26 October, 2020

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Bribery, Real Estate And “Cheap People”

By Ravi Perera

Ravi Perera

“Honesty is a very expensive gift. Do not expect it from cheap people” Warren Buffett

The story doing the rounds in the Colombo circles about a large bribe solicited from a foreign Real Estate developer is a sobering   reminder that  the “miraculous country”, the much used  unction for  our self-image notwithstanding, those  reputed  evils of the third world ,  bureaucratic buffoonery and    corruption  are still very much part and parcel of our system. We may speed on Sri Lanka’s one and only (southern) highway in our European made Lamborghinis (with their V12 engines!) but that does not mean that everything else on the way is top of the pops.

If the story is true, a high-up   public servant has solicited a large bribe from the prospective developer as an inducement to fast-track the approval processes for the project.  Large commercial/condominium developments require several standard approvals which most of us are familiar with now.  And as we all know the government of Sri Lanka is eager to have such foreign investors in the country and are in fact offering several concessions to lure them. In the circumstances it is ironical that so called servants of the government are asking for bribes to expedite a process which in principle the government is committed to expediting!

It is in the nature of such things in this country that the actual culpability of persons concerned and the amounts involved are hazy. Invariably the tale is spiced   up or toned down according to the political sympathies or animosities of the teller. The amount currently being mentioned in this transaction is an astounding 400 million rupees, a figure which perhaps suggests a much larger margin of profit than other similar projects. On the other hand the largeness of the bribe raises a suspicion of huge regulatory issues which otherwise would fail to win the approval of the regulators.

If we were to be guided by the   folksy wisdom of Warren Buffett, in normal circumstances even a hundredth of this figure, i.e. Rs.  4 million would have ensued results with a “cheap “person. The largeness of the bribe may, while creating a grandiose image of the scope   of our economic activity, would also be unintentionally   honouring the bribe taker’s threshold level. Many moons ago they used to say that a former minister in charge of the Mahaweli Development project was among the three richest men in Asia! Of course, his exact rank  and the  facts and figures  of his estate were sketchy ,to say the least. Most times the unlucky victims of raids by the so called Bribery Department are guilty of seeking inducements in the range of Rs.10, 000-100000!

Be that as it may, for sake of argument let us assume that our bad boys are big players when it comes to bribery  and that  3 million US $ is kind of standard today. The offer of the bribe   apparently came from an Indian company. Although in this era of political correctness   generalizations may be frowned upon, it is perhaps not too off the mark to say that the business culture in the Sub-Continent leaves much to be desired. Maybe a culture inclined towards an obtuse bureaucracy invites corruption. So many hands reaching out for a small pie could create   an attitude of wanting to win by fair means or foul. Whatever the cultural reason for the strong  inclination towards unethical business practices, the fact is that not many eye brows will be raised in surprise on account of the ethnicity of the so called culprits in the present case.

On the other hand, if it is true that senior figures   in the Sri Lankan administration are   soliciting or accepting bribes and kickbacks it is a very serious matter. For decades we took pride in the “relative” honesty, save for a few departments like the Customs and the Police, of our public sector. Even where the named departments are concerned, there were undoubtedly a large number of proud officers in   these departments who worked in a spirit of service. But since of late it is evident that there is a massive deterioration   in the level of integrity in almost all public institutions in this country.

Sometime back it was reported in a newspaper that a political appointee who was tasked with developing business contacts in a neighbouring country was praised by his boss for taking the initiative by way of  gifting  gold coins to his counterparts in that country. The assumption was that Indian bureaucrats will accept the gold coins and do the needful.  We apparently had no ethical qualms about that approach. On the contrary the boss apparently was exultant about the “original approach” of his bribe giving underling.

Increasingly, we are troubled by a gnawing sense that the country is slowly but surely drifting towards a moral precipice. A sure sign of the social decay is the manner in which we now trivialize evils like corruption, abuse of power, nepotism and deceit. These are no longer seen as threats to a civilized way of life but only provide a subject for inane jokes among the rich and powerful. The rot is not confined to the powers that be. Even the so called opposition is obviously bankrupt politically as well as morally.

