By Malinda Seneviratne –
Theft in institutions of whatever kind, if it takes on the character of ‘business as usual’, has implications. It implies that there may be in-built (unidentified or ignored) chinks that facilitate pilfering. It implies that the person in charge is either a thief or is incompetent. If the boss robs, it amounts to a thieving license for all subordinates. The logic can be applied to other acts not sanctioned by the relevant rules and regulations of a given institution or system.
If some random local government politician throws his weight around, assaults someone, threatens, robs, rapes or engages in some other illegal activity and if that kind of infringement is rare, we can put it down to character quirk. Indeed, we could even predict that the individual can forget about re-election.
That may have been the case a long, long, long time ago. Not now. Hardly a day passes when we don’t read or hear about a politician who is associated with some form of illegal activity, some act of thuggery or abuse. It is no longer ‘news’ and that says a lot about what the ‘usual business’ is.
It is about flawed institutional arrangement exacerbated by flawed constitution, one might explain. It’s about bad people doing bad things, would be another explanation. It is a law and order problem, pure and simple, another would opine. It’s all these, in fact. But if ‘culture’ has a role, we need to understand that certain ‘cultures’ flow from institutional structures and moreover flourish and grow more pernicious because these structure favor the bad over the good.
It is then about people in key positions not willing to do anything about it or else are themselves too compromised to intervene. When a minister calls the media and goes on to tie an official to a tree and gets away without a scratch to political career, lower ranked politicians take a cue. Inaction is reward enough and encouragement to boot, after all.
This indicates rank insincerity on the part of those at the top or else a resolve to ‘let be’. Letting be, though, has a dynamic of its own. Bad news spreads fast. What big brother does, small brother considers ‘fair game’. And we so we have the ridiculous situation of schoolboy rugby matches necessitating riot police personnel being on hand to step in if things get bad. Players punch players, linesmen weighs in to add muscle to player-player brawls. Spectators assault referees. Inquiries are announced and held. Through it all ‘pain of punishment’ has not made its way into the thick heads of thugs and thugs in waiting.
It is not a local thing, mind you. The United States has demonstrated in word (Madeline Albrights scandalous-but-honest statement that the death of over half a million children in Iraq ‘was worth it’) and deed (in recent times Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria) that guns-in-booty-out is par for the course in the New World Odor. That’s a Double-O license for the rest of the world. If spying on private citizen is ‘ok’ for the US Government, then that will be ‘ok’ for others, Sri Lanka too. If plunder at gun point is ok for Uncle Sam, it’s ok for the Mervins of Sri Lanka, doctored or otherwise. If war is a game and slaughtering Osama bin Laden or Muammar Gaddafi is ‘ok’, that’s a cue for nose-punching (and of course ‘thou shalt kneel at my command’) for every two-bit thug who has by hook or by crook got elected.
How do we correct this? By objecting. On pain of punishment. This side of ‘that’ lies complicity, approval and the risk of being accused of partaking of spoils.
As things stand, with respect to hooliganism, thuggery and theft, the word in the street is that those mandated to arrest the situation are silent and therefore have legitimately earned the tag ‘beneficiary’.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com