‘The Rising Crime Rate’ is a standard essay topic in schools and has been so for decades. It says something about the persistence of the phenomenon and also a manifest inability and lack of will on the part of relevant authorities to combat the menace. It points to complicity or deliberate, systematic and skilled partaking.
The National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) is reported to be investigating four ministers, two deputy ministers and several provincial politicians and members of local government authorities alleged to have been implicated in bribery and corruption. ‘Four’, commonsense says, is a small number and sadly it is the smallness of number that is ‘news’.
Mismanagement, pilfering, cutbacks and such have made the news before. The play of power and bucks in the sustained development of the menace has not gone without comment.
While applauding the NIB for its work, it must be mentioned that there’s a reason why few would be impressed, given the perception that big fish are either left alone or let loose courtesy loopholes of the law.
The politician is not alone. Officials have also been named and shamed, but tend to be relocated with little bruise to reputation or reward. The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has found rampant corruption in over 200 state institutions. The President has already removed six heads of state corporations and more heads are to roll it is said. The process however seems to be so slow that foot-dragging must be suspected.
If there are bribe-takers, there are bribe-givers too. Corruption is not the preserve of the public sector. Corporate crime, including palm-oiling for attractive contracts, hardly makes the news. And just last week, the website www.colombotelegraph.com revealed details of a massive US $ 1.5 million pilfering from the FAO. The UN itself stands accused of being indulgent of monumental corruption and the UN Secretary General himself has been accused of covering up. As for the ardent advocates of good governance, transparency and accountability such as the Free Media Movement and the Centre for Policy Alternatives, they’ve been caught with pants down and forced to hide behind some see-through underwear they call ‘lack of clarity’, ironically. And need we even talk of sports bodies, beginning with Sri Lanka Cricket.
Response has to be multi-fronted. It is a tough task because the good tend to lack the resources and the bad come with bucks and patronage and are fully armed. The ‘underworld’, moreover, is not underground, but operates at all levels, all sectors and across all social classes and up and down the pecking order. We need the laws and we need the enforcement, but in both departments the doers remain accused, compromised and (naturally) unwilling.
On the other hand, we are a country that had the resources to defeat the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit. We had the wherewithal and personnel to capture and bring home Kumaran Pathmanadan (KP), Prabhakaran’s chief operator internationally. The expertise exists then. So too the full backing of the general citizenry. What then is missing?
Well, it is known that when the boss is crooked, it is a license for his/her subordinates to indulge as well. The reverse is more revealing. If the minions are in to picking, the chances are the boss is either incompetent or him/herself corrupt.
The President must understand that just as he, as the Executive in a constitution where executive sway is absolute, deserves the major credit for vanquishing terrorism, the ‘buck’ of criminality invariably floats towards him and on to his desk. It is good that he has taken a stand and initiated action, but the country needs and deserves evidence that he is fighting the good fight, no holds barred. If there are no concrete results, he will be accused of incompetence and complicity.