SUNDAY OBSERVER Sunday Observer - Magazine
Sunday, 30 May 2004  
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Mihintalava - The Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization

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Corruption : A way of life

Everybody, from the highest in the land to the man in the street talks of corruption, how rampant it is, how disgusting it is. All agree that it is an evil that has to be eliminated. Yet it is NATO (No Action Talk Only).

Talk about corruption reaches its zenith at election time. Then there are numerous allegations freely made, duly reported in the media. Even complaints are made to the state authorities assigned to probe such allegations. Yet nothing comes out of most of these complaints. It later turns out that there was either not sufficient evidence or none to pursue the complaint.

For several decades there has been no single incident where a Minister of Government had been indicted and found guilty in a court of law. Among the last to be so convicted were former Ministers M.P. de Zoysa and C.A.S. Marikkar by the Thalgodapitiya Commission in the late 1950s. Are we to assume that we were blessed with saintly legislators ever since then?

Incidentally, there has been hardly any conviction of or even indictment against anyone in high political office, on charges of amassing wealth disproportionate to their wealth. This did not prevent the circulation of stories about Ministers having purchased real estate overseas or having built colossal mansions or having illegally appropriated crown lands etc. None were probed. Our legislators, however, were so honourable and truthful that many failed even to submit the declaration of assets as required by law.

There seems to be public apathy towards the whole phenomenon of corruption. This may be due to several factors. The power held by the corrupt politicians and corporate bosses and their underworld connections could be acting as a deterrent against those who contemplate agitating against corruption.

Another could be the widespread nature of the practice of corruption itself. Many in the intermediate and lower rungs of public administration also earn an extra little filthy lucre. It is common knowledge that one has to bribe public servants from the Karyala Karya Sahayaka upwards to get a job done from a government department. You have to give "something" even to get a Number to join a queue at a hospital clinic.

Corruption has become a way of life for many. The battle against it needs a more vigorous campaign. Statutory bodies instituted to combat corruption remain paralysed. They are also handicapped due to lack of funds, personnel and infrastructure. It is unfortunate that these institutions do not get priority in budgetary allocations.

Much more than lip service is required from the top downward, if we are to win the battle against corruption and ensure good governance.

World Environment Day

June 5 is World Environment Day. Its theme this year is "Wanted! Seas and Oceans - Dead or Alive?" This is an opportune moment for us to ponder how we treat the sea around us and its resources. We, as a nation, are blessed with a resourceful sea. It supports the life of a sizeable part of our population. Besides our beautiful sea beaches attract thousands of tourists who bring us valuable foreign exchange. Mangroves by the sea give life to so many flora and fauna. Our coral reefs provide living space for many rare fish and sea plants.

Unfortunately we do not love our sea. We destroy its beaches and mangroves by its side in the name of development. Unhealthy fishing practices like dynamiting indiscriminately destroy our fish resources. Poaching by pirate ships and trawlers deplete our fish resources at an alarming rate. We have no idea of preserving threatened species like whales and sharks that live in our sea.

Our sea is so polluted by effluents and plastic ware, which kill sea mammals, fish and sea plants. Pollution also destroys our mangroves. In certain areas hoteliers or encroachers have destroyed mangroves and used them for construction purposes. Coral reefs are damaged due to commercial exploitation. Some face the risk of extinction.

Shrimp farming is also highly destructive. Use of chemicals and fertilizers cause pollution resulting in destruction of the mangroves.

These are issues to be addressed and remedies sought on this World Environment Day. One step towards such remedial action is worth more than a hundred commemorations and tamashas.

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