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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

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Dealing with corruption as a prerequisite for sustaining peace

The government has achieved substantial progress in its 'Nagenahira Udanaya' and 'Uthuru Vasanthaya' development programmes and is moving in a focussed direction. With the electoral result in the North of last week, a new opportunity will emerge for the government as well as the newly elected representatives in the North to work together to present even stronger development programmes in the future

Re-establishing and sustaining a peaceful environment after a prolonged war is no easy task. The issues are many, and reconciliation is not merely about words and declarations, but about real deeds that impact positively on the lives of people. There needed to be opportunities created for those that were once victims of the war in the North and the East to slowly but steadily re-establish their lives. On the other hand, perceptions needed to be managed in the South and the rest of the country, that there is an enhancement of living standards of all, in an equitable way.

Large extents of land had to be cleared of mines laid during the war. Minds and hearts of those who were once supporters of or combatants for the LTTE had to be won-over and healed. Areas had to be got ready for resettlement and roads, bridges, irrigation channels, public utilities and houses had to be repaired or rebuilt. The armed forces, members of which performed heroic deeds during the war against terror, that now stayed rested, had not only to be looked after and given recognition. They had to be kept engaged, on an ongoing basis in useful pursuits. There was no room for any vacuum to be created with idle minds and hands. These were taken head on and the spheres of rural and urban development are now both seeing a new revival and the leadership in government need to be commended for the efficacy with which it was handled.

Wasteful demand

The new found freedom of living without fear also created new wealth resulting in an increase in effective demand. That led to shortfalls of supply and increases in prices, sometimes creating waves of discontent. There was also new demand created for useless and luxury goods such as energy guzzling individual transport vehicles, continuance of war time personal security arrangements for people's representatives without any rational need, fancy personal care, entertainment and other items, holding of opulent ceremonies and celebrations most unfitting of the needs of a nation and its people that is emerging from a prolonged conflict. With such increases in supply of both the essentials and of useless luxury items, keeping the supply-lines intact, of the essentials, in the midst of a recessionary environment on the global front, was indeed a challenge.

Concurrently, frequent 'battles' needed to be fought with a portion of an 'international community' that kept on calling for what they have been fed to feel as 'violations', by elements of a still strong Diaspora that supported or were part of the LTTE. With electoral influence in the countries where they operate, there is a need to continuously counter them with truth and on-ground realities, for they will go on seeking to hurt Sri Lanka's legitimate efforts, towards reconciliation, in any which way they can. Their unwillingness to give up claims of a separate state will continue to trouble us, in this extremely un-level playfield of international 'opinion making'. The need of the hour is for all Sri Lankans to work in unity to place the truth and reality of our position without any reservation. On the local front, a weakened Opposition is ripe with criticism. While some of it is wild, others are constructive and valid and must be taken careful heed of.

Regional development

We all must agree that we have seen a fair-share of opportunists, strongmen abusing power and the corrupt that made the most of the new found 'freedom'. This was in spite of declarations and statements of intent made by the President as leader and as head of state. In the midst of all of this, the challenge faced by the leadership was to ensure that development activities were not only taken on, but were perceived by the people as happening solidly on the ground.

In my considered opinion, the government had achieved substantial progress in its 'Nagenahira Udanaya' and 'Uthuru Vasanthaya' development programmes and is moving in a focussed direction. With the electoral result in the North of last week, a new opportunity will emerge for the government as well as the newly elected representatives in the North to work together to present even stronger development programmes in the future.

This will augment the significant progress achieved in regional development in the rest of the country, such as the development of the once backward districts of Hambantota, Moneragala and Ampara. Such development has had infrastructure development and generation of opportunities for self-employment as its major thrust.

Constructive criticism

The intent of my column today is not only to give credit where such credit is due, but to generate constructive criticism in some areas, where I as a citizen of this land, feel there need to be a stronger and genuine focus by the leadership to resolve them.

One such area is corruption and wasteful use of resources. We all know that corruption is not only of the monetary kind. Today, it has trickled down to even our school system, our state institutions and rural administrations. A citizen has to dole out 'santhosam' or 'paga' (bribe) of varying degrees to obtain a service which they are supposed to get as part of their right as citizenry. Sadly, such practice has become the norm for many service transactions, placing millions of ordinary Sri Lankans in very difficult circumstances. Various henchmen of politicians and other persons in powerful positions are known to seek financial rewards to get things done, using their positions and influence. Often the victims are the innocent, the poor and the helpless; the very people who have supported them to get to these positions of power.

Some unscrupulous government teachers of today, charge their own students to attend private tuition classes, the same as doctors encourage their patients to see them at private clinics instead of at the out-patient departments in the hospitals, where they work. Illegal logging, sand and mining of other minerals that lead to the denudation of our natural resources, is rampant for even some top-officials charged with their protection, are known to yield to pressures of the powerful or to that of personal pecuniary benefit.

Take heed

Violation of tender procedures has proven to lead to wasteful use of funds, materials and other resources and has already created several embarrassing situations for the government. The perpetrators of these and other non-merit based awards of contracts, only rarely are effectively dealt with, within the purview of state auditing mechanisms for in most instances they get out scot-free for technical reasons such as the lack of provable evidence and/or the vanishing of such evidence.

We must take heed and note the events that are unfolding in neighbouring India, where a huge public cry is now out for curbing corruption among those holding public office, bringing them under public scrutiny. The controversial 'Lokpal Bill', the 2G telecom scandal and the Karnataka state's undue exploitation of iron or resources are examples of this uproar. The call is for creating a national culture of accountability and transparency with all persons holding public office being held accountable for their actions.

Moral power

To sustain any effort of development, there must be the will and the desire to conserve the resources it utilises with accountability and transparency, held as the most important platforms for expressing such will and desire. For it is only through a culture of conservation that a resultant effort at sustenance could emerge.

For this to happen there must be relative certainty of the future, for in a terribly uncertain environment, a people, a nation or the world at large will attempt to consume its resources now and in the present, without postponing it to the future.

In Sri Lanka's context now that the government is in a stable position with overwhelming electoral wins and a good record of fair-play at elections, it must take on the next task of cleaning its apparatus of this wasteful and undignified activity of corruption. Here, independent institutions, impartial processes of inquiry and unreserved punishment of offenders, without fear of favour, need be instituted. Such action will, for sure provide enhanced credibility and belief in the system of governance and the leadership and will equip them (both government and Opposition) with the moral power needed to silence even the fiercest critiques of the way forward of this nation of ours.

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