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Corruption and 08 April 2010

By Dr. Jagath Asoka

(March 22, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In my previous article To Question or not to Question, I talked about our failure to establish Right to Information legislation in Sri Lanka. There is only one way to establish Right to Information legislation: our active involvement. India’s ‘Right to Information Act’ has exposed corruption in various public schemes and is helping people wrest back power from corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.

Have you ever been tempted to bribe, extort, influence, or cheat? Even the Buddha and Jesus were tempted by bribes, but both of them passed the test. Jesus was taken to the top of a mountain and shown the nations of the world, and the Devil said to him, “You can control all these if you bow down to me.” Jesus refused. When Mara, the master magician of illusion, displayed his three voluptuous daughters before the Buddha, he was not moved. Probably most of us are somewhat venal, and our highest values are depraved. Probably there were only two incorruptible human beings: the one who died on the cross and the one who ceased to exist.

Our 2000 years of Theravada Buddhism has given us a unique wisdom to tolerate those who rape every aspect of our lives. Are we the victims of corruption or the benefactors? For the last 2300 years, our Buddhist monks have preached us about right livelihood, but the last bastion of Theravada Buddhism has become a haven for corruption. Those who have a passion for bribery, extortion, influence, fraud, cronyism, and nepotism thrive in Sri Lanka and become rich, powerful, and famous. Accepting bribes is such a boon for some politicians that some of them have even given up their salaries.

In Sri Lanka, what is the easiest way to admit your kid to a prestigious school, avoid getting a ticket for speeding, or obtain a bed or medicine in a government hospital? If you are a Sri Lankan, the answer is pretty obvious to you. Corruption is systemic and omnipresent that all of us can relate to what I am talking about. All of us have been either a victim or a beneficiary of corruption. Some argue that corruption exists even in developed nations. In Sri Lanka, systematic and established forms of corruption—bribery, extortion, influence, fraud, cronyism, and nepotism—are the norm, not the exception. Corruption—the bane of our nation—is so inveterate, even our academic dons, clergy, and judges—the guardians of our society—can be easily suborned by politicians. Our police force is the most corrupt, and our police officers are contributing to corruption, instead of diminishing it; our legal system is like a spider’s web; only powerless people are caught, but rich and powerful get away. According Transparency International, out of 180 countries, Sri Lanka ranks 97 (New Zealand ranks the least corrupt and Somalia, the most corrupt) as a nation that suffers from corruption. It is true that no country of the world is immune to the scourge of corruption, but it has become so endemic in Sri Lanka that if you want to file a complaint against a person who has taken a bribe, you have to bribe the police officer. The majority thinks it is OK to bribe, and corruption is just a venial sin.

The relatively lower salaries of the public sector have been proposed as the major reason for corruption. Sri Lanka is recognized as a country with a middle income emerging market status, with a current per capita income of 2000 USD. Corruption has increased with our per capita income. This relationship between corruption and per capita income remains an enigma wrapped in a mystery.

Does it really matter whom you are going to elect on 08 April 2010? The party in power will buy off the political heavyweights from the opposition, offering them ministerial or other top posts as bribes.

Now, the government is asking voters to give them a two thirds majority at the forthcoming general election to eliminate poverty by 2016. If the voters deny the ruling party a two thirds majority, the UPFA will bribe the political heavyweights elected on the UNP ticket to team up with the ruling UPFA. In the last Parliament, over 40 members elected on the UNP ticket crossed over to the UPFA and held different portfolios. When the UNP expelled them from the party, the Court determined that they could retain their positions as MPs. None of them lost their MP posts. On 08 April 2010 Sri Lankans have a choice: Not to reelect those who crossed over to accept ministerial or other top posts as bribes.

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