When chosen men are tainted with bribery and fraud! | Sunday Observer

When chosen men are tainted with bribery and fraud!

The news that the Chief of Staff of the President has been arrested for allegedly accepting a bribe running into millions of rupees from an Indian businessman hit the headlines last week. The scandal is a stinging indictment of Sri Lankan society today, and sheds light on some home truths we choose to regularly ignore.

The general public almost without exception now equate politicians with bribery and corruption. That is nothing new. That was one of the main reasons why the seemingly invincible Mahinda Rajapaksa led government was unceremoniously dislodged from its pedestal three years ago. What last week’s events show however, is that it is not only politicians who are accused of corruption- high ranking public officials are also accused of the same crime.

One recalls that the only person convicted of corruption in the previous regime is not a politician but a public official- the then Secretary to the President in the now infamous ‘sil redi’ case. In that instance however, while convicting him, the court noted that he did not stand to benefit from the act.

In other words, he was sent to prison for doing his master’s bidding who in turn was doing it for political gain. Hopefully, in the future, that will be a sufficient deterrent for public officials who receive orders from unscrupulous politicians and follow those instructions without questioning their legality.

Still, it does seem as if now we can only yearn for the days when men in the calibre of Bradman Weerakoon, W.M.P.B. Menikdiwela and K.H.J. Wijedasa served as Secretaries to the highest in the land with not a hint of corruption or abuse of power!

The question that naturally arises from the recent bribery scandal is how such an individual came to occupy a position as high and influential as Chief of Staff of the President? What impression would he have conveyed to the overseas businessman when he was soliciting the bribe, while holding that office?

We heard Minister Rajitha Senaratne commiserating afterwards, saying he knew that the official concerned did not have impeccable credentials because of certain transactions that had come to his attention when he was Minister of Lands. The Minister now says, he should have warned the President- but the fact is, he did not do so. Ah, hindsight is such a wonderful thing!

President Sirisena also finds himself in a peculiar predicament. Only a few months ago, he was ranting against the former Governor of the Central Bank, Arjuna Mahendran who was implicated by his association in the Central Bank bond sale scandal. Much was made of the fact that Mahendran was ‘hand-picked’ for the top job at the Central Bank by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe came in for a lot of flak, not only from the collective opposition but also from the President himself for placing his faith in Mahendran. President Sirisena went on to appoint a Commission of Inquiry into the sale of Central Bank bonds and the Commission too stated that Wickremesinghe had erred in judgment by reposing his trust in Mahendran.

For much of the local government election campaign, President Sirisena was to allude to these issues, thereby dealing a heavy blow to the United National Party at the election.

Now, the wheel seems to have turned full circle because President Sirisena finds himself in exactly the same situation that Wickremesinghe found himself in, several months ago.

The official that the President hand-picked has betrayed his trust and allegedly engaged in an act of bribery, and got caught, literally while counting the money. It is a safe bet though that there would be no Presidential Commission of inquiry into this incident!

The collective opposition must be euphoric at this turn of events. Although many of their stalwarts have been paraded before the cameras and produced before Magistrates, none of their alleged misdeeds have been proved and, because of that, the public is now even beginning to doubt the veracity of some of the claims that were made against them. Meanwhile, both, the President and the Prime Minister of the ‘yahapaalanaya’ government have had their chosen men tainted with allegations of serious fraud and bribery!

To be fair, there was swift action against both officials, in the form of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry against the former Central Bank Governor and a police raid and arrest of the Chief of Staff. It is doubtful whether such action would have eventuated had the previous regime been in office.

The bottom line though is that acts of bribery and corruption appear to have become an integral party of the fabric of our society. It ranges from the policeman demanding a few hundred rupees to release a driving licence, and the school Principal demanding a few hundred thousand rupees to admit a child to a school, to officials and politicians soliciting millions to ‘fix’ tenders and contracts.

This government came into office pledging to end this cancer. Unfortunately, it has either been unable to, not inclined to, or not efficient enough to keep its promises.

As a result, most politicians of the previous regime who were accused of amassing wealth in humongous amounts are now proudly strutting around stating that the allegations against them are false because they haven’t been proved.

Meanwhile, one or two politicians of this government have also been tainted with allegations of ‘deals’ with big business- and two of them had to resign, though one of them was reappointed to the Cabinet just a few days ago!

What hope does the general public have in such a scenario? The old saying ‘unuth ekai, munuth ekai’ (‘they are both the same’) holds true for politicians, be they Blue or Green in party colour. Besides, if the going gets tough, the tough get going- so if the party you are in seems to be out of favour with the electorate, you can always change your party colour and be assured that your skeletons remain in the cupboard, under lock and key!