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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Government sponsored corruption in Sri Lanka

(Editorial, The Island)

The Health Ministry has unfortunately become a metaphor for corruption, and public faith in the state health service is eroding. What’s the world coming to when high-ranking health officials and their political masters stoop so low as to work hand in glove with pharmaceutical racketeers and amass ill-gotten wealth at the expense of the sick?

Deputy Solicitor General Lakmini Girihagama is reported to have told Maligakanda Magistrate Lochani Abeywickrama that the drug company, whose owner is facing legal action for supplying substandard human intravenous immunoglobulin, had also sold a stock of poor-quality cancer drugs to the Health Ministry and obtained Rs. 110 million; the Secretary to the Health Ministry at the time himself had approved the payment.

Investigations into the procurement of the substandard immunoglobulin led to legal action being instituted against Director of the Medical Supplies Division Dr. Kapila Wickremenayake, Assistant Director Devashantha Soloman, Accountant (Supplies) Neran Dhananjaya and the Stock Controller of the Medical Supplies Division Sujith Kumara. They were arrested by the CID recently. However, only the naïve will expect the police to get to the bottom of it, for no mega corrupt deal can be struck unbeknownst to politicians, who take the lion’s share of the ill-gotten gains.

What the CID has been able to uncover is only the tip of the iceberg of health sector procurement rackets. President’s Counsel Kalinga Indatissa told Maligakanda Magistrate Abeywickrama on 15 Nov., that the mastermind behind the procurement of substandard immunoglobulin was in the Cabinet. He dared the CID to arrest the culprit.

In September 2023, 113 government MPs defeated a motion of no confidence against the then Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, on whose watch several procurement rackets took place. The ruling party politicians made fiery speeches in Parliament in defence of Rambukwella though the Opposition levelled very serious allegations against him and some health officials. Some of the Health Ministry panjandrums who should have been interdicted and prosecuted immediately for their involvement in corrupt deals got off scot free. When it became too embarrassing for the government to continue to defend Rambukwella as the Health Minister he was made the Minister of Environment.

Thus, Rambukwella continues to be in the Cabinet, but Roshan Ranasinghe, who took on the corrupt nabobs in the cricket administration was sacked as the Minister of Sports, etc. So much for the government’s commitment to combating corruption.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe never misses an opportunity to stress the need to combat bribery and corruption. At international fora, including the United Nations General Assembly, he urges the world to eliminate the scourge of corruption, but he sacked Minster Ranasinghe, the only government politician who pitted himself against the corrupt. Ranasinghe is also facing a political witch-hunt. He has told Parliament that his life is in danger. Nobody will dare take on the corrupt hereafter.

Strangely, the government, which goes so far as to intimidate the judiciary by threatening to summon judges before the parliamentary Committee on Privileges and Ethics for giving rulings that are not to its liking, has chosen to ignore counsel Indatissa’s serious allegation. Maybe it does not want to open a can of worms.

The racketeers who are enriching themselves at the expense of cancer patients are no better than the drug addicts who were seen relieving dying tsunami victims of their valuables in 2004. They are lucky that they have political connections and, above all, the punishment for the crimes they are committing is not severe enough in this country. As for these heartless characters, even Medieval punishments may be considered far too lenient.

The Island. 011223

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