26 September, 2020

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Look Not For Honest Men; Look For Systems That Keep Men Honest

By Shyamon Jayasinghe

Shyamon Jayasinghe

“The current Minister of Finance, Mangala Samaraweera, has to give a public explanation citing causes for the decision to remove the Director of Customs so suddenly. People demand that.”

Selfish Gene

The ancient Greel philosopher Diogenes, lived in a tub and would walk the night with a lamp to find an honest man. His search came a cropper.

Poltical experience all over the world would give this bit of advice to citizens of countries: The human being is full of  the selfish gene. Read Richard Dawkins, famous evolutionary biologist and atheist, and he will explain this. The individual human being will, typically, seek opportunities that can enrich himself or save him from parting with his illgotten assets. Politics is the art and science of power. 

No society in the world can avoid politics for the simple reason that any society needs an elite who will take decisons on behalf of the community. On the other hand, power gives its holder a leverage, which he will use, if unchecked, to his advantage.

Politician’s Greater Proclivity to Corruption

Have you and I in Sri Lanka, leave alone those in foreign countries, not learnt about man’s proclivity to to corruption and the politician’s greater penchant for that? We had the family caucus-led Rajapaksas almost of all them having had to face court. Now, we see in the government that was set up to catch them nothing being done that can effectively do the catching. Cases  taken up are dismissed for want of proper framing by the Attorney General’s Department. Rakapaksa Minister Johnston fernando’s case is an illustration. Special High Courts were were set up too late and they are struggling with the neglected backlog. Cases are getting postponed one by one and my guess is that this will be the situation until the next elections. 

The President himself went on record with charges of trying to harbour the Navy high-up who had been accused of  shelving the kidnapping and murder of 11 innocent kids taken in for ransom. Some Ministers of this government and the President, again, is charged with protecting the Avant Garde corruption case. The President is also reported as having tried to cover up Gota. In this way, every case is under a cloud. People who voted the yahapalanaya government are frustrated. The latter are now between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea.

Judiciary

This government did much at least to ensure an impartial and strong judiciary protected by an independent  (all party -represented) Independent Constitutional Council. President Sirisena has been, time and again, reported as trying to put his favourites into the courts but the Council has repudiated all attempts. As long as this system continues, we won’t have the likes of Mohan Pieris on board. This very high institution on which depends the sovereignty of the people and the protection of the individual against the arbitrary exercise of power by the executive, is now looking good and it is earning the respect of the populace.

Sacked Ms Charles, Director of Customs

On the other hand, one can observe even in this government the growing influence of powerful Ministers who are prone to corruption. Minister Ravi Karunanayake’s performance over Aloysius’s  penthouse has received wide publicity. Yet, he has returned to cabinet with a powerful portfolio. A big and ugly cloud is gathering over the recent dismissal of Ms Charles, Director of Customs. Ms Charles, in a public videoed statement, alleges that she went to follow the rules and got into trouble. She also alleges that Minister Mangala Samaraweera had scolded her in filth when she went to defend her decision. 

The result is that the trade unions are on strike indefinitely. It is hard to believe that this is an irresponsible strike as individual customs officials are being deprived of extra income in the way of big rewards, by keeping away from work. It is alleged that Minister Ravi Karunanayake has been involved here, too. The current Minister of Finance, Mangala Samaraweera, has to give a public explanation citing causes for the decision to remove the Director of Customs so suddenly. People demand that. This government’s credibility will take a hard hit if no acceptable public explanation is rendered. We want to know the truth. Was it because the Director was conducting investigations into the import of 200 BMW cars duty-free?  The customs is a favourite ground of politicians who want to make money. Big stakes are  involved here.

I am not referring to the much-hyped Bond case as that case has not yet been adjudicated by the Court. I hate pre-judgments. However, the record of the yahapalanaya government is increasingly getting soiled.

JVP?

