[in SL] commissions, toothless! a burden on people
he service station of the car company was flooded with brand new luxury Jeeps and SUVs of a particular model and brand. A year ago, speaking to an official of the company, I learnt that they have sold over 150 of it under the permit scheme for Parliamentarians [now put on hold]. The market value of a vehicle was unbelievably high, but the permit holder had to pay only half, the balance being the tax/duty component.
Legalized daylight robbery
Most of the deserving public servants and academics used this facility to buy a vehicle [not the high value models] at a special reduced duty price once they fulfill the required seniority in service, but all that have been suspended after the 225 legislators had already used the ‘incentive’ to earn a quick buck by selling the permit for a princely sum.
The state, the parliamentarians and the actual buyers of the vehicle had conspired to rob the nation and poor tax payer to the tune of a few billions. The buyer offers a bribe to the Parliamentarian who is the permit holder to get a tax exemption from customs. The legislator accepts the bribe after authorising the relevant document, without even seeing the luxury model, through an agent who inserts a press advertisement announcing the offer. The State [Finance Minister] plays the role of facilitator, by ‘legalizing’ the illegal transaction. The practice continued for a couple of decades, with the previous government adding a further ‘progressive’ step by removing the Five-year rule, which restricted the transfer of duty free vehicle for five years, and ‘categorising’ it under the now common, “Legalized Day Light Robbery. Since the end of war they earned billions through commissions and kickbacks from uneconomical projects. Their cronies are becoming overnight billionaires.
Legal definition for bribery
Interpreters of Common Law define Bribery as an act of giving or receiving something of value in exchange for some kind of influence or action in return, that the recipient would otherwise not alter. It is defined by Law dictionaries as ‘the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in charge of a public or legal duty.’
The offering to do something for someone for the spoken purpose of receiving something in exchange; gifts of money or any other item of value with access to everyone on an equal basis, and not for unreasonable purposes, is not bribery. A discount offered to purchasers is a legal rebate and is not bribery. Countless types of payments or favours can comprise bribes: gift, skim, tip, sop, discount, perk, free trip, favour, waived fee, free food, free ad, , free tickets, kickback, sexual favours, lucrative contract, donation, sponsorship, higher paying job, stock options, commission, rise of position or promotion.
‘Wherever there were money and humans, there was corruption’ - Being questioned during a BBC interview on misappropriation of Tsunami relief funds in 2005, former Foreign Minister the late Lakshman Kadirgamar said that he does not want to move or digress and make petty excuses; he acknowledged that there were such allegations that need to be investigated, he intensely drove home the point, “Wherever there were money and humans, there was corruption.”Is this, really is the state of affairs anywhere in the world?
"There are numerous types of bribery. A motorist might bribe a traffic officer not to charge for speeding, someone seeking utility line connections might bribe a functionary for quick service"
Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) had uncovered quite a few high profile shady deals concerning state institutions in the past ten years or so, though the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption [CIABOC] is dealing with them at an extremely slow pace. The LMS land deal, sale of the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation; Waters Edge scandal, were annulled by the Supreme Court as corrupt deals. In 2010, Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe made a proposal to the speaker that no ministers/deputy ministers be appointed to either of the two watchdog committees PAC and COPE so as to thwart ministerial interference with investigations into public institutions. He, on a strong point, proposed ordinary MPs instead. Entrusting with ministers on committees probing misdeeds in the public sector was like, as a popular saying goes, ‘soliciting the help of a female soothsayer to catch a thief who happens to be her own son’ ––[horage ammagen pena ahanava vage] This was proved during COPE inquiry on CB Bond scam when quite a few members from cabinet and non-cabinet [Mendis Co., cheque recipients] made every effort to thwart Handunnetti [now in hand in glow with them] from presenting a genuine report.
The Kadirgamar ‘theory’ applies perfectly where our politicians and parliamentarians are concerned, corruption and bribery existed even during colonial era.
