By Lacille de Silva –
“Poverty is like a punishment for a crime we did not commit ourselves”
We now need to re-define and re-fashion our Constitution, through appropriate amendments, with a view to empower the citizens. Citizens seem to think that corruption, unethical behaviour is nothing abnormal. We need to emphasise that public good is more important than private gain. Government should take steps to initiate schemes to educate the masses through schools and universities etc. We should begin a mass campaign to restore public integrity as a priority matter. It is not forthcoming from corrupt public authorities. At present, therefore, “Poverty is like a punishment for a crime you did not commit”. Michael Sapin, Minister of Economy, Industry, and Digital Affairs of France had said: “Governments with less corruption can increase money in government coffers – the presence of corruption creates the most unsustainable environment for growth, increasing efficiency in the economy and in government operations”. Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. It is time for us to change. Let us stop gambling with our future.
We saw in the notorious bond rip-off issue, not only the citizens, but the private companies as well had become victims of corruption. Those who played by the rules lost bids to those who did not play a fair game. There had been allegations of insider dealing against Arjun Aloysius, who is the son-in-law of the ousted Central Bank (CB) Governor Arjun Mahendran. The corrupt political system has virtually destroyed our Central Bank too, insensitively repeatedly over the last few decades. CB is responsible for maintaining economic stability. CB is the singular custodian of the nation’s money and the credit system. CB is responsible to keep inflation under control, particularly in underdeveloped countries like ours. The CB VISION is – “A credible and dynamic Central Bank contributing to the prosperity of Sri Lanka”. Citizens now cannot trust these institutions. They have destroyed our path to prosperity. Citizen are now confused and do not trust businesses, politicos, the bureaucracy and the government anymore.
When Sri Lanka got independence in 1948, it was one of the most promising nations both in Asia and in the Commonwealth countries. It had luckily emerged unscathed after the second world war unlike our neighbours. Sri Lanka furthermore did not have to shed blood to gain independence. We were therefore fortunate to inherit from the British a prosperous country. Britishers had by then had built up effectively and efficiently our economy on export-oriented commercial lines. They had developed a thriving plantation sector (tea, rubber and coconut), for export. We have been well known for our spices, gems, pearls etc. Around 80 -90 per cent of our foreign exchange earnings had come from these exports. Owing to all that, our achievements in education, health and transport sectors too had been far superior in comparison with even developed countries.
President MS and the Prime Minister RW, during their election campaign assured that they would end corruption. They said autocrats have to be driven out. The duo also undertook to establish rule of law to build prosperity in the country. Why is that they do not believe that the “will of the people” is “the basis of the authority of government”. We believe rule of law is a sine-qua-non for building a stable, democratic, broad-based economy to achieve growth and prosperity. Yahapalana government has miserably failed to fulfil the pledges. Our elected representatives and bureaucrats have, for the last few decades, abused their powers completely, which includes the cohorts of the UNP leader.
Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) was previously known as Mr. Clean. RW has now proved that no-one of them is clean. All of them, MR, MS, and RW therefore desist combating impunity. Our leaders have therefore added more and more problems to our people. They have abused their authority and hence government debts too have increased to dizzy heights. Harvard University findings had proved that when America was growing steadily, they had doubled the living standards every 30 years. In China, they had been doubling living standards every decade for the past several decades. Chinese government has extended pension coverage to an extra 240 m rural dwellers recently. This is far in excess of the total number of people covered by America’s public pension system. In America, during the recent visit by the Minister of Finance, Mangala Samaraweera, IMF has apparently suggested that pensions schemes of public servants should be scrapped to extend further loans. Shouldn’t the government consider scrapping the non-contributory pension scheme of our rogue parliamentarians? I say this because I am able to prove it.
We the citizens have taken all that lightly. All such corrupt practices have caused immeasurable harm to our country and the citizens. We should understand that the opposite of justice is IMPUNITY. Who created impunity? Impunity was created by corrupt politicos. Impunity means total absence of punishment. Our politicians, irrespective of their party affiliations protect each other and help promote IMPUNITY. They shamelessly resort to corruption and violate laws continually for personal gain.
We have been called a developing country for decades because there is impunity for those who rob the State. ROGUES OF STATE escape only in developing countries. We should remember JUSTICE is something highly respected by everyone in developed countries. It is an essential component of any authentic democracy. Rent-seeking political leaders in our country are the biggest hurdle for establishing rule of law. They dilly-dally when it comes to building up and consolidating a fair and equitable judicial sector. It reminds me of the Latin Maxim : Boni Bonum, publicum curarranti – “MAY THE GOOD MEN TAKE CARE OF THE PUBLIC GOOD”.