What of the JVP? This party has a very clever leader in Anura Kumar Dissanayake who does his homework before he opens his mouth-the reverse of Vasu. Anura is brilliant and he is eloquent. He means well and he does impress. The UNP sorely misses a man of Anura’s talent and gusto. The problem of the JVP, however, is that it has no policy framework ready to bring the corrupt before the law. They are merely telling us that the Rajapksas were corrupt, the UNP is corrupt and that only the individual JVP leaders have no record of corruption. “Therefore,” the JVP urges, “vote us into government.”

Now, there are several flaws in this kind of rhetoric. Firstly, it depends on th theory of the honest man that we referred to at the beginning and such theory or assumption isn’t factual as human beings will tend to be corrupt given power. The prize is what will matter. Secondly, the fact is that the JVP had not been in power to prove that their members have been free of corruption. Without power, how come corruption? The possession of extraordinary power as in politics is the precondition for dishonesty and abuse. Our corrupt behaviour, like all other behaviours, is conditioned.

The Proposed System Changes

This brings me to the issue of setting up systems that can help keep the corrupt away. It isn’t so much the individual but the system that can avert or minimise corruption. This is the lesson the JVP can learn. I have three proposals for systems change here:

First, set up a Permanent Corruption Commission  that is ongoing. We have this in Australia. This must be an independent commission on the same model of the Constitutional Council, referred to above. Unlike the Constitutional Council, however, this commission must be quasi judicial and be brought under the judicial system. No body can influence it-not even the President or the Prime Minister. Give this body supreme powers to investigate  and to punish. 

The Sri Lankan experience has shown that people cannot trust a single politician who would be prone to avoid corruption. Our President Maitripala Sirisena’s famous sword hasn’t worked even for himself as is evident from the kidnapping episode  referred to above. Mahinda Rajapaksa never even in public speaking ever condemned corruption; he, rather, preferred to run his government by franchising corruption among his supporters. CBK was useless. JR had been financially above board but he ignored the corruption of some of his Ministers. Wijetunge did not exercise his power and wasn’t impressed  in deals. 

Whistleblowers

My second proposal is to formally set up legislation encouraging whistleblowers among the public or even among even those within institutions. Let the latter spy on each other. Whistle blowers aren’t afraid to expose fraud where they see that. They can have a hotline to the Corruption Commission and the law must give them security after a case comes up. Above all, they must be well rewarded. The establishment of this institution of whistleblowers can go a long way to deter fraud.  Those in authority will avoid brazen theft.

Executive President

Finally, it is super-relatively important that, if we are to be  a relatively corruption-free country, the institution of the Executive President must go immediately. It is unhealthy to have one man holding so much power and being immune from law. He will not be deterred to intervene and interfere with any government agency thus destroying the sacred management principle of separation of powers. The Sri Lankan experience was that Parliament was decimated, the independent arms of government were decimated and even the judiciary had been decimated -all in order to keep up the President’s ego and authority. The Sri Lankan culture, particularly, is still imbued with the feudal mentality where the President had been looked upon as  king. “Apata Rajek Oneh,” (“we want a King”) was the refrain among many in our population. 

Every incumbent is tempted to enjoy the glory  of pandering to that wish. Post 19th Amendment – President Maitripala Sirisena suffers from perennial depression and inferiority complex of not “really,” being a king like his predecessor. Much of his aberrant behaviour stems from this complex.

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Latest comments

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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

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      Dear Mr Jayasinghe,

      thanks for your article. We appreciate you as one of the few assets we have to articulate the current situation back in our home country
      :
      I have a number of questions about JVPrs and them being not succeeded sofar, being able towin the hearts and minds of the rank-and-file of this nation. They are not new to SL politics. But I see something in JVPrs though I really dont know what it is. I mean in the positive sense. For some reaons, they have been kept aside by very same masses that strikingly go after and hang on with Rajapakshe and their extremists/racism promoting forces.

