Act sternly and swiftly, Mr. President

Thursday, 11 May 2023 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Enacting anti-corruption laws does not put an end to corruption and pledges to enforce rule of law equally to all does not stop those with political power from acting with impunity. This has been demonstrated repeatedly in Sri Lanka and disturbingly so in the past few weeks with two top politicians in government facing serious allegations of corruption while another ruling party MP is standing accused of trying to turn his electoral district into a fiefdom.

The two cabinet ministers namely Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella and Transport, Highways and Mass Media Minister Bandula Gunawardena are both facing allegations of corruption, the former of being involved in shady deals connected to import of medicines from India while the latter is facing allegations linked to his time as Trade Minister. In both cases, it is the people who have had to pay the price for their corrupt practices.

This week, it emerged that 10 patients who underwent eye surgery in the Nuwara Eliya District General Hospital had their eyesight weakened due to the use of a faulty eye drop. This after the Supreme Court last month suspended the import of medicines from a private Indian supplier under the Indian credit line (ICL) stating that serious doubts had arisen regarding the quality, safety and efficacy of the products bought from the concerned supplier. The Court order came upon consideration of a fundamental rights petition filed by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL)

Meanwhile, Thushan Gunawardena, former Executive Director of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has gone public in the past few weeks pointing the finger at then Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena for ignoring warnings on the faulty gas cylinder regulators that caused a public uproar last year and led to several death.

On top of these unsavoury allegations comes the news that the Omani businessman who came under attack by a group of thugs allegedly linked to a ruling party Gampaha District MP Indika Anuruddha in March is preparing to close down the apparel factory he operates here and leave the country. This would mean around 300, mostly women would lose their sources of employment.

These are just a few of the instances that are making the news now but certainly not the only ones where those with political power have been engaged in corruption and are abusing power and breaking the law with impunity.

During this time last year, thousands of citizens took to the streets in protests sickened by the attitude of politicians in power who take the electorate for granted. These fizzle doubt due to various reasons but that in no way means that they have forgiven or forgotten those who govern the country in this rotten manner.

The public perception is that President Ranil Wickremesinghe is a hostage to the MPs of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) who control the majority in Parliament. Since taking office the President has tried to appear apolitical, but the incidents highlighted above show that he has failed to take action against errant ministers in his Cabinet and roguish MPs within the ruling party.

It is clear that President Wickremesinghe will seek another term in office once this term ends next year and for that he would need the support of a sizable section of the SLPP as well as other parties. But more than that he will need the support of the public who have politicians, and particularly the President, under close scrutiny, so that when the next election is held, they can give a befitting reply.

The President has executive power, he has the presidency till November next year, he has the power to dissolve parliament at any time and he has the support of the people to do the right thing on their behalf. If the President wants the public on his side, he should initiate investigations against those who face serious charges and deal with them swiftly and sternly because even if they are shielded by executive power, in the court of public opinion, they stand condemned. Any attempt to whitewash them would be at the President’s own peril, come the next Presidential election.