26 May, 2022


The Optics Of Anti-Corruption: Let’s End The Gimmick Politics

By Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon

Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon

Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon

The first 21 months of the ‘good governance’ government was an exercise in ‘gimmick politics’ (politics based on optics), which refused to deal with the ground realities that were increasingly becoming difficult to ignore. The 6.2 million people who voted for ‘change’ expected results and were increasingly getting tired of various reasons offered by the government for not punishing those guilty of vast financial irregularities. Apart from a few hundred thousands of people, most Sri Lankans are disillusioned with the ‘good governance’. Good governance has become a ‘bad word’.

Chandi Shyama‘ of the anti-corruption campaign has returned to the AGs Department. And many people assume and perpetuate that the essence of the President’s speech was his critique of the independent commissions. Is that the truth? it is not.

It took two days for former Bribery Commission Director General Dilrukshi Wickramasinghe to become the chief target of the president’s speech. Dilrukshi had a lot of experience in tackling corruption, but she had little idea about political realities of Sri Lanka. Thus when the President was pointing his finger at the moon, she only looked at his pointing finger and sent him her resignation letter. As I have said earlier when President Sirisena was the face of our desire for good governance, Dilrukshi was the symbol of our hope against corruption.Sirisena-Ranil-

It is after this episode that the people, who were hitherto blaming the President, the Prime Minister and the government for slow progress made in punishing the guilty, attempted to understand what’s going on. The people have realized that the so called ‘war on anti-corruption’ was only a gimmick. This is a truth that we had realized a long time ago, and attempting to tell the people. But some people who want to ‘protect’ the government, more than the President and the Prime Minister it seems, attempted to drown our voice by saying ‘Mahinda is coming back’.

We have always said that the speech made by the President should not have been made. It was bit of an angry speech, made by a man who was tired of the slow progress made on every front, which employed several bad examples. But conflict has always been a pre-requisite in progress and we are realizing that it is the same here.

Fight against corruption, flattened

After becoming the advisor to the Anti-Corruption Front (ACF), my first task was to determine the progress made on the cases we filed. Bombarded with propaganda from the media, I was under the impression that everything must be sorted, but what I learnt from my inquires, shocked me back to the real world. There was virtually no progress made on the cases we filed. Apart from the FCID, the other investigative agencies lived in a dream world. We tried to wake them up and a number of people who were afraid to investigate corruption of this government didn’t see the importance of what we were saying.

FCID has filed 12 important cases, under serious difficulty, but it’s staff also faces bribery charges. There are 42 files, on important issues, stuck at the AG’s Department. The Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption as Abuse of Power, State Resources, and Privileges (PRESIFAC), established to look at cases which could not be investigated under existing anti-corruption laws, has made very little progress. There is no one to guide it at all.

On the other hand our existing anti-corruption are not capable of dealing with white collar crime. Knowing this only too well, the PRESIFAC is also attempting to punish the culprits using the same laws. I don’t need to tell you the outcome of such endeavors. Those who are summoned before the PRESIFAC, have made it a platform to give speeches and self-promotion. If you look at TV news, you can see these people, alleged of serious white collar crime, beaming to the cameras and talk about how they are targeted unjustly. They also make this an opportunity to comment on the current political context but they say nothing about the allegations leveled against them and no one asks them that either.

When will this lunacy end?

Dilrukshi Dias, who we called Chandi Shyama, was the symbol of anti corruption. But can we be happy about what the bribery commission has done. ACF is the organization that has lodged the highest amount of complaints to the commission, 225, but only three cases have been satisfactorily investigated. If the top client of the commission is unhappy, how can others be? I think that those investigated by PRESIFAC and the bribery commission are extremely happy. They can come to these institutions periodically, get free media coverage, fulfill their political agenda and ultimately walk away free from their crimes.

Now the people know about not investigating serious acts of fraud and the weaknesses in the process. The selection bias of the commission is also now public. On the other hand we were shocked because details that we considered confidential tended to become common knowledge. For example the driver of former presidential aide, Gamini Senarath, who was a chief witness to an important investigation, was harassed by the police who attempted to convict him as a terrorist. If Udul Premaratne and Ven Ulapone Sumangala didn’t intervene, the driver Sumith Dissanayake might now not be among the living. At this point some attempted to portray us as those who attempt to protect the crooks.

The Police Inspector who handled the Sumith Diaasnayake case has foreign training on money laundering but he had also taken a Rs 2.5 million bribe to cover up several serious irregularities which took during the presidential election period. If MP Ranjan Ramanayake did not take Dissnayake to the Police HQ on his own vehicle, Dissnayake might now be languishing in jail as a terrorist. Is that what people wanted?

