THE BIG PICTURE
WALKING THE TALK ON CORRUPTION
There’s never been a better time!
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s solemn promise to the nation when he addressed the inauguration of the newly elected parliament on 20 August is worth repeating: “In the future, I will not hesitate to enforce the law against those involved in fraud and corrupt actions irrespective of the status of any such perpetrators.”
By this we hope he meant that errant state sector officials and politicians on both sides of the parliamentary aisle will be subject to strict scrutiny forthwith.
In contrast however, the proposed amendments to the constitution appear to leave the door open for the dirty horses to bolt with the much needed checks and balances being sacrificed in the name of a ‘strong government.’
So how will the president deliver on his promise to eradicate waste and corruption in our ministries if those who run them aren’t subject to his scrutiny, let alone that of the public whom the state is obliged to serve?
Indeed, the president has thus far ruled with an iron fist: he is a disciplinarian who is hands-on and takes no nonsense; and his astute leadership of Sri Lanka’s remarkable COVID-19 response to date bears testimony to this. And of course, as the nation’s Defence Secretary over a decade ago, he helped mastermind a victory in what was deemed an ‘unwinnable war’ for as long as 26 years.
On the debit side of the ‘confidence ledger’ sit a number of cabinet ministers – who admittedly, were voted into office by the people themselves, some with an inexplicably high number of votes in their favour – whose behaviour in the hallowed house left a lot to be desired during the constitutional crisis at the end of 2018… and that’s putting the goings-on as mildly as one can!
As for the parliament as a whole, around six in 10 of the men and women who represent the 225 lawmakers have served in government in the past – and they have surely been involved in or privy to the scourge of corruption over the years.
None of this bodes well for the prospect of eradicating corruption in high places and the hope now is that the newly acquired strength of the presidency, along with the steely determination of the incumbent, will be sufficient to walk the talk on what is among the most pressing issues facing the nation.
If nothing else, as Sri Lanka enters a new phase in its economic revival plans following the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in March, it’ll need every cent it can save in order to meet the state’s obligations (including, let’s not forget, the spiralling debt repayments) and continue to prop up a hard-pressed workforce along with an SME sector that continues to be in ‘sink or swim mode.’
Just imagine what we could do if corruption no longer eats into our state coffers…