Colombo, Economy, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

The Rajapakse regime: Rewarding the corrupt and sheltering the criminal?

If there is one thing that is crystal clear about the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, it is that it rewards wrong doers and punishes the righteous.

The President’s decision to include the Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera in his delegation to China for the opening ceremony of the Olympic games days is a case in point. Just days after the man found guilty of corruption in the privatization of Lanka Marine Services Limited by the Supreme Court and fined Rs. 500,000, the President’s action illustrates that anybody has a place in the regime’s inner circle as long as he is a “yes man.”

The Court upheld the findings of a the report released months earlier by the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) which said that the privatisation of LMSL when Jayasundera served as the Chairman of Public Enterprise Reforms Commission (PERC) had been “executed blatantly without Cabinet approval, with several flaws causing loss and detriment to the Government.” But the abject failure to act against those named in the Report meant it took Public Interest Litigation initiated in the Supreme Court to name Jayasundera as a guilty party in the LMSL case.

Even though the Government is slow to act against such persons, we got to know last week that two police officers attached to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption were abruptly transferred out of the department while they were probing the assets of a Government (non-Cabinet) Minister. In their fundamental rights application filed in the SC, the petitioners made a shock revelation that two top officials in the Bribery Commission – Commissioner Indra De Silva, who is also a former IGP and Director (Investigations) Neville Guruge – were attempting to cover up the case against the Minister.

A look at some of the convictions that the Commission has to its credit amply shows that while the sharks cut their way out of the bribery net, it’s the small fry that is gets caught. A Police Constable was convicted in 2002 for accepting a bribe of Rs. 2,000 to refrain from filing a case for a Traffic Offence. His punishment from Court was two years imprisonment for each charge. A minor employee of a government office was convicted for a bribe of Rs. 2,000 and got 12 months imprisonment. Another Police constable who accepted a bribe of Rs. 300 for a traffic offence was convicted and got two years rigorous imprisonment.

Clearly, engaging in bribery and corruption must be punished irrespective of the sum of money involved. But going by the severity of the punishment that has been meted out to the three persons I have cited as examples, I ask you to determine what punishment is suitable for a man whose actions have resulted in the loss of millions. Paying Rs. 500,000 as a fine must have been like handing over pocket money for Jayasundara when one recognises the magnitude of the fraud involved in the LMSL case. And this may only be the beginning. Similar irregularities may well come to light in cases such as the privatisation of the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation, where Jayasundera also figured, that are pending before the Courts. The COPE report said that in the SLIC privatization deal, Jayasundera had “failed and neglected to act in the interests of the Government.”

What does inaction against the rot at the top of the ladder tell the ordinary citizen of this country? Steal millions in public money and you are safe to live a life of luxury and comfort and hobnob with the politically powerful but be honest but try to stand up against the rot, all you can expect is to get transferred, demoted, harassed and hounded.

But Jayasundera is only one in a along list of wrongdoers that the President has chosen to mollycoddle even when their atrocities are staring him in his face. There can be no more glaring example than the case of Minster Mervin Silva. The President famously asked Silva to be present at a meeting with employees of the Rupavahini Cooptation who were being signalled out for attacks after the trashing Silva got following his outrageous behaviour against the New Director of the SLRC. What the President did here is pat the man on his back and tell him it is time to stop such attacks. Obviously this sickening molly-coddling has not stopped the man and only encouraged him to worsen his attacks on journalists and media organizations.

And what has come of allegations against a Minister for robbing the money meant as compensation to the farmers affected by the Mavil Aru incident? What of another junior Minister who was allegedly involved in a visa racket to the USA using government influence? What of the fertilizer subsidy tender racket which again meant massive loss of public funds?

The media has to a great extent done its best to bring such issues to the public forum. Some opposition legislators have even attempted to bring them up in Parliament.

Sadly and tragically though, a government blind to bribery and corruption continues to be in deep slumber when confronted with these uncomfortable truths.