options:

        a) If you had skipped the very first sentence of my comment, read it now.

        b) If you have difficulty understanding that sentence, tell me which part of it you want me to help you with.

        c) If you are still sleepy, go back to bed.

        • 1
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          Unreal ,

          even though i’m not sleepy ,i will go for option (c).

          • 0
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            cool, agree with you; friend, wish you too happy easter holidays:)Sirimal

            • 0
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              Thanks Sirimal , Seasons greetings from me as well.

              cheers.

          • 0
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            Srilal, You are not dull; simply lazy.

            • 0
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              Unreal,

              Thanks for the complement , i’m flattered , cheers mate !

  • 0
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    Dr Laksiri:

    I hope you are in fine health.

    The independence, or the lack of it, among key institutions certainly has hampered the democratic functioning of these institutions. What is noteworthy is, there are no lack of laws or legislation but what is sorely lacking and has emerged as the foremost factor is the “pathetic mindset” where the game patronising takes precedence. Such a mindset trapped and firmly embedded in the so-called asian culture bearing has retarded the healthy growth of these institutions. Today the interpretation advanced by a “dutiful” CJ on imminent cases bears the testament of such warped logic and reasoning, largely due to this attitude.

    • 0
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      Thanks Jansee. I’m ok. Cheers!

  • 2
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    Tell me how to deal with cases such as these; (a) happened to me; (b)happens often to me and to colleagues.

    a) An Indian PhD student, on returning from a trip home, brought me a small but beautifully carved god Ganesh. A student giving a Ganesh to his supervisor has the special significance that Ganesh is the god of wisdom. It would have been churlish and caused pain and anguish if I had refused to accept it gracefully. In the end I put it in the Department Board Room display cabinet “for all to enjoy” as I tried to explain to him; but I think he was still hurt because he brought it as a personal gift.

    b) Many PhD students in Hong Kong are from mainland China. Often when they return from holidays they bring a gift for their supervisor. It is an oriental habit. What to do?

    Oh no. No favours are expected or granted; that is a ridiculous thought. The next day, maybe, the supervisor will tear out his hair and pour a gallon of red ink on the student’s interim report; that’s a separate matter.

    • 0
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      If I may express my view on Prof. Kumar’s question, if it is one off gift from a student, you may accept and forget. Otherwise it may appear rude. However, if it is a persistent pattern or even a ‘conscience nuisance,’ then it might be good to discuss within the Department or Faculty and have some guidelines. Many universities have ethical guidelines on supervision even covering gifts from students. I don’t think Kumar has done anything wrong as there were apparently no guidelines, presuming he had not favored those students!

      Once when I was the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies (Colombo), a Visiting Scholar from Japan in our Faculty brought a digital clock. I recorded it in the faculty inventory and mentioned that it was deposited thus in my ‘thank you note.’ Next time he brought a wristwatch for me and insisted that I take it as a personal gift! I obliged and he was not expecting any favor from me.

      • 0
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        Prof. how about this in S.Lanka:
        “Honesty is the best Policy”
        Poverty is the reward of honest fools – says the SL Judiciary?

  • 0
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    Is resignation the best solution always? There is a custom in US if the party leader lost in the presidential election she/he will not come for that again. They take it as final rejection from people. Out of the exemptions Lincoln is also one. He stood for the 2nd time and came to power. There is the question arise if the peoples are better served by the erred politicians resignation (Especially, if it is small and once).

    But, it is the sacrifice democracy gives on its altar for to ensure its survival. Anyway that is the most important aspect.

    When I was in Quebec, I had this pain of watching a best person leaving the stage only to give his path to customs and self-respect. Pierre Marc Johnson took the leadership after Rene Levesque, who the founder of the Parti Quebecois resigned and left it. The party was in chaos and disarray. Situation was utterly hopeless. Rene Lévesque resigned after messing up everything around him. Johnson took the middle path instead of Levesque extremism. Quebec election came within three month. Parti Quebecois stood for under Johnson leadership. Three month is nothing to rebuild that much badly damaged image of party’s face. Party lost badly. But Johnson was well received by peoples. Yet the fault of the loss fell on him.

