Colombo Telegraph

Complicity In Local Corruption

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

I have, more times than I care to count, made extensive reference to the corruption in the local government here: the Tumpane Pradeshiya Sabha (TPS), in particular. For “openers” let me say that the fact that this local version of governance cannot be excused through reference to what Sri Lankan history has (unjustly?) identified as an area populated by fools: the term “Tumpane modaya” (Tumpane Fool) hardly needs explanation in the context of the folklore of this country despite the fact that, like most broad generalizations, it leaves something to be desired in terms of accuracy.

I have watched, with what can accurately be described as bemusement, the havoc that this outfit has visited upon those unfortunate enough to live within its boundaries. This has ranged from profit being made by employees of that body performing “contracts” for the construction of service facilities while supposedly being those responsible for ensuring their quality, to unaccounted “disappearances” of funds intended for the reconstruction of a road destroyed by the very TPS’s vehicles. Remember the ten million rupee transfer of funds to fix a certain road, 5.3 million of which was not spent on that specific task? The frosting on that particular cake is the fact that the contractor who was supposed to receive the 4.7 million rupees told me that he would soon be suing the local body for a part of that sum which was still owing him despite the fact that had fulfilled his obligations in respect of the work.

My recently more frequent visits to the offices of this branch of the local government system and conversations with what amounts to the Chief Executive Officers of this august body have yielded interesting results.

When I recently made a verbal complaint about the ongoing destruction to a road that had recently been paved by the TPS to the current incumbent of the Secretary’s position, she requested that I “put it in writing.” It certainly took a great deal of restraint to be civil while informing the lady that I had not only done so, literally, times without number but had been forced to resort to legal action at District Court level in an effort to stop their (the TPS’s) destruction of a public thoroughfare. What was interesting here was the fact that the lady in question had just taken over the reins of authority. Her predecessor told me on the one occasion I visited her that “this is the most corrupt office I have ever worked in” and expressed her need to be transferred to a less fetid working environment. (She obviously succeeded!) Interestingly, another government functionary who had occasion to travel daily in public transport with the lady who, three appointments back, was the Secretary of the TPS informed me that his travelling companion had expressed similar sentiments. She too, had, obviously, succeeded in leaving the morass that was the TPS office!

Road after Rs. 4.7 million repairMy most recent visit, armed with photographs taken that very morning of the destruction being wrought on the ten million (sorry, 4.7 million) rupee repair job thanks to (deliberate?) neglect resulting in the road returning to its previous decrepit condition was met with what could accurately be described as an inane grin despite the muttered confirmation of my claim by a subordinate officer in the Secretary’s office at the same time as me.

My efforts to induce those farther, far farther, up the political feeding chain that is supposed to provide “governance” to this area to rectify a disastrous state of affairs have not been successful over the ten years during which I have sought their assistance. I have been fobbed off with one excuse or another despite persistence “beyond the call of duty.” I have been told on several occasions when I sought to speak to the Chairman of the TPS, prior to that body being dissolved, that he was on some foreign junket with a politician representing our area at the most senior government level. If anything has appeared as a consistent pattern of response over the years is that when residents of this area have sought relief from the depredations of this particular Pradeshiya Sabha, they are met with a refusal to so much as concede even a lack of competence, leave alone far more serious shortcomings in the handling of public funds. You’d have to live up to the stereotype of the Tumpane Modaya if you bought into the cover-ups that this local authority has benefited from!

The $64,000 question (when the dollar was really worth something!) is, “Exactly into whose pockets is the loot going? Just one or several” and, if the latter, who are the other beneficiaries? After all, this kind of misappropriation of public funds doesn’t happen by one individual choosing to dip into the bank account of a local body. It hardly needs repeating that history has proven that it requires complicity of significant proportions for this kind of enterprise to be as successful and as extensive as it obviously is in this instance.

Who are those responsible and why are they not, at least, being investigated to ascertain where the funds suddenly appeared for them to construct as personal residences what locals describe as akin to raja maligawas (Royal palaces)?

Goodness knows we have had enough conjecture about the Attorney General’s Department being filled with Rajapaksa stooges who are slowing, even beyond their normal snail’s pace, the wheels of justice. However, there is a need to accelerate that process even if only to save the bacon of a government that came in on heady promises of clearing the Augean Stable but have been reduced to empty platitudes.

I know the 5.3 million rupees intended for our road repair might never be reclaimed. However, we need at least the satisfaction of knowing that those who have absconded with public funds are removed from the protection of their patrons and sent to the Crowbar Hotel, so that they might have time to reflect on the error of their ways.

A little note in closing: despite all the b.s. eulogizing J. Edgar Hoover and his “G-men” it was an innocuous accountant who was responsible for destroying that generation’s mafia by simply questioning where they got the funds for their opulence and lifestyles. Is it too much to ask this Ohey Palayang government to do the same when we seem to have a surfeit of qualified public accountants.

Back to Home page