Politicians fiddle while Sri Lanka burns
Posted on May 4th, 2022

By Raj Gonsalkorale

Those who desire to treat politics and morals separately will never understand anything of either. The practice of politics not only can, but must be reconciled with the imperatives of honesty – Jean-Jacques Rousseau

It is often said that politicians have the morals of alley cats. Some say asking a politician whether he or she is honest is like asking a prostitute whether she is a virgin. While it is unethical and unfair to label all politicians as lacking in morals, ethics and non-corrupt behavior, recent allegations made by the JVP, reportedly along with some supporting documents, leaves virtually all leading political leaders as being corrupt individuals. Ironically, in terms of morals and ethics, the JVP cannot take the high road as they, as a political party, were responsible for the wanton killing of thousands of innocent people and serious violence in the late eighties to gain power. To the best of knowledge of the writer, they have not had the decency at least to apologise to the families of those who were so brutally murdered, and to the country for what the leaders of their party at that time unleashed on the people to gain power. In the absence of such remorse, some may, with reason, take the view that the JVP could once again resort to violence to win political power if all what they have unleashed does not translate into votes at a future election.

Now, if the JVP has documents that provide prima facie evidence of corrupt activity on the part of some of the political leaders, they should hand over all the documents to the appropriate investigating authority so that the truth and accuracy of these allegations can be established, and legal action taken against those who have been accused. If this is not done, the JVP revelations would appear purely as a mudslinging exercise to demonstrate that other than their party, all other parties are tainted with corruption and are not fit to govern the country. In a democracy, voters, and not guns, change the political fortunes of political parties. Voters will be convinced if the law of the land, and not innuendo, deals with the corrupt politicians. The JVP has the opportunity to take these allegations before the law and there is no doubt that the people will back them with moral support and finances to do this.

However, at a time when millions of ordinary people are undergoing tremendous suffering due to shortages of and high prices of essentials including lifesaving medicines, and standing in queues for some of these for hours if not days, the responsible thing to do for all political parties would have been to bury their political hatchets for the time being, maybe 12 months, and engage in a collective effort to address the immediate problems faced by the millions of people who are undergoing untold, never before experienced suffering. In addition, such a collective effort would have given the opportunity to address the loop holes in the law that allows criminals to escape the net of accountability, and also introduce structural reforms that would curb the unbridled power of governing parties.

Instead, politicians are engaged in selfish, politically motivated one upmanship behavior trying to outdo one another, for one thing and one thing only. Power. While they do this, the country, as they say, is going down the gurgler further and further into a blackhole. They are collectively emulating Nero.

In Sri Lanka, morality in politics has suddenly taken center stage when many who have become such moralists were making meek noises all these years. Perhaps because their own behavior was immoral and unethical.

Honest, corrupt free politicians are an absolute necessity in any society and these characteristics cannot be traded with anything else and compromised for the so called greater good” of the public.

In turmoil ridden Sri Lanka accusations about bribery and corruption, money laundering, drug dealer sponsorship of politicians and accumulation of vast amounts of ill-gotten money that belongs to the people of the country are rife. Those at the highest levels of office have not been spared. Whatever investigations done so far have not established these accusations as fact.

It needs to be said that if corrupt activity has spread throughout the society like a virulent cancer, this does not absolve anyone so accused if bribery and corruption has infiltrated into the very investigative and judiciary establishments responsible for investigating and bringing the accused to book for their crimes.

Politicians and senior government officials’ assets and liabilities statements to be in the public domain

Gomi Senadhira, former Diplomat and public servant writing in the Island on the 2nd of May (225 Honourable Members and their assets and liabilities- https://island.lk/225-honourable-members-and-their-assets-and-liabilities/) has rightly pointed out the need for disclosure and the ability for the public to source information on the declaration of assets and liabilities of politicians past and present and senior government officials. The writer would add that this declaration should be extended to the immediate families of politicians and senior officials based on the allegations made by the JVP.

Senadhira says that in a landmark judgement in 2018, the Supreme Court of India directed the government to set up a permanent mechanism to monitor the accrual of the wealth of sitting Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assemblies, their spouses, and associates. He says further their (politicians) assets and sources of income are required to be continuously monitored to maintain the purity of the electoral process and integrity of the democratic structure of this country,” and underlines a candidate’s constitutional right to contest an election to the legislature should be subservient to the voter’s fundamental right to know the relevant information regarding the candidate.” Senadhira rightly argues that the Sri Lankan electorate should also get similar information on our elected representatives”. Echoing Senadhira, the writer would like to point out to all political parties that the people have a fundamental right to know the relevant information on our politicians, and as people demand transparency, it is essential to adopt, as early as possible, laws and regulations to make assets and liabilities of elected representatives available in the public domain.

Morality, ethics, and Buddhism

If these accusations are true, it is ironic that in a predominantly Buddhist country, where most Buddhists believe in Karma, and cause and effect, persons who label themselves as Buddhists would amass millions if not billions of such ill-gotten money. They know or should know that karma, cause, and effect, will catch up with them if what they have accumulated in Sri Lanka and overseas is illegal and ill-gotten. They know or should know that they wouldn’t be taking even an iota of such an accumulation when they die, and that when they die, they are as helpless as they were when they were born. A good, clean name and a record of doing good to others is worth far more than the billions of ill-gotten monies and it is these thoughts on such goodness that one experiences at the time of passing that will have a far greater effect on any individual than the thoughts on ill-gotten wealth that cannot be taken by an individual at the time of passing.

Avarice clouds minds and it has no bounds. Buddha taught this, but then, the so-called Buddhists who are corrupt and who practice the opposite of what was taught, does not recognize avarice and lives in deceit and in ignorance.

Buddhism is singled out here for the simple reason that it is this distorted Buddhism that has been used as a political tool to win elections and which has given opportunities to numerous unscrupulous elements to engage in corrupt activity as they are far removed from the essential teachings of Buddha himself.

It needs to be said though that if politicians and others holding or who have held high office have resorted to corrupt activities as alleged, at the expense of the public, such elements need to be pursued, brought before the law, and severely punished if found guilty.

A permanent Independent Anti-Corruption Agency

As stated, it is also equally important to examine the existing law against such corrupt activities, and the laws strengthened should they be inadequate to dissuade would be corrupt elements from resorting to such activity. The retrospectiveness of any such strengthening of the law, is vital as some alleged accusations date back to many years.

The review of existing laws and strengthening them where necessary, however cannot be left in the hands of the Parliamentarians as they, as a collective, cannot be trusted to do this task as they are the ones that have been accused of these violations. Therefore, an independent tribunal of past judges of the Supreme Court, and the High Court and other eminent legal luminaries with international experience should be entrusted this task on behalf of the people of the country.

As part of this exercise, this tribunal should be tasked to investigate the introduction of a permanent Independent Anti-Corruption Agency with sweeping powers, to be the watch dog that oversees all anti corrupt activities. Similar agencies exist in other countries and their performance, areas that need strengthening need to be studied by this tribunal.

An important consideration often ignored or overlooked is that in corrupt activity, there is always a taker and a giver. It is a two-way process and involves two individuals or entities. Giving a bribe has to be considered as a serious crime as much as taking a bribe is a serious crime.

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