A strategy to combat
By Chandani Kirinde
With bribery and corruption touching most public
institutions at all levels in Sri Lanka, officials working to combat
these twin evils are facing an uphill task due to lack of political
will as well as the necessary powers and resources.
Despite Sri Lanka being signatory to the UN Convention
against Corruption as well as a member of the Asia–Pacific
Anti Corruption Initiative (See box story), successive governments
have shown little political will to make a concerted effort to combat
corruption with the subject losing priority and getting little mention
even in an election manifesto.
|... but no protection offered
Despite the growing problem which is costing the
country dearly, the government institutions that work to fight this
sleazy business, such as the Commission to Investigate Allegations
of Bribery and Corruption, the Presidential Investigation Unit (PIU)
and the Auditor General’s Department lack the necessary legal
powers to act against offenders. They are also under-funded and
have limited resources extended to them by way of state patronage.
Since 2004 there have been calls to amend the
Audit Act in order to give the Department teeth and empower it to
impose a surcharge in instances where there is evidence of misappropriation
of public funds. Unfortunately the Draft Act has been languishing
for more than two years, with no action taken to bring it to Parliament.
The AG in his report earlier this year revealed the state had lost
Rs 389 million due to tax frauds between 2002-2006, whereas the
entire expenditure of the Department was Rs 320 million for 2005.
The annual budget of the Bribery Commission this
year hovers around Rs. 75 million. This is barely sufficient to
pay salaries, maintain vehicles and attend to basic needs of the
Department. No funds are available for carrying out awareness and
educational programmes for the public on graft and corruption.
Another shortcoming faced by the present Bribery
Commission is that its powers to initiate investigations on its
own have been curtailed.
The Commission is therefore unable to act independently,
and is forced to look aside however glaring a case of bribery or
corruption may be. The Commission is forced to wait for a member
of the public to “communicate” to it details of such
an instances.Under the earlier Act, the Commission could investigate
“allegations of bribery which are made to, or come to knowledge
of the Bribery Commission”. Under the present Act it has to
be “communicated to the Commission”. Similarly investigating
persons under the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law No 1
of 1975, can also be undertaken by the Commission upon receipt of
a “communication in writing” signed by the person drawing
attention to suspect acquisitions of wealth or property etc which
is not commensurate with known sources of wealth and income of such
Retired Supreme Court Judge Ameer Ismail, Chairman
of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption,
told the Sunday Times his institution could take serious note and
initiate an investigation only if a communication is made to them.”
He said that this was not the best mechanism to
investigate corruption and said the Commission should have power
to initiate investigations and look into acts of corruption highlighted
in the media where even documents are published. Presently he said
the Commission was in the position of a normal civilian. We are
passive onlookers, he said.
The other institution battling corruption is the
Presidential Investigation Unit (PIU) which deals with the issues
of corruption in the public sector (See box story). It receives
complaints from both members of the public as well as directly from
the President’s office concerning acts of corruption and bribery
in government institutions,
Commissioner Ismail pointed out that usually only
people who had been personally affected make complaints.
The Commissioner pointed out that one of the reasons
people did not complain about a minister or senior official to the
Commission was because no laws were in place to protect a “whistle
blower”.It is alleged that local government organisations
constantly flout the law by disregarding government approved tender
procedures and giving contracts in return for personal favours.
An official who wished to remain anonymous said
that a ploy adopted by those involved in tender frauds in the state
sector was to encourage their “catchers” to bid for
tenders without quoting the price inclusive of the Value Added Tax
This results in making these bids appear to be
the lowest. Once the tender is awarded, the VAT is added and often
it ends up being the highest bid.
Commissioner Ismail said that corruption could
not be prevented by simply prosecuting and imprisoning public servants.
He said strategy was needed to combat the practice and present legislation
did not provide for it.
Corruption in the education sector has received
a lot of media attention. Unfortunately investigations yielded few
results due to confusion over who handles the area. An attempt by
the PIU to investigate the conduct of several Principals of schools
in Colombo in 2005 were blotched after it was ruled that the PIU
had no authority to act against Principals without approval from
the Public Services Commission (PSC).