Bribery in 1950s
SWRD’s assassination in 1959 delayed any action against the Parliamentarians found guilty of bribery and corruption by the Thalgodapitiya Commission. His successor Sirimavo’s inaction [1960-64] caused the perpetrators go scot free. Disciplinary action against them was enforced under Dudley Senanayake government in 1965. Special legal provisions enacted and their civic rights were withdrawn. However, A. P.Jayasuriya, Home Minister [SLFP], got the benefit of doubt thanks to two legal emissaries of the age, G. G. Ponnambalam QC and M. Tiruchelvam QC who cross examined the man that offered the bribe. The poor man made contradictions in his evidence. SLFPers R. E. Jayatilleke, D B Monnekulame Deputy Minister, Henry Abeywickrema Dy Min. C. A. S. Marikkar, Minister, M. P de Zoysa and M. S. Kariappar [ITAK, who crossed over to government and sworn in as Dy Min] faced expulsion and loss of civic rights. Punchi Appuhamy of Udagaldeniya, applied to become a village headman, and to promote his candidature he delivered a bag of rice and Rs. 300 [today’s equivalent of Rs.50,000] to A.P. Jayasuriya’s house. There were no offers and acceptance of Rs. 500/600 millions.
Going back in time to Colonial days, and during the State Council era in 1942/43, the British Governor Caldecott at the request of Prime Minister DS Senanayake, appointed the L.M.D. de Silva, a senior Solicitor who even served as Privy Councillor in Briton, as one-man commission to investigate bribery allegations against some legislators. The Commission found eight State Councillors guilty: incredibly, the eight corrupt men included three Englishmen appointed by the the Governor himself, and the rest all locally elected.
All of them albeit MP for Trinco-Batticaloa,E. R. Thambimuththu, tendered their resignation immediately. No one attempted to protect or sworn in them as cabinet or non-cabinet ministers unlike the shameless leaders and followers of today. The corrupt were not entertained as back benchers for a short while pending the next Reshuffle for them take oaths and visit Mahanayake theras for the famous ‘Pirith nool’ ritual. In the past they being unable to face the people bid good-bye to politics altogether. D.S. Senanayake, the leader of the House moved for a removal of Thambimutthu at the very next sitting of the State Council.
What is Bribery?
However, the ordinary man’s definition of bribery can be restated: “bribery is a dishonest benefit given or received to influence official action so as to afford the giver better than fair treatment. Both the person giving and the person receiving the benefit are guilty of bribery”. This mutuality is a feature of most situations. When it happens, the payer usually makes a payment that is shady. Such a payment is one that unduly distorts official decision making process. Because one doesn’t pay unless they expect something in return, the distortion will almost invariably be in favour of the person who pays or his associates. Thus, unless the payer is trying to achieve an unjust advantage, he as a rule is viewed as the casualty of official extortion and is not considered responsible of bribery.
There are numerous types of bribery. A motorist might bribe a traffic officer not to charge for speeding, someone seeking utility line connections might bribe a functionary for quick service. According to BBC, “bribery around the globe is estimated at around One trillion US dollars!
"Interpreters of Common Law define Bribery as an act of giving or receiving something of value in exchange for some kind of influence or action in return, that the recipient would otherwise not alter"
Pains taken in recent years by the international community to persuade countries to distance and incriminate as separate crimes, active bribery and passive bribery. Legally, active bribery can be defined as the offering, promising, or giving by any person, of any excessive advantage for himself or for anyone else, for him to act or abstain from acting in the exercise of his functions. The fact remains that the outbreak of corruption that destroys the humanity must be eliminated with much effort as possible. Initiate a course of action planned at putting bribery and corruption or dropping them to a bare minimum; start the elimination effort within the legislators.
The Executive President had appointed one more Commissions to probe bribery and corruption under his own rule; all the parliamentarians involved in the scam, who sold their permits during the four years, would be found guilty of cheating customs and be compelled to reimburse the Tax/duty, also, will they lose their civic rights in addition to jail terms?