A promise kept | Daily News

A promise kept

One of the key elections planks and pledges of the Rainbow Coalition, which swept to power in 2015, was taking a tough stand on corruption and malpractices at all levels in society. President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe expressed their personal commitment to eradicate corruption as part of their quest to uphold the principles of good governance.

They pledged to probe the misdeeds of the previous regime, which is usually given whenever a new Government comes to power. There were many who dismissed this as “political revenge”. People could not be blamed for thinking in this manner – after all, they have the bitter experience of the politically motivated jail term imposed on former Army Commander, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka during the previous regime over a minor tender issue.

But the anti-corruption drive of the President and the Prime Minister was not motivated by political considerations of this nature. They made it clear that the anti-graft drive will not be limited to those associated with the previous regime. Anyone connected to the ruling apparatus in any way found engaging in acts of corruption will be dealt with mercilessly, they promised. Again, this pledge was greeted with a lot of sceptism and even sarcasm.

Both leaders however understood that for this pledge to work, the Police, Judiciary, anti-corruption bodies and other enforcement bodies must regain their independence. Without this assurance, officials tend to turn a blind eye to any acts of corruption by those connected to the ruling party. It is in this context that several fully Independent Commissions were either reactivated or established anew to enable the officials to act without any fear.

Among them was the Commission to Investigate Acts of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) which had been literally run to the ground by the previous regime. Since it was reinvigorated, it has been doing great work, probing alleged acts of corruption by politicians from all sides, public officials, business people and various other parties.

We saw the biggest indication of its impartiality, integrity, fearlessness and investigative talent with the arrest of President’s Chief of Staff, I.H.K. Mahanama and State Timber Corporation (STC) Chairman P. Dissanayake over the charge of accepting a bribe of Rs.20 million from an Indian businessman at a Colombo hotel on Thursday. This is perhaps the most high-profile arrest it has made in recent times and completely negates the allegation spread by the Joint Opposition that they have been unfairly targeted by the CIABOC and other law enforcement agencies. It also nullifies the common refrain that only the small fry get caught in the bribery net while the big fish go scot-free.

On his part, the President has instructed relevant officials to show no mercy and take strict legal action against the two officials. He also instructed officials to immediately suspend the services of both officials facing bribery allegations. The President deserves plaudits for his swift and impartial actions. Now there is no doubt that the law will take its course, unhindered by any political interference.

This arrest also brings to the fore a marked difference between this Government and the previous one. Under that regime, not even the servant of a ruling party leader would have been arrested as anyone who was even remotely connected to the powers that be was strictly off-limits for the law enforcement agencies. Anyone who dared to go against this unofficial dictum had to pay a very heavy price. The overnight impeachment of former Chief Justice Shiranee Bandaranayake for apparently giving a verdict that affected a top minister is a case in point.

On the other hand, this arrest is a latest in a series of cases against persons connected to the current Government who have been implicated in acts of corruption. The Government appointed a Presidential Commission to investigate the Treasury Bond issue, which summoned even Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. This is in fact, the first time that a Government investigating body summoned a sitting Prime Minister. Pursuant to inquiries on this issue, several top officials of Perpetual Treasuries Limited are in custody and an Interpol Red Notice has been issued on former Central Bank Governor Arjun Mahendran.

Quite apart from corruption cases, the Government has let the law run its course in other instances of law and order violations committed by powerful persons connected to those in power. When the Police informed President Sirisena that his brother had caused a fatal accident, his immediate reaction was that the normal law of the land should prevail. Accordingly, the Presidential sibling was taken into custody and the President has not interfered in the case at all.

There are several significant takeaways from this episode of high-profile arrests. It has reaffirmed the importance of establishing independent commissions and implementing the strict policies of the Government against bribery and corruption. It has also highlighted the independent and impartial background created by the Government that has enabled law enforcement authorities to perform their duties independently without any trepidation. The time has come to expedite all probes into acts of corruption and take strict steps to eliminate this scourge from our society.


 

There is 1 Comment

An eye wash with political propaganda. The people know how well the promise was handled in the breach. Nothing concrete only dilly dallying! The Presient who stated that he will resign after one year now tries to take refuge in the incompleteness of his mission. The true fact is that he sees the tasted power as an opportunity to carry on while the country lingers without progress due to shortsighted policies influenced by his partner Ranil and the UNP who has is wn agenda for survival. The May Day rally showcased the deep trouble in getting cooperation of the ranks.A general election will reveal the stark truth.

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