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Anti-corruption: A winning slogan, a great betrayal

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by Lacille De Silva

President Maithripala Sirisena, in a recent hard-hitting speech, denounced the decision made by the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) to take former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and three former commanders to court and said that he had not known that there were such cases pending until that morning. 

However, there had been several instances where the relevant investigations became publicly known. The media gave the issue wide coverage and highlighted it well during my days too in the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources and Privileges (PRECIFAC). In fact, there had been coverage in the electronic media both on TV and radio, interviews and newspaper headlines about their arrival, etc. The criticism during that period had been that they were being summoned too often by the Commission. Some spoke of delays too in finalising the investigations. 

Furthermore, media personnel raised the issue with me whether we were doing all this purely for a media blitz. I had to tell the media that they had to be summoned over and over again in their own interest. The cases needed to be handled in a just manner in order to expedite their investigations appropriately in a legal and transparent manner. I was happy because there had been instances when the summoned parties too had commended our staff and the Commission as they had been treated with the utmost respect and dignity. We never ill-treated them because that was not how we handled our duties. We had told the staff of investigators too that those who came before the Commission needed to be treated courteously without them being embarrassed in any manner. We did everything for the public good. I have no doubt PRECIFAC was a shining example for other public institutions too.

The President was aware that the investigators needed to be given sufficient time without causing unnecessary legal snags. The Commissioners also ensured that everybody on the Commission always acted in accordance with the rule of law. We knew that the accused should be given every opportunity to clear their names as has been provided in the law because corruption was regarded as one of the most difficult crimes to investigate. We knew nobody should tell us how to decide a case. Our duty was to submit transparent reports and if those who were investigated were found to be guilty then they should be dealt with suitably by the law. CIABOC has powers to institute legal action and why shouldn’t they do the right thing according to the law? If so who is responsible for suppressing corruption investigations? Is this hypocrisy? 

Thorough investigation

Furthermore, I also had made it clear to our investigators that they have been tasked with onerous responsibilities. Our team of investigators at PRECIFAC too provided high-quality and well-functioning services through effective management and the proper and upright use of public funds. 

In fact, the President told me that he was personally happy with how we have been handling the investigations. I too assured the President that everybody, including the Commissioners, had been doing an excellent job. 

I knew the President too was mindful of the fact that investigations into corruption were no easy tasks. There are often no crime scenes, fingerprints or eyewitnesses. It is by nature a very secretive crime and can involve two satisfied parties so there is no incentive to divulge the truth. The offenders can be equally as professional as the investigators and know how to cover their trails. I had therefore assured the President that the investigations had been conducted satisfactorily so that he could be proud of the good work we were doing at the Presidential Commission, which he appointed using the powers vested in him. 

Corruption investigations of senior members of the former regime had been laborious. We knew the President had given an assurance to the people that steps would be taken to eliminate corruption.  We started from scratch and established an efficient and effective Secretariat to fulfil our obligation to eliminate corruption from the country through efficient investigation machinery.  We were therefore dedicated, efficient, effective and committed to performing our duties. We were also well aware why people elected the present Government: purely to stop degeneration of all forms! Are they doing this? According to the President himself, public servants should not carry out their duties on the dictates of all-powerful politicians if such directives are unlawful. I was very happy when the President himself said that career concerns differ for politicians and bureaucrats. Politicians in Sri Lanka want to win elections. What did CIABOC, FCID and CID officials, including myself, do? Didn’t we work towards fulfilling the goals of our own organisations? 

The President accused the former regime of corruption which had become a cancer in the system. He said that he too had been humiliated in the presence of numerous other personnel when he tried to implement progressive proposals for the benefit of the people. He blamed the former President for not giving him a free hand to work as the then Cabinet Minister of Health. If so, why did the President blame the FCID, CID and CIABOC? Is it because corruption investigations are politically sensitive and embarrassing for the Government?  Investigations can only be effective if they are truly independent and free from undue political interference. According to reliable information, the Presidential Secretariat has also given verbal instructions that reports of the Commission should only be forwarded to the Presidential Secretariat. These kinds of restrictions do not indicate that there is a political will at the top to fight corruption. Threatening public officers for doing their duty forces them to function feebly, when in fact they should be given the required strength, support and independence to unearth massive corruption. Constituents are now weary of wily politicians.

Political interference

The President has very rightly said at public meetings that public servants are duty bound to carry out their lawful obligations without any fear or favour. The President has also explained that public servants now need to learn the art of refusing unlawful directives given by politicians. Didn’t the President give an unlawful order or issue a threat which could not be justified? Isn’t this tantamount to unethical political interference? How can the so-called independent commissions work under similar threats? Churchill said: “I never ‘worry’ about action, but only about inaction.”  The statement made by the President has rightly angered people countrywide. The President also said that he had duly taken up the relevant matters at a meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. He had warned that institutions investigating political corruption should not be politicised. He added that the FCID, CID and CIABOC should not work according to a political agenda. This no doubt is a very serious indictment against the Prime Minister. Why is the President critical about officials when in fact there are corrupt politicians on both sides probably using the influence they have to suppress numerous allegations against them? How can the President and Prime Minister ignore that when there is corruption under the Yahapalanaya banner? Didn’t MR also do the same?

The President and Prime Minister have issued the necessary instructions on the political stage to implement the law to the letter with regard to everyone alike and have openly canvassed that action be taken irrespective of individual position or party affiliation. Why don’t they do that in real life? Both the Prime Minister and President seem to be silent over Ministers in the Unity Government who have serious allegations against them. As citizens, we feel that corruption cases must proceed without discrimination. Corruption costs society money, which should be considered as a serious loss that should be eliminated without delay.

Why is it that those in the Unity Government have so far been out of danger? Shouldn’t the President and Prime Minister consider corruption an ethical problem and behavioural problem? They should be committed to solving this problem by means of the personal ‘reform’ of their party members as well. I cannot understand why they don’t consider corruption sinful and wrong.

After the President’s statement, my friends were also curious to know from me again whether I had my employment terminated by the Presidential Secretariat on the same grounds because we continued our work without fear or favour in the interest of the country. We conducted several high profile investigations involving key figures of the former regime. They wanted to know whether the Presidential Secretariat was unhappy about the way we had handled our investigations. 

As everybody knows, PRECIFAC carried out the duties entrusted to it with diligence. They asked me whether there was an unidentified powerful force behind my removal. However, the letter dated 29 February 2016, received from the Secretary to the President, stated: “Your services are terminated with immediate effect”, without giving me any reason for my termination. My letter of appointment also stated, “His Excellency the President has been pleased to appoint you as Secretary of the Commission.…with effect from March 13, 2015.” The Secretary to the President, after my unceremonious removal, however, had stated to the media that my contract had not been renewed, a diabolic falsehood because mine was not a contract. It is interesting to know why the Prime Minister and Central Bank Governor had, after a discussion held together, agreed to hand over investigations of the alleged leaks of the so-called financial secrets of the Central Bank to the CID. Shouldn’t the President and the Prime Ministers protect whistle-blowers in our country if we need to eliminate corruption? Why are they not doing that?

It has also been reported that CIABOC Director-General Dilrukshi Wickremasinghe appears to have tendered her resignation owing to baseless allegations levelled against her institution and staff. Dilrukshi should not in my view rush because she must show the country that she being the head of CIABOC has the courage to stand against political interference. Dilrukshi’s job is never easy. In the end, the price we pay is well worth holding on to our dignity for, for the sake our countrymen. We shouldn’t run away. We need great courage, effort and patience for the benefit of the ordinary masses. It is patriotism. 

I wish her good luck.

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