Wiping out the corrupt or just another hoax

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A joke can be a serious thing as a standup comedienne learned a couple of months back while sitting down behind ‘bars’ and contemplating the concept of justice.

Well, there surely must be other places where standup comedians—not to mention a couple of sit-down ones—could be seen or heard regaling the multitude with their kind of jokes about how to make millions (or is it billions now that we go begging for 20 percent here and 30 percent there).

But do these ‘humourists, if one might call them that for simplicity, realise the citizenry has been suffering long from these beggars’ operas like they are doing in the killing fields opened up today with sub-standard medicines and lack of essential equipment thanks to the Health Ministry and its affiliates.

The immediate story, however, is what happens next week in that hot house of political and moral rectitude where the great thinkers of our nation gather regularly as lawmakers like the philosophers and logicians of ancient Greece who met to discuss their world.

If what appeared in the media is correct—and there is no reason to doubt its veracity since this is hardly a Goebbelsian invention—the House by the Diyawanna Oya would have before it that glorious trap laid out by the three or four draftsmen of this apocalypse.

But at the Diyawanna Oya adobe, this highly valued piece of legal luminaria that has taken five years or so in the making (after all Rome was not built in a day) will be subject to even more introspection than the regular waste bound for the Muthurajawela garbage dumps.

So, the 50 pages and 164 sections that were born after legal mulling and years of gestation will become grist to the analytical and ethical mill of the country’s mighty, though their popular mandate to do so is suspect by those who look more closely into public matters.

Titled frighteningly enough as the Anti-Corruption Bill, which should send shock waves through the nervous systems of several politicians, past and present, to make them treble lock the doors, switch on the alarms and hide in their penthouse apartments.

Meanwhile, money launderers, political blood-suckers not averse to dipping into state contracts for a few dollars more and bureaucratic bribe-takers, would take a quick trip to Seychelles (now conveniently located via a direct flight, one understands) or to dubious Dubai where anything could be safely accumulated and buried even in desert sand dunes marked Sri Lanka Only.

But should they really worry about being tracked down by smart sleuths (who will be hard to find anyway, certainly not among
our baton wielders who will be otherwise busy chasing
the bloggers and other
public nuisances)?

Certainly not, if they are on the right side of the political divide (or even sub-divide) or the business cronies of the political upper crust and if the country’s post-independence history of catching the corrupt instead of the supposed violators of the ICCPR, is anything to go by.

It would of course be unfair to dismiss the hard work of the head hunters of the corrupt—the givers and takers of bribes. A glance at the media is proof enough. A traffic policeman caught red-handed pocketing a few hundred rupees from an offender, a Grama Sevaka Niladhari doing a small deal for a thousand rupees or the headmaster of a village school collecting a few thousand more to admit a child.

Let’s not be stingy about it—give accolades where accolades are due. But hold on a minute. They all seem like dried or dried-up sprats. Where or where are the big fish—the sharks, the big tuna and even the whales who should be caught and put on public display at Galle Face now that the promenade is closed to any more aragala?

So now we are made to believe that there will soon be a new net that would be cast far and wide enough to catch the “big fish”.

Dr Nihal Jayawickrama in an article a couple of months back referred to Justice Minister Rajapakshe’s Anti-Corruption Bill. In it, Dr Jayawickrama said, “It is described as a Bill to give effect to the 2003 UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). However, it is not designed to achieve that objective in any manner or form…….The only reference to UNCAC in the entirety of this Bill is the designation of the Director-General (who shall not be “a convicted criminal” or a “person of unsound mind”) as the competent authority for the purpose of giving effect to UNCAC.”

Dr. Jayawickrama, as a Consultant to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, participated in the drafting of UNCAC and his article exposes several of the drawbacks, shortcomings and mistakes in the draft bill.

Perhaps most important of all, he emphasises that in an anti-corruption strategy “a genuine political commitment and determination to combat corruption is essential.”

But surely this is precisely what has been lacking in our post-independence history particularly in the later years and especially in this century. The absence of “commitment and determination” that Dr Jayawickrama calls for, is missing because the corruption is mostly at the top end of the political totem and among its near and extended family, business cronies and associated bureaucrats who are more concerned about enhancing their assets.

The other day I was surprised to read a text of a TV programme called “101 Katha” produced by the Presidential Media Division. That should have been enough of a clue of what to expect.

The dramatis persona in this piece of hallucinatory advocacy is, of all people, a former Director-General of the Bribery or Corruption Investigation Commission, Sarath Jayamanne, PC (President’s Counsel, in case the abbreviation is confused with another vocation).

Unfortunately, there is no mention of how long he spent in this position. To give him the benefit of the doubt I would say three years for the longer he stayed there the more it would stain his escutcheon for that Commission’s record of hauling in “big fish” speaks for itself.

Space restrictions prevent me from commenting on his remarks in any detail. So let me deal with a couple. Mr Jayamanna PC, says that the new anti-corruption bill would establish a “truly independent commission” and any attempts to suppress
the commission would be met with “strong resistance from
the people.”

Why not from the commission itself Mr Jayamanna, like resignation en masse? Why put the burden on the people? So that they could be tear-gassed, attacked with water cannons and locked up as terrorists under that other piece of upcoming abhorrence called the Anti-Terrorism Bill?

Now where have we heard before of independent commissions acting with independence except for a couple like the Right to Information Commission and the Human
Rights Commission?

What is more, Mr Jayamanna PC says with obvious pride as one of the drafters perhaps, that the “new bill brings us pride”. He must surely know what happened to the last person who thought she was
a comedienne.

During his legal studies, he would have learnt of some Latin words and phrases.

But I doubt he came across these words of the Roman poet Horace: “Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus”—the mountains are in labour and the result is a ridiculous mouse”


(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London.)


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