Rampant corruption, bribery, the plunder of public wealth and criminal frauds amounting to billions of rupees were among the main issues at the January 8 Presidential Election with many analysts saying it was one of the main causes for the total downfall of the all-powerful Rajapaksa regime.
The new administration of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe began the new era of good governance and democracy or ‘maithri palanaya’ on January 9. A week later some of the promises have been fulfilled. President Sirisena in his first address to the nation from the Dalada Maligawa last Sunday said he believed Sri Lanka did not need a powerful king but servant leaders and he would be the chief servant leader living in a simple and humble way. He pledged he would also lead by example. Thus we saw a simple swearing-in ceremony at Independence Square on January 9 and an equally simple ceremony at the Dalada Maligawa on January 11. Delivering on another promise, the number of Cabinet Ministers was reduced from about 70 in the defeated regime to 27 in the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration.
At the swearing-in of the Cabinet on January 12 the President told the new ministers and top public officials he expected them also to be servant leaders who would sincerely and sacrificially serve the people and live in a simple and humble way or ‘alpechchathawaya’ as it is known in classical Sinhala. The President and the Prime Minister have also warned that no corruption will be tolerated and tough action be taken against any ministers, MPs, top public officials and local councillors found guilty of being involved in corrupt acts such as kickbacks or commissions for contracts or mega deals.
The new administration has also warned that any politician or official found guilty of giving patronage or protection to criminal gangsters such as heroin smugglers will also be dealt with. One of the thousands of such cases detected and highlighted this week was the arrest of the alleged international drug smuggler known as ‘Wele Suda’. The police spokesman said among Wele Suda’s known assets were two mansions at Bagattale Road, one at Horton Place and more than Rs.200 million in gold and money hidden in secret bank vaults. The police vowed that after he was convicted these and other assets would be confiscated and given back to the country and the people from whom this wealth was plundered.
The new national unity government was understandably busy with Pope Francis’ historic visit this week. Parliament meets for an important new session on Monday, January 19 and the people expect the new government to act fast and effectively in fulfilling the main promises of the ‘maithri palana era.’ These include measures to substantially reduce the cost of living and give salary increases to all workers. Government leaders have said the money for this would be found mainly by stopping corruption and taking legal action to punish and confiscate hundreds of millions of dollars known to have been plundered by VIPs including top politicians and officials. For instance, the new Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne has said President Sirisena, who was the Health Minister in the ousted regime, will provide evidence to show that transnational pharmaceutical companies gave as much as Rs.1,000 million to derail or delay the implementation of Professor Senaka Bibile’s National Medicinal Drugs Policy. Mr. Senaratne said this huge sum was give to three VIPs and they would be named and shamed.
Reports indicate that many other politicians allegedly involved in mega corrupt deals are trying to crossover to the new government, not because they love the country but to save themselves from the severe punishment that must be given to those who plundered the country’s resources. The new Ports and Shipping Minister Arjuna Ranatunge said when assuming duties on Friday that good governance did not mean that those involved in corrupt deals would not be tried in Courts and if found guilty punished with jail terms and the confiscation of their ill-gotten assets. We hope that the new government would deliver on this promise of stopping corruption and taking action against even VIPs found guilty of being involved in corruption so that in future, leaders will come forward to serve and give to the country, not to plunder and grab from the country and the people.