SRI LANKA: In Sri Lanka politics is imaginary but corruption is real

By Basil Fernando

Politics in Sri Lanka mostly consists of the making of speeches at every place. There is lot of talk in the Parliament and there is also a lot of talk in the media shows. However, no real form of governance is taking place in the country. There is no direct relationship between what is being talked and what is being done.

In the Parliament, some laws may be passed but many of these are not enforced and often are not even enforceable. On paper, the laws exist but the institutions that are supposed to implement these laws do not work for that purpose. Often, these institutions work for the opposite purpose. Still, recently, the manner in which the Central Bank of Sri Lanka worked is a clear example of an institution which was doing the opposite of what it was supposed to do in terms of one of the major functions of the State.

That the situation which prevailed relating to the very core of governance, which is the management of country’s financial resources, had degenerated to that extent, is explained in the basic premise of this article which is that there is a vast difference between the laws and regulations on paper and what is in fact being done in real terms.

The major law enforcement agency is the Police. Its task is very much determined by its competence and the capacity to investigate crimes and thereby act as a legal barrier against every form of illegal activity which is harmful to the nation. However, even the Inspector General of Police can be judged by his own letter which received a lot of publicity in recent times and which shows hardly any competence in the Police service. The officer category that carries out the major function of the policing work, which is the Officers In Charge of the Police came under serious attack by the Inspector General of Police. Thus, whatever there may be in the law, in actual fact, all these are defeated by the very agency that is supposed to be the guardian of law enforcement. When law enforcement fails, governance fails.

However, instead of governance in terms of what governance is understood to be in normal circumstances, what has now developed as governance is what is generally known as misgovernance and the ultimate purpose that such misgovernance serves is to facilitate corruption and the abuse of power.

In every corner of the country, corruption is well practiced. Everybody knows the rules under which corruption works. Everybody also seems to know how to operate within a system of such corruption. Thus, there is an unacknowledged position in real life where whatever that can be done can be done only in terms of corruption.

Almost everybody partakes in the processes of corruption. Particularly, the higher income groups are the greatest beneficiaries of corruption. They find that it is easier and cheaper to get things done by resorting to this or that corrupt practice. Do you think that way is easier than having to pay taxes? For example, a car that may be brought from abroad may be cleared through corruption and also the Department of Motor Traffic by corrupt means. What has to be paid by way of corruption is much less than what has to be paid by way of taxes if the country’s tax laws are to be respected.

The art of making money by illegal means, by way of commissions in every kind of transaction is also very widely talked about. How these things are done is no longer a secret. However, revelations of corruption do not in any way influence or result in counter action to prevent corruption. In fact, talk of corruption in media shows and even the Parliament provides a kind of sinister humour rather than provide any avenue for change. Those who engage in making these revelations about corruption themselves do not expect that as a result of their criticism anything will be radically altered. Such talk of corruption may provide ingredients for tasty gossip. The gossip industry thrives on the actual or alleged stories about corruption.

However, in the real life of the country, both big and small things happen only through corruption. The poor who cannot pay bribes also have learned to engage in other forms of activities to gain a benefit which they could not otherwise obtain. People may become active party political activists without having even an iota of conviction about the party for which they will do all kinds of things for. They may go for meetings to make the gatherings appear big or they may even take their friends and others into these meetings. Thereby, they will make an impression on the people who are the leaders of these parties in their localities so that they could later approach them in order to get some favour. They have learned the art of making the necessary connections in order to gain even a small favour.

The idea that there are things that people have a right to possess by way of rights is being talked about much but no one really believes in these things. They know that in real terms, if anything works at all, it is only corruption that works. Therefore, it is no surprise that even the petrol, gas and other queues that have arisen throughout the country have brought to the surface many forms of corruption even at a time when large numbers of people are suffering from the deprivation of these basic items and are spending days in queues to obtain them. In a country where only corruption works, it is no surprise that various forms of collaboration has developed, allowing people to benefit even from the severe miseries of others which are the kind of miseries that the people are suffering from.
The difficulty involving Sri Lanka in terms of developing a system of governance is not resolved by any of these talks about the 21st

Amendment to the Constitution or various kinds of formations of Government that is being talked about.

Governance in its real terms will return to Sri Lanka only around the efforts to have an effective law enforcement capacity and the will to eliminate corruption. Both the will and the capacity of the law enforcement is missing.

The political future of Sri Lanka will not be shaped by the talks which are going on in the Parliament or even in many of the media channels. They take the people around the same circle, day in and day out. The issue that remains unaddressed is the manner in which the political will could be developed to deal decisively on the issue of corruption and how a proper law enforcement mechanism is developed in order to ensure that the political will is carried out in real terms on the ground.