18 September, 2021

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If It Looks Like A Duck & Walks Like A Duck, It Is A Duck

By W. Vishnu Gupta

W. Vishnu Gupta

The World Bank states that “Political corruption occurs when an office-holder or other governmental employee acts in an official capacity for personal gain. Corruption is most common in kleptocracies, oligarchies, narco-states, and mafia states.”

In a kleptocracy, corrupt politicians and their henchmen enrich themselves secretly outside the rule of law or through kickbacks, bribes, and special favors, or they simply direct state funds to themselves and/or the benefits to their associates. Also, kleptocrats often export much of their profits to foreign nations in anticipation of losing power. The other general characteristics of kleptocracy includes that kleptocrats tend to rely on money laundering and they tend to secure their ill-gotten wealth in assets and investments within more secure stable foreign jurisdiction such as Singapore, Switzerland, or Liechtenstein.

The popular axiom “if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it is a duck” leads us to be curious about what is going on in the Sri Lankan political arena. It is not a secret that the present government is dominated by members of one family, and they control overwhelming majority of the national wealth and assets through their cabinet portfolios. Moreover, the opposition accuses the government of introducing the 20th amendment to the constitution to facilitate and accommodate the wishes of the family members and friends. Similarly, they charge that government is attempting to legalize illegally acquired financial assets through manipulative measures sanctioned by the cohorts in the legislature. Under this backdrop, and having observed the economic, financial, and political affairs of the country for a long time, are we witnessing the emergence of a regime guided by kleptocracy in Sri Lanka? I hope sincerely our nation is not a kleptocracy, but it is incumbent upon the “elected” political leadership to prove to the world, that Sri Lanka is not a kleptocracy. It will be a major lapse of judgement to leave this task to the “national list” especially the novice parliamentarians. If the world bank asserts that corruption is common in kleptocracies among other undesirable detested forms of governments, it will be rather difficult to convince the community of nations, especially the democratic western nations that Sri Lanka is free from corruption.

The ruling party lead by SLPP cannot avoid the accusations and outcry of certain segments of the of the voters, mainly lead by leading civic rights protection organizations, the opposition, religious establishment and to some extent by the BASL about kleptocracy linked to corruption. Especially, the President, Prime Minister, newly installed Finance Minister, and the Cabinet of Ministers must be sensitive to the allegations of corruption and kleptocracy. Frequently it is alleged, as it was seen in the response made by leading critics of the government to the recent address of the President to the nation, alleged sugar, and cooking oil scandals. They have accused the government advisors of misleading the leadership. If true, it is easy to deuce that these political novices turned advisor honchos did understand little about the difference between kleptocracy and the instruments of a democratic nation. However, it should not be forgotten that rigged or imperfect democracies always pave the way to establish kleptocracies.

The Leaders of G7 countries have expressed recently that human rights and democracy have come “under siege” around the world. As a result, they expect those who stand up for human rights and against the authoritarian regimes may seek protection in the western democratic countries. Therefore, kleptocracies, especially bankrupt countries should think twice before taking undemocratic actions to suppress the opposition under the guise of Covid-19 pandemic control or other similar unpopular measures. Particularly, the FDI investors will be leery about entering into a kleptocracy or a nation control by highly corrupt politicians.    

Lesson from Chanakya

A foreign visitor to the Chandragupta empire of India once visited Chanakya’s house in the evening. Chanakya was writing on his desk under the light of an oil lamp. He welcomed the visitor in and told him to wait until he finished his work. The visitor waited patiently until Chanakya finished writing.

After Chanakya finished writing, he extinguished the oil lamp, leaving the room in total darkness, and the visitor in fear. But after some time, the visitor was relieved to see another oil lamp lit, a different one, and being curious about this strange ritual, the visitor asked Chanakya what made him to change the lamp. Chanakya replied that the first oil lamp contained the oil given to him by the kingdom and is only used for official purposes. As soon as he was done with official work, he switched to his personal oil lamp – thereby saving oil that belonged to the kingdom.

We may argue that the quantity of that oil is not significant, but it is not about the oil, but the value of incorruptibility.

Chanakya set this standard many centuries ago to gauge the corrupt behaviour among those who appear before the citizens as politicians and civil servants. In our beloved nation Sri Lanka, the politicians not only take the “LAMP” after their term in the political office is over, but they expect to “OIL” the lamp until the death including that of their spouses at the expense of taxpayers. What a shame and travesty, they have conveniently rigged the constitution and the laws of the country to obtain many “LAMPS” and “OIL” to maintain their self-indulgent lifestyles while the citizens live in misery. What an irony, undoubtedly, they have ascended to power with the motives driven to reward themselves and their cohorts with unimaginable immoral ways and means of accumulating booty for their kith and kin to last for several generations.