During Dilrukshi’s tenure, the commission uncovered what was said to be the biggest reported case of bribery, when three customs officials were nabbed while accepting a bribe of Rs. 125 million. What happened to that case? Customs filed a case to uncover a serious irregularity involving foreign currency and it was after that the commission carried out the raid. Although Dilrukshi didn’t know a second rung leader of the commission has a deep involvement in this case. For the moment it’s enough to say there is a plot intriguing enough to make a film called ‘komisama nihandai’ (the commission is silent)

This is not to say that the Bribery Commission didn’t do anything. They did a lot of important things. They tried to introduce an anti – corruption culture, they tried to educate the people, they worked from 8 am to midnight, essentially the commissioners had made the anti-corruption campaign their life. But because there was no process or procedure, the investigations took a biased turn.

I don’t think Dilrukshi was a part of a political agenda. If anyone had attempted to intervene in investigations, she would have quit. But then again, if close to Rs 8 trillion was embezzled we must think how many of the god fathers of corruption have been punished.

However Dilrukshi was a shining star among the diplomatic community in Colombo and the international community who thinks we have overcome our ‘corruption problem’. Last June, I made a presentation on the corruption in Sri Lanka at the UNHRC, Geneva and most of the audience was under the impression that the battle against corruption in Sri Lanka has been won. When I said the battle has grounded to a halt, there were so many questions. This is not an experience I have faced only abroad, but the ‘privileged’ NGOs sector in Colombo is still not ready to accept this bitter truth. There are people who say that they consider ‘transparency, result oriented intervention, process and procedure’ their mottos in life, how many of them have looked at the ant corruption initiatives under these prisms. Instead they all accept that delay in courts is ‘natural’ and that things are slow because of the lack of human resources. But everything is not well, we need to open our eyes to the truth.

Without the President’s speech the first suspect of the controversial Malwana land would not have been jailed. The current debate would not have happened and ‘anti-corruption’ could well have become a machinery to white wash white collar criminals.

On the other hand the current government is also tarnished with allegations of bribery and corruption. Look at the Treasury bond scam, coal scam and allegations against ministry of finance, no proper action was taken on either. there is no point in having anti-corruption agencies that refuse to investigate allegations against the current government. The anti-corruption struggle should not be a war on one party or family.

More than anything, it is extremely dangerous to arrest security force personnel, keep them in custody and release them after clearing them of charges. This is rapidly becoming a political liability as it gives the impression that soldiers are being harassed for no reason. On one hand it angers nationalists, who may also have voted for Sirisena, on the other its making those who yearned for good governance disillusioned. We must not also forget the impact it has on transitional justice.

The discussion on the COPE committee report on the treasury bond scam on October 21 demonstrated that the United National party (UNP) is not at all ready for an open and transparent investigation on the matter. A number of UNP ministers and affiliate groups have continuously requested us to drop the issue. And I have asked them whether anti corruption activists have to drop a number of serious concerns, i.e. coal deal, issues in the finance ministry, state institutions which are to be privatized without any transparency and the land grabbing of the east, to ‘protect’ this government.

I have seen my civil society friends argue that the local government elections should be postponed to protect the government. We have allowed the government over a year for that. Now we have an independent election commission but no elections.

The entire agenda of the good governance government is based on anti-corruption and the issues that have arisen in these investigations have split the government. And the gap between the UNP and the SLFP keeps growing each day, along with it the agenda for constitutional and electoral reforms

The government must at least now use the firearms ordinance when filing charges against those involved in the Avant Garde case. It must investigate the CEB mafic that has built mansions in Australia thanks to the Norochcholei power plant. Those behind the treasury bond scam should be arrested. If not they should remove the words anti-corruption from the dictionary of their gimmick politics.

*Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon -Advisor/Anti-corruption Front

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Latest comments

  • 2

    My guessis Ranil wickramsinghe should be chased out from the govt,then should start everything again.

    I think, Ranil has shown he who really is. He never changes. OVer and over again he is doing the same thing. Ranil wickramsinghe is just evil. It is only the stupids who give him the prominence.

    Simply speaking, Ranil wickramsinghe is another Mahinda rajapakse.

  • 0

    Thanks for the information, Rajith. Many of us knew some of these incidents, but your post provides a clearer picture of the rot that is fast spreading within the so-called ‘good governance’ farce.

    What hope does Sri Lanka have with the entrenched political riffraff that keep appearing for lack of principled individuals who fear to enter the political arena for all the obvious reasons?

