ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday February 24, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 39

Adequacy of resources for anti-corruption

By J. V. Thambar

In addressing any social problem, a common strategy is to assess first, the nature, extent, consequences and overall costs to the community. The information serves as a guide to total outlays necessary to contain the problem effectively. This procedure is followed in relation to social and health programmes of controlling diseases, e.g., AIDS, drug abuse or alcoholism. The programmes need suitable indicators for monitoring, evaluation and revisions where needed.

National Anti-corruption Programme

The recently concluded US aid funded, Anti-Corruption Programme conducted over eighteen months and finalized in August 2007, is perhaps the most comprehensive perceptive and participatory programme ever completed in this country. The project terminated and results left for further community action.

( The Report inter-alia pinpoints the need to enhance the capacity of the Bribery Commission (4 a. 2 Pg. 12). "The compelling need to review progress, enhance independence, extend geographic reach, professional qualifications of staff, widen the circle of those eligible to serve as Commissioners and increase the financial resources available for its work are mentioned. In terms of funding, it should receive funds directly from Parliament without being dependent on Treasury."

A network of regional offices and building greater awareness and preventive measures are enjoined. Many of these recommendations are interrelated but a beginning could be made with the law and the frequency of its revision. Over twenty years ago, Prof. Y. Johns of Singapore University in a survey of the time taken to enact and implement anti-corruption legislation in Asian countries, observed that it took the bureaucracy five to eight years to enact and implement legislation which was seen as against their interests. To this may be added the tendency to hamstring operations and release adequate resources to the enforcement agency.

While certain amendments to the existing law are under consideration it is hoped that there would be wider consultation in some form as no law can be effectively enforced without public consultation and cooperation.

Independence of staff - It is not sufficiently realized that from the inception of the Bribery Commission staff available for investigation have been made available only on being seconded by the Police Dept. and clerical staff from Public Administration which were arrangements made by an unsympathetic Treasury and still obtains.

This arrangement frustrates any independence, thoroughness and confidentiality of operations. Seconded officers are more concerned on their future prospects on return to their respective departments. Furthermore, the independent control of the staff by the Commission is impaired. It was recently reported in the press that a police officer in the Commission who handles sensitive information was suddenly recalled by his department. Furthermore, no investment in any long-term training or career development of staff is possible on officers who are with the Commission on temporary assignment. In no part of the world does this arrangement exist for enforcement organizations. Singapore, which began similarly has weaned and handpicked serving police officers who were retained into a permanent independent staff of the anti-corruption department.

Bribery Commission (CIABOC) and its workload - Before considering the adequacy of staff, the workload is a major concern. According to CIABOC Annual Report 2005 (Jan. 2007), the total number of complaints received was 2,118. However, as these did not fall within the purview of the Commission or other reasons, a total of 1,279 were not subject to investigation. From 2000 to 2005 a total of 5,081 complaints had been made but all were not investigated. During 2005, the numbers investigated was 898 to which may be added 1,495 carried over from previous years, i.e. a total of 2,393. Of these investigations had been completed in respect of 685 cases. The investigating staff for these cases was 81 of whom only 75 were utilized for investigations and the rest for administration, security etc. Thus, each officer had to handle 30-50 files; overall investigating officers had completed about 80 cases each.

The rate of completion is indeed commendable given the actual staff deployed on operations. Furthermore, the officers had to travel to all 23 districts and had between them 12 vehicles which were of 5-12 years vintage (It may be observed that in Malaysia each of the 9 states has a separate independent branch of the National Anti-corruption Department).

Prosecutions - The end result of all investigations were 93 prosecutions and 84 appeal cases where 34 were convicted and others acquitted or discharged. The concluded prosecutions for 2005 were 82. Steps have been taken to increase the cadre of staff but this would require more accommodation. In regard to other staff, that is establishment and legal, though the cadre approved was 140, the actual cadre in position at the end of 2005 was 128.

Staff Training - Training is given to staff mainly on management, accounting, administration and technologies. Only one course was provided on the all important aspects of surveillance and investigation. There is scope for much wider training in specialized operations, awareness building and preventive measures as prevails in similar agencies in Singapore and Sydney.

Public Awareness - Besides law and its enforcement, very important operation areas are prevention and building community support and resistance to corruption. However the Commission has limited resources on these purposes. e.g., seminars (62,000), publicity posters (15,000), lecture notes (96,000). Training was targeted to a total of 1,500 mostly through police training institutes. This is barely the tip of the iceberg in a public service of over 500,000 in Government and State Corporations.

The Commission may consider being assisted in some areas of training by SLIDA, Local Government Training Institutions, the OPA and Transparency International (SL). The private sector could also be reached through NIBM, Trade Chambers and even Federation of Trade Unions. (It may be noted that in Sweden, the Trade Chambers if requested, offers free advice on corruption risk prevention to the business sector).

