Sunday, May 6, 2018

Top Officials Arrested; Good Governance at last

The yahapalana government has often been widely criticised for going slow if not having back door deals in cases relating to large scale bribery, corruption or fraud by politicians and top officials. But the government got a major boost on Wednesday when two top officials were arrested by the Commission Investigating Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC). 

Dr. I.H.K. Mahanama, the President’s Chief of staff and the State Timber Corporation (STC) Chairman P. Dissanayaka were arrested by CIABOC officers while they were accepting a bribe of Rs.20 million from an Indian company official for the transfer of land, buildings and equipment of the Kantale Sugar Factory. Dr. Mahanama was earlier the secretary to the land ministry and is one of the highest ranking government officials to be arrested on bribery charges in recent decades. Dr. Mahanama and Mr. Dissanayaka were produced before Colombo Chief Magistrate Lal Ranasinghe Bandara at his Sarana Road residence. CIABOC officers said that the two top officials had initially sought a bribe of more than Rs.540 million, but had later agreed to reduce it to Rs.100 million. They were caught at the car park of a luxury hotel in Colombo while accepting an initial payment of Rs.20 million. The magistrate ordered that they be remanded till May 9.   

State Television said yesterday, President Maithripala Sirisena had expressed satisfaction over the arrest of the two top officials and ordered that they be suspended from the public service till the case was completed. He also assured the CIABOC, there would be no government interference in the case and the officers should go ahead with the efficiency, courage and independence they showed in arresting the top officials though at least one of them apparently worked closely with the president. 
Since the introduction of the 19th amendment in April 2015 and an Independent Constitutional   Council was appointed and this council in turn recommended appointments to the Independent Public Services Commission, the National Police Commission, the Judicial Services Commission and the CIABOC. Wednesday’s dramatic arrest by the CIABOC proved its independence because apparently the President or the Prime Minister were not told of the move or asked whether the arrest should be made. This is how it should be and this is how we hope it would be in the future also with the independent commissions acting independently without being influenced by the President, the Prime Minister, Ministers, MPs or other politicians.   

Wednesday’s arrest should also serve as a stern warning to officials that they would face arrest, jail terms and removal from service if they dared to rob public money by indulging in large scale bribery, corruption or other frauds relating to State projects. We also hope the CIABOC would  act with similar efficiency, courage and independence even if such cases involved politicians including ministers.   

The yahapalana government, during the campaign for the presidential election on January 8, 2015 assured it would take action quickly against the former regime’s top politicians and officials who are alleged to have plundered billions of rupees in public money. But the process has been unusually slow amid allegations of backdoor deals to stall or slow down the investigations. So far, the former regime’s only top official arrested and remanded for some time has been the former president’s secretary Lalith Weerantunga. Cases are pending against the former president’s brother Basil Rajapaksa, former ministers and top officials but progress has been painfully and sometimes suspiciously slow.   

We hope that when parliament resumes sittings on May 8 after the prorogation, the Judicature Act will be presented soon with the amendments proposed by the Supreme Court. Then we would have three Special High Courts with three-judge benches to conduct daily sittings, in the morning and the afternoon, in cases related to bribery, corruption, fraud or other political crimes by politicians or officials.   

On Wednesday we saw good governance and transparency, accountability and independence in action. We hope we will see this often and yahapalanaya will turn from a bit of a joke it is now, into a pillar of justice and democracy with politicians and officials serving the people selflessly, sincerely and sacrificially. Anyone indulging in business, big time bribery, corruption, fraud or other political crimes must end up where they belong – in jail and in the garbage dumps of history.