Going by the barrage of criticism levelled against Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne and his Coordinating Secretary Keerthi Sri Weerasinghe for the past week or so over their alleged involvement with the largest ever heroin haul detected by the Customs, one has to conclude that no wrong would have been committed by the veteran politician or his Coordinating Secretary had the container in question not contained drugs.
Involvement of cronyism in the incident is vividly clear due to the use or misuse of the high position that derived from the so-called people’s power in order to help political supporters. Unfortunately, this obvious fact has been totally overlooked by the entire society, leave alone questioning it.
Mr. Weerasinghe openly says he was only trying to help a friend of a local politician of the Premier’s party- the UPFA - to get the demurrage reduced for a consignment of goods which had been imported by the said friend. He does not seem to be concerned about the loss of revenue which is ultimately due for the state coffers. He also admits that he issued such letters in the past as well and also claims that other powerful politicians too issue such letters, which is a well-known fact.
It has become a recognised practice for politicians in Sri Lanka to issue letters to various government institutions including schools with a view to helping their party supporters and cronies by way of preventing the law from taking its own course. It was only days ago we carried a news item about politicians plundering the places of grade 5 scholarship winners in leading schools. The ridiculous but pathetic point here is that this practice has become a norm of the society and not something to be taken seriously any more.
We are so used to these practices that Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage in an interview with our sister paper “Irida Lankadeepa” has claimed that he had earned Rs. 60 million by selling six vehicle permits that were issued to him as a Parliamentarian.Selling duty free vehicle permits by politicians too is common knowledge, but the minister while claiming that he had amassed his wealth only by proper means was not hesitant to reveal that he sold the vehicle permits.
These stories among many such incidents point to the fact that the law on corruption gradually confines only to the book while corruption is turning into a phenomenon recognised by the society. Official reports such as those of the COPE and the COPA with revelations of corruption and malpractices are also issued as rituals without taking action on them. The COPE Chairman and Senior Minister D.E.W. Gunasekara recently said that it was a confirmed fact that half the money in circulation in the country was black money. But who cares? He also had said that this was one of the reasons for the government revenue to drop from 24% of GDP to 13%. But again who cares? The society seems to prefer to get along with these practices rather than challenging them.