Raheem: A product of current sociopolitical culture – EDITORIAL

30 May 2023 12:02 am – 0      – 59

 

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The arrest of Parliament Member Ali Sabri Raheem on his way from Dubai by the customs officials at the Katunayake International Airport on May 23 with gold and mobile phones worth around Rs. 80 million and the events that followed clearly mirror the nature of the political culture of the country.

Going by the media discussion on the matter, very few seem to believe that Raheem was the first politician to smuggle gold or any other contraband into the country after United National Party (UNP) Parliamentarian and Deputy Minister Anura Daniel caught with gold bars at the same airport in 1978. Similarly, many are hesitant to believe that this was the first time Raheem smuggled gold into the country and reports too say that he had travelled to Dubai.

On the other hand, while the officials who arrested the Puttalam District MP deserving commendation, the question remains whether they would arrest any of the remaining 224 parliamentarians and their relatives and friends even if they get information that he/she is smuggling in or out such contraband? One can find the answer to this question if he/she reads through the names of the current Members of Parliament. Aren’t there people among them who are out of the reach of the long arm of the law?

MP Raheem, who was released after paying the fine imposed on him told media that he and a friend gave their passports to the emigration officer at the Dubai airport together and the officer had marked one of his friend’s bags under his name and the items confiscated by the customs were in that bag. This is not a new or strange practice; many people do so just for convenience or to share the weight of the bags to meet the customs requirements. However, the fact that one of them or both had smuggled in contraband was undeniable. Besides, the media reported that the MP had the receipts of the items in his possession and the customs officials had not questioned anybody else.

When the contraband was discovered by the customs officials the MP calls the highest office of the country and it is also a well known fact that political connections save people in such circumstances. However, he was left high and dry. Yet, he was not the first person to seek assistance of higher political authorities to breach the law nor would he be the last, since this has also been a widespread practice prevailing for decades and would continue in future as well. In majority of such occasions the efforts are not wasted.

Raheem’s next argument raises so many other questions. He shamelessly tells in public that he voted against the motion brought against Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), Janaka Ratnayake on May 24, since the government leaders did not help him when he was caught by the customs officials. He accuses that the government leaders did not come to his rescue in this matter, despite him having voted in favour of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in 2020 and similar Bills. His message to the government was “if you don’t support me in my illegal activities I will not support you in running the government.” This is not the integrity that the people expect from their representatives. They are expected to use their votes based on the merit of the motions or a Bills in Parliament, and not as a tool to get political or personal gains.

Nevertheless, in fairness to Raheem, we must accept that he was not an exception in this matter. There have been allegations for the past several decades that Members of Parliament had been bought over both by the governments and the Oppositions. It is common knowledge that almost all recent and past crossovers by Parliamentarians who now wax eloquent from the Opposition benches on democracy, good governance and blunders that resulted in the current economic crisis have prompted by their loss or loss of hope of ministerial portfolios. They too have taken political positions on the basis of what they personally gain.

On the other hand, he by implication says he was to vote for the motion against PUCSL Chairman Ratnayake, unless he ran into this fiasco. Raheem cannot be ignorant of the fact that irrespective of Ratnayake’s other actions and his past, the clash between the government and him which resulted in his ouster from the PUCSL originated after he refused to government’s pressure to increase the electricity tariff, and nothing else.
There is a right move by a group of MPs to oust Raheem from the Parliament. However, metaphorically, Raheem seems to be only a sprat (may be fast growing) among sharks and whales in a corrupt ocean.

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