A fundamental question that we face as a nation is whether the mere fact of election gives   a blanket   license to our politicians to do all that they presume to do.  Obviously in any society for the   idea of democracy to work meaningfully, a certain culture must prevail. In the absences of that culture the idea rings hollow and the   machinery of democracy can easily become a mere tool in the hands of unscrupulous politicians. A few politicians who get themselves elected to leadership positions can use a flawed democratic system to act with impunity and then easily cover their sins. Numbers do not always sanctify. A large crowd cannot simply veto the truth of a scientist for example. A mob cannot decide to hang a person likewise. There are ideas and principles which transcend political manipulations.

Recently there was a picture in a newspaper which is a fitting metaphor for what passes for politics in our country. The main character in the picture was the provincial politician who forced a female   teacher to kneel before him as a punishment for daring to discipline the politician’s daughter. That incident is only a few weeks old now. In the newspaper picture the man is all but kneeling before his party’s nomination committee. He obviously wants re-nomination and has ambitions of continuing his political career. And the way to ensure re-nomination is by toadying.  Unlike the unfortunate teacher, his obsequious conduct before that nomination committee was all voluntary.

What happens when the wielders of power are “cheap” characters as defined by Warren Buffett? As we can see around us many things can happen when power ends up in such hands. One thing for sure, we cannot expect honesty from cheap people!

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Latest comments

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    Why is Mr Ravi Perera so coy about naming names?.

    Is he following the same path as the dobber , Christian Ravi who will be forced to divulge the details soon .

    Kriss Group owners are reputed Indian entrepreneurs.

    Their joint venture partner John Keels is a solid outfit and a major player in Srilanka.

    And no Sinhala Buddhist Extremists or Saffron Robes on their Share Register.

    The Off the Plan purchasers are the Elite in Colombo and their friends and kith and kin in the Diaspora.

    And they have forked out a fair bit of dough to the developers.

    And the Podiyen C Capitalists lead by Right Wing Ranil wrecking their own.

    • 0
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      K.A.S,
      The identity of our Mr.Ten Percent is an open secret.
      If you dont know who,you dont deserve to be told.

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        Krish is another land grab by the Rajapassa brothers who then sell it to the higher bribe giver.
        IN Jaffna the case against land grabbed by the military which is a PROXY for the Rajapassa brothers has been filed by the Catholic Bishop. Hats off to the Church for speaking up while the fawning Buddhist Sangha and Mahanayakas prostrate themselves as Rajapassa’s corrupt feet and spew unBuddhist racism.
        Now the Krish land grab and the Jaffna Land grab are exposed. We need to also look at all the prime coastal lands that have been grabbed by the Rajapassa brothers and the military (their proxy) in the Eastern Province and in Kalpitiya and in the Southern Coast for Namal’s fun and games.
        The entire lands of the Eastern province have been taken over as Navy, Army or Air force camps and for Hotel Building by Rajapassa crony capitalists. Check out Passikudha beach there the hotel on the best spot with 400 rooms belongs to Basil Rajapassa and his cronies.. The former SEA ANGLERS CLUB is now a GOlf course run by the military!

        How did Basil Rajapakse, the uneducated LA petrol pump attendant who fancies himself minister of economic development though he knows nothing about Development or Economics – acquire all this property and capital to build hotels? ALso the same story in Kalpitita where Basil has 400 acres of prime land.. All these lands need to be returned to the people who lived there or the State and the property seized. The corrupt Rajapassa military dictatorship and land grab must cease!

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        Pretened to be, I dont know any thing is Modawangsa’s type, baba hukung.

        This guy, K A SUMANA is doing a job, he is paid to comment,
        So dont disturb him.
        let him earn his bread and butter.

        Indians with RAW are spending millions of $$$$$$$ s to destbilize other countries,

        these Malbari bafoons do not understand that and selling our country.

    • 0
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      Point is why is Ravi Karuananyake so coy about telling us who the CROOK is who broke the story. Sounds like the thieves fell out and started squealing – so why is Ravi so coy about naming HIS CROOK? OR is he one of the crooks? Who took the 400 million Bribe, RAVI K?
      THe Guy should be NAMED AND SHAMED and held accountable.

