18 April, 2024


Can We Trust Our Leaders To Fight Corruption?

By Mass L. Usuf

Mass L. Usuf

Mass L. Usuf

“Corruption is a threat to development, democracy and stability” ~ Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations

An increasingly common refrain one hears from the public these days is that whichever government comes to power, all are the same. This statement encapsulates a mix of resignation, disdain and hopelessness expressed in so many words. People are unhappy with the manner in which the investigations into corruption is being handled.

Under ‘normal’ circumstances, the people are resilient and will endure patiently until the next general elections to express their dismay. The people who experienced the kleptocratic rule of the former regime did just that. They unceremoniously jettisoned the perceived ‘Dutugemunu’ of the modern century, not by the bullet but by the ballot. However, an analysis of the current political reality begs the question, are the circumstances ‘normal’? We all know that the transference of power by the democratic process of election is the universally accepted norm. However, a mutated form of power grabbing is evolving under the guise of the Joint Opposition. The mutated strategy envisages returning to power neither through elections nor by violent rebellion but by harnessing the people’s power. In these circumstances, it may be naïve to imagine that change can take place only at the next general elections. Is the country treading on a dangerous course?


Democratic principles demand the opposition to be the policeman of the public in the legislature. Hence part of their job entails guiding, questioning, correcting course etc. of the government ensuring benefits to the people and the nation. In fact, the joint opposition has some other agenda and this they confess without any qualms. Their mission is to grab power and to do this they would not leave no stone unturned. The government with its financial woes and inept management of governmental business including that of corruption investigations is consistently providing a lifeline to the joint opposition. Metaphorically, the situation is like a wound in the leg which is festering. Left unattended it would turn gangrenous leading to amputation.

The Fight, Real Or Fake?

The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption was established by Act No. 19 of 1994 (CIABOC). Ten years later, Sri Lanka ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in March 2004. Sri Lanka then was in the 67th position among 145 countries as per the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index 2004.

The collapse of the Constitutional Council around 2005 led to appointments being made by the then President. These direct appointments to the bureaucracy and commissions by the Executive President weakened the institutions and their independence. The 17th amendment to the Constitution which to some degree ensured independence of the Commissions was in tatters. By 2007, the corruption level had deteriorated to the extent that Sri Lanka was placed 94 in the Corruption Index. Public perception was that there was widespread corruption at the highest levels in the government at that time. There was no willingness on the part of anyone to curtail the upward movement in the corruption index.

In August 2007, a White Paper was submitted to the USAID by one of its resource organisations, with a view inter alia, to strengthen the institutional framework in the fight against corruption. The report identified several areas that needed to be addressed. Some of which were:

  • Lack of political will at the highest level of government
  • A weak institutional framework
  • A lack of capacity and skills within institutions
  • Political interference in the investigation and prosecuting of cases on bribery and corruption

This apparently was neither implemented nor was there a willingness by the then powers to be to do so. Of course, the institutions were efficient in nabbing the Clerk in the Municipality for accepting Rs. 1000/- for a favour or the Policeman in the street accepting Rs. 500/- from a three-wheel driver.

Disgust And Disappointment

The government which came to power on the promise to fight corruption, hurriedly established the Financial Crimes Investigations Department (FCID) in February 2015 under the instructions of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. A move that won him the admiration of the people. Since its establishment many people lined up with stacks of files to lodge their complaints. By April, just two months after FCID started the celebrated arrest of former Minister Basil Rajapakse was announced. One month later, in May 2015 former Minister Johnston Fernando was arrested. There were also the other lesser mortals who were arrested as part of the investigation on various allegations. All were excited. Hopes and expectations picked up only to gradually diminish. Some reports indicate that nearly 200 complaints have been lodged out of which only a very few have been prosecuted up to now.

There is an increasing sense of disgust and disappointment among the masses. Some even regret the decision of ridding the previous regime. They feel that they have been deceptively sucked into the illusionary slogans of good governance, anti-corruption and the so called new government. It is now almost twenty-two years since CIABOC was established, twelve years have passed since Sri Lanka ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2004, sixteen months have passed since the good governance President assumed Executive Office and now its more than a year since the establishment of the FCID.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde says the direct economic costs of corruption are clear. But the indirect costs may be even worse “leading to low growth and greater income inequality. It undermines trust in government and erodes the ethical standards of private citizens,” (VOA News, May 11, 2016). A fertile ground for the joint opposition to breed and they in fact are breeding very well. Democracy is being threatened, development retrogressing and stability shaking as the government seems to be dilly dallying in its efforts to stem corruption. Serious efforts at substantial reformations and improvements is not evident, at least in enhancing the areas mentioned in the White Paper above.

