Corruption is one of the most devastating crimes because it makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. During the past five centuries, colonial powers such as Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain, plundered our country though they claimed their aim was to civilise Sri Lanka. They need to be reminded that Sri Lanka has a civilization dating back more than 2500 years. So corruption today is a subtle form of neocolonialism because Sri Lanka’s own rich and ruling elite plunder the poor. In this crime, mainly involved are ruling party politicians and big company owners. In recent months during the Covid-19 pandemic there were allegations of a massive racket involving the import of millions of non-surgical masks from a company in China. Political leaders and the company owners are alleged to be involved. Some of these company owners earlier imported motor vehicles. Now with a ban on the import of motor vehicles, they alleged to be involved in the import of millions of low quality masks and this may be one of the reasons for the widespread second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka.
In the 2021 Budget, the Government allowed the laundering of black money amounting to billions of rupees. Most of this money was made by political leaders and company owners who are alleged to have received kickbacks commissions from contracts with multinational companies. With the controversial abolition of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) corruption is likely to increase because since 2002 the independent PUCSL has played a major role in preventing large scale corruption by political leaders and company owners. Water supply minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara, other ministers and civic action groups protested against the PUCSL’s abolition which took place in a mysterious way with the widely-criticised the Presidential Secretary P. B.
Jayasundara sending a letter to this effect to the Treasury’s Secretary. Minister Nanayakkara sent his protest letter to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa who is also the finance minister and the in charge of the PUCSL. But with the 20th Amendment taking away the Prime Minister’s powers that is apparently little or nothing the Premier can do.
Many analysts are warning that with virtually unlimited powers being given to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and with the Retired top military officers being appointed to top posts, Sri Lanka appears to be clashing towards the crisis where a country like Zimbabwe ended up. In that crisis, Robert Mugabe had emerged as a hero when he led the black minority revolt against the white supremacists, minority regime of Ian Smith in what was then known as Rhodesia. But after being President for decade after the revolution, Mr. Mugabe also ended up in a den of corruption before he was overthrown in people’s revolution.
On Tuesday December 9, the United Nations marked the international anti-corruption day with the coming year’s theme “Recover with integrity”. In a statement, the UN says Corruption thrives in times of crisis and the ongoing global pandemic is no exception. All over the world, states have taken significant measures to address the health emergency and to avoid a global economic collapse. They hastily mobilized billions in funds to procure medical equipment and provide an economic safety net for citizens and businesses in distress. The urgent responses required, however, led some States to trade compliance, oversight and accountability for achievement of rapid impact, thus creating significant opportunities for corruption.
The UN says corruption is a complex social, political and economic phenomenon that affects all countries. Corruption undermines democratic institutions, slows economic development and contributes to governmental instability. Corruption attacks the foundation of democratic institutions by distorting electoral processes, perverting the rule of law and creating bureaucratic quagmires whose only reason for existing is the soliciting of bribes. Economic development is stunted because foreign direct investment is discouraged and small businesses within the country often find it impossible to overcome the “start-up costs” required because of corruption.
In a message the UN Secretary General Secretary-General António Guterres says in recent years, anger and frustration have erupted at corrupt leaders and governments. In some countries, people have taken to the streets with demands for social justice and accountability. Amidst these deep concerns, the COVID-19 crisis creates additional opportunities for corruption. Governments are spending rapidly to get economies back on track, provide emergency support and procure medical supplies. Oversight may be weaker. And the development of vaccines and treatments adds to the risk of bribery and profiteering. The UN Chief has called on governments, businesses, civil society and all stakeholders to work together to promote accountability and end corruption and bribery for a more just world of equality.