By Rukshana Nanayakkara
What does it mean to be a partner of development: a diehard ardent supporter of the State and the government? This is what I was thinking when I heard about Secretary, Ministry of Media and Information, W.B. Ganegala’s request. He has said the media as a collective need to support the country’s national agenda by supporting the development drive. According to media reports, Ganegala has explained the local media has a responsibility to counter false allegation levelled against the country by certain sections of the foreign media. In other words, his call is for all radio, television and newspapers to be in the same bandwagon, and be the flag- carriers of the government.
I was wondering what Ganegala’s ethos of governance is: vacuum criticism and be blind to any wrong doing of the government? A disturbing inference one could derive in a democratic framework. His statement has failed to capture the role media could genuinely bring to a progressive development framework.
Action against a number of politicians
Recently, the Bribery Commission made a statement that they were taking action against a number of politicians. For reasons believed to be legal by the Commission, the names of these politicians were not revealed. Even within the presumption of innocence, I was keen to know the names of these politicians whom we have selected and maintained with our tax money.
My mind runs to a recent article published in the New York Times, which listed the names of politicians and the scandals they are involved in. The information was gathered from the Indian media, which may not fall within the values that Ganegala was talking about. But let’s go through the list just to see whether we are even remotely in a position to query the behaviour of our politicians and public officials in the same way that Indians do.
In November 2010, Ashok Chavan was forced to resign as Chief Minister of Maharashtra after he was accused of playing a role in the Adarsh housing society scandal involving alleged malpractices in building construction and allocation of flats in a high-rise apartment building in Mumbai. Government and military officials were allegedly allotted flats at below-market rates. Chavan is currently under investigation by the Adarsh Commission.
The union minister for communications and information technology, A. Raja, resigned in November 2010 over the 2G spectrum scandal, in which wireless phone licences were sold at below-market rates. He is a member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Party, a prominent regional party in the State of Tamil Nadu. Raja was released on bail in May, 15 months after he was arrested, even as the trial continues.
A Bharatiya Janata Party leader, and Chief Minister of Karnataka, B.S. Yeddyurappa, tendered his resignation in July 2011 after he was accused of receiving kickbacks from mining companies in return for favours. He was later named the prime suspect in five corruption cases, which continue to wind their way through the courts.
Earlier this year, the Mumbai Congress President, Kripashankar Singh, resigned after the Bombay High Court called for his prosecution for ‘criminal misconduct’ under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The case is on-going.
Last month, Maharashtra’s Minister of State for Transport, Gulabrao Deokar, of the Nationalist Congress Party, handed in his resignation over his alleged involvement in a housing scam in 1997.
June this year has seen a spate of resignations, with the Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Health Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Rajeev Bindal, quitting over charges of corruption in land deals and possession of illegal assets. The Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Prem Kumar Dhumal, however, rejected the resignation, saying that his colleague is an ‘honest person’. Bindal remains in office.
S. Suresh Kumar of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Karnataka’s Minister for Law and Urban Development, resigned on June 23 after media reports that he had violated rules in securing an allotment of a residential site. He withdrew his resignation after an advocate-general exonerated him of the charge.
Adding to the list, last Tuesday, the Minister of Micro, Small and Medium enterprises, Virbhadra Singh resigned after a court brought charges of corruption against him.
The outcome of many of these cases are yet to be known, but people know who is involved and why they resigned. The key role was played by the media in letting the Indian people know about their representatives.
I yearn for the day where media and public could know about our own corrupt politicians and public officials.
Governments vow to root out corruption
In Sri Lanka, we are often asked to pay our taxes, and though many don’t pay direct income tax, all do pay taxes in every aspect of daily lives. Governments also often vow to root out corruption. So, I find the request by the media secretary disturbing. If the claim of the government to root out corruption is to be executed, media has an imperative role to play - the exposure of scandals and corruption people who hold power, are engaged in.
If people are to know how their money is spent on development, the real value for money it brings and it is fully invested for its intended purposes, blind love for the government will not be in the best interest of the people.
As tax payers, if we are to give the government more and love the government more: give us transparency and accountability: the basis of a simple credible trustworthy relationship.