The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) has planned an elaborate show with the grandiose title “Warrant of Integrity” tomorrow with the President as chief guest. Vvips are to take a pledge to eradicate “all forms of bribery and corruption to ensure a better tomorrow for our future generations” but the mega [...]


Mega show but CIABOC just an ornamental body


The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) has planned an elaborate show with the grandiose title “Warrant of Integrity” tomorrow with the President as chief guest. Vvips are to take a pledge to eradicate “all forms of bribery and corruption to ensure a better tomorrow for our future generations” but the mega event comes in the backdrop of allegations that the Commission is both ineffective and plagued with political meddling.

The Commission – and the President came in for stinging criticism this very week in Parliament when funds for its work in 2019 were to be voted during the committee stage debate of the Budget. The JVP leader tore into both. He said the Commission only went after sprats, and asked the President to give the reasons why he summarily dismissed the Commission’s former Director General appointed by his own Government in 2015.

It will be recalled that the lady DG who was inducted to the post from the Attorney General’s Department was sent back after only a brief stint. It was an open secret that she had begun investigating some politicians of the ruling coalition or more to the point, some politicians from the President’s own party.  Our news report (Page 1) reveals that there was only one case in Court brought by the Commission where the alleged inducement was in excess of Rs 10mn. However, the cost of maintaining the Commission over the same period has been more than Rs 2.3bn.

This Government came into office shouting from every platform about the bribery and corruption of the former Rajapaksa regime. It set up a Financial Crimes Investigations Department (FCID) to buttress their accusations, but after four years, it too was subjected to political interference allowing the detectives to pursue their own personal agendas in the process. The FCID head is now being investigated by his own colleagues on allegations of impropriety.

As if setting up the FCID and remodelling the Bribery and Corruption Commission was not enough, the separation of powers within the Government saw a Presidential Commission set up to probe a stinking scam that was squarely at the door of one of the coalition partners. That Commission’s findings and recommendations seem to have vanished into a ‘black hole’.

Then, Special High Courts were set up to hear corruption cases on a day-to-day basis, but astute defence lawyers know best to spin out cases by raising preliminary objections and then taking the case to the ordinary court system plagued by perennial laws’ delays. Now, the President has appointed yet another Commission that will investigate present-day corruption. It is still collecting complaints.

Taken together, there has been zilch to talk about. Tomorrow’s event will focus on a NAP (National Action Plan) and a NIC (National Integrity Council), but the colloquial reference to NATO (No Action Talk Only) is never more apt. A Minister who regularly mouths platitudes about bribery and corruption and who once said former President Mahinda Rajapaksa will never take bribes and then said he was the biggest bribe-taker has consistently avoided subjecting himself to the  Commission on bribery allegations against himself.

It may be that the Bribery and Corruption Commission knows only too well its limitations; that it is merely an ornamental public institution justifying its existence by telling public servants not to accept hampers during the festive season and indicting the odd school principal or police constable. It can only hope to find its way with the next generation.

Project loans versus commercial loans

 Much has been said in recent weeks, especially around the on-going Budget debate, about Sri Lanka’s ‘debt trap’ with the blame game between the Government and the former Government in full flow. But not all loans are bad, and the reality is that there is no escape for economically developing countries than to seek loans to maintain consistent growth, especially through infrastructure.

The problem of the past has been loans for what were ‘vanity projects’ (boondoggles), but counter-arguments maintain that if these are references to the many projects started by the previous Administration in the Hambantota District, they were part of a Master Plan to ease the population pressure on the megapolis and its surroundings by diverting economic activity to the less populated south.

That ‘Master Plan’ did not receive national consensus and its reversal by the 2015 Government was atypical of what has been a long practice in Sri Lankan politics -for an incoming Government to discontinue what a previous Government had begun. The Mahaweli project may be a singular exception.

This Government made a mockery of the Mattala airport by storing paddy in it, but is now scrambling to find a suitable partner to manage it. Ironically, those who built the world’s loneliest airport are opposing it being given out to a foreign company.  Two weeks ago, on the eve of the Budget we argued that what was Sri Lanka’s economic red line was not so much the project loans, but its commercial loans. Project loans represent the biggest share in Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt amounting to about USD 18 billion in 2017. However, given the lengthy period for repayment and the lower interest rate – in effect, the volume of commercial loans will be the largest component on the country’s ‘debt trap’. The softest loans come from the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank – and Japan.

On Monday, Sri Lanka signed an agreement with Japan for a soft loan of 30 billion yen (Rs. 48 billion) for what is seriously a high-priority project – a light rail system connecting Colombo with its densely populated surrounding towns. It will be 16 km with 16 stations from Malabe’s IT Park to Colombo Fort through Battaramulla, Rajagiriya and Town Hall, the entire journey to take 30 minutes. Traffic congestion is now horrible – the Department of Transport and Logistics Management of the Engineering Faculty of the Moratuwa University estimates the average speed of vehicular movement in Colombo city –12 kmph in 2014 had slowed down to 10 kmph.

As for the loan, repayment is stretched over a 40-year period with a 12-year grace period at an annual interest rate of 0.1 per cent for civil work and equipment cost and 0.01 per cent a year for engineering services cost. This, therefore, seems a positive loan.

Foot-loose commercial loans and many domestically funded projects without rudimentary cost-benefit analysis or a sound monitoring system resulting in a sizeable leakage of funds is what threatens to put the country in peril.

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