Another setback faced by the Commission is that
police officers employed by it are under the police department and
are subject to sudden transfers.
This too is a setback as they undergo specialised
in-house training when they join the Commission, but are not guaranteed
a prolonged stay.
The power to recruit personnel would go a long
way to strengthen the hands of the Commission.
Last Tuesday, Transparency International, the
international corruption watchdog in its annual report said Sri
Lanka had deteriorated in rank on the Corruption Perception Index
(CPI) 2006 which reflects the continuous deterioration of the corruption
situation in the country.
A leading Buddhist monk Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera
initiated an anti corruption drive earlier this year and has handed
over 45 files to the Secretary to the President to initiate action
and bring the culprits to book. Among the contents of the files
are allegations against Ministers and officials in state sector
Departments and Corporations.
The Thera told The Sunday Times that they had
been informed that action would be taken but this has been limited
to verbal assurances. He warned that he was willing to be patient
a little longer but if no action was taken, he threatened to organise
a march with these files directly to Court and initiate direct legal
In a country where the strongest intervention
against corruption is limited to the President issuing a message
on December 9 (International Anti-Corruption Day), direct action
as threatened by Ven. Gunawansa Thera may be the only recourse,
if the country is to even get started on its way to wiping out bribery
3.1 points away from highly corrupt status
says Sri Lanka dropped six notches bringing it from 78 in
2005 to 84 in 2006, in its Corruption Perceptions Index which
covers 163 countries.
Further the Confidence Range Indicator (CRI) of Sri Lanka
has fallen by another 0.1 this year, bringing it down to 3.1.
It is also significant that Sri Lanka which had scored over
all other countries in the South Asian sub-continent in the
past, has for the first time been ranked below India, the
TI report said.
While releasing the report, TI Sri Lanka urged all stakeholders,
especially the government to pay immediate attention to these
warning signals and to take all measures to combat this menace
TI Executive Director JC Weliamuna stressed that there was
an urgent need to implement international commitments under
the United Nations Convention against Corruption, as Sri Lanka
had ratified the UN document. CRI score relates to perceptions
of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and
country analysts and ranges between 10 (highly clean) and
0 (highly corrupt).
UN Convention ...
Sri Lanka signed and ratified the United Nations Convention
Against Corruption in March 2004. It became a member of the
ADB/Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD) Anti-Corruption Initiative for Asia-Pacific in May
The UN Convention, which opened for signature in December
2003 and has since been signed by over 100 countries, provides
for international co-operation in the return of assets illicitly
acquired by corrupt officials, as well as preventive measures
to detect the plundering of national wealth as it occurs.
The Convention encourages signatories to adopt preventive
anti-corruption policies and practices and strengthen the
judicial systems and law enforcement mechanisms in dealing
with these twin evils.
Sri Lanka became the ADB/OECD Initiative’s 26th member
in May 2006. The Convention calls on members to develop effective
and transparent systems for public service, strengthen anti-bribery
actions, promote integrity in business operations and support
active civil society and private sector involvement.
The 2006 edition of the ADB/OECD Initiative’s report
on Anti-Corruption Policies in Asia and Pacific has found
that while good progress has been made across the region,
enforcement remains a key issue to be addressed.
down on corruption
Thilak Iddamalgoda Director-General of the Presidential
Investigation Unit (PIU) which has been entrusted with
task of looking into malpractices in state run institutions
says the working of the unit has yielded positive results
with regards to cracking down on corruption in the state
Statistics reveal that between January to October
this year, the PIU received a total of 1,399 complaints.
Of this only 361 cases came under the purview of the
unit and hence investigations were held into them.
Investigations have been completed into 83 of them
and reports forwarded to the relevant institutions as
well as the President’s Office. In many cases
legal action has been taken against the culprits.
The other complaints received were referred to the
relevant institutions, he said.
Mr. Iddamalgoda said many of the complaints the PIU
has received dealt with contravention of government
approved tender procedure when awarding contracts,