By Kusal Perera –
Abolition of the Executive Presidency was proposed as a solution to almost all evil issues from mega corruption to fraud, to nepotism to crony capitalism, to breakdown of rule of law to dictatorial rule. 19th Amendment that would include the establishment of Independent Commissions was thus projected as the main solution for ills and was campaigned for over an year resulting in a Common Opposition Candidate at the presidential polls. During the presidential elections the urban middle class rallied round 19A expecting the executive presidency to be abolished for an accountable, transparent good governance rule to begin with the corrupt in the previous regime duly punished.
Proving purely arithmetical calculations done by “Experts” in how a two thirds majority in parliament could be secured wholly absurd and a-political, abolition became a non starter. Their “expert” ignorance that argued the ‘abolition’ was possible with just a 2/3 majority in parliament was rejected by the SC. The next important reform in the electoral system that is promised as 20th Amendment is being greased the same way, compromised to exclusively suit political party leaders and not democracy and not wider people’s representation. In fact there are “experts” whose only work on electoral reforms is to satisfy a majority of MPs in this deformed and illegitimate parliament and not the democratic needs of people.
These go to prove, it’s not just politicians who are corrupt and everything bad. These go to prove even the urban middle class is not wholly committed for a clean and a fair government. To prevent nepotism, fraud, corruption and cronyism. For the educated, the professionals, the administrators and even the academics are also gnawing at different advantages in being within this heavily corrupt and profitable system. We are certainly living through intellectual poverty and ignorance in this society. Intellectually lethargic, we don’t get into serious discussions in finding what really ails us. We are happy raking the superficial, the most visible. We are being caged in intellectually and culturally dead city life.
Therefore corruption and fraud is limited to media hype about investigating plunder and looting during the previous regime. Ministers claim there is evidence in hand to prove mega corruption counted in billions of dollars in foreign bank accounts. Allegations on drug trafficking and illegal ethanol imports are levelled against MPs and spoken of publicly. Most want the big names drawn in for investigation that seem getting dragged with time and show no serious commitment on the part of the government that promise accountability and transparency. The media hype and urban middle class campaign against corruption is only targeting the Rajapaksas and would end if big political names are roped in for investigations and brought before law. As rightly pointed out by Amrit Muttukumaru in his Colombo Telegraph article “Those reluctant to hold professionals accountable and ‘name & shame’ wrongdoers have clearly lost the moral authority to speak of good governance and any pretense to combat corruption.”
That serious lapse in combating corruption is a fact of life. But there is no social debate on how such could be curbed in the future. There is no social demand for professionals to act as professionals and act clean. As Muttukumaru has argued, even high profile Audit firms are responsible for what has taken place and what would take place even after change of governments, IF there are no pointing fingers at them. Therefore to get to the core of it one has to accept that widespread mega corruption with political patronage in this country is all about how the so called “engine of growth”, the private sector seeks to do business. Big business lacks ethics and social responsibility. In plain language, it’s all about how the private sector gets their hands into black money and the dependency of political party leaderships on such corporate entities.
Let’s be open and direct on this. All our political leaderships are corrupt. The degree and their involvements may differ. But none is a “Mr. Clean”. They can afford to be corrupt for two reasons. One, people don’t demand accountability and transparency from party leaderships on political party funds and campaign expenses. Two, political parties are run by men who have scant respect for party democracy and therefore are never questioned or held accountable to party funds by its members. How money comes and how and where that money goes is purely a leadership job. Nor would the party leadership ever think it’s their responsibility to check how a candidate spends millions for his own election campaign. In fact the leadership promotes such candidates. The only serious question asked from persons seeking nominations is, how much s/he could spend for the election campaign. It’s a popular and an open fact, a good funder can have even his wife nominated to parliament from the party National List.
That much being about big money and party leaderships, let’s lay down these few issues for open discussion. Rajapaksa is accused of not only mega corruption and fraud in amassing yet to be accounted wealth in personal accounts and names. He is also accused of using public funds and State resources for his election campaign. We are very much concerned and rightly so, in how he funded his election campaign for that would show the extent of corruption and political arrogance in this system of governance. The Opposition has no access to such public funding and hardly any State resources too, for election campaigning. But that does not mean the Opposition goes limp on a poverty stricken campaign budget. They do try to match the other who rides high on public money and State resources. How does it happen ?
To know how it happens, we should have asked Sarath Fonseka how much he collected for his presidential election campaign in January 2010. How much he spent on electronic and print media advertising. How much was spent on district election offices. How much was spent on public rallies and publicity posters, hoardings and cut-outs. How much was spent on his travel in the campaign.
Same holds true and valid for Maithripala Sirisena’s presidential campaign. He had a campaign office well equipped and staffed in an expensive residential lane in Thimbirigasyaya. That was where he met people on appointment and that included businessmen too. It is known that Wickremesinghe doled out a minimum of 01 million to party organisers during the last presidential election. IF he had doled out such money to, say 100 party organisers that would at a minimum total over 01 billion rupees. If all such expenses incurred for the Maithripala Sirisena campaign are totalled, they would definitely count in many billions and not millions.
NOW, this is not money collected in tills on streets and village fairs. Not money brought in by leaders from selling their private assets. Here is how today, the private sector launders black money. For these business men or women, all that funding is investment for the future. Obviously, leadership obligations will have to be prioritised with funders on top and not the voter.
Meanwhile don’t count less the millions pumped in regularly by media kings to have their own MPs in parliament. This is now a growing phenomenon here in Sri Lanka. Politicians enjoying both tax payers money and big business patronage. Next parliamentary election may see more of such business “sponsored” candidates contesting from all major political parties in the Sinhala South and handling private media as paid DJ’s and programme anchors. They certainly will be obliged to pay back the sponsor before they think of the voter.
Now where do you think, corruption begins ? Corruption begins with political party leaderships. This needs laws and norms in curbing corruption at its onset. A campaign to demand political parties to be transparent and accountable to all money they spend in election campaigns and individual candidates to be compelled to announce their campaign budget is now a political priority.
I would therefore propose a campaign on the following, “For A Civilised Parliament – A Decent Government” well in advance of the next parliamentary election.
- Demand all political party leaders to make their election fund open for public scrutiny. Voters should have the right to know who funds how much to the party election campaign, from the time the government officially informs the Election Commissioner of dissolution of parliament.
- Demand all party leaders they must ensure all their candidates hand over Assets and Liabilities of theirs and their families as mentioned in the relevant Assets and Liabilities Law. It should be stressed, for political decisions to be adopted by a party leadership, legal insufficiency if any is no excuse. The party therefore should take responsibility in making all such declarations public.
- All candidates should immediately after nominations, publicly declare, what their total campaign budget is.
- All political parties should make a public pledge when handing over nominations, they will not resort to racial and or religious slogans and will not campaign on political platforms that could incite racial and or religious hatred.
- Demand that political parties will not give nominations to any who are socially blacklisted for anti social activities and are charge sheeted for crimes such as rape, sexual abuse, murder, extortion, fraud and corruption.