Touria Prayag's Blog

Guilty, Your Honour

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on March 23, 2013

“ In every scandal involving those in positions of power , the state is left holding a substantial tab for golden handshakes and parachutes , the cost of which is rarely disclosed.”

“No golden handshake for ex-Director of the Tertiary Education Commission Praveen Mohadeb,” was the prime minister’s nudge to the TEC Board. I should hope not! The guy was found guilty on all counts of blatant conflict of interest by an independent inquirer, a sitting magistrate.

Why we are even discussing this defies understanding. In any other country, the guy would have been forced to go immediately, no questions asked. Over here, we first invite the culprit to ‘retire’ and start discussing the conditions of that ‘retirement’ from a position they have been found guilty of abusing. Are we serious? I wonder whether it has occurred to anyone that it is taxpayers’ money we are talking about and that if anyone felt humane and generous to the point of wanting to reward those who abused their position, they are welcome to do so by digging in their own pockets for a change. They cannot decide to take money from the very people who have been cheated and who take a dim view of having to pay for the retirements and golden handshakes of people who have betrayed the public trust.

We have nothing personal against Praveen Mohadeb nor are we gloating over the lurid details of his fall. Besides, he has already served his sentence of public disgrace and obloquy. His dismissal is no comfort to anyone as he is not an isolated case. His story is the tale of so many public officials who amass power, go on years-long spending sprees and end up thinking that common rules of decency and integrity do not apply to them. And the impunity which continues to prevail when the powerful are caught red-handed committing acts of bribery, racketeering, theft in office, conflict of interest or otherwise abusing their position, sends the signal that you can cheat and sell your influence and get away with it. As long as you are powerful.

Naturally, we acknowledge that corruption is not the exclusive preserve of political nominees but somehow, the latter seem to excel in this unenviable and abominable activity. Perhaps, firstly, because many of them get to these coveted positions simply because of a patronage system gone awry. Secondly, they know their luck will not last forever and therefore they make the most of the manna from heaven for as long as it lasts. They eat our lunch, travel in chauffeur-driven limousines and jet around the world at our expense without blinking. In the rare cases when their abuse is brought to light, instead of hanging their heads in shame and lying low until we forget about them – as we most often do – they put up a front and start negotiating compensation! Others look us straight in the eye and talk about having a ‘clear conscience’.

And this lamentable situation is likely to continue for a long time to come. We hear a lot of vacuous rhetoric and lofty statements but when it comes to putting in place an efficacious system which seriously promotes transparency, accountability and ethical behaviour, our politicians dismally fail the smell test. And that is the root of the problem.

In every scandal involving those in positions of power, the state is left holding a substantial tab for golden handshakes and parachutes, the cost of which is rarely disclosed. When someone who is supposed to be serving the public interest betrays the public instead, the public should not have to finance a golden retirement for them. Instead, due legal process has to be pursued to bring the alleged culprits to book. Nothing else would do us justice.

By Touria Prayag

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