      Why have the JVPrs been unable to analyse the LANKEN people yet today (from what we notice, most of our people are into corruption and abusive cutlures, they have that in their blood if i may say so)
      :
      JVPrs and their politics during the last 4 years?
      They are intentionally silent about the BOND-SCAM, that came to light during the last 4 years, but world experts in banking sector ascribe the history of bond scam go back to the terms of Mahinda Rajaakshe as well and the much larger portion of scam to have occured during that time (99%). Local media together with some parties like JVPrs and others, dont want to discuss them yet publicly in order to educate the people. People are kept in dark by LOCAL media. One channel, SIRASA all along cemented the bond scam losses as if it occured only after 2015.
      .
      Fortunately for Rajapakshes, LANKEN local media would not voice about that yet today. terms of Mahinda Rajaakshe. President SORIYSENA reiterated that OVER 1000 BILLIONS or more should have been gone lost through bond scam since 2008.
      .
      to be contd.

    • 7
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      to be contd
      .

      Here, JVPrs are silent but stay pointing the finger only AT UNP leaders. Dont you think that is just because to take revenge on them going back to the human losses and all the harms claimed by JVP during 89 Insurgency ?Meaning JVPrs are also not clean here, even if they made every effort to paint the picture to have mastered the COPE investigations ?

      I believe, both JVPrs and UNPrs should forgive each other and focus on the essence of today’s crucial problems of the society. I also lost a large number of friends during 89 insurgency. But we cant know it who burned them on the tyre pyres.
      :
      UNPrs and JVPrs have much in COMMON in today’s context. They should give the priority to defeat EXTREMISM/RACISM led Rajapakshe prolitics
      .
      – JVPrs, TNA(and moderate muslim parties and tamil parties and other smaller parties of SINHALA community), UNP are all genuinely fighting for a new constitution
      – JVPrs, TNA(and moderate muslim parties and tamil parties and other smaller parties of SINHALA community), are unite about RAJAPAKSHE EXTREMISM and the steps need to be taken against them
      – JVPrs, TNA(and moderate muslim parties and tamil parties and other smaller parties of SINHALA community) are EQUALLY believing lanken media mafia run by RAJAPKASHEs are the root cause AVERAGE mind set to be kept in dark.

      I wish you could add ur OPINION, thank you Mr.

  • 4
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    Dear Shymon,

    You are writing some sense instead of bootlicking articles for UNF and RW. I appreaciate this article.

    This bunch of poilticians have to go now. Specially, Awamangala, RK, RW and more than 70 years olds has to retire now. They have to give a forced retirement. Our country should be governed by talented professionals instead of this “‘Booru Politicians””. You need to write articles focusing on country first, instead of party politics. This UNP, SLFP (Including the Pohottuwa) and Old Left parties have become a real laibility to the devlelopment of Sri Lanka. These booru politicians has become professional politicians. Their entire families live on Public money.

  • 6
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    My Dear Shayman,
    There is and has been a system which is fool proof in all aspects in place and it has been there for 2560 odd years. It is called the ‘Buddha Dhamma’. Unfortunately for the poor ‘Silly Lankans’, the people who are supposed to educate them called, the ‘Maha Sangha’, are the worst out of that lot. So, it is best to ignore the suffering of the majority and help the few with ‘less dirt in their eyes’. ” Sabbe Sattha Bavanthu Sukhi Thaththa”.

    • 2
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      It is easy to understand why you write as anonymous. Because it is another cowardly attack on Buddhism and the Sangha.

      You pathetic scum must be getting a kick out of these cowardly comments, in addition to payments from the international mafia.-

      Go to hell Poot.

      • 5
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        George does not sound like a ‘Buddhist Label neither.
        “It is easy to understand why you write as anonymous”
        Anonymous is I am. I do not know where I came from or where I am going to, so who am ‘I’?

        “It is easy to understand why you write as anonymous”
        Are you sure?. You will never understand a thing until you remove your shades and start looking inwards. You are trapped within the framework of ‘Greed, Hatred and Dilution’, feared of accepting the truth, the ‘Buddha Damma’. I am used to receiving this kind of accusations and comments and will never hate anyone for doing so. “What you say is what you are” . ~ Buddha
        Suwapath Weva!

      • 7
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        Thank you Shyamon.

