23 May, 2022


Corrupt Politicians Or Corrupt People Or Both?

By Izeth Hussain

Izeth Hussain

Izeth Hussain

This article is really in expansion of my previous one in Colombo Telegraph of September 12 in which I argued the case for what might be called meliorist politics. My purpose in that article was to establish that the present Government should be judged by its fidelity or otherwise to the mandate given to it by the January 8 Revolution, and not by the Machiavellian means it might employ towards that end in accordance with principle that politics is the art of the possible. That article did not address the perennial problem of ends and means.

The problem is that ends and means cannot be entirely dissociated from each other because dubious or morally outrageous means can vitiate the end itself. How should meliorist politics address this problem? It should eschew theoretical discussions on ends and means, which can never result in unanimity or even anything that might be rated as a consensus. Instead it should be pragmatic in its approach because pragmatism is at the core of meliorist politics. That means that we should fulminate vociferously against and do everything possible to stop the Government’s morally dubious or outrageous actions while continuing to support it to the extent that it remains committed to the January 8 Revolution. Meliorist politics would not expect to make governments morally spotless overnight, but only to improve their moral standards to acceptable levels through a gradual meliorative process. Nothing more needs to be said about the famous problem of ends and means in the realm of practical politics.

SB DissanayakeThe two preceding paragraphs and my previous article see the Government and the people in contradistinction to each other. That is quite legitimate because there is obvious discontinuity between government and people: the former can kick the latter around but the latter can’t reciprocate. So there is discontinuity, but there is also continuity between government and people. I will now provide a concrete illustration to show what I have in mind. People, including supporters of the Government, are now morally outraged by the way the Government has used the National list to bring into Parliament rogues, thugs, even murderers, and endowed them with high office. That is a clear case of the discontinuity to which I refer. But we also know after the recent General Elections that rogues and other dubious characters have been enormously popular with segments of the people. There we clearly have continuity between government and people. So it is not a case of an incorrupt people trying to correct corrupt politicians. The problem confronting us now is that we have to take corrective action against partially corrupt politicians and partially corrupt people.

The truth is that our politics has undergone a process of degeneracy for several decades. I am an octogenarian who attained majority in 1948, and I can truthfully attest that until after 1970 I would never have imagined the kind of political degeneracy that we have been witnessing. I won’t go into details about the degeneracy, but I will point to a contrast by way of illustration. In my last article I invoked the names of Bismarck and Lee Kuan Yew to show that mighty achievements are possible through meliorist politics. I was not suggesting that such mighty achievements are in the offing in Sri Lanka. Our political culture is far too low grade to be able to accommodate achievers of the order of a Bismarck or a Lee. How low grade it is is shown by the following facts. Dubious elements have been brought into Parliament to establish a stable majority without which the January 8 Revolution cannot be furthered. The likes of those dubious elements would in Lee’s Singapore have been kept firmly locked in jail.

How did we come to this sorry pass in our politics? It is a huge subject, and the few observations I make here are to be regarded as no more than notes towards a fuller treatment. In my view the degeneracy began in 1956 with the introduction into Sri Lanka of what might be called Afro-Asian socialism. That phase of degeneracy lasted until 1977. It was followed by a terrifying phase of degeneracy which lasted until 1989, which I find impossible to explain in terms of socio-economic factors. The only explanation that I can offer is that Evil reigned supreme and that Evil was personified in the deeply flawed human being J.R. Jayewardene. The wreckage of our politics wrought during those two periods should however be seen against the background of the neo-colonialist phase of our history from 1931 to 1956.

After 1931 we had a very wide measure of self-government though still under British imperialist tutelage. It was essentially a neo-colonialist set-up, qualitatively distinct from the traditional colonial one, the product of a phase in which Britain was preparing to give up its coolie empire. Independence, and together with it democracy, came without any struggle worth the name. In 1948 Sri Lanka was way ahead in every sense of practically all the other Afro-Asian countries. It was a situation that could be expected to breed complacency and irresponsibility in the elite that inherited power from the British. The situation was comparable to that of the young man who inherits vast wealth without doing a stroke of work and proceeds to blow his patrimony on attaining majority. That was seen in the ways that that elite failed to understand and cope with the malefic aspects of the 1956 revolution.

1956 saw the inauguration of Afro-Asian socialism, a phenomenon that was seen also in Nehru’s India, Nasser’s Egypt, Soekarno’s Indonesia, Nyere’s Tanzania, Sekou Toure’s Guinea, and in several other Afro-Asian countries. It essentially meant the emergence to elite status of the lower middle class. There was a positive aspect to that process in that that class represented a more authentic nationalism than that of the Westernised elites, but in practically every other way the process was negative. That class had no higher education, no professional qualifications, no business skills, no capital, and the only way it could ascend to elite status was through the state sector. We therefore saw in Sri Lanka the setting up of huge state corporations and the politicization of the Administration. The State with its vast resources became the virtual possession of the Government in power. The essence of politics became patronage, and that had horrible consequences: the politicians became powerful over the people and the people had to be servile to the politicians to secure their ends. The result was partially corrupt politicians and partially corrupt people. And that result prevails today as shown by the recent General Elections.