The corrupt individuals under the oligarchies that existed since mid 1950s and purported kleptocracies who have lined their own pockets through embezzlement, with their greed clearly has caused untold damage to the citizens of Sri Lanka they exploit. The “proof is in the pudding”, one must look only at the wealth and affluence gained by parliamentarians, by cabinet of ministers plus their henchmen. Finally, the dismal status of country’s economy and the millions of citizens suffering in every corner of the country is the real proof. The farmers, teachers, fishermen, health-workers, and students have begun to agitate practically against every initiative launched by the present government. Let’s not make a mistake, it is not hundred or thousands, but millions of disenfranchised Sri Lankan mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters are crying for meaningful changes to the governance structure in Sri Lanka that must be free from oligarchies or kleptocracy.

Unfortunately, the traditional media houses, state and privately owned have always partnered with the oligarchies and kleptocracies and hence it will be difficult for them to evade the accusations made by the voters of the country. If the citizens believe that they were mislead by the politicians during the elections held in 2020 and 2019 and before, the media outlets were equally responsible for propagating falsehood. In a true democracy the media is accountable to the citizens of the country and not to any political party. The traditional Sri Lankan media outlets appear to have forgotten the above unwritten rule of decency and common sense, but they have never failed to trumpet and usher the oligarchies and kleptocracies into halls of power.

Finally, let us be reminded of a sutra from Buddhist schoolings about the actions of an individual. Vasala sutra (Outcast Sutra) tells us ‘Na Jachcha Vasalohoti, Najachcha Hoti Bhraahmano, Kamanna Vasalo hoti, Kammana Hoti Bhamanothi’ – A Person becomes an outcast or a brahmin by deed and not by birth – The extension of this sutra with a slight tweak is appropriate at this crucial period of Sri Lanka. The legislative, political, and executive actions of the present government will ultimately decide whether we are a nation of KLEPTOCRACY or NOT.

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Latest comments

  • 13
    2

    The problem in Sri Lanka is the looker is also a duck. That is, the media, law enforcement, and judiciary are also ducks.

  • 13
    2

    That story about Chanakya is truly inspiring. It must be translated into Sinhala and Tamil first. This story must be displayed in all three languages in all government institutions and in all schools in the Island. Very few persons in this country are able to distinguish right from wrong and even when they do, it does not seem to mould their conduct!

    • 10
      2

      Captain Morgan,
      That sort of morality may exist in Hinduism, but popular morality here is different. For instance, if a priest commits a heinous crime, the done thing is to brush it under the carpet on the reasoning that it is bad for the image of the religion. But the media will go into a feeding frenzy if the perpetrator is a Tamil or Hindu.

      • 1
        0

        OC
        Just a little diversion.
        Chanakya (Kautilya) was supposedly a Brahmin, but his work really had little to do with Hinduism. His statecraft was put to great effect by non-Hindu rulers.
        Like of all historical figures, there is much myth built around him and more will keep coming in seasoned ancient ola leaves.
        *
        There is no common code of Hindu morality or for that matter many other things that characterize religion.
        Tamil morality and ethics were inspired and initiated by Buddhism and Jainism, which also urged ‘ahimsa’, with Jains going to extremes on it.
        *
        BTW
        Many seem to have forgotten the political line that was plugged by the author not long ago.

        • 1
          0

          SJ,
          “Many seem to have forgotten the political line that was plugged by the author not long ago.”
          Probably he sees which way the wind is blowing?

    • 5
      0

      Captain Morgan,
      There are so many stories in all languages and in the religious books taught in this island. The President, Prime Minister and other ministers and even MPs to Pradeshiya Saba members, government officials are fully aware it is a crime. Do you know why Basil still wants to keep their USA Citizenship. Do you know Why Gota’s family still hold USA citizenship? How do they give bribe to buy MPs to vote to get two third majority to include that dual citizens can become a Minister?
      Somebody in this forum said when Majority of “Sinhalayo” accept this, why you are worrying even if they sell whole “Sinhalyo” to China.

  • 6
    9

    If a person looks like a poof, walks like a poof, talks like a poof, are we foolish to imagine he is a real man , a man who could take on the Rajapakses , system corruption and under development ?

    • 5
      1

      DS,
      “are we foolish to imagine he is a real man “
      There you go again with uninformed generalizations. Look up Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, two “poofs”, both of whom did better than the Rajapaksas.

    • 0
      1

      ds
      Can you kindly elaborate on what a ‘poof’ looks like or how a ‘poof’ walks and talks.

  • 10
    1

    Remember “Helping Hambantota”?
    Now there are many “Hambantotas”
    Hundreds of miles of roads are being renovated, though they are in use daily. What is the hurry, when “money is tight” for the government?
    New vehicles for politicians are, after all, coming, at great cost.
    These are only the “tip of the iceberg”.

  • 10
    1

    If It Looks Like A reptile & Walks Like A reptile, It Is……….Nandasena!

  • 5
    0

    Those who steal from the treasury, taxpayers under various pretexts and through commissions for approving government projects are real “vasalayas” according to Vasala Sutraya.

  • 4
    0

    With the opposition weakened, and some still making nice with the Rajapaksa regime (for their own selfish agendas), chances are high we are certainly heading towards kleptocracy, and some will argue we are already there. The writer has described very well the state of our country, and it does look and walk like a duck, no doubt. We are cursed by corruption from the top to the bottom, and mismanaged, misled, and misinformed. While the Rajapaksa family and their cronies keeps amassing wealth, and taking their 10 percent commissions, the people are struggling, and scrambling for the crumbs thrown at them. China owns chunks of our land, and according to reports we are broke. We have lost our nation, and the Rajapaksa’s are taking us down a very, very dangerous path. You have to wonder if those who voted for these scoundrels realize the situation they have put us in.
    Too late for buyer’s remorse now, we have to put up with the lame ducks.

