If Sri Lanka Doesn’t Kill Corruption, It Will Kill Sri Lanka


-By Vishwamithra

“Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power.” ~John Steinbeck

It’s time we stopped talking about corruption and started taking some serious action. Commissions and committees have outlived their usefulness. The people are tired and sick of the pace at which these various bodies, whether they are armed with judiciary powers or not, proceeding against whom allegations are dragging on. The public ire and wrath is greatly amplified by the fact that one of the critical issues on which the current regime ran its Presidential Campaign in January 2015 was corruption, nepotism and lack of good governance on the part of the Rajapaksas. Eradication of corruption and nepotism and setting up of good governance were the promises held out.

The people, by and large, decided to throw the Rajapaksas out despite the fact that Mahinda Rajapaksa, the defeated Presidential candidate, presided over the defeat of the brutal Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) led by Prabhakaran in a cruel war. The people decided that the harm and injury done unto the character and core values of Sri Lankan life by the Rajapaksas justified their verdict. I’m sure it must have been a hard decision to arrive at. Yet they did.

The election itself was tainted by some unprecedented violence and cruelty visited upon those who opposed Rajapaksa. Mahinda Rajapaksa and his cohorts played a very diabolical game of electioneering. Their campaign reflected a mind, character and ‘means of achieving ends’ of a desperate and cruel cabal of men and women. Most of the Ex-President’s men and women today stand accused of gross indulgences in corruption, nepotism and violation of fundamental rights of the people.

The people delivered their verdict. Now it’s up to the country’s governing parties and the judiciary system to deliver theirs. Any delay and hesitancy will be construed as incompetency at best and denial at worst. Whichever way one takes it, it’s not good for the present day rulers.

Nevertheless, it’s prudent for all of us to examine the long and short-term effects of corrupt practices enabled by politicians and their close relatives, friends and henchmen on the politico-economy of a country. After doing a detailed study on corruption, its causes and its possible eradication, experts surmise, among others, the following reasons as causes of corruption: low pay scales for those who participate at the receiving end of the equation, low job opportunity, lack of strict and fast punishment, lack of naming and shaming of the guilty, lack of public unity, first to identify and then do something about the corruption-practitioner, lack of transparency in affairs and deals, lack of Independent and trustworthy investigating agencies, lack of accountability on the part of the Executive branch of government.

One could very safely ascertain that all these causes do exist in Sri Lanka today. Yet to eliminate these adverse conditions and causes is not an easy task at all- certainly not in the lifetime of a single term of a government. Dirty politicians with greedy minds are not the sole cause although they do constitute an integral element in the whole enterprise of corrupt trade, industrial and fiscal practices. Especially in South Asia, politicians have been the pivotal force in driving corrupt political practices beyond all recognizable shades.

Corrupt practices are not the cause, nor are they an end in itself. It is a dangerous symptom of a deadly disease, a repulsive stench of a rotting malignancy whose end comes only with the body that carries it. Therein lies the whole problem for Sri Lanka. A social ailment that has been visible for decades was not seen by the rulers; instead of finding a working remedy for the disease they fed on it like a rapacious bird sitting on the cutting edge of a knife and consuming itself.

Academics and economists write and deliver lectures on corruption, its causes, its origination and its devastating effects on society. None of these findings, lectures, symposia and discussions has been instrumental in thwarting corruption either at the level of politicians’ or at officials’. What has happened, on the contrary, is in fact a fast acceleration of the process of corrupt practices at all levels.

The gulf between the two perceptions, one of the academia and the other of the general public, does not seem to be bridgeable. Theories and assumptions of the great intellectuals- the academia- look very promising and hopeful, but the acceleration process of corruption continues and the deadly disease continues uncured and incurable. When the street lads are affected by this infection of corruption, a sordid story is told in no uncertain terms. But politicians alone are not the culprits. They are the most visible perpetrators, but the officialdom that is practicing the same trade of corruption, fraud, bribery and dishonesty at even a more intense pace are no less responsible for the spread and distribution of the ill-gotten harvests of the trade.

The officialdom which was considered the backbone of the country’s administration has followed a cue from its political masters and willingly engaged in corruption and bribery. That bureaucracy of the bygone era is no more. Swabhasha-educated officers have got used to a family budget that includes this additional income forthcoming from unofficial sources; they are spending that additional income for their ‘extra-curricular’ necessities. When the wife and children get used to this spending habit, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to manage home affairs when that extra income is withheld. The cycle of corruption has done its alluring twist and has caught hold of the very ordinary bureaucratic family and turned it into a willing participant of a dangerous game. When questions are raised, probes made and investigations initiated, they are bound to safeguard their political masters from the bottom end whilst the political masters, from the top end, are equally beholden to the officials who managed to extract the politico’s ‘cut’ without divulging the source of real ‘takers’.

The impact of this grisly orgy of fraud is acutely felt by the ordinary citizens of the country. The middleclass and the upper-middleclass may not have any dynamic engagement in the eradication of corruption as they are direct beneficiaries of the process. But they don’t have any stake in a solution. On the contrary, they stand to lose heavily if any brakes are applied to the process. Consequently, as always, it’s the ordinary man who suffers the greatest loss. The market price of goods and services go higher as the unofficial element of bribery and corruption costs need to be factored into prices of those same goods and services. This results in cost escalations and the additional cost has been added in the guise of ‘value’- an artificial value is created to include the bribes to politicos and officials.

The danger lies in the state of mind of the ordinary Sirisena, Kandiah and Sulaiman. They work day in and day out to feed their families and send their children to school. For instance, in order to find a reasonably acceptable school, they pawn their jewelry and sometimes their land to raise money to pay the ‘takers’ their share. In order to realize their dreams, they too engage in the nefarious trades as the menial jobs they do are not providing adequate resources to finance corrupt officials and politicians.

Amongst the four factors of production in any economy, whether capitalist or socialist, are Land, Labor, Capital and Enterprise. For each of the factors there is also a price. It’s Rent for Land, Wages for Labor, Interest for Capital and Profit for Enterprise. Now a new factor of production has come in: ‘process’. In order to initiate or accelerate the ‘process’ factor, the price one has to pay is the bribe. The wealthy class of the population could afford the high price of initiation or acceleration, but those who struggle to make ends meet, it’s a stupendous effort to raise the money for an item that does not really exist at a superficial level. But underneath the surface is a process that is taking shape to the very detriment to the economy as a whole and a killer to the individual whose monthly regular incomes are way below a level that could withstand such unofficial costs.

The killing process of a country, its people and all the values that molded and distinguished an ancient people has begun its journey. That journey did not start yesterday; nor did it begin a few years ago. It’s quite hard to frame it within a set of time and date for such a process. With the beginning of concentration of factors of production in the hands of the politicians after the nationalization scheme started, the process picked up pace and all powerful politicos began doling out contracts and other government spending at will but also at a tremendous cost to the country and an unbearable burden to the ordinary men and women. Well-oiled entrepreneurs look after those politicians who help them secure lucrative contracts; the officialdom safeguards those politicians who ask them to look the other way; politicians wine and dine with the rich and mighty and grief-stricken families curse all of them who indulge in corrupt practices. Their lot is as unpromising and dismal as it ever was. Corruption is killing our country and each and every one of us is responsibility for its initiation, continuation and maturation.

The writer can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com

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