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Catch the corrupt by a system of whistleblowers


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Political jumping in Sri Lanka has become a joke. The related crazy demand for portfolios by MPs in a governing party is, impliedly, a demand for the levers of power that can bring the MPs the corrupt goodies they eye and ogle at. A portfolio is a new ‘human right,’ for MPs in Sri Lanka. The kith and kin of these dicey characters called MPs would lose face if portfolios are not won. Consequently, the old style party solidarity is now at stake with every party capable of haemorrhaging into factions – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

 

There aren’t steel-clad “honest persons”

In a recent piece I wrote titled ‘Look not for honest men; look for systems that keep persons honest,’ I made the point that Sri Lankans have hitherto relied on appeals to persons in authority to be honest or for “honest men” to be put in charge. This will not work in practical society. I like to repeat that a person clothed in power will tend to rob and steal. This is another version of Lord Acton’s famous dictum that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” 

I would add that a reliance on policing crime under a justice system would also not be enough. Yes, checks and balances are a “must” to checkmate corruption and unethical behaviour; but that, too, isn’t enough. Let’s bring in an age-old system of spying or dobbing on a crime-doer. Such people are called ‘whistleblowers’. They carry the tale to those who can make a change.

Other countries

This proposal may be viewed by some as counterintuitively wrong. I can tell you that the UK and Canada have legislation in place to handsomely reward and protect whistleblowers – both in the public sector and the private sector. 

Right now, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) Leader, Bill Shorten, was reported in the Sunday Herald (2 February) as having just such a legislation in the ALP’s work plan. The Herald Sun hit the headlines by the lead captioned, ‘Dob in a Boss’. The news report adds, “Australians who blow the whistle on their dodgy bosses will pocket hefty cash bounties… The federal Opposition will announce the lucrative crackdown on corporate crime on the eve of the release of the banking Royal Commission’s final report.” 

The Royal Commission’s report is out now and the scandalous behaviour of major banks in Australia are also out for all to see. Mind you, in this case, too, it was one Jeff Morris, a whistleblower who had exposed the corrupt practice that led to the Royal Commission. 

“If you saw someone stealing from a store, you will say something,” remarked Shorten. So why not bring this out to the open and install a recognised system of dobbing? In times of drought people in Australia are urged by authorities to spare water by avoiding the watering of gardens. Most people are law-abiding and they obey; but there are selfish offenders and dobbing on them have kept their numbers low in this country.

Burgeoning crime scene in Lanka

Sri Lanka has been racked by large-scale white collar crime with ministers reportedly leading the robbing roadshow. Most ministers of the past have already secured themselves as they had enough time to do that. However, smaller fry in the franchised chain of corruption that prevailed under the former regime are in deeply troubled water. A former Secretary to the President was convicted. The current President’s close aide was caught red-handed openly taking a bribe.

Huge cases of drug trafficking are hitting headlines daily. Where is this island of ours heading for with drug deals galore like this? Our younger generations would be ruined and their families distraught. At least cases are now coming to light, when previously little reporting occurred. The point is that the governing system in Sri Lanka is tilted and rigged in favour of politicians who choose to be corrupt. The legalised activism of a dobbing system would definitely help.

Party solidarity at stake

It is clear that what has surfaced in corrupt practices is only the tip of a huge iceberg. Corruption has become a quick way for personal material enhancement and this is, perhaps, why more and more persons take to politics. Young adults from school prefer to give up schooling and either take to three-wheeling; directly to Pradeshiya Sabha politics or join the corrupt protection bandwagon of parliamentarians. The more skilled in crooked dealing the better one is at Lankan politics today. Just observe how our politicians lie without batting an eyelid. These venal characters assume a collective amnesia in their listeners.

It is in the same context that those who enter Parliament are ready to jump sides for profit. Political jumping in Sri Lanka has become a joke. The related crazy demand for portfolios by MPs in a governing party is, impliedly, a demand for the levers of power that can bring the MPs the corrupt goodies they eye and ogle at. A portfolio is a new ‘human right,’ for MPs in Sri Lanka. The kith and kin of these dicey characters called MPs would lose face if portfolios are not won. Consequently, the old style party solidarity is now at stake with every party capable of haemorrhaging into factions.

 

The governing system in Sri Lanka is tilted and rigged in favour of politicians who choose to be corrupt. The legalised activism of a dobbing system would definitely help

 



SriLankan Airlines Commission

The Sri Lankan Airlines Commission is the latest to give us the juicy and sordid scene of corporate crime. That has become a drama with a former Chairman having allegedly played ducks and drakes with public funds while nose-diving the airline he was obligated to keep flying in the air profitably. SriLankan is now virtually grounded and broke. 

Here is a recent report by a national newspaper that links the airline corruption with the former Lankan Ambassador, a powerful relative of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Jaliya Wickramasuriya:

“SriLankan Airlines had booked hotel rooms in Dubai for 100 individuals, including former Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States, Jaliya Wickramasuriya and his family, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on irregularities at SriLankan Airlines, SriLankan Catering and Mihin Lanka was informed, yesterday.

“State Counsel Chathura Gunatilake, who led evidence, yesterday, presented the PCoI with an e-mail sent by a former CEO Kapila Chadrasena. It showed that the airline had made the above-mentioned booking for those who travelled in a chartered flight in April 2013 from Washington to Mattala via Dubai.

“It was revealed last week that Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2014, Jaliya Wickramasuriya had ordered this chartered flight and billed it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Bandara Rathnayake, Manager Financial Compliance of SriLankan, told the PCoI that they had informed the Foreign Ministry, which owed UL Rs. 9.1 million for chartered flights altogether, that Wickramasuriya had booked the flight without their approval. The Ministry also informed the airline that Wickramasuriya had done so with the assistance of a Sri Lankan official and asked the institution to do an internal audit.”

Deterrence effect of a dobbing system

Admittedly, many of these cases are still at large: at the stage of charges and allegations although the prima facie case is strong. For the purpose of this article it is not necessary that convictions should have followed. The point is that if we had a dobbing system in place much of the occurrence of such malpractices could have been deterred at inception. The very prevalence of such an entrenched system will keep bosses on their toes. 

The corruption that surfaces now excludes similar white collar crime that may very well be taking place in the private sector. 

Of course, details of the system have got to be worked out. For instance, the quantum of award has to have criteria and process. Investigating bodies could recommend the reward amounts on the basis of the usefulness of the privy information offered. The secrecy of the whistleblowers must be kept tight and protected.

(The writer can be reached via sjturaus@optusnet.com.au.)


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