Protecting the people’s money | Sunday Observer

Protecting the people’s money

When a former President of the Republic attempts to defend persons convicted of massive misappropriation of public funds and violation of state regulations and institutional codes, that former head of the State demeans his high office and undermines public morality. And, when that former head of State mobilizes religious clergy to canvass public contributions in an effort to help those convicts pay their fines, he manipulates the very Dhamma his Republic is committed to nurturing.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa subverts statesmanship when he tries to defend his own, now convicted, former high officials who had been found guilty in the infamous ‘Sil Redi case’. All that the former President can intone is that these two officers had been merely obeying his orders.

Worse, he also argues that the directorate of the institution whose funds were siphoned off for gifting of Sil Redi in the middle of a presidential election campaign - in which he was a candidate – had every right to do what it likes with this public money.

Readers may well ask whether we live in a republic or, a medieval kingdom or, some mediocre satrapy. True, under the fear-filled, war-mongering regime of the former President, many Sri Lankans did feel that they lived not in a democratic republic but in a satrapy (originally, ancient Persian for subordinate feudal governorship).

In those years, everything to do with the ruling family and persona superseded the interests of the nation. Indeed, no law nor regulation nor protocol nor ethic was allowed to stand in the way of their whim and fancy – be it high office, financial gain, or even sporting fame and ‘hip’ media for scions.

If younger sons with no achievements in either science or fitness could enjoy international favour for their space travel fantasies, simply by being sons, then, the citizens really know on which side their own bread is buttered (if they could afford butter). In those dark days, even human lives were not allowed to stand in the way of the rulers’ caprice.

No doubt, when heady ultra-nationalist war cries divert from the on-going plunder games, it is easy to intimidate and seduce officials into collusion with that plunder. In this one case, literally hundreds of millions of rupees in funds of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) were siphoned off to be spent on supposedly religious gifting at the very least, and, support for election campaigning at the very worst.

If our Republic truly upholds what the Buddha taught, then, neither of the above is right nor will be allowed. And secular law, consonant with spiritual ideals, certainly disallows such undemocratic, unjust and socially injurious acts. After all, the funds of the community – scarce as they are in a developing society – must be deployed solely for the purposes to which they are institutionally dedicated.

Sil redi may be distributed at public cost only by the public institutions handling such religious activity – to the extent the funds of the Buddha Sasana Ministry and allied bodies are adequate.

No public officials on the boards of any other public institution have the power or the moral right to divert funds of those institutions for large scale religious activity. And, to divert such massive amounts in connection with an individual’s election endeavour?

But this country’s judiciary – now free of political intimidation and inducements – has already ruled to firmly disallow such crude practices reminiscent of primitive satrapies and robber barons. Sri Lankans must be proud of their civilization and the positive achievements of ancient leaderships and not the depredations of monarchs or chieftains.

The landmark judgment and conviction in the Sil Redi case celebrates the civilization of our island republic. Scarce public funds, the fruits of the people’s labour and wealth, must be protected for the benefit of the people and solely that, notwithstanding the insinuations of failed would-be monarchs.

Ironically, the former President’s political supporters seemed to be demanding that the Sil Redi recipients give back their ‘gifts’ in order to help pay the fines of the convicted! If the Sil Redi are genuinely ‘gifts’ then those who gifted them should bear the responsibility and the cost of such gifting. Otherwise, that seeming act of gifting – daané – loses all moral meaning.

When mendicants in robes are mobilized for this purpose, the faithful should beware of the misguiding of these bhikkus and their unhappy manipulation by those perhaps even more guilty of plunder than the already convicted.

De facto brutality

News reports last week indicated at least one death of a patient linked to the lack of prompt attention due to a doctors’ strike. The strike was the umpteenth one called by the now infamous Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA).

This is not the first time patients have suffered due to striking doctors. These editorial columns have previously warned of the ‘slow death’ suffered by most patients in need of close medical attention due to work stoppages or slow-downs by state sector medical officers. When a diabetic or kidney patient, for example, fails to receive medication or treatment on time, to the extent of the delay, her or his body suffers and edges ever-so-closer to collapse.

Doctors are supposed to be part of a nation’s intelligentsia. As any intelligent person knows, the cure should not kill the patient. When doctors resort to life-threatening (not life-taking) work stoppages, those striking doctors must be able to fully justify the strike as an action that will ensure better health care and protection of life and, nothing else.

Otherwise they are guilty of murder in the most moral sense.