New Sri Lanka regime can still stop rising corruption, nepotism, mal-governance: citizen’s group

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s new regime elected on a wave demanding good governance still has a chance to stop its rising corruption, nepotism and mal-governance and live up to its promises, an influential citizen’s group has said.

"The level of corruption which prevailed under the earlier regime may have reduced, but it does not appear to have diminished in the manner that the public has a right to expect," Friday Forum, a group of citizens said.

"Despite disappointment on the slow progress on many solemn promises, the public was prepared to accept the need for measured and responsible action towards fulfilling them.

"However this trust has gradually given way to a growing concern that the promised action is being held back for reasons based on the all too familiar ground of political opportunism and that the country is slowly but surely moving towards the mal-governance of the past."

There were "continuing instances of nepotism, inappropriate appointments, greed, corruption and opportunism" over the past year, Friday Forum said.

"Since the Presidential election, there have been appointments that have been criticised publicly, because they indicate favouritism or family connections rather than competence to hold the post.

"The abuse of power and the corrupt acts of some of these appointees have added to public disenchantment and eroded the credibility of the government."

The Friday Forum cited recent corruption at the Central Bank, and suspicious over the award of a housing project to Arcelor Mittal and interference in the public service as key areas of concern.

"Credibility once lost is near irretrievable," the group said.

"The public is beginning to doubt that corruption, nepotism and the numerous other failings of the earlier regime, that were so convincingly exposed on election platforms, will be eliminated in a new era of good governance.

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"We have not yet lost the opportunities created by the presidential and general elections of last year, a year that was a tribute to the Sri Lankan people and their commitment to democracy and good governance.

"There is little time left for persons holding high political office, and making decisions that impact on the people, to establish democracy and good governance.

"They must fulfill the solemn promises on which they rode to power."

The full statement is reproduced below:


Missed opportunities to fulfilling promises on good governance

In January 2015 the majority of voters responded to the call for a return to good governance,  accountability and integrity in the public sphere that we had been denied for a good part of a decade, and voted for a President who promised to achieve these goals and remedy mistakes of the past. The public expectations of the regime that was voted into office in January, received further endorsement at the general election of August the same year.

Despite disappointment on the slow progress on many solemn promises, the public was prepared to accept the need for measured and responsible action towards fulfilling them. However this trust has gradually given way to a growing concern that the promised action is being held back for reasons based on the all too familiar ground of political opportunism and that the country is slowly but surely moving towards the mal-governance of the past.

Uneasy cohabitation between coalition partners is never conducive to achieving high standards of democratic governance even in the short term. The Joint Opposition has demonstrated time and again its incapacity to act in the public interest and avoid following highly personal and adversarial political agendas.

However this environment is not an excuse for those in office continuing instances of nepotism, inappropriate appointments, greed, corruption and opportunism that we have seen over the last year. Since the Presidential election, there have been appointments that have been criticised publicly, because they indicate favouritism or family connections rather than competence to hold the post.

The abuse of power and the corrupt acts of some of these appointees have added to public disenchantment and eroded the credibility of the government. Such appointments were recently crowned with the appointment, to a senior administrative position, of a person indicted and currently facing trial for criminal misappropriation of public property.

The level of corruption which prevailed under the earlier regime may have reduced, but it does not appear to have diminished in the manner that the public has a right to expect.

Besides, there has been public criticism in regard to non-transparent and non-consultative decision making in some areas of importance. Inevitably this encourages the suspicion of ulterior motives as in the award of major projects such as the Jaffna Arcelor Mittal housing project. Interference in the public service includes acts such as provision of supporting letters for appointments to applicants for government and semi-government posts, or in State universities, by ministers and others who hold high political office.

The recent public discussions and criticisms regarding renewal of a controversial appointment in the Central Bank, and the resignation of a competent and dedicated professional engaged in conservation and environmental management, allegedly due to political interference, reflect the continuing malaise of political control over the public service, and even of universities that should be guaranteed their academic autonomy and independence in making appointments. The President and the Constitutional Council created by the 19th Amendment, while having made timely appointments of vital bodies such as the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, need speedily to evolve and follow a consistent, credible and transparent procedure in making appointments to high posts specified in the Constitution.

Credibility once lost is near irretrievable. The public is beginning to doubt that corruption, nepotism and the numerous other failings of the earlier regime, that were so convincingly exposed on election platforms, will be eliminated in a new era of good governance.

We have not yet lost the opportunities created by the presidential and general elections of last year, a year that was a tribute to the Sri Lankan people and their commitment to democracy and good governance. There is little time left for persons holding high political office, and making decisions that impact on the people, to establish democracy and good governance. They must fulfill the solemn promises on which they rode to power.     
                     

Prof. Savitri Goonesekere        Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda         Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare            
 

On behalf of the Friday Forum:

 

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