Immunity against corruption
Posted on May 27th, 2018

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Monday 28th May, 2018

Has a single category of public workers been able to remain untainted by bribery? Pose this question to a random sample of people and their answer will be an emphatic ‘no’. It is only natural that they have no high opinion of state employees or tend to tar all of them with the same brush.

Public officials are usually bracketed with their political masters who have a reputation for venality and corruption. This does not mean we have paragons of virtue in the private sector, whose big guns pontificate ad nauseam on the virtues of integrity, transparency and the like. The private sector can be considered the engine of corruption in that it uses bribery to put crooked deals through at the expense of the public; they grease the palms of politicians and mandarins and run parallel governments. Some captains of industry have acquired valuable state assets for a song under successive governments with the help of corrupt state officials.

The recent arrest of President Maithripala Sirisena’s Chief of Staff I. H. K. Mahanama allegedly for taking a bribe is proof that the fish rots from the head down; it has demonstrated how the cancer of bribery and corruption has eaten into the vitals of the Sri Lankan society. One has reason to believe that he is only one of the many tainted panjandrums. Thankfully, the Indian businessman whom Mahanama approached for a bribe chose not to be on the wrong side of the law. Else, he would have been able to pay the bribe, dismantle the entire Kantale sugar factory, which has gone to rack and ruin, sold it as a massive heap of scrap iron and laughed all the way to the bank.

Neville Guruge, one of the Commissioners of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), has recently answered the question posed at the beginning of this comment. He has said at a recent workshop in Galle that only nurses are free from allegations of bribery.

We don’t seek to dispute the CIABOC Commissioner’s claim that nurses are above reproach where bribery is concerned. Instead, we join him in paying a tribute to the Nightingales. They may be abrupt with you and even yell at you in the state-run hospitals if they happen to be cross with you, but they do their damnedest to ward off the Grim Reaper, who apparently does not dare square up to our formidable nurses who are respecters of none; even he seems to fear the prospect of being given an injection and put to sleep on a filthy hospital bed.

Sadly, nurses’ trade unions have brought their noble profession into disrepute. The leaders of these powerful outfits, numbering two, lick the boots and sandals of corrupt politicians in public. One is all out to bring the grandees of the previous regime, whose corruption stank to high heaven, to power and the other is shamelessly defending the present dispensation tainted by scams.

Meanwhile, the CIABOC head has rhetorically asked where the corrupt public officials keep the colossal amounts of their ill-gotten money. They either smuggle their money out of the country or invest it through various fronts or even hoard it. In Malaysia, the recently elected Mahathir administration lost no time in having raids conducted on the outgoing Prime Minister’s and his family members’ palatial houses; large amounts of money and valuables such as gold and precious stone have been seized. But, here, in this land like no other, the incumbent leaders have failed to trace the stolen public funds which, they said, before the last presidential and general elections, had been stashed away in offshore accounts. They promised to bring back those funds, first thing after capturing power. They have not only failed to make good on their pledge to do so but have got involved in mega corrupt deals themselves. Instead of catching thieves, they are struggling to cover their tracks so that they will not be caught when they lose power. So, the country is in a situation where the thieves of public funds have claimed the moral high ground; they take on the self-appointed cops who have got exposed for corruption.

Meanwhile, as for the CIABOC Commissioner’s tribute to nurses, who have developed immunity against the virus of bribery the popular Sinhala hit comes to mind. Let’s sing with gusto

Nona, mage nurse nona

Oba sihivenawa nithara devele

Nona, mage nurse nona

Oba, raja kumariya ispirithale …

(Nurse, I can’t stop thinking of you/You are the princess of hospital.)

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