    Aiyo Sirisena!!!

  • 3

    If you really against corruption, please clean up Universities. It is hell of corruption. This is the truth in University recruitment for academic positions and promotions: First they find a person and then advertise according to his/her requirement and send aboard for their friends’ places for PhDs.More than 40% University Lecturers are relatives to each others and they give PG degrees to each other (Husband gives PhD to wife and girlfriend/mistress getting PG degree, sons, daughter and son-in law and daughter- in-law). Some Dept are family trees and even after retirement still they are in Universities and leave approval mainly based on sex other other outdoor ways in Sri Lankan Universities. Check minister inside please. As a tax payer to run this business, I like to propose following measures to clean Universities and get back to old golden days. 1) Identify and transfer all family members work in same University/Dept/Faculty as Lecturers. Recheck how these all family members came to system and penalize the responsible. Sometime wife is writing articles putting husband’s name for articles and husband getting professorship without shame (what ethics) presenting these to promotions. 2) Recheck all Lecturers and Professors qualifications and publications based on that re-grade them. 3) Never sent job applications received for academic positions to the respective academic depts. If you sent these applications they remove qualified PhD people and only interview henchmen. 4) Remove good business subjects from Arts faculty and hand over to Science and Technology faculties. See how Arts faculty destroyed good names of many good disciplines. Today Arts faculty products (graduates) are a symbol of unemployment. 5) Famous family dept must be closed and appoint President Commission to check inside and FCID must be called to checked inside for last 20 year period. 6) Never give professorships for jokers. 7) Reduce retirement age for academics 65 years to 60 or 58. 8) Follow strict rule while appointing Professors: In order to be a real international professor your PhD from world top 100 University, minimum 20 articles in ISI/SCOPUS indexed journals, 10 text books with international publishers and three countries have to appoint you as a Visiting professor. 9) Never allow any dept to issue first degree if you do not have sufficient number of PhDs in that dept. Take some Universities many Deans do not have PhDs. This is a recipe for disaster. 10) UGC can directly take task of recruitments of lecturers and give to respective Universities. This must be done quickly. 11) Select the best Lecturers with help of private sector independent body and sent to world top 100 universities with strict bond requirements. 12) Many of these so called academic jokers are now entering into professional bodies or they themselves create own fake professional bodies and they destroyed that profession also. 13) Develop comprehensive web sites for each University and say to show Publications with indexing place to public by each academics (not joke conference papers) and degrees where (Country and the University and international ranking of that University) they got their PHD. Today the most important thing is your PhD must come from accredited, ranking (at least 100) best University of the world to recognized your University basic products. Now see Sri Lankan local Universities are rotten to death. Somebody has to clean it. I am quite sure MY3 or Ranil does not have courage to do that.

    • 0

      [Edited out]

  • 0

    Please do not rely any more on this Government to inquire, file cases against the culprits or even to lay the foundation to eradicate or minimize corruption. If you do rely, you are following a mirage. Now we have seen how the Government SELECT & PROTECT corrupted and those who are presently engage in corruption. Did you hear what Mr. Mayadunne, the ex Auditor General said about this Government’s mandate. He said: “The people did not give a clear mandate to eradicate corruption, because they voted and elected many and all those who have been engaged in mega corruptions and frauds and also they (people) “millions” who signed a pledged with you to vote for candidates of unblemished character and past records violated that agreement and voted them to Parliament”. So what more do you want and expect? Now, look for some other ALTERNATIVE. Enough is Enough. Don’t waste your money and time.

  • 0

    Sri lanka desperately needs voter education.

    • 0

      There are no independent people. Even when you are standing aside, you are taking a side.


    • 0

      Why you thought different in the days of Maharaja ?

      Jim OR Bum softy behaves as usual.

      Srilanken folks should be fed with facts and findings about everything. Media men work biased to their agendas should be banned to do so.

      What is the only way the poor majoirties to make aware anything going on in the country —-> News papers, and TV….

      All these years even today, Derana AND Hiru or other senders only be busy with Rajakashe proxy information. They are biased to their information.

      While other senders stay mum

      While News papers dont allow facts…. or interviews with former men and women.

      I HAVE NOT READ IT ANYWHERE WHERE BASIL OR OTHER PAL HORU WERE INTERVIEWED FOR THEIR ALLEGATIONS – only heard they were politically motivated revengeful acts. That is all. People know nothing more than beyond that even 2 years after Rajaakshes were defeated why… ? Why the media men of this stupid Island behave so ?

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