The amount of money so embezzled each day by the SLTB employees themselves is a staggering two to three million rupees and the annual loss to the already cash-strapped SLTB was a mind-boggling
Rs. 720 million
Transport, Highways and Mass Media Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena has ordered the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB), the island-wide state-owned bus service to disband its Flying Squad and re-establish it within a strong legal framework, as the officers who are tasked with stamping out corruption in the SLTB themselves have become corrupt elements. In short, the guard has become the thief.
The minister has told that he has taken this step to streamline the security checks on dispensing of tickets and monitoring the bus crews, as it has been found that the majority of the bus crew and the officers of the Flying Squad siphon off money collected from the passengers. According to him, the amount of money so embezzled each day by the SLTB employees themselves is a staggering two to three million rupees and the annual loss to the already cash-strapped SLTB was a mind-boggling Rs. 720 million.
The frauds are so brazenly done that there have been instances where some SLTB conductors have issued over 50 counterfeit tickets worth Rs. 950 each. Also, one conductor earned Rs. 40,000 from a single journey from Embilipitiya to Makumbura by fraudulent means. They dare to do so with the help of the officers of the Flying Squad, it is said. It is also stated that the productivity of the Flying Squad has diminished to the level of one per cent.
The Minister’s “revelation,” though not a new finding, might be forgotten by the leaders of the government as well as the public within a few days, despite it having been the main news item in several newspapers on Friday, as we read this kind of frauds and corruption on a daily basis without any follow-up preventive measures being taken. This impunity is such that nobody expects the authorities to take preventive actions. In fact, fraud and corruption have become the norm in Sri Lankan society.
The importance of this “revelation” is that the transport sector plays a key role in running the economy of the country. The inefficiency and lethargy in the public sector is partly attributed to the chaotic transport sector in the country, and the trade unions have lost vision. Today, the SLTB has given a major part of its share in passenger transportation to the extremely muddled and corrupt private bus associations. And the very employees of the institution are plundering the remaining meagre income.
Although the SLTB (formerly the Ceylon Transport Board – CTB) has been running at a loss since late 1960 and allegations of corruption were being levelled from its inception (not to current magnitude), there was a relatively efficient transport service in the past. Buses plied then according to a timetable, school bus service had been entirely run by the CTB (no vans or private buses), long-distance bus services were so reliable that newspaper companies used it to distribute newspapers across the country, there was a meticulous chain of bus services that was so efficient that even letters from Dondra Head were distributed in Point Pedro within a day, alternative buses were provided immediately by the nearby depots, in case of accidents or breakdowns, irrespective of where they happened. Today, SLTB’s income is being plundered without the passengers not enjoying any of these fruits.
The downfall of the CTB could be traced during the United Front Government of 1970-77 when the institution was extremely politicized, and it became the employment provider for the support of politicians. There was a time when the bus-employee ratio was 1:30.
Today, not only the SLTB but the entire state machinery and the government have become places where guards turned into thieves. We occasionally hear stories of police officers being arrested for theft, sexual abuse and extortion apart from the age-old offence of bribe. It was revealed that over 400 vehicles have been registered with the Motor Traffic Department (MTD), the institution that has been entrusted with streamlining vehicular traffic. The Land Reform Commission, the institution for the management of state lands, is accused of selling lands at a price as low as Rs 373 per acre. The Members of Parliament who are entrusted with the financial management of the nation sell their duty-free vehicle permits. It is not the politicians alone, the entire society is degenerated.