With the introduction of the open economy in 1977 and vastly increased opportunities for upward mobility there was no need for the continued politicization of the State. But it became worse, while the politicians became more powerful and the people became more servile. I can find no socio-economic explanation for that. I can only grope towards a cogent explanation by introducing the category of Evil into the analysis of politics – a huge and complex subject that requires analysis elsewhere. By Evil I mean the drive to harm and destroy with no purpose other than the joy it gives to the perpetrator. In literature the great exemplar of Evil was Iago in Shakespeare’s play Othello. In Sri Lanka Evil was personified in President JR who exercised virtually absolute and arbitrary power over an enslaved people. I will provide only one example to show Evil in operation in his case. We all know that Governments usually try to tame the judiciary, and resort to devious ways towards that end. But JR went much further than that. When a Supreme Court decision displeased him he had the houses of the judges surrounded by thugs who were transported in CTB buses – no need to go into further details about that well-known episode. My point is that JR was not satisfied with taming the judges. He wanted to humiliate them in order to appease the drive of Evil in him.
I have tried to show that the phenomenon of partially corrupt politicians and partially corrupt people has a long history behind it, which means that it could prove difficult to eradicate it. But the people have given a clear mandate for its eradication. We must therefore be vociferously critical over the Government’s accommodativeness towards the corrupt, while continuing to support it to the extent – and only to the extent – that it furthers the January 8 revolution.

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  • 2

    Izeth Hussain

    RE: Corrupt Politicians Or Corrupt People Or Both?

    Hood Heading.

    Need to revise it to Corrupt Politicians and Stupid People join hands to help corrupt Politicians?

    Priests do that

    Monks do that

    Mullahs do that

    Why can’t the Politicians too.

    The necessary ingredient is stupid people, called Modayas, Mootals and Fools, with low enough IQ’s around 65.

    • 1

      Mr. Izeth Hussain

      Corrupt Politicians Or Corrupt People Or Both?

      Corrupt Politicians and Stupid People Or Both?

      “Mullahs do that” Bribed by the Wahhabis aided and abetted by the West..

      Corrupt Wahhabi Mullahs Or Stupid People Or Both?

      How Saudi Wahhabism Is the Fountainhead of Islamist Terrorism

      Why are the Muslims very reluctant to expose the Wahhabi Iblees, Iblis and Satan, at the misleading the Muslims? Wahhabi Oil Money? It is like the Sri Lankans who were bribed by money and perks by Mahinda Rajapaksa.

      Mr. Izeth Hussain, Amarasiri has seen hardly any Sri Lankan Muslim writers calling the Wahhabi Spades, a Spade. Amarasiri has repeatedly pointed out based on the writings in the Quran, Hadith and the ideas expressed by many Muslim Scholars that the Wahhabis are the flowers of Iblees, Iblis, Satan, Shaitan, Lucifer and Mara.

      In many places in poor Muslim countries the choice is now between going to an extremist madrassa or getting no education at all. Poverty is exploited to promote extremism. The affected areas include Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, India and parts of Africa. The same Wikileaks cable explains:

      Although the Wahhabi curriculum was modified after the 9/11 attacks, it remains backward and intolerant. Freedom House published a report on the revised curriculum, concluding that it “continues to propagate an ideology of hate toward the ‘unbeliever,’ which include Christians, Jews, Shiites, Sufis, Sunni Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine, Hindus, atheists and others.” This is taught not only domestically but also enthusiastically exported abroad.

      Of course, initially there was complicity with the U.S. and Pakistan in promoting this ideology to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In addition to the radical indoctrination, thousands of volunteer jihadis from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries were also dispatched to fight alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan. But it remains a complicated problem to this day because the politicians in the poor countries getting the Saudi and Gulf-Arab funds approve these extremist madrassas in part because the local authorities likely receive kickbacks.

      The more tolerant indigenous versions of Islam cannot survive in the face of the tsunami of money being poured into promoting theo-fascist Wahhabism. This is a major problem that the Muslim world must urgently address.

      But it is also a problem where the West can help by stopping its historical pandering and support of Middle East tyrants who spread this extremism. The most fundamental way to make the message clear to the House of Saud would be to threaten to stop buying oil from them. Given the relatively cheap oil prices these days it need not be an empty threat.

      Eliminating the occasional militant leaders in drone and special-forces strikes is of limited use in reducing extremism if millions of radicals are being actively trained in Wahhabi madrassas across the Muslim world.

