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People’s turn to punish the liars and thieves!
Published Date: 10/01/2018 (Wednesday)

By Vidushan Premathiratne

As the cloud sets in on the completion of the third year of the Yahapalanaya Government, the wave of corruption that bestows this nation continues to flame. 

The advent of the Coalition Government led by President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe was an endorsement by the people to prioritise anti-corruption and improve governance. However, the Bond Commission Report only justifies that corruption and fraud are an inherent gene in successive governments and it is only the characters that change. 

Despite corruption being the main reason behind the rejection of dictatorial President Rajapaksa and his family regime, the Government has yet failed to convict anyone of high-level deceit and to its own peril witnessed one of the largest financial frauds to hit this nation in its history. 

As the country faces another election, this time for the Local Governments, the people now have the opportunity to present their displeasure at the dishonesty in their political leaders and their mode of governance. 

Gone are the days where the educated elite enjoyed the rule of law and enacted legislation. Many of the modern-day politicians breed on corruption, theft and deceit. Unlike, developed nations such as Singapore, public office does not require a minimum educational qualification to seek election. 

Further, the upcoming elections are set to be held under a new system passed under this Coalition Government. It is evident that the new electoral system seems to have its own shortcomings, as there is suspense as to whether a strong ruling party can be formed despite winning majority electorates in a particular council domain. 

People have been robbed

Early this year, President Sirisena in a special address to the nation highlighted the key finding of the Bond Commission, only to formally accept that the controversial bond transaction in February 2015 was indeed a fraud and State institutions were the main victim of it, incurring a staggering loss of more than Rs. 8.5 b as a result.

Part of the losses were to the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), the institution entrusted with the management of the hard-earned contributions from the income of the working population. Despite the institutional losses being such a number, the dent to the national economy due to the sudden surge in the interest rates as a result of this transaction remains insurmountable, that even to this date the exact proportion of the impact to the economy is yet to be quantified to precision. However, many experts have suggested it to be in the range of and approaching Rs. 1 trillion. 

It is the view of the writer that the economic untidiness, curated in the current economy, is by no means a blame game only on the Grand Old Party or the ruling coalition. The Rajapaksa regime was also masters of one breed in harnessing this wave of corruption. The creation of the world’s emptiest airport, is surely a master class worth clamouring for generations and the deserted port in which a rock was once embodied is in a class of its own. 

Such debt-ridden projects with disproven economic feasibility only symbolise the poor intuition of these rulers. Further, the once controversial Port City project and many other unruly transactions are a dark cloud over the suitability of electing a Rajapaksa-backed regime to the nation’s top governance hierarchy again. 

Will the people be fooled again?

The greater probability and the likelihood of such occurrence remains high or will be the case this time as well. As it has been the case throughout the past three years, the present Government has taken refuge at blaming all its inefficiencies as the by-products of the poor decisions of the previous administration. Likewise, the Joint Opposition has not taken any backward step to camouflage their corruption accusations with those of the present regime. The end result has been that no justice has been served to the accused and only the people have been left to bear the burden of such malicious acts. 

Innumerable promises laid down at each succeeding election, from the abolishment of the executive presidency and so on, are yet take root. Sri Lanka is still reeling with the inability to build a long-term growth plan through a consistent policy framework, as well as building national reconciliation that drives communal harmony. 

Corruption has always overshadowed the nation’s interest in the eyes of the politicians that has impeded the road to prosperity Sri Lanka was destined to attain. The inequality gap that embodies society is also a worthy matter to note, as the privilege gap between citizen and minister tends to expand each day.

A good recent example for this was seen when top ministers used the opposite lane to reach their destination along the Battaramulla-Kotte road, when the road travellers were left to toil in the traffic for two to three hours along the same road when the flyover was nearing its completion. Is this Yahapalanaya and did you vote for this?

Certainly not!

The confessing fact to note is that many candidates vying for public acceptance have prepared their propaganda material by portraying themselves alongside the politicians who have the most accusations of corruption. This is a demeaning fact which is difficult to understand and to a greater extent appalling to note that public endorsements favour such material and candidates. 

What are the people doing to show their displeasure?

Most people assume that holding politicians accountable for their actions is not too difficult in an active social democracy. But in Sri Lanka today, the pulse of the people is depicted by a political process often more catered on monetary interests than the will of the people. This has led many Sri Lankans to disengage in politics or become slacktivists (people who believe they are contributing to a change by participating in temporary, feel-good measures, like sharing links or firing off on social media) that do not result in real change in political governance.

Measures taken to demonstrate their displeasure over policy measures, such as in the case of SAITM, have ended up in violence, causing severe congestion and hardships for the general public. The degree to which protests have been conducted over the past two years has mainly been subjected to severe public scrutiny, as most were ignited and driven by the political forces of the Opposition based on a political vendetta rather than for social good. The State institution protests that destabilised the railway networks, electricity and even the postal services were to an extent debatable in their cause or need of origination. 

Conclusion

If history is any guide, then it is certain that the corrupt will not be found guilty. Many individuals have escaped corruption charges due to weak technical reasons. Technical faults have helped the crooks get off the hook in most instances through deliberate measures. Also, some cases have dragged on till the death of the accused. 

The respect that people once had for politicians is fast-depreciating, with most of them perceived as crooks and cronies. It is true that corruption takes years to prove, the world over. Since Sri Lanka is not used to such complex investigations, it would require a degree of patience to find answers. However, that being said, it does not create a vacuum where the politicians dwindle on the emotion of its citizens to retain or obtain power. Despite the Government promising in its manifesto to probe mega projects and punish the offenders, only the petty cash offenders seem to have been caught in its net. Every single election all political parties make a slew of promises to the voters, raising their hopes and aspirations. However, promises abound in every corner of our bleak political world. A fresh set of promises is made in the next elections without providing any accurate status of the performance against the previous promises. The same could be said about the wave of corruption that the ruling coalition was mandated to end as was the case with the previous rulers. The only option that rests with the citizens of this country is the freedom of their choice which they should use wisely to prevent cronies or crooks taking office hereon. 

[The writer is the Founder/Director at Elon Venture Catalysts Ltd., a financial and investment banking services firm operating in Sri Lanka. He has a BEng (Hons) in Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom and a MBA from the University of Colombo. He is also a Chartered Financial Analyst, Certified Global Business Analyst and Certified Management Accountant (Australia). He can be reached via email on vidushan@elonventure.com or www.elonventure.com.]

Source: Daily FT

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