|Tuesday, 5 August 2003|
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Taking on the corruption blight
Currently, the festering issue of bribery and corruption is being increasingly addressed by the public in a note of despair. The reason for this is the growing perception that nothing substantial could be achieved in efforts to stamp out corruption on account of the ineffectiveness of the State machinery which has been entrusted this task. As is well known, the Bribery and Corruption Commission is yet to get its act together since the death of one of its Commissioners some months back.
It is the responsibility of the Constitutional Council to ensure that the necessary appointment is made to the Commission. This, however, is yet to come to pass.
Meanwhile, petitions alleging bribery and corruption are piling-up at the Commission and are, of course, going uninvestigated because the Commission is not fully operational. Only recently, the Commission came out with its second annual report since 2000 and had reported an eye-brow raising 76 per cent increase in complaints since 2000. A Commissioner was quoted saying at the launch of the report that although the Commission per se could stand up to political pressure, some investigation officers, who are usually policemen, couldn't do so.
The seeming vulnerability of some investigation officers to political pressure could account for the fact that the 'big fry' among bribe-takers usually escape the Commission's net and, therefore, escape unpunished. This is, perhaps, where public cooperation comes in handy. While it should be granted that the Commission could only subject to inquiry those persons against whom there is substantial, incriminating evidence, it is up to everyone interested in having a "clean" polity, to help in bringing these persons to justice by enabling the Commission to access the necessary evidence against them.
This is, of course, easier said than done. A culture of fear and intimidation is today so widespread in this country that it would prove an enormous task to find persons who could measure-up to the pressures brought on them by particularly some of those wielding political power. As has been disclosed by the Commissioners themselves, police investigators buckling under political pressure, are a hindrance to the complete effectiveness of the Commission. Could unprotected civilians be expected to meet the same challenges squarely?
Still, these challenges need to be faced and resolved by both the decision-makers and the public. To begin with, we urge that the vacancy in the Bribery Commission be filled without further delay. We urge a sinking of political differences among decision-makers on this issue in view of the growing magnitude of the problem of graft and corruption.
Only Sri Lanka will emerge a winner as a result of united action on this question.
Second, police investigators must be protected from political pressure. It should be the task of the National Police Commission to ensure that police sleuths attached to the Commission enjoy the necessary protection from bullying and blustering politicos. Indeed, swift action needs to be taken to ensure the complete independence of the police force. This too is not an impossible undertaking.
Third, society should be democratized further if the public is to take the initiative against the corrupt and the parasitical. We need to see concrete, quick action in this regard too.
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