Funding - As pointed out in the ACP Report and by the consultant from Singapore (Chua Cher Yak) the Commission is at a disadvantage in being at the mercy of Treasury allocations rather than from the Consolidated Fund or Parliament. In 2004 the Treasury allocation was Rs. 48 million, in 2005 Rs. 60 million (plus further Rs. 36 million). A further grant of US $125,000.00 was received from UNDP in 2005. In 2006, the allocation was Rs. 79 million, 2007 - Rs. 85 million, and 2008 - Rs. 95 million with Rs. 35 million for acquisition of capital building. The total amounted to Rs. 131 million. Compare the total allocations to the Commission to counter the mega sized corruption in the country estimated between Rs.500-1000 billion or between 20%-30% of the GDP.

According to Transparency International Corruption Index 2002, Sri Lanka was placed 52 out of 102 countries. Since then there has been a steady deterioration to the recent position of 69th place. The overwhelming advantage of the country in terms of resources for development, poverty allocation, employment and higher standards of living through major control of corruption are well-known and have been repeatedly stressed.

The Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) - New South Wales, Australia.

It would be of interest to highlight some of the comparable positions in Australia and Hong Kong. Under the ICAC Act, 1988, a Commission was established in New South Wales. Some of the features are:

a. The Commissioner is a senior high judicial officer appointed by government and responsible to Parliament.
b. In addition to complaints from the public, all heads of departments are required by law to report cases to the Commission who often direct them to hold an inquiry in the first place and report to ICAC.
c. The ICAC also acts on its own from press reports, Parliamentary debates or a reference made by Parliament.
d. Public have access to information from Freedom of Information Act and complaints are protected by Protected Disclosures Act (the "whistle blowers" Act).
e. The Operational Review Committee, which reviews rejected applications of the Commission has been replaced by Inspector of ICAC for oversight of ICAC appointed by Parliament in 2005.
f. The Australian parliament appoints an all party select committee at the beginning of each session to have an oversight of the programmes of the ICAC but are debarred by law from any interference in their work.
g. Proceedings of the ICAC are open to the public except where evidence is desired in camera.
h. Findings (not recommendations) are referred to a Director of Public Prosecution. The selection of test cases are reported in full and published. These are a valuable source of information on the thoroughness of the work of ICAC.

04. The ICAC Annual Report (2005/06) is a state-of-the-art report beginning with a three page itemized schedule of "what was attempted", "what was achieved", and "what has yet to be achieved".

During the year 2005/06, a total of 2,191 complaints had been inquired into and 61 cases concluded and 7 reports to Parliament and 58 prosecutions effected. Of the 2,000 complaints examined 200 were from building trade, 34% from Local Government, 18% from Law and Justice and 4% from Police. Most of the allegations (140) referred to breach of policies and procedures, misuse and theft (140), falsifying information (80) and bribery and corruption (60).

Staff - The staff available for corporate services (18), prevention and education (21) and strategic operations (40) thus in overall there were 80 investigators for 2,400 cases, i.e., an average load of 30 for officers. The average time taken to complete an investigation is reported to be around 45 days. The total executive and administrative staff was 110 of whom 95 were in place.

Funds - The total expenditure of the ICAC was AUS $15 million of which AUS $11 million was employee related and AUS $4 million on operations. The Commission also reported on Disability Action, Ethnic Affairs and importantly, to track and report on finding of annual reports by Departments and Agencies as required under the Freedom of Information Act.

05. Hong Kong Anti-corruption Department - A Sri Lankan team's visit to Hong Kong was sponsored by the Asian Human Rights Centre (Jan. 10-15, 2008). A report filed by the Sunday Financial Times gives a few comparative figures. The Commission had an independent staff of 1,300 whose salaries were higher than other public officers, for obvious reasons. In 2006, 61 complaints were made against the private sector; 39% against public services of which 10% were against the police.

Due to policies developed by the ICAC and the confidence in their work, more complaints are being made, and annually about 3,500 complaints are being received. The directorate seeks to ensure "a level playing field" in the business community and thus gain public trust and confidence. The Commission functions without any political influence. The Annual Budget is US $8.5 million.

The above information is from a report by Faizal Samath of Sunday Financial Times. It is hoped that reports from other team members and material would be available to those interested.


After the final presentation of The Anti-corruption Programme at the BMICH, August 2007, it was expected that a Local National Coordinating Committee with its own funds would emerge to implement a programme. Meanwhile, the OPA Committee on Anti-corruption is picking up the threads to move forward.

(The writer is a retired Sri Lankan Administrative Service Officer)

Top to the page  |  E-mail  |  views[1]

Reproduction of articles permitted when used without any alterations to contents and a link to the source page.
© Copyright 2008 | Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka. All Rights Reserved.