A telling indictment on holders of public office , Editorial Ceylon Today
Last week, during an interaction with the Chairmen and Mayors of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) controlled local government bodies, President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a damning revelation; he revealed that 238 local government members of the ruling Party have been charged with bribery and corruption. That was surely not something the Head of State can crow about. It was indeed a damning indictment of the deterioration on the integrity of the holders of public office.
The President himself appeared to be quite concerned about the declining spiral of the public’s confidence in their elected officials, but, many others in the audience were, in fact, oblivious to the magnitude of the problem.
When the President quipped that the elected members need to exercise much care, before indulging in such acts of mischief, his remarks were met with a burst of laughter by the audience, which showed they had clearly misconstrued the President’s comments. Apparently, the local body heads had believed the President was telling them to do it in style, so that they would not get caught. The President had to clarify that he did not mean it that way, and what he meant was that he would not condone corruption.
The reaction of the Provincial Council members, if anything, is proof as to how lightly that the acts of bribery and corruption are viewed in the country. However, that rather compliant perception on bribery and corruption is not unique to elected leaders. A sizeable section of the Sri Lankan population tends to view bribery and corruption as an integral and equally useful part of public life. In other words, it is viewed as a necessary evil that would come handy when one needs to get admission to his offspring to a national school through the back door, or to bypass the red tape that defines much of the public service.
Later, during his meeting with the Provincial Council bigwigs, the President played a CD, which contained a secret recording of a Provincial Council member, who was soliciting Rs 1.8 million as a bribe. The audience had listened attentively, many with raised eyebrows. The President subsequently told the local body members that it was only one among many other bits of incriminating evidence that are in his possession.
Now, the law abiding public would expect the Head of the State to submit this purported throve of evidence to the Commission to Investigate into Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, a supposedly independent body which is mandated to crackdown on bribery and corruption.
Failing to inform the law enforcement agencies of an act of bribery may not be a crime, but it is obviously a blot on the character of the individual concerned, especially when he is a holder of an important public office.
Bribery and corruption thrive in Sri Lanka, partly due to the culture that tolerates and facilitates such acts of crime. In some instances, bribery has become a way of life. The members of the public who habitually complain about the acts of corruption blamed on their elected representatives, willingly, oil the palm of some unscrupulous public officers, in order to bypass standard procedures in obtaining certain government services.
Bribery, sadly though is entrenched in the Sri Lankan culture. Therefore, Sri Lanka’s regular low ranking in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index did not come as a surprise. Sri Lanka was ranked 79th out of 176 countries in the TI’s Corruption Perception Index for 2012.
It is this rather compliant attitude towards corruption that fosters this criminal practice. The public perception towards corruption is partly shaped by the indifference of the political leadership to confront this menace, which not only drains public confidence of the elected offices, but also scares away legitimate investors from the country. However, it is not only the elected representatives of the public who indulge in this sinful practice. Bribery and corruption is pervasive, and is all encompassing in public life. In most times, it is the general public who are both the perpetrators and the victims of bribery and corruption. It is their compliant approach towards bribery and their regular indulgence in this particular mischief, either as the giver or the taker, that fosters this criminal practice.