The present government has gone far beyond the previous regime. They have broken all the records of MR. They masterminded the CB bond saga, which is so far the biggest fraud meticulously planned, by any government since independence. They too come out and speak as Saints and Messiahs. Our Constitution is crystal clear. It is our fundamental duty Constitutionally to – “preserve and protect public property and to combat misuse and waste of public property”. The President, Prime Minister, Ministers, Deputies and even institutions, whether public or private, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated. In Sri Lanka, when it comes to top politicos, the laws are not being equally enforced, independently adjudicated. And they are safe due to impunity.
In the past, all successive governments have appointed various commissions to probe allegations of corruption, abuse of power etc., on numerous instances. A Presidential Commission had been appointed by the then President JR Jayewardene bearing No. 160/86 (1) dated the 11th August, 1986 to investigate maladministration, financial irregularities etc., of Air Lanka Limited during the period 11th January, 1979 to 31st July, 1986. The Final Report of the Commission was released in June, 1987. I give below a few crucial findings and recommendations for your information:
Air Lanka’s misfortunes are largely of its own creations;
Board of Directors are totally responsible for managerial and financial irregularities shortcomings, and its debt-ridden existence;
The findings be handed over to the Law Officers of the State to institute legal action against relevant officers;
The need to inculcate professionalism in running the airline to become self-supporting within the shortest possible time, etc.,
The report highlights the fact that the Board has failed to achieve “sound management” purely due to the fact that – I quote: “Directors in conducting the affairs of Air Lanka have subordinated the development of the Company to their own individual private gain. The reports further says – “We wish to draw your Excellency’s attention to the fact that this company was granted GCEC (Greater Colombo Economic Commission) status and in the light of this we find it inconceivable that no attempt was made by the Company to make use of one of the fundamental concessions awarded to the Company under the GCEC’s aegis in that they have an unhindered right to issue and transfer shares both in and outside Sri Lanka”.
The Commissioners have also added in their report that – “…. when Air Lanka was associated with highly successful Singapore International Airlines, Air Lanka would have been an attractive proposition for investors to consider capital participation in its development. We find no mentions of effort made by the Company to make use of this provision, and in the light of actions that have happened subsequently, the reasons reflect very poorly on the competence and integrity of its Board of Directors. The conclusion we may draw is that the Board of Directors considered the involvement of additional shareholders to have been inimical to the development of their own private interests”.
The Commission had also referred to the Board decision arrived on 3rd March, 1979, which I reproduced below: “The board of Directors of AIR LANKA representing the shareholders of the company provides top policies, directions, elects officers, approves commitments and expenses beyond certain limits and is responsible to the shareholders for the successful operation of Company’s activities and the custody of its assets and resources”. It goes on to say – “The Chairman of the Board, also the Chief Executive Officer of AIR LANKA, under the policy guidelines formulated by the Board of Directors, has the responsibilities of directing and managing AIR LANKA’s business activities from organizing, planning, staffing, co-ordinating and controlling and is ultimately accountable for all decisions and actions. He is also responsible for maintaining proper relations with the shareholders and the Board of Directors, and provides necessary communication for the result of various actions of the business activities of AIR LANKA”.
The Report says – “This arrangement led directly to the development of an authoritarian attitude by Capt. Wickremanayake in policy matters, purchase of capital items, day to day administration of the company including appointments, disciplinary actions and the financial affairs of the company. The resultant management climate in the Company was one in which the normal checks and balances that obtain in a public company were absent”.
In the name of corruption investigations, all the relevant heads of governments, including JRJ have wasted billions of public money. Only recommendation they enforced was the removal of civic rights of the late Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Felix Dias Bandaranaike.
We now require leaders who will ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness, and procedural and legal transparency. We, the citizens too, have to adopt more realistic approach if we need our country to prosper for the greater benefit of our children and grand-children.
Our agriculturalist community is presently going through endless miseries since Sena caterpillar was first discovered in Ampara last year. It has now spread in to several districts and affected over 40,000 hectares. In regard to the Dengu epidemic too public sector organizations have miserably failed. Our institutional structure is not efficient and effective enough to cope up with these intimidations. I give the full-credit to our armed forces for ending the war. Nevertheless, our public sector institutions have been destroyed totally due to extreme politicization. These are tasks that the Public Sector should handle with competence. My only dream is we need a totally independent public sector, free of political manipulations for the country to move forward.
It is believed that the caterpillar invasion could become a serious threat to food production, unless it is controlled speedily. The government does seem to be thinking of forward plans to address any of the burning issues citizens are facing, including the problems caused by Sena Caterpillar. Politicians are therefore worse than Sena Caterpillars.