Business Times

Using intelligence network to combat corruption

By Ajith Rohana Colonne, Former Deputy Director / Advisor on Intelligence Analysis - State Intelligence Service

Intelligence is the product resulting from the collection, evaluation, and interpretation of information actually concerned with one or more aspects with regard to foreign nations or foundational geographic areas, which is of protectionary significance to the development and execution of policies and operations.

If this definition is carefully examined, the scope of a central intelligence agency broadly includes any act against the State. Therefore, it is clearly evident that the scope of operation of the intelligence agencies in Sri Lanka is rather narrow as it is mainly confined to terrorism, politics, and student and trade union activities. Economic Intelligence including corruption, which is a significant aspect concerning the existence and the continuity of a government is completely disregarded. It is one of the most vital components of the intelligence network in many developed countries.

In Sri Lanka, some of the most prudent government policies do not get implemented in the hands of the bureaucrats and the local politicians at the operational level. For example, when the government makes policy decisions to provide a subsidy to the farmers, only a fraction of funds gets accrued to the genuine and deserving farmers.

Similarly, when the government commits a price guarantee to the farmers on commodities, a major portion of the funds made available by the government is played out with the connivance of the middlemen. However, the consequential end result is that the farmer, who also is a voter, becomes more disgruntled against the government than he was before. This was clearly evident in the results of the General Election of 2000, as there were shifts of voting patterns in a few districts, attributable to this fact.

Forest coverage is fast depleting as a result of illicit felling of trees. Wild Life is disappearing faster than that. Regretfully, nobody is accountable for any of these acts, and there is no preventive mechanism in place either. Sri Lanka being the country with the highest bio diversity in the world (Costa Rica comes second), has got an enormous potential in eco-tourism, if measures are taken to preserve at least what is left.

An effective solution to this problem is to expand the intelligence network to incorporate Economic Intelligence into its scope of operation. The task must be assigned to the State Intelligence Service (SIS), and an initial structural change is required to hand-pick and recruit civilians and officers from the other three services with absolutely no political interference into the process of recruitment.

To begin with, covert investigations must be launched on issues highlighted in both printed and electronic media. The findings of such investigations must be directed to the appropriate operational institutions such as the Commission for Bribery & Corruption, Department of Inland Revenue, Customs Department, Criminal Investigations Department, Fraud Bureau etc.

It is vital that the SIS follows up on these issues reported to the respective institutions and ensures that the culprits are prosecuted, within a reasonable period of time. As the second step, the State Intelligence Service must identify the processes, which facilitate corruption, inform the respective Ministers in-charge of the subject and advise them of corrective measures to be taken. For example, the government institutions such as the Registrar of Motor Vehicles, Land Registries etc. have processes in place, which are meant to facilitate corruption.

Thirdly, the State Intelligence Service must initiate proactive investigations such as looking into the property transactions, construction of houses, and other modes of large investments, and identify the sources of funding and the people involved. This is somewhat similar to the surveillance functions performed by the Colombo Stock Exchange and the Securities & Exchange Commission to detect inside trading. Fourthly, a mechanism can be introduced for the general public to write and notify authorities of any act of corruption (even anonymously) to be investigated.

In regard to corruption, the Head of Intelligence shall be empowered to lodge a complaint with the Commission for Bribery and Corruption at his official capacity and provide all the facts collected up to that point for the Commission to pursue the investigations from that point onwards. This arrangement would ease the burden on the Commission for Bribery and Corruption in regard to conducting investigations in view of the severe shortage of staff.

The State Intelligence Service has an island-wide network to gather intelligence known as District Intelligence Bureaus (DIBs), which are mostly located in Police Stations. This network of DIBs can be effectively used not only to gather intelligence on nfarious activities but also to monitor the progress of identified regional development activities at all levels. This will enable the ruling party in power to identify weak, deprived, and neglected areas, and focus attention on them.

Establishment of an Economic Intelligence Unit can bring about numerous tangible benefits to the government and to the society. The most significant of all would be the psychological fear created by the mere existence of such an effective and an invisible force that the wrong doers are being made consciously aware of the fact that they are being watched all the time.

This alone would dramatically reduce the element of bribery and corruption in the country, which has grown exponentially to alarming levels over the years that nothing happens without it. Another distinct advantage is that nobody can confront the invisible intelligence network unlike in the case of open investigations.

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