A sound move | Daily News

A sound move

The astounding revelation made by a Deputy Minister that only four cases of corruption have been successfully prosecuted during the last 23 years says a lot for the willingness of the governments during that period to bring the necessary changes to the law to seriously tackle the canker of corruption that has eaten into the body politic of this country. All governments, when in opposition, pledged to shake heaven and earth to try its opponents, then in government, once ensconced in office, for swindling public funds and looting the Treasury. One Presidential candidate, we recall, even promised to hang the corrupt elements in the government at Galle Face. However, no opponent was brought to book during the entirety of the two year term of that President. Instead, corruption reached new heights, and thrived, under the government of that incumbent as well culminating in the individual concerned even having to pay compensation for a questionable transaction, following a court order, while out of office. Hence, the ballgame has been going on, with no serious attempt made to tackle corruption by politicians, their kith and kin and associates. Will there be a break in the trend this time around? Or is it too much to expect?

Deputy Minister of Power and Renewable Energy, Ajith P. Perera, who is also the UNP Spokesman for the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Legal Affairs and Media announced the government’s decision to appoint a new Anti-Corruption High Court, since the Bribery and Corruption laws, as they stand, were completely outdated. He said, the necessary amendments to the Bribery and Corruption Act have already been sent to the Legal Draftsman’s Department.

He also made the stunning revelation that, only four persons have been convicted with regard to bribery and corruption, during the last 23 years. Is the Deputy Minister telling the public that the Bribery and Corruption Commission have all these years being maintained by tax payers’ money, to bring only four cases of corruption to a successful conclusion? There was a recent claim that thousands of files were gathering dust at the Bribery and Corruption Commission. Were the investigations into these files blocked through political intervention?

The Deputy Minister disclosed that the Anti-Corruption High Court, which has received Cabinet approval, will be functional within the next six months. The number of High Court judges will be increased from 75 to 100 and ten new High Courts will be established in selected districts and Colombo, while the number of State Counsel in the Attorney General’s Department will be increased from 118 to 218. He said, resistance may come from people who are involved in bribery and corruption, but assured that the government will go ahead with the mission to create a proper environment for the proper administration of justice in the country.

Well, the Yahapalanaya government has certainly taken its time to beef up the Bribery and Corruption law, given that the chief plank of the platform of the Common Candidate was to bring to book the big time crooks and swindlers of the former regime. But, as they say, better late than never.

However, adding muscle to the law alone will not suffice, unless a genuine effort is made to seriously deal with those involved in mega corruption. We say this because the efforts, so far, in this connection, have not been convincing, even where provisions in the existing law were sufficient to effectively deal with the corrupt. The inordinate delay in the prosecution of blatant cases of corruption too have not impressed the public. Whatever will happen to the corruption cases already pending in the High Courts? Will they be dealt by the new Anti-Corruption High Court? There is the case of a former minister who could not explain how he acquired Rs. 400 million worth of assets, and, when, asked to report to the Bribery Commission that worthy claimed he could not make the trip since he was stung by a russels viper polanga. This case has been dragging on now for a lengthy period. Will the New Anti-Corruption Court take up this matter and dispose it off expeditiously, since speedy disposal of corruption cases was the reason for the formation of the new court, according to the Deputy Minster. Whatever has become of the aircraft deals, under the Rajapaksa regime, where, it was alleged, that purchases were made dispensing with tender procedures?

Having a new Anti-Corruption Court, alone, would be of no use if the investigations are not thorough and carried out with the certainty of successful prosecution. Yahapalanaya spokesmen are often heard saying that cases are held up at the Attorney General’s Department due to insufficient material to effect a successful prosecution. Hence, the delay in bringing the corrupt to book.

What guarantee is there that the same excuse will not be trotted out, following the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Court, as well? Hence, it is vital that the investigating arms of the Bribery and Corruption Commission and FCID be staffed with professionals who are experts on the subject of white collar crime, who are able to successfully follow the paper trail. 


 

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