Destabilising Impact

Corruption directly and indirectly impacts on politics, economics, society and the environment. The effect on each of these in general influences the values inherent in them. Political corruption would result in the erosion of democracy, the rule of law and the institutions which protect and safeguards these principles. The loss in tax revenues, inflated cost of development projects, prioritising infrastructure development based on kickbacks rather than on national priorities are the direct consequences of economic corruption. The extended effect of these two is the emergence of social corruption. The social structure gradually gets destabilised and society learns to accept corruption as a way life. Social corruption becomes endemic among the people as they lose hope in the political leadership, trust in the police and the existing bureaucracy. When it reaches this level fighting corruption will be a herculean task for any one. Lack of concern and consideration to the environment and the ecological system becomes a minor issue in the mind of the corrupt. For example, deforestation, logging, mining etc. all contributing towards unsustainability, disastrous environmental consequences and depriving our future generation from what nature has to offer to them.

Speed Up The Process

The promised investigation and prosecutions are progressing very slowly. It is acknowledged that the process of investigation is a slow and time consuming task. It is also clear that the public is not in any way clamouring for a kangaroo court type of justice. What the public is looking for is the speeding up of the bureaucratic mechanism, the investigative process and efficiency in the administration of justice. Is there a sincere commitment and willingness to bring to justice the alleged perpetrators of corruption? Obviously, to continue under the existing system will see this saga playing itself for many years to come. By which time, corruption will only be rampant rather than a taboo. The public is therefore, questioning whether they can trust the political leaders to fight corruption?

From the viewpoint of those against whom are complains, it is grossly unjust only to continuously accuse them without prosecuting them for any wrongdoing. Even an accused has the constitutional guarantee of being presumed as innocent until proved guilty vide Article 13 (5) of the Sri Lankan Constitution. Meanwhile, the mudslinging exercise which is a tragic part of our politician’s psyche will convict the presumptively innocent accused not by the due process of the law but by public opinion. This should be avoided if we as a nation wish to move forward with justice, fairness and equality to all.

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Latest comments

  • 6

    The action of GG thus far is most unsatisfactory but the PM has a version for this, or an excuse whereby almost all Cases are on hold
    with the assistance of the Justice Ministry? A reminder of what
    commentators are referring to apart from the 25 or so where Court Cases have been filed is as hereunder:-
    a) Computer purchases for Mahindodaya labs. in Rs. 5.87 Bil..
    b) Issue of 1000 diplomatic Passports during 9 yrs. of Rule.
    c) Wealth of PSD Staff during the past Regime
    d) Tourist Board Officials Rs. 5.7 Mil. . transactions
    e) SL Insurance re involvement of a Doc. & ex-Minister
    f) S.E.Corp Rs.4.7 Mil. transaction
    g) Diary Printing by an ex-Minister Rs. 1.4 mil.
    h) D.A.Rajapakse Museum construction Rs. 91 Mil.
    i) Purchase of Gowers Pvt. Ltd. by a Parliamentarian
    j) 40 luxury vehicles rented by S.Eng.Corp.
    k) Rs. 3117 Mil paid by a Chinese Engineering Co. into 6 Banks A/cs.
    l) Commonwealth Games Trip of 140 persons & exp.of Rs.358 mil. thereof
    m) Rs. 12,500 mil.found dumped in Temple Trees during Dec.2014/Jan.2015
    n) Prof. S.Wijeyasooriyas allegation re the sale & distribution of 40
    Kg. Gold, also Siriliya A/c.
    o) Air Force Commanders dealings in the hire of Helicopters to Crain Ltd.
    p) J.C.Weliamuna Committee Rpt. on Lanka Airlines still in the hands of the PM

    Cause for delay?……. the PM has said, “Let us allow them (FCID) to do their duty. This is not a game of hide and seek. Obtaining evidence should be done skilfully. Lawyers for the defendants are waiting for an opportunity for a loophole. This is like striking with a two-edged sword. If the target is missed, the striker too, will be cut.”Supporting the PM’s views, a renowned criminal lawyer told us, “Rajitha, Champika, Arjuna and Fonseka do not have any knowledge of the law. What they want is to have media hypes saying Namal is caught, Gota is caught, Basil is caught. Then, the people will not question them about the increase in VAT and the cost of living. Especially, evidence in financial crime should be built very skilfully, like bringing out a valuable artifact hidden by the sand sheet of time. In a crime, the case should be built upon circumstantial evidence if there is no eyewitness account. So, if the CID goes to act according to the haste of politicians, such cases can be brought down easily.” As webed on 18-5-2016.
    -: e & o e :-

    • 3

      Mass L. Usuf

      RE: Can We Trust Our Leaders To Fight Corruption?

      “Corruption is a threat to development, democracy and stability” ~ Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations

      Can We Trust Our Leaders To Fight Corruption? No, because that is in their own Self-interest. It will have to come from outside.

      Can you expect Terrorists, and Extremists, Religious or Otherwise, not to be Terrorists? No, because it is in their self-interest.It will have to come from outside.

      Moderate Muslims Gather To Fight Terrorism


      Published on May 12, 2016
      There are some that say after terrorist attack, performed by an Islamic extremist, “where are the moderate muslims?” It turns out, there’s quite a few. Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks, delivers his Final Judgment of moderate Muslims. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

  • 10

    “Can We Trust Our Leaders To Fight Corruption?”

