One of the main planks on which the present Government came to power was its pledge to wipe out corruption and call the corrupt to book. While most supporters of the Government might question how far the Government has succeeded in doing so, it is useful to examine the progress made in combating this scourge [...]


Strengthening the anti-corruption regime- CIABOC gives cause for hope


One of the main planks on which the present Government came to power was its pledge to wipe out corruption and call the corrupt to book. While most supporters of the Government might question how far the Government has succeeded in doing so, it is useful to examine the progress made in combating this scourge that has afflicted the country and threatening its progress as a nation.

Corruption and the spread of narcotics are, probably, two of the most debilitating diseases afflicting the country’s body politic. Like a cancer that is silently spreading through the political and social firmament, the damage done is immeasurable and often irreversible.

Corruption in all its forms has spread to every sector in the country. The fact that electronic jammers have to be installed within Prisons, to prevent inmates from using mobile phones, not only to communicate with the outside world, but also to organise narcotics-related crimes, is a case in point.

Now, newspaper reports indicate that the Examinations Dept is contemplating installing electronic jammers at GCE Advanced Level Exam Centres, to prevent students making contact with the outside through electronic means, to obtain answers to questions. This is a damning indictment of our society and indicates that, the problem is of such magnitude, that the usual Supervisors and Invigilators in a Centre, are incapable of handling the issue.

In the past, Schools instilled in students the maxim, “Honesty is the best Policy” but clearly, today that message is not reaching the children. As those with dubious records of integrity being invited as Chief Guests for School Prize-Givings and School Functions, students get mixed messages of the importance of honesty.

Religious leaders often don’t help the cause either. Nor does the media. When individuals are charged or arrested for corruption, religious leaders are shown blessing such individuals in the full glare of publicity, which is brought into the drawing rooms of homes, through the electronic media. These scenes could convey the impression to the young that, there is nothing wrong in whatever the individuals concerned are accused of doing, because religious leaders are blessing such persons.

The change effected on January 8, 2015 was as much intended to ensure systemic change, as to ensure regime change. When one examines the reasons why those involved in large scale corruption have not been brought to book, one can see that the absence of strong systems with adequate resources in the investigative arms of Government, has been one, but not necessarily, the only contributory factor.

That the environment to bring to book, those involved in corruption, has been created is very evident, with the setting up of the Independent Commissions and the facilitation of the independence of the judiciary. The fact that two of the highest officials in the State hierarchy have been arrested on charges of bribery, without any attempt at interference by the Government, amply demonstrates that State officials feel empowered by the enabling environment to act independently.

The investigations and prosecutions relating to the Bond scam are further evidence of such empowerment. The fact that the judiciary is delivering orders and judgements that are adverse to the Government, amply demonstrates the changed environment within which State agencies now work.

Ironically, today, it seems that, those accused of committing acts of corruption, after the present Government assumed office, are being brought to book more speedily than those accused of corruption under the previous Government.

However, what is encouraging is that steps are currently underway to strengthen the Commission for Investigating Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC) and thereby, the anti- corruption regime, by improving on the mechanisms that are available, but clearly inadequate, to meet the challenges of curbing corruption.

CIABOC Director General Sarath Jayamanne P.C. has clearly outlined in a series of interviews in the print and electronic media, the problems faced by CIABOC in carrying out its duties and the steps taken to resolve the situation.

The first is the perennial issue of inadequate resources. He cites the case of Hong Kong, with a population of 6 million, having 1,000 investigators on the staff of the Anti-Corruption Commission. In contrast, CIABOC has only 200 investigators for a country of 21 million. Sri Lanka is currently placed 93rd in the World Corruption Index, while Hong Kong is at 13th.

Additionally, the 200 Sri Lankan investigators are primarily competent in Bribery investigations, based on their experience in the previous Bribery Commissioner’s Dept, and have limited capabilities in other skills required to investigate allegations of corruption. CIABOC has now taken steps to recruit Accountants, Engineers and others to handle investigations which require forensic skills.

Even this process has been time consuming, with Government machinery moving with its customary tardiness. It had taken the Management Services Dept one-and-a-half years to approve the new cadre requirement and thereafter, the Salaries & Cadres Commission’s approval, before CIABOC could embark on the recruitment process.

Mr Jayamanne also outlined various other steps taken to revamp the anti-corruption regime. He has pointed out that the concept of ‘Conflict of Interest’ is almost unknown to the Public Service, and how identification of such conflicts or, even perceptions of conflict, can help arrest growth of corruption.

Steps are also being taken to upgrade the prosecution skills within CIABOC. During the days of the Bribery Commissioner’s Dept, prosecutions were handled by the Attorney General’s Dept. Jayamanne also drew attention to the fact that, when approvals for staff had to be obtained, other State agencies looked at CIABOC as another Government Dept and therefore, did not take cognizance of the difference in the nature of the functions that CIABOC officers had to perform.

The same issue cropped up in the first Human Rights Commission (HRC) established in 1997, where one of the Commissioners argued that the recruitment and remuneration of officers to that Commission should not be governed by the same FRs and ARs that covered other State employment. The argument was that, if the HRC was to be successful, it had to obtain the services of those who had the passion and aptitude for HR work, rather than those who looked at it as a mere State job. However, that argument did not succeed then.

Today, happily, Jayamanne has been able to overcome that hurdle and CIABOC is now in the process of interviewing and recruiting the people with the necessary skills and integrity for what is, after all, a specialized job.

The CIABOC DG is drawing on the experience and best practices of other countries, to put in place various methods of improving on the anti corruption regime in Sri Lanka. When questioned as to why the public is not kept aware of the progress of Bribery investigations, he stated that CIABOC is governed by an oath of secrecy, which has the objective of protecting the integrity of the investigation and preventing evidence being destroyed by those who are being investigated.

He, however, drew attention to the practice in other countries of oversight committees which kept a close tab on the progress of investigations, without actually looking at the details of specific cases.

Among the other steps being taken are Legislation for Assets Investigations, which has been approved by Cabinet and is now before Parliament.

All in all, the outlook for CIABOC’s work seems to be positive but, whether the improvements put in place will be in time to bring the offenders of the past, to book, remains to be seen. What is a matter of satisfaction of course is that, in future, the corrupt will not find it easy to get away.

The experience of CIABOC also proves there are proactive officers within the ranks of the Public Service, like Sarath Jayamanne who, given the space and necessary support, can proactively give effect to the goals that Governments set out for themselves.

We cannot, therefore, be faulted, if we feel there is cause for optimism and that, there is hope for our country’s future.


Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.