by Sugeeswara Senadhira
Before the dust settled on the allegation that 118 honourable Members of Parliament had taken money from Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) or its subsidiaries, another shocking revelation was made in the Fort Magistrate Court that a comprehensive inquiry was underway to identify those who had received approximately 10,000 cheques issued by PTL and its subsidiaries during the Treasury Bond Issue, in 2015 and 2016.
During the PTL hearing last week, Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne ordered Arjun Aloysius’ father, Geoffrey Aloysius, who is the Chairman of PTL, to be present in Court on 5 July, as he had disregarded a previous directive to cooperate with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to provide investigators with the required information.
The Court was informed that the CID was currently probing the first Treasury Bond Issue which took place on 27 February 2015. The objective of the investigators is to identify who benefited from that scam.
The revelations of the PTL case have brought the issue of political corruption and fraud to the surface once again. Political corruption, has, in many ways, become the defining issue of the 21st Century, just as the 20th Century was characterized by large ideological struggles between democracy, fascism, and communism.
Today, a majority of nations accept the legitimacy of democracy, though some cynics say democracy is merely the best out of the worst systems of governments available to the people.
A former British Prime Minister once said that although countries like Russia, Venezuela, Afghanistan, and Nigeria hold elections that produce leaders with some degree of democratic legitimacy, they differ from countries like Norway, Japan, and Britain in terms of quality of government due to corruption.
In the recent past, we have seen a debate emerging about anti-corruption and good governance in India and Sri Lanka and this has become an often-repeated slogan in many countries. Some people think good governance and absence of corruption is the same thing.
However, it is not so, because one can argue that a clean government can still be incompetent or ineffective, while a corrupt government can produce good results.
The harm done to a country due to high levels of corruption is not limited to stealing funds, that could otherwise be utilized for development and/or social welfare, and subsidies for deserving people.
Corruption hurts life outcomes in a variety of ways. Economically, it diverts resources away from their most productive uses and it results in a heavy burden on taxpayers. It is tantamount to a punishment tax on taxpayers, to support the lifestyles of the elite.
Another danger is that corruption encourages talented professionals to explore ways and means to make easy money by way of bribes, rather than working honestly.
Corruption undermines the legitimacy of political systems, by giving the representatives of the people alternatives to the democratic system of staying in office.
It hurts the prospects of democracy when people perceive that authoritarian governments perform better than corrupt democratic governments.
Although it is impossible to eliminate corruption, some countries have succeeded in reducing it. In the World Bank Institute’s Worldwide Governance Indicators, China ranks in the 47th percentile with respect to control of corruption, behind Ghana and just ahead of Romania.
On the other hand, China has a great deal of State capacity. In the government effectiveness category, it is in the 66th percentile, while Romania is in the 55th and Ghana is in the 44th. This validates the common perception that the Chinese Government has a great deal of capacity to achieve the ends it sets, despite strong perceptions of pervasive corruption.
China’s anti-corruption drive
In its anti-corruption drive, China temporarily seized control of Anbang Insurance Group Co., Ltd., which faced charges of corruption and prosecuted its powerful founder Wu Xiaohui for alleged fraud, thus cementing the downfall of a politically connected dealmaker, whose aggressive global expansion came to symbolize the financial overreach of China’s debt-ridden mega corporations.
The action against Anbang is all the more important considering the fact that the company entered the global scene in 2014 with the purchase of New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and only a year ago it held discussions to invest in a company owned by the family of Jared Kushner (US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and Senior Adviser).
As President Maithripala Sirisena often emphasizes, corruption is the root cause when it comes to many problems in Sri Lanka.
It stifles growth. In addition to this, it costs the country billions of rupees every year. Corrupt people and companies evade taxes and deprive schools and hospitals of vital resources. Many people are left destitute because of these tax evaders.
The masses want the Government to take firm steps when dealing with corruption, every bit as they want the Government to tackle issues like poverty. The people want the law to be upheld and they want the corrupt to be punished, with justice and compensation for the victims. They demand that the corrupt should be forced to return their ill-gotten wealth to the Government Treasury.
The consensus is that although corruption is such a huge problem, the Government is not doing enough to reduce it and mitigate its effects.
Referring to corruption allegations against MPs in Britain, a former Premier said, “from tax evasion and overseas territories that have been accused of hiding the proceeds of corruption, to a MPs’ expenses scandal that tore at the fabric of the world’s oldest democracy, we have our own problems and we are very much still dealing with them.”
If the allegations about funds provided to MPs and others by Perpetual Treasuries Limited and its subsidiaries are true, there is no reason to doubt the validity of the allegations because Sri Lankan Parliamentarians are among the most corrupt lot of people’s representatives in the world.
Hence, harsh measures are required today, and not tomorrow, to rectify the situation, or at least reduce this dreaded cancer to a manageable level.
Courtesy: Ceylon Today