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Access to Information Leads to Transparency and Accountability

2016-03-15 00:49:27
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 majority of public servants and politicians now put their own interests ahead of those citizens they serve.   They resort to corruption and fraud causing losses running in to billions.  The former US Senator James Paul Clarke had said that “A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman of the next generation”.  It is well-timed if administrators too could now act without being mediocre leaders.   Administrators also must not self-interestedly be bent on short term benefits. They should contemplate on the long-term paybacks for their institutions they lead and the country.  It is my understanding that politicians and administrators,   a majority of them,   they consider short term benefits and not the long term.


We need to understand that the public servants and the public service face all forms of pressures such as political,   economic,   cultural,   social and strategic.  This no doubt proves that there is a desperate need for reformers and innovative thinking in the public sector.  We also need to bear in mind that the public service requires officers who could envision how a service could be radically modified to suit the up-to-date requirements.   The time has come for all public servants to commit themselves to perform all their duties and responsibilities with the highest sense of integrity for the greater benefit of the country,  our children and even the unborn.  They have a responsibility to fulfil their duties and obligations in the public interest.  They need to promote public trust in a democratic system while demonstrating commitment to professionalism.  It is necessary that they must exercise courage in the fulfilment of their duties.  They should stand up for justice,   speak and explain matters objectively and be non-partisan and non-discriminatory with everyone in the performance of their duties. 

 

 

" A fearless and effective watchdog is critical in a fragile democracy  where institutions are weak and pommelled by political pressure."

 

 


 However,   a democracy like ours requires the active participation of citizens. Ronald Reagan had said “Government does not solve problems.  It subsidizes them”.  Publicity and openness is therefore the best protection against the excesses of arbitrary rule.    The citizens and numerous Civil Society activists have now begun to demand that the government should be made accountable in regard to what they have been doing with the tax payers’ money.  The need has arisen to improve the services delivery with reduced public spending.  Corruption is a true enemy of development.  It is vital to identify best practices in delivering public services in a cost-effective manner and manage public spending by strategising the improvements to ensure value for money. We must remember - “Accomplice to the Crime of corruption is our own indifference” – Bess Myerson.  
The mass media are often referred to as the fourth branch of government because of the power they wield and the oversight functions they exercise in a democracy.     In fact,   exposing corruption through media increases public awareness,   strengthens anti-corruption values and also helps generate civil society activists to bring pressure from outside – particularly from the general public.  Qualitative,   independent reporting on corruption and abuse of power is an important role for the mass media. If not for mass media coverage,   it could virtually be impossible for political transparency to exist in this country. 

 

 

"We must appreciate that the media in Sri Lanka are now able to play an  independent role under the leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe- government"

 


The impact of media reporting can be both – tangible and intangible.  We must never forget that the media in the recent past created a serious impact when Hirunika Premachandra’s body guards abducted a person.  An accident in Rajagiriya,   where it is alleged that a senior Cabinet Minister had been involved,   is now in the media.   This incident too compels the government to take necessary steps correctly and to act in the public interest.  The relevant Minister,   an ardent campaigner for good governance,   should not set a bad example.  In developed countries the law applies to everybody equally without an exception.   The famous quote states – “Laws are spider webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.”  Does this apply to Sri Lankans?   I do not think the average citizen would respect the law and order if those in power do not support to enforce the law.  We must now ensure that the law applies to everybody without any discrimination. Aristotle had said – “The only stable State is the one in which all men are equal before the law”. 

 

 


It will be encouraging and beneficial for the government to strengthen the political,   economic and legal environment for the media to have access to information.   Thomas Jefferson had also stated that – “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government,    I should not hesitate to prefer the latter”.   As someone had said – “There is no compromise when it comes to corruption.  You have to fight it”.
Access to information is at the heart of transparency and accountability.  Lasantha Wickrematunga paid the supreme sacrifice for being critical and for campaigning against corruption.  The media personnel have now taken up the responsibility once again to ensure monitoring and investigating the “public accountability role” particularly in the case of those who abuse public trust and their public offices for private gain.  In addition,   aggressive and independent journalists also could play a vitally important and effective role to ensure greater public accountability.    If there is an information flow,   I have no doubt it would facilitate public oversight of government and enhance the accountability of politicians for bad conduct.   I quote – “The real purpose of the opposition and pressure groups will be to minimize the amount of money stolen and the damage caused by the rulers for the people” - Mokhonoana.
Intense competition in the media institutions is also a strong determinant of its effectiveness to combat corruption.  The ability of the media to inform the public is a critical factor to the effectiveness of media in reporting corruption.  The electronic and print media including numerous FM radio channels extended their fullest support.  

 

 

"Qualitative,   independent reporting on corruption and abuse of power  is an important role for the mass media. If not for mass media coverage, it could virtually be impossible for political transparency to exist in this  country"

 


Radios have however wider penetration than newspapers, television because in remote areas nearly every single home has access to a radio set.   All this created a progressive imprint about the contribution made by the Presidential Commission within a very short period in every nook and corner.  
This had indirectly caused an effect on corruption by influencing decisions on the rules and regulations that ultimately determine the level of corruption in the present government too.  I must record my appreciation for members of the Commission (PRECIFAC) and the entire mass-media whole heartedly for their excellent support and co-operation extended to me,   when in fact similar Commissions in the past had been identified purely as a way of stalling and sliding issues under the rug for the benefit of the government.  A gobbledygook?

 

 


It sounds there is tangible proof!   Inevitably,   media has done it!  It is a by-product of an unbiased,   independent and effective news media!  Media should continuously and determinedly highlight on checks on law and order situations,   abuse of power and corruption,   strengthened by public knowledge and debate.  This is good enough proof how well media could be able to perform the role of a watchdog on corruption,   as the guardian of public interest,   as a conduit between governors and the governed and more importantly as an informal opposition for voicing their objection against corrupt,   dishonest,  opportunistic and undemocratic and wrongful actions of our politicians and bureaucrat.  
I wish media must be further strengthened in order to accelerate anti-corruption drive in line with the country’s leaderships’ objective to carry out dramatic reforms in the public sector.  This would lead to a positive and constructive link in order to create support for the government’s plans for far-reaching reforms and building a broad domestic and international consensus around the new leadership.

 

 

    
We must appreciate that the media in Sri Lanka is now able to play an independent role under the leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe- government.   Let me ask a few questions:  Who are the scandalously corrupt politicians causing immeasurable harm to the task of building a positive and legitimate image of the new government both domestically and internationally?      Are we on the right path having defeated the former regime?  Could we create a free flow of information and exchange of ideas - which is good for democracy,   for better democratic decision making by the government and to improve transparency and accountability?   Could we achieve sustainable development and economic growth without eradicating corruption first?  
 A fearless and effective watchdog is critical in a fragile democracy where institutions are weak and pommelled by political pressure. Let me end up by adding that the media is currently helping to build a civic culture and a tradition of discussion and debate which was not possible during the period of the previous authoritarian rule.  Media personnel have now begun promoting eradication of poverty too.  Admirable! This should include promoting environmental,   social,   ethical governance and even fiscal sustainability. We need to secure the long-term future of our country and its resources so that future generations will not find themselves in a wasteland.  Shouldn’t we also reduce the size of economic debt inherited by future generations?  
May I ask whether the President and the Prime Minister have an uphill task to continue with the intended reforms?  Yes! Because the other corrupt politicos dislike scrutiny!  They want to hide.  They have to be rewarded perhaps even at the cost of political reforms?  Underlying all these are the money politics and corruption! What a mess? 


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