Random Notes with Ravi Ladduwahetty
“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power, corrupts those who are subject to it.”
– Aung San Suu Kyi in ‘Freedom from Fear’
One of the principal planks of the government in Opposition was to root out unprecedented corruption during the last regime. The dictatorial actions of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, also, fanned the flames of corruption in the decade of office of the previous regime.
It was with such noble ideals that the Financial Crime Investigation Division (FCID)was established with the advent of the present regime hoping to not only to bring to book the offenders of the previous regime in this regard but also to root out this nagging menace of corruption, for it is the law enforcement agency of the Sri Lankan Government, tasked within Sri Lanka for financial crime investigations and law enforcement. It is a subsidiary agency of the Sri Lanka Police Department.
The Financial Crime Investigation Division is directly accountable for carrying out investigations throughout the island into serious financial fraud, misuse of State assets or funds, cases of a nature that require intellectual skills and complex detection acumen. At times, the FCID carries out investigations pertaining to government revenue. The FCID agencies are highly skilled in encountering the major financial crimes, frauds, unsolicited mega projects, major financial crimes against public property, money-laundering, terrorist financing and financial transactions, illegal financial transactions, unlawful enrichment, and offences on financial crimes against national security.
The FCID has utmost powers to arrest civilians, government workers and legislators from anywhere in Sri Lanka without getting approval from the Attorney General or DIG of this unit. The suspect can be remanded by a Magistrate Court until further hearings.
Although there was a widely believed perception that the FCID was created by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to bait his political opponents with a committee headed by him which would give directions to pursue the processes that go into the arrests of the culprits, it is important that the mandate of the Division empowers to probe the corrupt members of any government or position, both the powerful and the powerless. But, to the credit of the Prime Minister, he has directed all officers to be 120% sure of whom they arrest.
When the Police and the FCID get a complaint or an allegation, it is up to the FCID to initially probe the allegations and let the law of the land take its course. But now, the entire process has virtually come to a standstill with those in the higher echelons of the Division mediating in the process between the accused and the complainant, making a veritable mockery of the motives and the lofty ideals that the FCID was set up for.
The present government, the very people in the Opposition who made a huge din and an outcry about the levels of gargantuan and rampant corruption which prevailed till then, brought in all the legislation which was to serve as a preventive measure.
However, countless are the examples of this very government being accused of sordid allegations of perfidy, ‘getting caught with the hand in the till’ to use a popular cliché. On one hand, is the case in relation to the malpractices in a coal tender, Treasury Bonds issued by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, another on the Agricultural Insurance Board on paddy purchases et al. However, whatever the magnitude of the cases may be, there are no examples of the law being transgressed.
Despite there being very conscientious officers at the lower level who are committed to perfection, it is somewhere at the top that the cases get held up. There are moments where the higher ups make the cases disappear or reschedule them which would delay the cases. There are also instances where the cases get stuck for want of a good brief and also the want to retain good lawyers who are street smarter than their counterparts in the Attorney General’s Department.
On one hand, there may be those who will want to defend the FCID with the claim that the organiza-tion is a mere year-old and that most of the cases that they are probing are very high profile and need time and additional expertise that they require which is not there.
Some may say that the FCID has done well with all the constraints of the lack of trained staff. They also can claim that some of the cases which are being probed are at least seven or eight years old and that the tardiness of the process is because they have to be done in the chronological order.
But one of the reasons for the delays in the prosecutions is the presence of the crooks in the Attorney General’s Department and the Police who are all within a ring and who are hand in glove with politician where some of the cases have been swept under the carpet. Most of them are out to scuttle the process and they need to be got rid of.
There is also a leading Kalutara District Cabinet Minister of the sitting government who has been summoned to the FCID but has evaded from presenting himself, the constant excuse being that he is at a meeting with the President or that he was going overseas. There is also another Anuradhapura District Minister who has been implicated in a paddy purchasing scam who is also avoiding going there.