|Wednesday, 25 February 2004|
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Crack the whip on corruption
At a time when the sleazy side of electoral politics could be expected to be at its height, we have it on the authority of President Kumaratunga that a group of some 27 UNP politicians had promised to switch allegiances provided they were rewarded with Ministerships and Deputy Ministerships.
This prompted her to also recall that the PA government was brought down in 2001 by a few politicians in her own ranks who fell for the juicy lure of money and portfolios.
The President was quoted as saying that it was her decision not to form a government with the corrupt which prompted her to dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections. This decision to steer clear of those who would trade their loyalties for a mess of pottage needs to be warmly lauded because it is the institutionalization of corruption over the years in this country, which has - among other things - reduced it to a Robber Barons' paradise.
The mention of Robber Barons should take the minds of our older generation of readers to the early years of the liberalized economy in the mid-seventies when the Robber Barons of the free market economy were welcomed with open arms to Sri Lanka's fold. This was almost a magic spur to the rot which has enveloped this country.
In fact, the unprecedented adulation of money and material opened our doors to multifarious other ills, such as the gross distortion of the electoral process. Horse-dealing or the buying of political loyalties and floor crossing rose to unprecedented heights over the years, culminating in the massive betrayal of 2001, when the PA regime was irredeemably wrecked by some high profile PA members who went on to enjoy high office in the subsequent UNF regime.
What could one expect of regimes which are peopled by those whose loyalties prove so fickle and whose minds are so capricious? They, in fact, go on to make corruption a way of life in the State. For, political leaders - among others - set the tone for the country and establish the norms and standards of public life.
It was only right, therefore, that the President rejects the unclean overtures of those whose hands are tainted by filthy lucre. For this principled stand she would be appreciated and hailed. However, we call for swift action to curb the cancer of corruption which is today infiltrating all tiers of government - Pradeshiya, Provincial and National.
We regret to note that gratifications are being offered to numerous politicians at these levels - on an ascending scale of sleaze and election "goodies" - to switch loyalties in favour of the ruling party. There is no alternative but to crack the whip hard.
Home away from home
Immigrants are in the news today, thanks to human trafficking and illegal immigration. Western Europe has made things harder for illegal immigrants, with some hardline politicians calling for 'closed' borders. Even legal immigrants are naturalised only after extensive vetting. But is immigration as bad as some countries make it out to be ?
Many have forgotten that some countries are almost entirely populated by immigrants. The United States is a melting pot of diverse communities whose ancestors arrived there after the discovery of the 'New World'. Australia is another example. Immigrants enrich the social fabric and cultural diversity of their adopted countries. They make a major contribution to their economies.
We are penning these lines in the context of a dilemma faced by a some countries over the spectacular rise of foreign-born citizens in politics. In the US, Austrian-born California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is theoretically only one step away from the presidency. Alas, a clause in the US Constitution bars foreign-born naturalised citizens from holding the highest office in the land.
In India, Italian-born Sonia Gandhi heads the Congress Party. Although India does not have laws that bar foreign-born citizens from climbing to the very top, Opposition politicians have called for legal measures to prevent "foreigners" from becoming President, Vice President and Prime Minister.
Yet, the issue is far more complex. Can anyone prove that Schwarzenegger is any less American than say, John Kerry ? He has lived most of his adult life in the US, learned the language, married into a politically well-connected American family, made a massive contribution to the US economy and culture (via his films) and won a mandate to govern a State. He has made it clear that he wants to be an American all his life. Sonia Gandhi has said she was "completely" Indian: "I never feel I am a foreigner."
That sentiment, after all, is the gist of immigration. Millions of people have settled in countries other than their own. They may maintain links with the 'old' country, but are more attached to the new one. Over a few decades, they become an inseparable part of that country's populace. They are at home.
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