“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss!” -The Who, We Won’t Get Fooled Again

I think every sane, responsible Sri Lankan, at some time during the past 30 days, has wondered whether the new Yahapalanaya government will turn out to be the same as the old regime. It was a risk we took.

One month later, things are rolling roughly in the direction we wanted it to, though I’d be a fool if I agreed with the draconian business taxes now being levied. I’m talking about the “super gains tax”, which obliges companies earning over Rs 2 billion to hand over a lovely 25% of their profit.

Now, there is a fine line between kicking Packer out, taking away China’s chokehold on the country and screwing over local businesses. The average Gunapala and Sirisena, earning 20 thousand bucks a month, will have no qualms about some rich dude getting taxed. In fact, Ravi Karunayake’s banking on that particular “Robin Hood” type of rhetoric. What people forget is that is that while there are only about 40 companies that are being taxed this way, these companies provide thousands of jobs, bring in millions of revenue and, in short, keep a sizeable chunk of the country’s economy running. Look up giant companies like Dialog and John Keells. Take away a lot of their money and, because Shit Flows Downhill (Universal Law No.1), what that translates to is unhappy investors, jobs lost and possible loss of growth, albeit temporarily.

But big companies,being big companies, will sort this out.

The next thing is corruption. Has Maithri weeded out corruption? No, not even close. And I don’t think the government can, unless they resort to Draconian measures like chopping the balls off those found guilty of bribery and corruption charges (in which case about half the Parliament will become eunuchs overnight). I don’t think that kind of top-level laying-down-the-thunderbolts is what we need.

I think that it’s something we need to work on. Yes, us. You. Me. The guy next door who passed his driver’s exam by tipping off the instructor. The tuk tuk driver who crosses the lines and shape ekey folds Rs 500/= to the cop that strolls up. Corruption is rooted in culture. It is a moral question more than a legal one.

A man, regardless of the laws governing corruption, are held in check by the culture that surrounds them, and by how that culture defines and respects integrity. A society that respects honorable men will produce honorable men, because social respect is a reward in itself.

Our problem is that we don’t seem to have this in place. If we did, it’s disintegrated. Cop coming? See if you can bribe him. Ignore the fact that you made a fault that could have killed someone. Big deal going down? See if you can palm some away for your daughter’s wedding expenses. In a society with no respect, and thus no reward for being honest, there is no reason for anyone’s hands to be clean.

We need to build that society. That’s our job. While Maithri and his Parliament get their shit together and fix the big patches in this leaky ship, you, I, your school, your district, our nation, we need to pull together and relearn what it means to be honorable. We can’t hang around for the Parliament to fix it. Too many skeletons in that closet. It’s a bunch of pots calling the kettles black. No, this is our duty. Next time the cop rolls up we sigh and accept that we crossed the line. Next time the exam comes around we still the hand that urges us to cheat and take what’s coming to us.

It’s nowhere near as easy as I make it sound, but only then can the corruption end.