      The fight against ISIS and Al-Qaeda is deeply ironic since these organizations were created and are sustained, in part, by funds we hand over to the Saudis and Gulf Arab nations to purchase their oil. And while France mourns its cartoonists and police officers, the French government is busy signing military and nuclear deals worth billions with the Saudis. If we continue down this road, it may well be a never-ending war.

      The House of Saud works against the best interests of the West and the Muslim world. Muslim communities worldwide certainly need to eradicate fanatical Wahhabism from their midst, but this will be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish if the West continues its support of the House of Saud. The monarchy must be modernized and modified — or simply uprooted and replaced. The House of Saud needs a thorough house cleaning.

  • 0

    JR’s evil resulted in the July 1983 riots.


    This was the turning point in tamils’ decision to take up arms.

    Now the evil that killed up to 40,000 tamil civilians during the last days of the war, later held 300,000 in detention camps, & made thousands more disappear, has been identified, and UN suggests a hybrid court to investigate.
    Will this happen?
    Is the MS/RW government willing/capable?

  • 1

    Izeth Hussain

    RE: Corrupt Politicians Or Corrupt People Or Both?

    What would you prefer? Stupid Politicians and Stupid Viceroys and Governors? Ask About Iraq?

    Sri Lanka has been spared Stupid Politicians and and Stupid Viceroys, and thank God for that. [Edited out]

  • 3

    “Corrupt Politicians Or Corrupt People Or Both?”

    Politicians come from the people, and if the people are corrupt: What else would you expect.

    JR Jayawardene, after the mother of all anti-Tamil pogroms said: If I starve the Tamils, Sinhalese people will be happy: Mind you this was said by the father of the “nation” and his constitution is still in place.

    Now, the question is:

    Was not JR wrong in that the Sinhalese society is morally corrupt to accept his cruel utterance towards Tamils without any protest?

    This immoral society keeps on electing immoral politicians because the society and its politicians have nurtured immoral values towards Tamils to start with.

    If you are immoral towards Tamils, does it take much time to be immoral in general? The mind set of the Sinhalese society has still not changed as they are still gloating about the immoral – war crimes ridden, illegitimate and genocidal victory over Tamils fight for freedom.

    Did the Muslims realize that their turn will come with the advent of BBS, or couldn’t they care less because only Tamils were getting the works anyway?

    Now immorality has spread like cancer throughout the society. Teachers don’t teach at schools but teach for exorbitant fees in private classes outside.

    Mr Izeth Hussain, why don’t you start talking about corrupt practices in schools which are supposed to inculcate values to children?

    The British left a clean society at independence, and the people not ready for democracy ruined the political, administrative and the economic well being of the society.

    Britain the super power at that time was using its superior knowledge in every aspect from military, technology and science, democracy, economy and all the state of the art knowledge at that time to manage the island and its peoples, though run as a colony.

    When I was in London in the Sixties bales of newspapers were left by the roadside with a box for coins besides: We put 2 Shillings or whatever was the price and took a paper. Now I hear they don’t do it any more with all the immigrants from third world countries coming there bringing with them the corruption in their societies.

    Lee Kwan Yew went all over Europe and found them prosperous with knowledge in all worth while fields and practically corruption-free:

    He went back and created a First world country out of a poor Singapore in his own life time.

    Sinhalese politicians went to Europe, got themselves ‘educated’, came back and used immoral ways to come to power, and stay in power. They still do: It is not easy to change the bad ways instilled over 67 years.

  • 1

    Politicians have been breaking promises made before elections and behaving in the same deplorable ways that their opponents behaved when in power. In such a situation, it is not surprising that ordinary people make their decisions based on tangible and real things that they receive from the politicians such as Sil Redi, asbestos sheets, cement bags, hard cash etc. Do not blame them – blame the political culture

  • 1

    It is certainly the corrupt people because the people only become politicians, and politicians are not coming from another part of the world or planet!

    We can see how the people are corrupt by seeing how they behave on the streets, the motorists and pedestrians alike. Most motorists (certainly not all) do not have any courtesy to observe the rule of the law and so do the pedestrians.

  • 1

    Amarasiri is right.

    There are only rice eating cattle and grass eating people in Sri Lanka. Both types have voting rights.

