Missing the wood for the trees
Posted on June 11th, 2018

Editorial Tuesday 12th June, 2018 Courtesy The Island

A complaint has been lodged with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) against MP Dayasiri Jayasekera, who has owned up to receiving funds from Perpetual Treasuries Ltd. (PTL), as we reported yesterday. The CIABOC will decide whether it could conduct a probe thereinto. Such action is welcome, but much more remains to be done. Several complaints have been made to the anti-graft commission against government top guns and the public has a right to know who they are, whether investigations have got underway and, if not, why. The Presidential Commission of Inquiry which probed the bond scams recommended action against certain individuals. Have these recommendations been carried out?

Some government panjandrums claim that the bond probe commission report does not contain a list of the names of MPs who took money from PTL. It is also doubtful whether PTL owner Arjun Aloysius will go out of his way to expose those he has helped financially. Only a thorough probe will help identify the beneficiaries of his largess. However, now that the image of the entire Parliament has been tarnished, the onus is on all MPs to submit affidavits, suo motu, protesting their innocence, if they can, with a promise to resign in case they are found to have lied.

UPFA MP and Joint Opposition firebrand Udaya Gammanpila has made the aforesaid suggestion in Parliament, but it has not found favour with his parliamentary colleagues, we are told. Let him be urged to prevail on his JO comrades to submit affidavits declaring that they received no funds from PTL or its subsidiaries and, thereby, set an example to their rivals. The JO has to put its own house in order before asking others to clear their names. We bet our bottom dollar that some of the holier-than-thou JO members will not dare do so, for obvious reasons.

One wonders whether the ongoing media hype, surrounding the individual MPs who are believed to have taken PTL money, is consequent to an exercise in smoke and mirrors, on the part of the masterminds of the bond scams, to obfuscate the main issue. Politicians who have sold their souls to unscrupulous businessmen with deep pockets and hidden agendas need to be exposed, but the public should not fail to see the wood for the trees.

Many critics have been baying for the blood of Jayasekera and State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe, who has also got money from a PTL subsidiary. Among them are notorious crooks who helped themselves to public funds and abused their positions to put various crooked deals through under the previous government and successfully covered their tracks. It is a case of sinners stoning sinners. However, even if the efforts being made to get rid of the MPs who sullied their hands with PTL money, reach fruition by any chance, the problem of moneybags greasing the palms of lawmakers will not go away. The present-day rulers came to power, condemning their predecessors for malpractices and promising a radical departure from the culture of corruption, but, today, they have got exposed for mega scams. The practice of politicians benefiting from anti-social elements with huge slush funds at their disposal will continue unless action is taken to remedy the systemic flaws they exploit to get away with their offences. What is called for is to put in place robust legal and regulatory mechanisms, as a national priority, to prevent black money being lavished on politicians et al.

The need for new laws to impose a cap on campaign funds has been felt for a long time. At present, no politician is legally bound to declare how much he receives by way of campaign funds or the amount he actually spends on electioneering. The sky is the limit, and needless to say this sorry state of affairs nurtures corruption. Moneybags bankroll prominent politicians’ election campaigns, on both sides of the political divide, and bend governments to their will, later on. This may explain why the interests of big businesses always take precedence over those of the ordinary people under all governments.

Parliament is not short of self-righteous members who pontificate on good governance. Will, at least, one of them move a private member’s motion calling for new laws to regulate campaign funds?

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