      But UNP is not revealing the name of the guy who is squealing.. Ravi K like his boss the Clown Ranil WIckramasinghe seems to be playing a double game and has some thing to hide?!If you are making credible accusation – then please let us all know who saying that there is corruption.
      Ravi Karunanayake is as far as I can tell as corrupt at the Rajapassa regime that he and his boss covertly support while pretending to be in the OPPOSITION.. Oh life in the Debacle of Asia

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        Hello the guys are the clown prince and the uncle. The facilitator gonghewa or what ever should be hung as well

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      Land Grabbing is a Rajapassa Family Hobby.. Basil grabs in the east, Gota, in the North and Namal, the cherub, in the South..

      Mahindar Rajapassa meanwhile is land grabbing in Colombo 7! The family has got Lanka covered!

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      “Kriss Group owners are reputed Indian entrepreneurs..” Are they? Mangala Samaraweera, who clearly is kept informed of this mega-project,
      does not seem to think so. He publicly asked for details of their work in major Indian cities like Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore. This “investor” promised to start building operations, with their funds entirely, early this year. From what we can see nothing of that sort has happened. All they did was to indulge in expensive and eye-catching advertisements trying to entice the richer local folk (and probably the diaspora) to invest – in advance.

      Are Kriss partners of the respected local outfit Keels – as suggested here?

      It is a known strategy of 2nd-3rd tier Japanese, Chinese and Korean companies to sniff around for “vulnerable” countries lead by venal characters – to pitch their tents. They usually come out with honey-dewed Mega Real Estate proposals with promises of high FDIs.
      The moment the local leaders fall into their net, the foreign sharks begin using local political influence to milk local banks. That is what a Korean firm did in the late 1980s where they went bust – taking some of our banks along. In the nature of the environment obtaining, they are still around. After all, the call then was “let the robber barons come” And, boy! didn’t they come.

      Ravi K, who knows a few of such shady deals of his own, should insist
      on the State to declare in Parliament full Contract details including the original schedule of payment dates and the actual dates FDIs came in. It would have been prudent to seek the advise of the Indian Consular officials to prior-check the history and credentials of the Indian party – in view of the large nature of the project.

      Senguttuvan

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        How would Mangala from Matara know about Indians,better than Mr Sengutuan,whom Mr Donald Gnanakoon identified as from Malai Nadu.

        Isn’t it a part of India?.

        At least Gota banked with the Central bank of course 4.5 Billion LKR,from the Indians.

        How much did Ravi get for us from the Waters Edge?

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          Sumane,

          My many years of proximity to many in the the Lankan Indian leadership may have given rise to this erroneous conclusion.
          I know MR equally well and that does not make me a Ruhunuputra,
          does it.

          Senguttuvan

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          Sumane aka Leela aka the “realtor:”
          I’m sure your paymasters shouldn’t be paying you for honing your skills as the village idiot. But then, they are, as some of the commentators to these pages state, “baffoons” (or is it “baboons”) of the nth degree themselves, are they not?
          The whole country knows who offered the bribe, who accepted it and who got caught in the middle thanks to a keleypattaray whose previous exaggerations have now become understatements thanks to corruption unparalleled in the history of of Resplendent Isle and in the defence of which you get paid more than you even earned from unsuspecting “investors in real estate!”

        • 0
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          KAS, Let’s get the Indian media and the anti corruption units of the Indian CID involved to get the answers to the questions you asked. They should be able to get it out of Krish when an investigation is launched.

    • 0
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      K.A.S.
      John Keels has nothing to do with the Krish Group development.

      • 0
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        Following propriety Keel’s should make a formal statement
        unambiguously rejecting they have any connection at all with
        Kriish in the so-called Mega Fort development deal.

        Senguttuvan

    • 0
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      Hello Sumenesekera dear, respectable people do not give or take bribes. John Keells has nothing to do with Kris’s group. Who exactly owns Kriss group? Can you please tell us?

  • 0
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    Sri Lankan Politicians are preachers. They never listen. Recent programs of the OPA under “Meet the Minister” proved it. For every comment the Ministers had answers negating the comment and indicating that no blunders.

  • 0
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    Drifting Ravi ? More like firmly grounded on a reef of corruption, lack of principles / ethics and any sort of Morals.

    There is no way out for this ship (to use your analogy) it needs to be scrapped and a new one built from the ground up.

    That is why all the present leaders should go and educated professionals should form an alliance.

    We need leadership and direction from people such as your self. It is not such a daunting task as the internet can be used. Please consider seriously.

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