        CousinGeorge,
        I was going to say what anonymous was saying.
        i.e “There is and has been a system which is fool proof in all aspects in place and it has been there for 2560 odd years. It is called the ‘Buddha Dhamma’. “

        Where is anonymous attacking Buddhism?
        Who is pathetic? If you wish you add scum as well.

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        My Cousin George:
        Looks like you are using your real name! Pot calling kettle black!!
        Everybody has a right to use an anonymous name, especially at a time when the white van culture is threatening to come back to power.
        By the way, Anonymous clearly states (read again!), “There is and has been a system which is fool proof in all aspects in place and it has been there for 2560 odd years. It is called the ‘Buddha Dhamma’.” Does this sound like a cowardly attack against Buddhism?

  • 0
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    Dear Shayman,

    Your article is not persuasive.

    What are required is to design systems not to create more institutions to be run by men who are susceptible to corruption as you yourself had impressively narrated.

    What is the way out?

    What was the lesson we learnt from the past at least from the present and the past regime?

    Systems have to be designed of course by men.-the corruptible men, then a vicious circle?

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    Pathetic yahapalanaya system then is not suitable.

    JVP’ers are silent backers of the ruling looters. They are critical only to impress masses when infact they are a hidden arm of the Yahapalanaya…. So much for JVP & Anura Kumara’s Tom Foolery.
    They have got the taste of swish money dished out to them secretly.

    There is nothing to crow about Shame-on. What country first? my foot. He is a die hard UNP political animal. For him UNP before the Country.

  • 3
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    Shyamon, you are a genius?

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    ‘Adu kale helewenawa’ in SL
    Apply the re-incarnation theory and be happy
    Spoilsports bought their good karma so they are atop
    Most others are paying for their bad karma.

  • 5
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    Well said, Shyamon. A real eye opener on many fronts and agree with you in toto.

  • 3
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    Shyamon Jayasinghe has posed the ‘Chicken and Egg’ teaser in “Look Not For Honest Men; Look For Systems That Keep Men Honest”
    Systems that keep persons honest need ‘honest persons’ to run it!
    .
    Judging from the PCoI on SriLankan Airlines leaks, can we ever find ‘honest persons’?
    Breath life into SL Cricket with honest administrators? Can we find any?
    Can we find an ‘honest politician’ to tell us as to whether BBS monk Gnanasaro be pardoned or not?
    On and on we will go.
    .
    Sorry Shyamon: The obvious way will be to sterilise the chicken.

    • 0
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      If I may add to Shyamon’s article, what we need to do is to build systems & process to elect and govern by ASSUMING those who would run them would be corrupt to the core with the necessary checks and balances, independence in the institutions in every way possible and a strong and independent judiciary. We can discuss those 3 initiatives in detail and how we can achieve them separately.

  • 2
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    Mr. Shymon Jayasinghe: The title of your article:- “Look Not For Honest Men, Look For Systems That Keep Men Honest” – to me that does not convey your proper understanding of the problem prevailing in Sri Lanka. To me “All the “SYSTEMS” are in place and if I may say, those systems are also “TOO MANY”. The main TROUBLE is, we have not been able to muster an “Army of Dedicated & Honest” men and women to work according to the systems that are in place. Some decades back we had that kind of Men & Women” both in politics and in Public Service. But slowly and steadily, both “Politics” & “Public Service” got corrupted feathering their nests at the cost of the Tax Payer.. This spread like a cancer and had eaten into every segment of the population to such an extent, it looks beyond any successful treatment. Lately, we found this unbearable and did a “CHANGE” in 2015. Just see for yourself what has happened during the last four years. For example, just a few days back, see what the “Political Leadership” did in S/L Customs. They, without any “SHAME:” transferred out the Director General, who was performing admirably well and brought in a “Retired Navy” person as the replacement. Now, arising from that “High Handedness” the “Work To Rule” campaign against that decision, the loss works out to “Billions”. Is this due to lack of “SYSTEMS” or “PRESENCE” of corrupted “MEN” who blatantly violate the “Rules of the Game”. In conclusion, I would say: “LOOK FOR DEDICATED HONEST MEN AND WOMEN ” who would, VALUE their own self respect and work according to “SYSTEMS” and uphold Justice and Fair Play. Do you AGREE?

