What went wrong? | Daily News

What went wrong?

The proliferation of corruption
Lawmakers should declare their assets.
Lawmakers should declare their assets.

The Assets Declarations of all those in public life should be made public, and challenges accepted and accuracy checked. Even now for instance an immediate step could be taken by comparing declarations and the claims about the value of their properties (and the possessions in them) made by those who suffered in the recent riots. But it seems no one has bothered to take up action in this regard, demanding to see those Assets Declarations with a view to comparisons.

In trying to analyze why the country is in such an absolute mess, I need to look at the question of corruption, which most people would say is the biggest reason for our having been bankrupted.

I will not look much here at the reasons for this excessive corruption, though those too need to be well understood if we are to work on reforms to reduce it. One principal reason is the electoral system which demands a massive expenditure of funds, deployed without any productivity. That must be changed, which everyone agrees about, but there is no urgency about action and I have no doubt that the same system will continue, with the same or greater levels of expenditure, and throw up even more rascals whose first priority is to recoup what they have spent.

But leaving that aside we need to look at what I can only describe as excessive greed, which has overtaken so many in the public domain. Their greed arises from several reasons, some of which have come rather horrendously into the public consciousness recently. Decision makers are possessed of an obsession with what is known as compulsive extravagant consumption, most obviously evinced by the massive cost many claim had been incurred in putting up the residences that went up in flames.

The sheer vulgarity of display would seem inexplicable save that there is now a tendency to want to impress – something we find spilling over into for instance entertainments with regard to weddings and homecomings of children. Leaving aside such ephemeral expenditure, one can only marvel at the marble halls our politicians live in, the horrible chandeliers and slippery floors under and on which they display themselves, the heavy opulent furniture they bask in.

Then there are the massive cars which gulp petrol, and the passion for racing them which for instance allowed offspring of some politicians to indulge in.

First and foremost, the Assets Declarations of all those in public life should be made public, and challenges accepted and accuracy checked. Even now for instance an immediate step could be taken by comparing declarations and the claims about the value of their properties (and the possessions in them) made by those who suffered in the recent riots. But it seems no one has bothered to take up action in this regard, demanding to see those Assets Declarations with a view to comparisons.

And this had a practical impact too in that one would have hoped that there would have been a thrust towards restorative justice, and the confiscation of all this ill-gotten property after a swift examination of Assets Declarations. But now that element of ill gotten gains is no longer available to us.

So reclaiming that for the state is not possible now, and perhaps the mob would claim that in our present culture of mutual protection by all the thieves of each other, it would never have been possible. They may claim their destructiveness was the only alternative to allowing the crooks to enjoy their plunder to infinity.

Though that argument is not acceptable, we have to realize that in fact we have no tradition at all of restorative justice. Either there is mass hysteria about retributive justice, or else sins are forgotten. And since retributive justice is difficult to get going, as we have seen with the forgotten plunder of the pre-2014 government or the bond scam profits, or the subsequent commissions amassed by that government, in the end there is no justice, whereas a few simple legislative changes would be enough to get at least some proportion of stolen money back in public hands.

The Special Presidential Commission Act for instance could be revised to allow the imposition of any financial penalties suitable for misdemeanours, with a provision that there could be an appeal to the Supreme Court to decide whether the penalty was inappropriate. There could also be provision for the Court to increase the penalty if that seemed appropriate, to limit frivolous appeals. And the Commissioners could be empowered to investigate Assets Declarations and make swift judgments about anything that was not declared or which could not be explained.

Unfortunately the mechanisms we now have in place to check corruption are woefully inadequate. Recently I was told by someone about how feared back in the seventies was Ian Wikramanayake, the Bribery Commissioner, but after that controls have been a joke. With the advent of the open economy, and JR’s famous exhortation for the Robber Barons to come, it was an open session on the country. I do not myself think he meant he wanted corruption, but I suspect he did not mind it, and indeed he had no qualms about working with people who made money. He had no qualms either about his own kith and kin benefiting from what he wrought, his daughter-in-law for instance being the agent for Mitsubishi which was awarded lots of government contracts.

He might have argued that that was not in itself dishonest, but the simple fact is that when officials see those responsible for decisions benefiting from decisions they see no qualms about getting in on the act themselves. And so the standards of absolute integrity, evinced by his predecessors as leaders of the country, vanished and they have never been restored. 


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