    The answer is a resounding “No”. You can also add “Never”.

    No ifs and no buts. The answer is a resounding “No – Never”.

  • 7

    I don’t think this present government is capable of fighting corruption as a large number of ministers, MPs and very senior servants are corrupt to the core. Insah Allah we will one day get a government who will have the gut to stand up against these corrupt officials.

  • 10

    “Can We Trust Our Leaders To Fight Corruption?”

    Ha Ha Ha Ha The minister of justice is Wijedasa Rajapakse. And you expect justice?

    To fight corruption there should be intent. Have you seen it? So why ask?

    The question is, are we mad or are they mad?

    This would be such a tragedy if it is not so funny. And if one had no other choice but to live in the country and cop it.

  • 4

    It’s no time for jokes please !

  • 3

    “The public is therefore, questioning whether they can trust the political leaders to fight corruption ?”

    The definition of corruption should not be confined to activities which result in the accumulation of wealth through illegal means, but should be extended to encompass all activities which entail the abuse of power.

    Corruption exists in all Countries in the World, although to different degrees.

    Corruption has existed to different degrees and forms in all the different Governments that governed our Nation since Independence.

    Governments consists of constitutionally elected and nominated Politicians.

    The attribute that drives any politician most is the intense need for power, because the possession of power enables the opening of many more lucrative doors and opportunities. A politician who does not aspire power is basically a loser – as a politician.

    In order to sustain their ever-increasing greed for power, politicians are compelled to engage in activities of a corrupt nature. This has basically become a sine qua non if one is to succeed politically.

    Is it then logical to expect our beloved politicians to fight corruption – the very life blood of their profession ?

    Corruption cannot be eradicated. It can be minimized.

    The people must be made to understand that at any specific point in time the prevailing degree of corruption is the price they must pay for electing a particular set of representatives to govern our Nation.

    Is it possible for the people of Sri Lanka to vote for 225 representatives whose honesty cannot be subverted by their greed for power ?

  • 7

    i have more trust on a prostitutes virginity than sri Lankan politicians

  • 4

    “Can We Trust Our Leaders To Fight Corruption?”

    can we trust wolves to look after sheep?

    • 3


      “can we trust wolves to look after sheep?”


      Set a thief to catch a thief

      It takes a thief to catch a thief

  • 2

    If we trust or politicians for even a drop of water, we the people are the fools for doing so.

    All these well fed and unhealthy fellows spends hundreds of millions to earn the chairs in parliament. They need to reap the benefits somehow. These rogues are in the business called POLITICS.

    Our people are stupid to run after these uneducated, uncouth creatures who are treated like Gods. These are our servants, however these these donkeys act like the supreme power that wields a sword on the heads of the people.

    Politicians are like sperms. Only one in a million turns out to be good and effective.

    Sri Lankan history has not seen a million politicians yet. So all of them are untrustworthy up to now.

  • 1

    Two people are running the show-MS&RW. Ordinary Sinhalayas did not vote for RW; he was voted in by minorities. MS has a duty to fulfill the main promise and that is to catch the thieves who plundered the nation. He has had enough time. If he cannot deliver he should say so and resign. I am sure that if he doesn’t people will put him and others six feet under. When that happens the security forces will not come for his help.

  • 2

    Excellent article…and points a/ to P/ listed in the first comment are frauds against the state by the previous ruling family. Indict the guilty or clear them. By not doing either the Good governance government is making the judiciary a joke as well as creating huge frustrations with the citizens of the country. Hence making a grey area to make us believe that they are all not to be trusted. Hence creating a culture of disrespectful politics and politicians.

  • 2

    Can we trust the politician- No but point to remember is that a) Should we not blame ourselves for sending the very same crooks and thugs of the MR regime back to parliament. We the electors have allowed and continuing to allow the ‘joint Opposition’ to hold the govt for ransom (I believe MS would never have appointed so many crooks to his Govt except for the power the public is continuing to give the crooks. Or electors do not think of the country they just go behind a politician who promises to give job, a good school, free housing or what ever.

    So the public and the electors are equally to blame.

    The govt has failed miserably to communicate to the public what they are doing and what a difficult job it is to do bring the crooks to book. After all these crooks are very very clever

  • 0

    Whoever fights monsters (corrupts) should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster (a corrupt). And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

    Friedrich Nietzsche

  • 0

    An excellent article whose author has also researched sufficiently to
    ‘hit the nail on the head’! Copies of same should personally reach
    MS and RW soliciting their immediate comments as to not only spell out what their plan of action is going to be but also the time frame within
    which they will successfully implement it so as to honour their promises to the masses without further delay.

    It appears the higher echelons do not have the will to do this!

  • 0

    It was reported the President stopped arresting some corrupt officials just before he bordered the plane to Japan for G7 Summit. SO,how can we stop corruption and the efforts and hard work of FCID and other investigative officers go vein? Also these is a threat for the lives of those officers too. As they say in Sinhala”Wetath Niyarath goyam Kaa nam Kaata kiyannem “

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