09 September 2017

Sil Redi verdict an indictment to Sri Lanka’s 1.4m Government Servants

While one wrong does not make another wrong right, only those who have not & does not sin can cast the first stone. That leaves not many with a moral right to hold any stone! Those taking files certainly have soiled hands which have not been investigated to determine their own guilt. In legal parlance the unclean hands doctrine is also applicable. Nonetheless, the verdict has certainly shaken the 1.4million Public Sector. Today, everyone claims to be champions against corruption but how many of them are guilty themselves! The Public Sector, Government servants and in particular the civil servants need to now seriously address their role and future resolve. Yet, is there greater agendas behind the indictment given that by its own appeasing actions pressure is on the present government to prune the public sector while privatizing state assets leaving Sri Lanka with no hold over state resources in time to come.

It is without a doubt that the spine of the public servants and civil servants was broken during the reign of the UNP regime – judiciary was influenced and those that did not consent had their houses stoned, the culture of worshipping the politicians came into being turning the much respected public service into an appeasing bunch of secretaries and those that appeased more got the plum jobs.

Abuse of state property – media, vehicles, officials, offices for elections is nothing new and political influencing surged following 1978 where rigging/ballot box stuffing became a new feature alongside intimidation of candidates and even voters and not to mention the birth of the mafia and underworld gangs. All these evolved during the reign of the UNP and unpalatable as it is to accept it became the new norm of governance followed by all other parties as well. Every political party has been indulging in the very allegations that they charge others of. This resulted in a gradual decline of the state apparatus where previously astute officials like N Q Dias, M D R S S Gunawardena were found no more and in their place a bunch of ‘yes’ men evolved. The prestige of the public sector and civil servants had been degraded by the politicians and they need to get their respect back by earning that respect through a new policy of actions which all secretaries and public sector must now mutually consent to.

While it is agreed that no political party should abuse state property or influence state officials the fact that every political party in power does so, goes without question. In 2016 Anura Kumara Disanayake accused Kabir Hashim and Harin Fernando of renovating their official residence for a cost of Rs.600 lakhs each, plenty more renovated houses have been re-renovated because the spouse of the Minister did not like the colour of the walls or furniture! Luxury vehicles have been dished out to MPs do these not qualify as misappropriation of funds when the country is cash-strapped and debt ridden? However, Wimal Weerawanse ends up in jail for misuse of 40 state vehicles. When both UNP and SLFP rallies and conventions have seen state buses plying party supporters to their venues. While Nalaka Godahewa was also arrested and put into prison for financial fraud when the first bond scam took place in 2015 and before the COPE report was released Parliament was dissolved to prevent it from being tabled and that file is now missing! So where is the unbiased justice? We having Ministers raping forests, felling trees, creating ethno-ghettos, bringing narcotics into the country while the Minister associated with the Bond Scam who was forced to resign has landed himself a cabinet appointment & is presently functioning from Temple Trees doing rural development. So where does the buck stop? Is the norm and principle that only Opposition Members and their Secretaries are to be filed charges and sent to prison? That insider trading and bond scam has resulted in various ministers being dished out new homes, funding of wedding for ministers daughter, buying of electronic media and print outlets and many more irregularities all of which if put to investigation would end up taking years to complete with a heavy burden of expense on the State (tax payer).

A government that complained about cronyism and nepotism is today committing worse offences. The scale of irregularities and illegalities are too long to list but the manner that by gazette notifications bodies had been brought under the PM and the high handed manner governance is taking place should leave any to wonder what is this good governance the government is actually preaching. The Australian government is even investigating bribe scandals involving the highest in office. We have recently heard of the spouse of a cabinet minister signing 30 letters of appointment while the fact that Sri Lanka has become 95 in the corruption index where previously Sri Lanka was placed 83 in 2015 goes to show the present government is corrupt and that indirectly means that secretaries of ministries would also be held accountable for violations of state property and illegalities where they have placed their signature. This is extremely poignant for all public servants to take note of as the spoon of justice is often served unfairly.

A minister pleaded guilty recently to 2 charges of corruption but was only fined Rs.2000. Another former deputy minister pleaded guilty for 3 acts of corruption and he too was fined Rs.3000. Mr. Weeratunga has got 3 years rigorous imprisonment and has to pay Rs.52million not for taking any money but for his signature! While the foreigner that indulged in insider-trading leading to 2 bond scams remains a free man still enjoying state privileges!

The verdict will mean state sector will now be mortally scared and petrified to sign any order by politicians knowing their own fate! Can a state run in this manner where public servants will now be working in fear?

On the logic of clean hands – whose hands are unsoiled to be casting the first stone? Politicians are not the only culprits of corruption. The bribe giver and bribe taker are both guilty. How many companies influence politicians for their benefit? How many lobbying groups also use a variety of similar influences? How many of those bragging about corruption don’t even pay their taxes? How many others undervalue their shipments to avoid paying taxes? The scale of the bribe does not matter – a bribe is a bribe. How many others are guilty of even giving a small handout just to get ahead of the queue, to pass a file in the municipality, to ‘donate’ to get one’s child to a school. Is there a country that no corruption exists?

However, we do need self-regulation and regulatory authorities that are tasked to be independent and by independence it does not mean that they should be from NGOs or funded by foreign governments for most of these representatives earning dollars and pounds are paid to disturb and destabilize the country. None of them have shown themselves to be squeaky clean either. Public sector, private sector, media and even NGOs are all guilty of some malpractice or the other. Can they be then pointing fingers?

Retributive justice would mean going back in time to unearth all the dirty garbage. If relevant to the state apparatus it would mean who signed papers that gave arms to the LTTE, how many others have benefitted by LTTE money, who signed approvals for treacherous agreements and MOUs that placed a terrorist group on par with a national army thereby giving legitimacy to a non-state actor. Who signed approval papers that enabled LTTE to get sophisticated telecommunication equipment and even vehicles for which the GOSL had paid Customs duty, surcharge, and excise duty, PAL, VAT & BTT? Will all these secretaries end up in prison too?

How much can a country spend on eliminating corruption. Do we have the resources and money to spend and more importantly let’s not forget that the government now in power is a result of a regime change! Today, more statements on the internal affairs of Sri Lanka are being issued by the US envoy than from the country’s leaders. It is in this context that the speech delivered by Ms. Tamara Kunanayagam is poignant and food for thought for all. http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2017/09/07/constitution-making-process-an-american-project-tamara/ and this must be read in context with this article http://srilankaexpress.org/usaid-invasion-civil-society USAID invasion of civil society in Sri Lanka. Preaching democracy and promoting anticorruption looks to be part of a bigger gameplan meant to obviously get rid off and replace with stooges into every important governance position and turn Sri Lanka into another South Korea or Philippines.

However, no external entity can interfere or take over governance if the People are united and the People are able to read the writings on the wall.

As a starter the startled Public Sector must now determine its own future by refusing to succumb to any illegal instructions of any politician. The next problem arises in the reality that the politicians end up appointing their own family or friends into positions where through them the illegalities take place and mechanisms must be in place to report at least tabulate these irregularities. However, with the recent indictment it is very clear that while politicians will scratch their own backs for survival they will not come to the aid of any public servant who has been held accountable for follies committed by politicians.

It is a tragic reality that all public sector and secretaries in particular need to come to terms with. However, it cannot be ONLY two public officials who should take the fall as other secretaries still living have committed far greater treasonous sins using their signature and these need to be pursued and punished if unbiased justice is the name of the game.

Shenali D Waduge