Sky-high levels of corruption and abuse of power of fomer regime unmasked
Shocking stories are now being unearthed by various investigative committees that are inquiring into various allegations of scandals during the past regime.
The most recent revelation was by the J. C. Weliamuna led inquiry committee on Srilankan Airlines which detailed outrageous instances of corruption and misuse of power by its former bosses, mainly by its chairman – a strong branch of Rajapaksa family tree. The report not only exposes the former bosses of the national career but also those who are not directly responsible for its management and operations –such as parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa and his younger brother Rohitha Rajapksa. The report does not specify the total loss incurred by these individuals to the airline, probably a tedious task to be included into an interim report.
Then there were stories about an inquiry by the Navy on Yoshitha Rajapaksa, mainly on his recruitment and state expenditures on his lavish European training programs. The inquiry report further dealt in detail of the conduct and perks of this young and powerful Navy lieutenant depriving his fellow colleagues.
Another was the complaint made by the Ukrainian government on the conduct of former Sri Lankan ambassador UdayangaWeeratunga who has allegedly sold weapons to pro-Russian rebels fighting in Ukraine. These were not mere hearsay but findings of legitimate inquiries.
The above three incidents are just a tip of an iceberg as there had been a plethora of information and stories that exposed extensive corrupt practices of former regime members and their related cronies. But the three particular incidents above, are with hard evidence and well established documentations.
The million-dollar question here is how far these stories have gone into the public domain - mainly to the grassroots - through mass media. The grumble from the UNP or rather the government camp is that these stories have not penetrated to the people at large.
There are two sides of this coin. One is the lack of a strong communication strategy or a mechanism within the government to get the message across. Probably, as a Yahapalana (good governance) policy, the government may not get involved in media manipulation in getting its desired messages to people, which could be very unlikely to any government in the world. Or else it may expect the events to get their own space within the media spectrum without proactive efforts.
For example, a public event was organised to hand over the Weliamuna report on Srilankan Airlines to the prime minister where the event itself attracted media attention but not the content of the report. On a political calculation, the content of the report would be more effective than the event or the prime minister’s speech therein.
Even the appropriate media platforms such as the Cabinet press briefing are being used for personal party politics than these nationally important revelations. The Cabinet press brief should necessarily be confined to the announcement of the decisions of the executive body but could contain newsworthy and important government messages, but it should not be used as a platform of party politics. Media persons are entitled to raise questions of any sort, but the host should be professional enough to pick and choose them recognising and respecting the context and purpose of the briefing. Using Cabinet press briefing as a platform of party politics was a common feature of the previous regime, but it should not be continued under Yahapalanaya.
The other side of the coin is on the interest of media in carrying these stories. No wonder these authentic reports would possess required newsworthiness but whether they received the due visibility within the media space is a valid question. Only a few English language newspapers or websites would deal with these stories – and sometimes they would confine to the gossip columns. But the attention of the Sinhala media (I do not have a proper idea on the Tamil media in this regard) has been at minimum levels. The reasons behind this phenomenon could not be easily established.
For example the event to release the interim Weliamuna report was held last week and a few websites and English newspapers published the findings of the report with due visibility. Some Sinhala newspapers and broadcasters covered the event along with the speech of the prime minister but more shocking findings of the report sometimes went into less important inside pages or did not find space at all, except for one editorial comment. One could easily argue that the Kotakethana murder case received better exposure compared to some others. This could be a clear indication that crime and sex related stories are still in the top of news agenda of the local language press.
The UdayangaWeeratunga incident, too, provides a good example. The Ukrainian government complaint on alleged selling of weapons to pro-Russian rebels did not catch necessary Sinhala media attention but the ‘murder’ of a Russian embassy staff member and exhuming his body received a considerable coverage by Sinhala newspapers. The criminal allegiance of the story could have provoked them to do so, but again this argument is based on assumptions.
Probably political agendas of these media houses could impose self-censorship in their own content, but lethargic attitudes or conventional news frameworks within newsroom cultures would be a better applicable argument. That may be the reason for the over-doing coverage in front of the Bribery Commission on those who are filing petitions rather than making an extra effort on reading a comprehensive investigation report and doing a detailed story on its findings.
Perhaps all these could be contributing factors for media to pay less attention to these stories or there could be a totally unknown reason – political or otherwise.