  • 4
    1

    CM,
    In 2006, 4.5 or 5 million voters decided to disregard the ‘Helping Hambantota’ and in 2019 6.9 million decided that various acts including the monument built with taxpayers money and MIG deal does not bother their conscience and voted the government in. That represents a growth of 120% approximately in a period of 13 plus years which is 10% growth per year average.
    That’s the god forsaken trend of the voting Sri Lankans.
    They are nonplussed as to how their money is being spent or misused whilst depriving vaccines and staple food – leave the fertiliser out for the moment. The repercussions of that misdemeanour will be felt in agricultural productivity in years to come. It would not matter then, because the ‘voters’ would be ‘immaterial’, by that time! Time will tell! People get the government they (desire) and truly deserve.

  • 2
    1

    Corruption is essential to hold SL in one piece. End corruption and SL colapses into 3 nations. Just dish out a ministry lucrative enough and any MP will cross the floor to grab it.

    Then politicians need a lot of money to run election campaigns. They know other tribes don’t vote for them. So they have to spend a massive amount of money to get enough votes from his own tribe. Corruption is the only way to earn it.

    Soon Rajapaksas will just print money and donate them to their party loyalists. Come election time they will do a riot, divide people, drive fear into them and win votes again.

  • 2
    0

    Kleptocracies & oligarchies are associated mainly with 3rd world countries, particularly, African states governed by despots, with the exception of, perhaps, Russia. Thanks to free media & a robust parliamentary system holding politicians to account, the possibility is much less in democratic developed countries. In SL, until the MR regime, corruption was subtle & oligarchs came & went with regime changes but since then, it was blatant & we walked into this current sorry situation knowingly. Maybe there was no choice & we hoped for the best but did we ever believe that a once rejected lot can change for the better? We have accepted the situation & the current familial rule will continue, at least in the foreseeable future.

    If the crimes against the country will ever be investigated, pigs will take to the sky on that day. If god exists, maybe then on judgement day, these despicable parasites will be punished. Nevertheless, it is an opportunity for a new political party consisting of people with integrity to come forward & challenge the deadwood & the known criminals who are in current politics. Opposition parties have the responsibility to nominate credible candidates, not the village thug or the illiterate loyal party bum sucker to represent the people in Parliament.

  • 4
    1

    Vishnu, we are a kleptocracy indeed. Rajapaksas started this family project soon after getting elected and now given the opportunity to complete it. Instead of them changing , they will condition those seven millions and others to be part of kleptonation. Today Mahindanada says JVP is in nexus with agrochemical business. Now even a school goer knows, it is Mahindananda who is corrupt but does it matter ??

  • 5
    0

    Old Codger, I do not know the intimate details of Alexander or Julius Caesar both who lived more than 2000 years before me ! There are all kinds of speculation about them, the social life of those days etc. For every such opinion there is a counter opinion too. Rather tiresome wondering what happened so long ago.

    SJ, you probably have not seen a gay bar , that is OK . I am only generalizing, you have to in these matters. There are very manly looking gays too, I agree. But not generally.These are not important matters.

    But there are questions that need answers. How did Rajapakses come to politically dominate these two decades? Who was leading the opposition ?

    Even before that ,Chandrika who was a hopeless leader had two terms winning comfortably. She one time wanted to abolish the Presidency. What really happened ?

    What happened to the CJ Sarath Silva no confidence motion which was to be moved in parliament by the UNP ?

    Why did the once mighty UNP fail to win a single parliamentary seat in 2019 ? Did anyone in the UNP take responsibility and honourably resign ?

    • 0
      1

      D.S,
      “Old Codger, I do not know the intimate details of Alexander or Julius Caesar both who lived more than 2000 years before me !”
      Well, all I can say is, before you pontificate, you should look up the facts. There is such a thing as Google, which even little kids know how to use.

  • 2
    0

    OC , there is no point is these arguments. That there was a man called Caesar and that he conquered many lands is a fact, as there are several records of these.

    What he did in his bedroom must remain conjecture as much as what Gandhi did in his.

    There cannot be that degree of certainty to call that a fact. Here each person if free to believe what his temperament prods him to believe, some always go for a vulgar or unnatural sex interpretation

    • 0
      0

      D.S,
      There is no conjecture in this. The ancient Greeks and Romans did not suffer from Victorian morality, which was invented 2000 years later. Do you know that there are homoerotic images in museums in places like Pompeii? Read this if you are interested :.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_ancient_Rome

      Did you know that the Buddhist Vinaya Pitaka forbids monks from having sex with disembodied heads in cemeteries?

      • 0
        0

        D.S,
        “What he did in his bedroom must remain conjecture as much as what Gandhi did in his.”
        Weren’t you the one that called RW a “poof”?

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