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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2610

Sri Lanka – Of Corruption and Anti Corruption

By Geoffrey Evarts

Recently, USAID’s Colombo office unveiled funding for an “Anti Corruption plan” for Sri Lanka, which is good and welcome. But what troubles me is that it does not target political corruption which has been the bane of good ole Lanka since independence. It’s targeting the young generation’s inclination towards corruption - which is a good thing in the long run. But for the immediate future (and importantly, the long run as well) Lankans need the elimination of political corruption and political favouritism. (In other words, the introduction and implementation of Meritocracy)

In a recent article, which appeared on the (opinion page of the), “Daily Mirror”, Colombo University’s Sociology Professor Siri Hettige points out the stark reality. Sri Lankans are trying their level best to “get the hell” out of Sri Lanka (legally or illegally). The reason for this is humanely simple. We need a better life. The “we want a better life so let’s get out of this place” syndrome has also been aggravated by the skyrocketing cost of living, which is presently rocking the government on its very foundations like a powerful earthquake.

But Prof. Hettige also highlights some other very worrying points.

* 60% of Sri Lanka’s Gross National Product (GNP - Basically Sri Lanka’s salary) is spent on servicing debt. (I can only surmise that most of the rest is spent on the war) Actually, we are so much in debt, that even if the war were to end tomorrow, we would still be paying for years to come.

* Sri Lanka does not produce adequate essential items such as sugar, milk food and rice flour to sustain its population, even though it has the potential for it.

* We have to import vital medical goods and services. (Even though brilliant Lankans are finding the cures for SARS and other deadly diseases that plague Earth)

* We have to import and pay for transport. (Including fuel) And it’s getting more expensive day by day, cascading on the cost of living.

* The business community has no choice but to relocate. (Go abroad because it is economically viable as well as the safety factor is of concern in Sri Lanka)

* “Brain Drain” occurs. (Developed countries offer visa’s to qualified Lankans)

* Deteriorating social and physical infrastructure adversely affects the poorer person more than the affluent businessman and politician.

* The huge wastage of public funds. (Several Merc’s and BMW’s for each politician(s) regardless of the downtrodden poor man going by bus)

* The increasing frustration and restlessness of hundreds of thousands of youth as the country’s social and economic structure crumbles. (most of these educated youth are from universities, mind you – as we have learnt the hard way in the past, it is very dangerous to let educated youth get frustrated)

So, the US funding on Anti Corruption is welcome. But it must be said that it does not target the core problem in Lanka’s corruption issue. I.e. – political corruption. Political corruption can only be eliminated by the strengthening of safeguards like the 17th amendment (it has to be improved before it is re-implemented by the way..) and the strengthening of institutions like the Bribery Commission and the National Police Commission.

Also, how about the elimination of political favouritism and the reinforcement of Judicial Independence…? These are important aspects of the governance of a nation which the International Community needs to help Sri Lanka improve. (But then again, how can we invite our friend to come help clean the garden when ‘We Ourselves’ are not willing to clean it!)

For example Deputy Minister Mervyn Silva (an infamous politician implicated in several dramas but always got away because of power and influence) was recently indicted on a charge of an alleged fraud. However he merrily got away with a Rs 2,500 fine! If it were any other (average) Sri Lankan, he/she would have been firstly beaten up by the police and then sent to remand until the court case sees its end.

Any Lankan layman can safely say that 90% of politicians in Lanka’s parliament - If they had any sense of honour whatsoever - would have had to resign ages ago considering their past records of corruption, malpractice, thuggery and abuse of power.

Whatever the answer, the outcome does not remotely spell “healthy” for Sri Lanka in the long run. The only solution the average Lankan has is to “somehow or the other try to jump abroad”.

I ask the government, when will Sri Lanka be a “UK, USA or Australia” so that us domiciled Sri Lankans can “jump” back? With the present political culture of empty promises and abuse of power, that possibility is remote in our lifetime, that’s for sure?

- Asian Tribune -

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