The Institutionalisation Of Venality
A recent piece of breaking news from the New York Times couldn’t but provoke thoughts of what is happening around our Country of a Thousand Cabinet Members.
The headline in the Times read:
“New York Congressman Resigns After Internet Postings” and went on to a brief description of what had occurred, saying “Representative Chris Lee of New York, caught in the midst of a scandal involving a shirtless photo he reportedly sent to a woman on the Internet, has stepped down, according to a senior Congressional official.”
In contrast, what has apparently transpired recently in Sri Lanka certainly bears comparison.
As everyone and his dog probably knows now, a woman referred to as “Jeena,” who, it has been suggested, is the country’s most notorious brothel-keeper, was arrested for running a bawdy house and her operation closed down. No sooner had this happened than this newspaper published the scurrilous news that this operation has led a charmed life by virtue of it being frequented by the rich and famous (and powerful), specifically naming a member of the current cabinet of Sri Lanka as one of its established patrons who had, almost literally, been caught with his pants down at the time of a police raid on the premises!
The hurrah boys of the current regime, of course, began to sing from their old “Praise Our Lord” hymn book, extolling the virtues of a government that was safeguarding our moral sensibilities by shutting down this whore-house.
Short-lived euphoria unfortunately, because, before you could say “Hey presto,” the lady while still in her police cell had her brothel operating again.
This is in stark contrast to what has happened in one of the most notorious fleshpots of the Western world, New York, as the breaking news item I opened this piece with proves.
Shouldn’t this give pause to those who are constantly extolling the virtues of this land and claiming that we are incapable, not only of doing wrong, but even of making mistakes or errors of judgement? Unfortunately not.
If proof be needed of the monumental hypocrisy of too many of our fellow citizens, I will bet the proverbial dollars to donuts that this column will be greeted with the usual barrage of abuse, more often than not in rather poor English, which will accuse me of denigrating the Master Race that inhabits this land. No matter. To those whose never-ending refrain is, “This is Sri Lanka, love it or leave it,” I have the old response of Vietnam war-resisters: “I love it, you leave it!”
That side-bar taken care of, let’s return to this discussion.
Why is it that the Sri Lankan public is so tolerant of the moral turpitude that is so much a part of the life style of ruling clique whose monumental hypocrisy drives them to delivering a never ending barrage of moral pronouncements on a long-suffering public? I would suggest that it is not an abandonment of traditional morality, whatever that is, but a grim acceptance of the reality of a state where those who wield authority do so without any adherence to moral or ethical rules of any description – “Sinhala Buddhist,” “Thuppahi” or any other brand.
A recent discussion with one of my village friends was most revealing in that context.
As do most conversations these days, we began to talk about the upcoming Pradeshiya Sabhawa elections. It seemed like the same bandits that had pocketed the contents of the local purse for the past goodness knows how many years were again offering their ‘services’ to the voting public. Their corruption and plunder of public funds was an established fact, acknowledged by the vast majority of the people who lived within their jurisdiction.
I was a little taken aback when my friend’s response was that he (and probably the majority of his friends) would be voting for one or several of the incumbents whom he freely admitted were scoundrels who had misappropriated funds that were supposed to be used to improve conditions in the area. When I asked, “Why?” his answer was clear and unambiguous: these fellows had established the ‘connections’ throughout the ‘system’ that enabled them to exert ‘influence’ if such as my friend needed that ‘influence’ exerted.
For instance, if a voter was on the way to being prosecuted for some breach of the law, the local politician would be the first point of contact in the ‘influence chain.’ If that worthy was not able to deliver the goods – get the voter bailed out of a police cell for being in possession of kasippu, for instance – you went up the ladder of political influence. That every step up this ladder had, literally, a price attached to it was treated as a fact of life. Also, each additional step up the ladder of influence had an escalating cost because ‘More Important’ people needed more money to keep their wheels (and those of injustice) turning.
I would describe my friend’s attitude towards all of this as one that went beyond resignation to a very unsatisfactory state of affairs to one which acknowledged the reality of the status quo and sought to deal with it in a manner that produced the least complication and discomfort and the maximum in the way of satisfactory outcome.
Is this a jaundiced view of the rule of law (or its absence) and the existence of a corrupt state of affairs in day-to-day life? I think not. It really is the sad reality because of the readiness to adapt to a totally corrupt system because there doesn’t seem to be any alternative to it. The end result is that the victim is complicit with the perpetrator in the commission of the crime.
A Post-Script to those who consistently accuse me of being a ‘Colombian,’ whatever that is: I do not now nor ever have lived in Colombo. I was born in Tumpane and have lived the rest of my Sri Lankan existence in the adjacent Harispattuwa. In the circumstances, I suspect that those who seek to make me a denizen of Colombo, as are most of the Rajapaksas, have something to learn about the geography of this country!