Nobody seems to have cared when State Minister Palitha Range Bandara said at a public meeting that the Anamaduwa Technical College became a reality after he used his pistol to obtain the funds. It indicates how serious the bureaucratic red tape is in getting things done in the country.
The State Minister said, “when I attempted to build the Anamaduwa Technical College, vital documents were hidden. This forced me to draw my pistol from my waist because I knew that only by acting in this manner could I get things done”.
We can recall another former minister from the same area having some years back threatened to break the ribs of a high-powered official when the latter obstructed his attempts to provide jobs to the youth in the area. However, these incidents become just talking points but no action is taken against those who stand in the way.
‘What do the officials gain by obstructing the building of a technical college’, is the question that arises when reading State Minister Bandara’s story. The answer lies in another story that has made and is still making headlines these days -- the story of the Indian investor who wanted to purchase machinery and building space to start the Kantale sugar factory.
It has been alleged that two senior officials -- one a former Chief of Staff of former president Chandrika Kumaratunga and the other the Chief of Staff of incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena -- had solicited a bribe of Rs.540 million, which was reduced later to Rs.100 million to approve the project. They had been caught red-handed while accepting advance payment of Rs.20 million of the bribe money.
The bribe-targeted red tape is a common phenomenon and has a long history. We can recall how a high-powered official during former president Chandrika Kumaratunga’s tenure had to resign from his post when he was accused of soliciting a million dollar bribe and then accepting part of it as an advance payment to approve a project.
The red tape and the political patronage that backs it has even cost the lives of the people of this country. When 32 people were killed after the 300 foot high Meethotamulla garbage dump collapsed on them on National New Year’s Day last year, JVP and JHU leaders said it was bribery and corruption that prevented the clearing of the garbage mountain. JVP parliamentarian Sunil Handunnetti, the then Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) said 108 companies had during the past several years submitted proposals for the recycling of garbage, but nothing came out of those proposals because of corruption.
He said a Sri Lankan by the name of Sudesh, who is operating a successful garbage recycling project in Canada, had even obtained a licence from the BOI during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime to recycle plastics removed from the Meethotamulla garbage dump, but had abandoned the project after a politician in that government had demanded 50 per cent of the shares as a bribe if the factory was to be allowed to operate without a hitch. Here again no action was taken or suggested even by the JVP against the culprits.
Minister Champika Ranawaka had several times pointed out how the officials who are also professionals in the electricity and petroleum sectors use their expertise to rob. In the wake of the new government assuming office in 2015, he told those gathered at the Institute of Town Planners that there was a dark side which had not yet been exposed. Many corrupt deals, scandals and misappropriations that had happened within the past few years were masterminded by a few corrupt professionals and technocrats.
“Many professionals rather than directing their knowledge and skills for the betterment of the country and its people have employed their intellectual capacities to rob, exploit and promote underhand deals misusing public funds,” the minister said.
Usually, it is the politicians who are accused of high profile corruption. However, they cannot commit such crimes without the assistance of officials and professionals who are the ones who ultimately balance the books, on behalf of the politicians. There is the possibility of police officers failing to net the culprits because of the technical complexity of many corruption cases. Therefore, as suggested by Minister Ranawaka during the national elections only a panel of experts with necessary powers could handle this matter along with the concerned politicians who also have the necessary know-how.