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Death sentence for narcotics: National Plan of Action for Bribery

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By Tassie Seneviratne

Narcotics and bribery have been gaining currency these days while the burning questions of the people – cost of living, is sky rocketing and law and order situation deteriorating, by the day.

The death penalty is being touted as an answer to narcotics trafficking while the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) is drawing up a National Plan of Action for Control of Bribery – Mere catchwords, admittedly to impress the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and other UN organisations, with a view to win international favour. 

What all concerned should bear in mind is the truism: “Bribes and fines are the cost of doing big business.” As we all know narcotics has become a very ‘big business’ internationally.

To elaborate on this, I quote Peter Gotzshe (PG), Director of Nordic Cochrane Centre (NCC), which is free from commercial sponsorship. In his essay, ‘Deadly Medicines and Organised Crimes’, PG is in fact dealing with big pharma, comparing it to the (narcotics) mafia because it is the deadliest of such businesses that he is talking of: “It is scary how many similarities are there between this industry and the mafia. The mafia makes obscene amounts of money as does this industry. The side effects of organised crime are killings and deaths, the side effects are the same in this industry. The Mafia bribes politicians and others, and so does the drug industry.”Combating narcotics and bribery in Sri Lanka are handled by two separate institutions working separately on different wave lengths. These two menaces are so entwined that it would be more appropriate to deal with them together as ‘narco-bribery’. 

Apart from the problem of narco-bribery, there is the added dimension of the law and order situation in the country that is ideal ground for narco-bribery – proliferation of illicit firearms and ammunition and the spate of killings in gay abandon. Ask any three wheel driver in confidence and he will tell you how persons are seen placing packets at the base of lamp posts, keeping a stone over it and going away to be followed by another person who will casually collect the packet. The packet is known to contain narcotics (kudu). The deal is pre-arranged and communication is by mobile phone. This is quite a common occurrence but none will inform the authorities for obvious reasons of reprisals with no protection from Government authorities.

Similarly, it is also a common sight for inmates of houses on by ways to see youth concealing something in the overgrown grass or weeds and moving on, to be followed by another who will collect the item. The inmates well know what is happening, but are frightened to even be seen looking at these happenings, and the villains know it. There is a complete breakdown affecting the entire social fabric of this country, but it is the best of times for parliamentarians.

At this point I would turn the focus from narco-bribery to other aspects of bribery and get back to narco-bribery further down. The other aspects of bribery are where public servants are bribed to either do what they should not do or not to do what they are duty bound to do, for the benefit of the briber or someone he/she is interested in, at the expense of an innocent party entitled to the public service. 

I happened to serve in the Bribery Commissioner’s Department (BCD) during the years 1972 and 1973. I was inducted to the BCD when Joe Weeraratne was the Commissioner. Soon after my joining the BCD, Ian Wickramanayake (IW) took over as BC.

Hitherto, the methods of detecting bribery were too stereotype, and systematically organised bribery syndicates got away. IW infused new blood to the BCD and also revolutionised the methods to detect and prevent bribery in the public service. Bribery syndicates in the price control, customs, and medical departments and in local bodies, were busted using innovative methods. Police officers of course were the easiest to detect. BCD sleuths were selected and trained to penetrate guarded dens. Sleuths were also sent to relevant places to watch and detect bribery. Shivers ran through public servants throughout the country as they felt they were being watched. 

The impact on the Public Service was so strong that IW came to be called ‘Iron Man’. It was a case of going for simple pragmatic solutions rather than trumpeting elaborate action plans. Most importantly, there was the political will then, with Felix Dias Bandaranaike as the Minister in Charge and Sirimavo Bandaranaike as the Prime Minister.

Getting back to narco-bribery, it is naive to expect political will from the present political leadership to combat narco-bribery, given the exposures of political patronage and the massive bribing of the high and mighty in the Government. Will they stop at these scams that have come to light? “Behind every great crime is another crime” – Investigative journalist Jessie Kornbluth.

Whilst the CIABOC is drawing a National Plan of Action for Control of Bribery, a question that begs an answer is, ‘what is preventing CIABOC from action on the massive bribery and/or corruption already revealed against the high and mighty in the Government?’

It would be more appropriate to impose death penalty on politicians already exposed for complicity in big time bribery and corruption of the worst order that we have been seeing and continue to see more and more being exposed in the ongoing investigations and, on the authorities empowered to act, but are exercising their powers only in the breach. 

The question is, who then is to enforce the death penalty? Rebellion? I don’t hear Dickensian footsteps yet! Poetic justice has shown its fair face now and then. For the moment that seems to be the only hope to pray for in the interests of our country.

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