Corruption thrives
Posted on February 23rd, 2018

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Sri Lanka’s latest global Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ranking proves the present government has failed to make good on its main election promise. All anti-corruption circuses we were treated to during the last three years have been in vain in spite of yahapalana politicians’ rhetoric.

Sri Lanka has been ranked 91st out of 180 countries on the CPI index. It has moved up four slots but its score (38) hasn’t improved at all, compared to 2014; it is well below the average score of 44 for the Asia-Pacific region. In other words, the country remains almost where it was under the previous government in spite of the present administration’s promises to eliminate corruption. What has gone wrong?

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), the local arm of Transparency International, which prepares the CPI, has identified several factors which prevent this country from achieving progress in its fight against corruption. It says people continue to be troubled by corruption in the public sector despite the strengthening of anti-corruption agencies through constitutional means. This points to the failure on the part of the incumbent government to ensure the smooth functioning of anti-corruption mechanisms which are already in place. TISL has attributed this situation to a lack of bureaucratic and political will as evident from the delay in the implementation of the legal reforms such as the National Audit Bill, which has been put on hold indefinitely.

One cannot but agree with TISL that the aforesaid factors have taken a heavy toll on the present government’s anti-corruption campaign. It may also be argued that the public perception of corruption, as reflected in the country’s CPI score, stems from a sense of hopelessness prevalent among the people owing to the hypocrisy of the anti-corruption crusaders who themselves have been found to be utterly corrupt.

The present-day rulers campaigned on an anti-corruption platform in 2015 to engineer a regime change and, in the process, raised public expectations beyond measure. People, who were highly taken up with what was made out to be an all-out war on corruption, expected quick results. They wanted the former rulers, accused of having stolen public funds and carried out various mega rackets at the expense of the country to be brought to justice immediately. After all, the yahapalana leaders said they possessed irrefutable evidence and all crooks would be arrested and arraigned on charges of corruption overnight. But, instead of making arrests and taking action to curb widespread waste and corruption, the new government committed the biggest ever financial crime within weeks of its formation.

Despicable attempts by the government leaders to cover up the mega bond scams left the public disillusioned and resentful. People were awaiting an opportunity to give vent to their pent-up anger. The government kept on postponing elections but had to conduct the local government polls eventually. This may explain why it suffered a debilitating electoral setback a fortnight ago.

What is really disconcerting about the present situation is that people have apparently taken corruption for granted after mistakenly pinning their hopes on the yahapalana leaders who undertook to create a clean Sri Lanka. Corruption was the main reason why most people voted against previous government in 2015. But, three years on, they have overwhelmingly backed the same leaders of that administration. It cannot be thought by any stretch of the imagination that people have done so because they think the allegations of corruptions against those leaders are false. In this small country, people know politicians for what they really are and don’t get so easily duped. A plausible explanation of the landslide victory of the former rulers may be that, given a choice between several groups of equally corrupt politicians, people did not take corruption into consideration when they voted; they considered other factors such as efficiency in deciding whom to vote for. This kind of attitude, smacking of listless unconcern, nourishes corruption. There lies the rub.

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