  • 1

    A very good discussion by Izeth, who presumably holds the view that justifiably, January 8 would mark the revolution in modern Sri Lankan politics. He says: “I can truthfully attest that until after 1970 I would never have imagined the kind of political degeneracy that we have been witnessing. I won’t go into details about the degeneracy, but I will point to a contrast by way of illustration. In my last article I invoked the names of Bismarck and Lee Kuan Yew to show that mighty achievements are possible through meliorist politics”. One cannot be quite sure whether his reference to Lee Quan can be considered accurate. Lee, who then claimed to be a communist, was undoubtedly a brilliant person with an unsurpassed academic record. He was fortunate to come into the politics of Malaysia and then Singapore, when politics was not as crucial to their peoples as it is for the Sri Lankans given the wealth of natural resources of Malaysia and Singapore. Further, Lee being a Machiavellian was also unscrupulous and ruthless. He brooked no opposition although in his Parliament there was nominal opposition. Singapore though multi racial is a viable democracy with the semblance of equality and secularism. The fact is that Singapore ranks as a first world country and this undoubtedly is owed to Lee Quan Yew. Bensen

  • 1

    Sri Lankan culture (regardless of ethnic/religious affiliations) is replete with nepotism, clannishness, corruption and exploitation of the poor.

    While many English-educated and westernized people may give lip service to human rights etc., many of these same people have grown up in families that employed child servants, and continue to mistreat the poorer classes, and due to political connections stand above the law.

    On the other hand, the rural folk who are not as westernized, also practice prejudice and clannishness, a sense of justice through violence, such as mob attacks or ostracism.

    In my opinion both groups are as corrupt as the other.

    True change can occur only if people honestly confront themselves and decide to change their culture. We need to recognize that merit should be the main criterion for selecting job applicants, not family connections. We need to recognize that certain “traditions” that are classist and sexist at their core will need to be challenged and eradicated.

  • 1

    Great article Mr. Hussain. The answer is both. However, I forgive people who are forced into this corrupt system out of necessity to survive. You state, “the problem is that ends and means cannot be entirely dissociated”. This is partly true. Nevertheless, the current political subterfuge is certainly the new binning of the end of that political revolution and transformation we yearned for on January 8th. I see this also the end of the beginning of “Yahapalanaya”. Based on historical evidence, I saw this coming as premonition by many of our intellectuals. The current political rot set in the early 70’s mainly due to classless socialist and communist politicians being allowed to take the helm of our destiny while we watched allowing their political gangrene to spread into every other public sphere that soon became politicized whether it be the judiciary, mass media, foreign service, military, academia, law enforcement or the private sector. With corrupt politicians calling the shots in our institutions at every turn, this became an obstacle to law abiding citizens to get anything done rationally, promptly and legally. Many of our frustrated citizens who were victims of this pernicious and vicious political cycle left our shores in disgust starting with the Burghers who found themselves disenfranchised, excluded and alienated. Followed by our Burghers were another mass exodus of citizens who represented every other ethnic community. This cross cut and loss of our citizens intermittently that was expected to have made a quality ‘civil’ workforce and contribute in promoting to a vibrant ideological and cultural diversity that is essential to build an emerging democracy is economic terms was an opportunity cost. The “degeneration” exponentially increased ever since. The break out of civil war that lasted for three more decades caused another wave of immigrants that made up our youth were forced to leave the country as they anticipated a bleak future and the coming colours no good. Today our nation lacks even a simple statistic to qualitatively and quantitatively analyze the economic loss and the loss of head count based on ethnicity. Add to this number the countless number of intellectuals who remained to serve us, and those we lost out during the civil strife that was conveniently blamed on terrorism or among those who fell victim to our government’s extra judicial killing apparatus that has earned us the notoriety of becoming the “killing fields” of South Asia. Meanwhile, those meliorist who remained were forced to adapt a mechanism for survival to side step this pernicious political bureaucracy by doing things that you and I would dare not dream or pander to. This is why I defend the hapless people who are forced to act in some corrupt manner. It is our failure to govern morally is what has brought us to this rudderless, perilous, pitiful, primitive and pathetic “cross road” (that you eloquently put under a different topic) of our country. There is no way out of this morass unless we have a benevolent dictator or statesman like Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, Dr. Mahatir or the legendary Nelson Mandela types who can end this vicious political cycle and circus.

  • 0

    Both. That simple. Government off the people; buy the people; fool the people but above all “Apey hora hondai” mentality that is shown even by the Radalayas in Colombo 7 Reid Ave type. Best is their argument that a certain late Minister with a famous last name from Kandy being from Trinity although was a noted corrupt bribe taking man in charge of the ministry that represents our farming in the JRJ govt was considered to be “our people no! so he is ok” When the topic of bribery and corruption was discussed in comparison to a alcohol dependent and corrupt bribe taking Deputy minister of the socialist government from 1970-77. In other words, even for Colombo haamus the Apey hora who speaks English went to top schools while being incompetent or corrupt or takes bribes is better than that sarong wearing uncouth sinhala speaker or the muslim village hora or the tamil village hora.

    So you get the government you wish for. Look at the voting patterns. WELL SAID SIR WELL SAID IZETH

  • 0


    In as much the term “the Tamil village hora” is unheard of and sounds incoherent, the truth is there is no such thing. The structure of Tamil society makes sure there is no room for such a character amongst them in the village. That is not to say there are no corrupt persons or bad eggs amongst us.


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