    There is cinema song in Tamil says “Even the girls will fall in love with this girl’s appearance- Penkal mayankum Pennaanaal”. Johnson had a handsome face even men would fall in love with that. (http://www.lessignets.com/signetsdiane/calendrier/images/nov/10/johnson_pierre_marc27.jpg).Very promising look and highly energetic person. Johnson is a lawyer and a doctor. Very frank in his behaviors. A Mix of English and French races. The party was formed to agitate for the freedom of Quebec. They kept blaming Johnson’s drift in the policy was cause for the party’s loss in the election. Without standing for the next election and test this theory, Johnson resigned the leadership of Parti Quebecois and quit politics, within two years of accepting the party leadership. I always have been thinking either if had not quit the politics or at least if he has been in Liberal Party, for sure, he would have come as the Canadian Prime Minister, one day. I felt Johnson’s resignation did not well serve the Quebec. Yet, for sure that example is still serving for their democracy.

  • 0
    0

    Ma Ra and co will never do that ,a bottle of wine ,NEVER!!
    They will go for a brewery or something big , but will never be caught,even if they are caught they will never resign .they will get a garland on their neck . LOL ,our guys are too clever!!!

  • 0
    0

    .
    This reminds me of a Canadian Captain who was punished for mercy killing.

    All he did was fired two shots at a Taliban who was seriously wounded at earlier helicopter attack and was suffering in pain, medical care was too far, too long and no hope for that Taliban anyway.

    :-)

  • 0
    0

    I am a Sri Lankan by birth but have now spent more of my years in Australia than in Sri Lanka.

    Despite my abiding love of my motherland, it is this type of institutional mechanisms and standards of accountability of those in public office that makes my domicile in Australia an easy choice.

  • 0
    0

    “A Bottle Of Wine Throws A Premier Out!” Here a bottle of kassippu(hambantota vintage 1959) will throw the president out.

    We are much better than australia and cheaper COL too.

  • 1
    0

    This is not the first time BOF( Barry O’Farrell)’s memory has conveniently failed. This is not about a bottle of wine , this is about blatantly lying under oath. It is a part of a bigger multi million dollar scheme, that was involved in lobbying BOF, just before he became the NSW premier. This is also connected to corrupt Labour and Liberal power brokers Eddie Obeid and Arthur Sinodinos working together for millions dollars worth of personal gains. They both through their cronies and political power got anyone standing in the way or questioning their corrupt actions, sacked or out of the office.
    There is more than a bottle of wine it… http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/not-the-first-time-barry-ofarrells-memory-has-failed-him-20140416-36rvl.html

    • 0
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      Lankamithra,you are right.It is not the bottle of wine that got him,but the absurd way that he went and denied ever receiving it under oath.Then he saw stars when they produced his thank you note.If he knew that note was there he would have just said that he had got it but had failed to put it in the disclosure register and that would have been the end of it.

      The moral of this story don’t teach your children to thank others.Just accept everything with a smile and with a sense of entitlement.

  • 0
    0

    Ma Ra and co will never take a bottle of wine, lol .If they take they will take a brewery or something big, they will be never questioned and if anyone probes it will be their doomsday.

  • 0
    0

    A forgotten bottle of wine as a cause for resignation does NOT compare with another exposure from Australia itself. The former FM Carr has written of his experiences, and how Australian vote at the UN against the Palestinians was determined allegedly by the political funds received and who employed her husband.

  • 0
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    Let us hope our Diplomat the majestic Mr Bandula Jayasekara in Sydney learns a crucial lesson about luring and seducing Aussies with the offering of free travel and luxury accommodation in Sri Lanka.

  • 0
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    ‘Bottle of wine’ and principle of democracy of Capitalism having big/vast gap between realization of philosophy Democracy and Western values of civilization.
    System of wine is symbolic of corruption had been revealed by Aussis politician has undermine represtaitaive democratic order.
    Resigned from the post of PM not that fully identify type of democracy is not fully which that has exonerated from capitalism are FREE from corruptions.
    Dr Lakasiri Fernando has misreading the history of capitalism, as learned professor of Politics in Uni……..Capitalism itself corrupted system of its origin, process and development. That is universality nature of governing laws of Capitalist democracy that is/was exploitation man by man.

    • 0
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      So, with Capitalism man exploits man? As someone once observed, ‘And with Socialism it is the other way round’!!!

  • 0
    0

    Bottle of wine throws a premier in those countries,

    but even smuggle of few hundred kgs of heroin making every school going boy or girl be easily accessed to them seem to not EVEN properly investigating.

    Does anybody of you guys know the least what happened to the 260kg of heroin, found to have illegally smuggled ot the country 6 months ago ?

    Is this not an issue – that needs the world attention ??????????????????

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