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      It is sad to hear we are still looking for a prophet(s) or dedicated honest men and women to fall from the sky to save us through the same corrupt and dysfunctional systems and institutions. It is true we had good people in the past running the prevailing systems in an environment that was much less dynamic and demanding. But when markets were opened and floodgates of power and money were widely opened without the necessary dams consisting of institutions and systems, fraud, corruption, and crime destroyed our systems and the people. That’s all history. Now we need to come out of this hell hole and the only way is for the people like you and me to rise up(not wait for prophets(s)) and declare new level playing fields, law and order and stronger institutions, with the necessary checks and balances, independent systems & process to elect and govern by ASSUMING those who would run them would be corrupt to the core and an independent judiciary. We can discuss those 3 initiatives in detail and how we can achieve them separately. Ie through a Civil Rights Movement by people like you and me who are not willing to put up with the status quo.

  • 2
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    Shyamon, most public servants in Sri Lanka are corrupt to the core – they will rob even with robust systems. Sri Lankan public administration and procedures are reasonably robust, but robbery continues due to corrupt officials! Simple Simon

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    Great piece of writing. A lesson to all

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    MR clan beat all the systems, bond scam beat all the systems
    systems are there to be beaten
    one cannot beat honest politicians….they will expose the corrupt system

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    Good suggestions. In order to rid the bureaucracy of corruption, we have to re-educate the solciety of what corruption is.

    Our culture (not restricted to any one ethnic or religious group) is that of helping our “own kind” – be it ethnic/religious, social class, relatives, school mates etc. etc.

    This aspect of our culture makes it very easy to justify corruption – the culprits will say, “we have to do this because our enemies did that”.

    The other needed change is that of consulting EVERYONE who will be affected BEFORE a policy is crafted. For if you did not listen to their concerns and address them within the policy, people will always find loopholes to circumvent negative consequences. This is why cops and government (and also private sector employees) take bribes, fro example.

    The decisions taken by the present cabinet, such as the deals with the US for military sites/services, India for running our airports, FTA with Singapore, or the proposed on with China are great examples where people who will be affected by them were NOT consulted. Their opposition was in fact ridiculed and minimized by the politicians in power. Such actions do not endear a government to the populace.

    Unless and until we can honestly address these 2 issues, we shall suffer as a nation that cannot get its act together, and perhaps one day soon we shall no longer be a nation, but a group of contiguous fiefdoms for the powers-that-be in this world.

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    there is only one PERMANENT secretary in the civil service..that is non other than B M S Batagoda the secretary for power and energy ministry for last 15 years. He will never be changed by any government thanks to Diesel power generator mafia….Batagoda is on the payroll of private electricity mafia and looked after very well by them

  • 0
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    Shyamon Jayasinghe should start writing to Australian papers as a freelance

    (Melbourne Age – ther are 1 lakh Sri Lankans there)

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      Australia has good internet service.

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    Shyamon, we need an innocent rural watti amma (in Sinhala, “ගමේ වට්ටිඅම්මා”) who is willing to drape herself in a saffron robe and be a skillful dancing partner to tango with most Ven. Gandasara. Even if they stink in making a stinking system, our people will line-up to fall at their feet to pay homage and venerate no matter what. I think you all forget that you are preaching to the inhabitants of “moadalanthaya” (land of the fools).

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    Please don’t stop boot licking Ranil. He will get angry with you.

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    The executive presidency under Mahinda dismantled all prevailing systems and his men went on a robbing and killing spree. But his men were so clever in dishonesty that they won’t get caught

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    Congratulations. You have at last realized the waha in yaha. One can have the perfect system but if the persons implementing the system are abusing the system it becomes useless. The right to information is one step in the right direction. But if even Transparency International (SL) is not able to get a copy of the asset declaration of the PM it has become a joke.
    Please express your enlightened views on the proposal to establish another National Govt.

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