It is increasingly becoming evident that the level of corruption in the country is an impediment towards providing a better life to the poor and marginalized. The cost of corruption is now an integral part of the price of goods and services that the public has to pay for. Economists will, undoubtedly, confirm that, if [...]


Curbing corruption can result in economic benefits to the people


It is increasingly becoming evident that the level of corruption in the country is an impediment towards providing a better life to the poor and marginalized. The cost of corruption is now an integral part of the price of goods and services that the public has to pay for. Economists will, undoubtedly, confirm that, if corruption is minimised, the cost of living will reduce considerably.

Another aspect of economic (mis)management that is increasingly coming into the public domain is the waste and imprudent handling of public funds, which is being highlighted in different fora. The opening up of the sittings of the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) to the media, as well as reports of proceedings in other fora, have given the public a glimpse of the reckless manner in which public funds are being dealt with.

The past week has seen revelations with regard to imports of rice remaining in the harbour, without being cleared for a year, along with payment of demurrage, and the rice, thereafter, being declared unfit for human consumption. Another revelation was the staggering sum of Rs.180 million paid to ‘Consultants’ in the National Water Supply and Drainage Board.

COPE Chairman Sunil Handunetti tabling a report on SriLankan Airlines in Parliament last week, said the Airline had become a drain on the economy and the situation had become exacerbated by compensation paid for terminating an Airbus deal. He said the country’s economy had suffered heavily, as Rs 17,058.1 million had to be paid in compensation when SriLankan abruptly terminated the agreements for acquiring 4 A350-900 aircraft, without an adequate cost benefit analysis.

The COPE report went on to state that additional compensation will have to be paid at the termination of agreements on another 4 of the same aircraft to be delivered in year 2020-2021.

Reckless spending of Government funds have characterised various vanity projects over the years. Two such projects that immediately come to mind are the Lotus Tower project and Mihin Lanka. The latter only suffered loss after loss over the years, without any benefit to the economy or the country, and clearly, was started without an assessment of the feasibility of the project.

Yet another instance of apparent misuse or lack of adequate care in handling public funds is the case of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC). Audit reports coming into the public domain reveal that SLC does not exercise prudence in the handling of its funds. One example is the payment of salaries to officials of Cricket Aid, even before the charity started functioning. Yet another is the allegation of funds due to SLC for TV rights being diverted to an individual’s account abroad.

It may be recalled that one time Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel once pointed out that a substantial amount of the funds allocated to the accelerated Mahaweli Development scheme, actually went into private pockets.

The distinction between wastage and corruption may be a thin line, but it is clear that, in whatever they be categorised, taken together, they constitute a continuing burden on an economy which has been saddled with enormous debt.

All the public funds that are embezzled or wasted could build many schools, hospitals and other infrastructure that help to improve the lot of the people. It would be a worthwhile exercise for all such misused funds to be documented, to realise the enormity of the loss caused to the country.

The Yahapalana Government recognised the magnitude of the problem of corruption in the country at the time it came into office. President Maithripala Sirisena, in his manifesto, described the situation in 2015 as follows:

“A large number of deviations, such as the total breakdown of the rule of law, fraud, corruption, wastage, incapacity to identify national priorities, environmental degradation and moral and spiritual decline have emerged as obstacles to our country’s march forward. It is true that there was always corruption and fraud. But the extent of corruption in Sri Lanka in the last few years is unprecedented and has not been known before.”

The Government, which assumed office in January 2015, promised to address this issue, which was, and still is eating into the economy like a cancer. It pledged to bring to book and arraign before the Law, all those who were responsible for such acts of corruption, as well as to set up and strengthen structures that prevent the recurrence of such actions in the future.

However, it would not be far wrong to state this is one area in which the Yahapalana Government has been weakest in its performance. Those accused of massive fraud and corruption roam free and are often seen accusing others of corruption. Additionally, the Government has failed to prevent the occurrence of corruption in its ranks and under its reign.

It has also failed to strengthen and streamline the systems that prevent corruption, while the Bribery and Corruption Commission has been slow to deliver, for not bringing to book any of the sharks involved in corruption.

The only redeeming feature is that, there is increasing awareness of corruption and whistleblowers are unafraid to draw attention to any ongoing wrongdoings. The Right to Information Act, which the public is gradually learning to use, is also a useful tool in the fight against corruption.

Civil Society organisations such as the National Movement for Social Justice, Puravesi Balaya and Vame Kendraya, which were in the vanguard of the Yahapalana movement too, have drawn attention to the need to address this issue. At a ceremony held on Friday at the BMICH, under the theme “Yahapalanaya-the way forward”, Civil Society organisations reiterated the need to address some of the unresolved issues, including corruption. In a document titled “Peoples’ Agenda for Presidential Election”, which was released at the ceremony, several proposals have been made to complete the still unaccomplished task of fighting bribery and corruption.

However, the task of minimising this scourge is made more difficult without the support of the public. So long as the public does not disapprove of such anti-social acts and make bribery and corruption unacceptable, by showing their disapproval in whatever way possible, it will be an uphill task to minimise this impediment to the progress of the nation.


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