Cracking the whip on
Getting a 'cut' or
exacting commissions and kickbacks in financial deals is so
common in some sections in this country that corruption has come
to be viewed by many as a way of life in Sri Lanka. We could be
glad that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is facing-up squarely to
this reality. A couple of days back he told senior public
servants that failure on their part to crack the whip on
corruption and other irregularities in the state sector is
helping to foster the notion among some that Sri Lanka is a
This is plain-speaking and we hope it would have the desired
effect. The idea of Sri Lanka being a 'failed state' is a highly
sensitive issue and a controversial one but it has no solid
foundation in reality because this country is on a strong
revival track and it could by no means be relegated to the dark
realms of those Third World states which are appalling failures
in every conceivable respect. Nevertheless, if no remedial
action is taken swiftly against the cancer of corruption and
financial mismanagement, this country could substantiate the
claim that it too is a 'failed state' and it is this possibility
that the President is underscoring with his remarks on the need
for accountability in the public sector.
Corruption has been with us from 'time immemorial' and could
be seen, to some extent, as endemic, but this could not be made
an excuse to condone it and to do nothing about it. Corruption
or financial sleaze must be stopped in its tracks and this could
be done best by Heads of institutions. Besides, they must not be
besmirched by the blight of corruption and financial
irregularities. They must prove to be above the damning malaise.
Personal examples of living 'clean' could have a restraining
impact on the larger society.
Moreover, the systems and structures need to be in place to
check financial corruption and other iniquities that tend to
debilitate state and other institutions. 'Department Heads'
should take it on themselves to forge these systems and ensure
that they are effective and result-oriented. The positive
examples and the initiatives to put things right must come from
The virtual watchdog bodies in this context, COPE and PAC, do
a considerable amount of good work on putting things right in
the state sector, but their recommendations and prescriptions
need to be closely followed by the institutions concerned.
The mechanisms on enforcing the directives of these watchdog
bodies must be greatly strengthened, if this has not been done
The sad truth is that this country is yet to make any notable
headway in the direction of curbing corruption. The
institutional set-up is in place to address the question, but
except for some personnel, none of the other possibly culpable
persons seem to be subjected to the accountability procedures.
Those members of the public who cry 'foul' need to go the whole
hog, as it were, and submit the necessary evidence to enable the
relevant authorities to deal with the blight of financial
embezzlement and other blights. Some bold moves in this
direction seem to be needed. But these petitioners need to enjoy
substantial legal and other forms of protection too.
However, to the extent possible, the accountability
procedures need to be introduced and enforced. 'Clean' and
elegant living must be the guiding norms of the country,
whatever the challenges to living up to these ideals may be. We
need to consider that economic globalization and market
economics, although practised universally, have opened the
flood-gates to corruption in its numerous forms. Obviously, this
economic ethos needs to be scrutinized closely, subjected to a
constructive critique, and subjected to some rational controls,
which would facilitate ethical living while ensuring the
necessary economic freedoms.
This country is heir to a culture that attaches top priority
to cooperative living and social solidarity. These values need
to be continually reinforced because corruption and sleaze are
sure indicators that society is increasingly gravitating towards
selfish and self-centred living. It is time to revisit our
traditional values. These need to be made the enduring
foundations of our existence.