Curb­ing Cor­rup­tion

The gov­ern­ment in Sri Lanka is again mak­ing ef­forts to fight cor­rup­tion at all lev­els so that it can be seen to be ful­fill­ing one of its elec­tion prom­ises. There is not much suc­cess so far but the en­deav­our con­tin­ues.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Hafiz Inam

Cor­rup­tion seems to have found a breeding ground in the low­er­mid­dle in­come coun­tries across the globe. In Jose Ugaz’s words, the Chair of Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional, “The 2015 Cor­rup­tion Per­cep­tions In­dex clearly shows that cor­rup­tion re­mains a blight around the world.” South Asia is also wit­ness­ing ram­pant cor­rup­tion which is plagu­ing the eco­nomic growth of the re­gion. Sri Lanka, an is­land coun­try of South Asia, is not an ex­cep­tion to it. The spook of cor­rup­tion is over­shad­ow­ing the nation which is bat­tling hard to de­velop on the de­bris of the civil war.

Giv­ing gifts on fes­tive oc­ca­sion as a good­will ges­ture is a com­mon prac­tice in the busi­ness cir­cle in Sri Lanka. This way, com­pa­nies es­tab­lish their busi­ness re­la­tions with the pub­lic, in­clud­ing their con­tacts and as­so­ciates. This prac­tice ex­tends to pub­lic of­fi­cials, as well those who re­ceive valu­able gifts from pri­vate com­pa­nies. How­ever, the gov­ern­ment has de­cided to bring it to a halt as so­lic­it­ing and ac­cept­ing grat­i­fi­ca­tion by a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial is a bribe. As Sri Lanka is go­ing through a tran­si­tional phase, this is a part of the fight against cor­rup­tion.

Since 2015, the rain­bow coali­tion gov­ern­ment of Sri Lanka has been striv­ing against to root out cor­rup­tion once and for all. Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena as­sumed power in 2015 when Ra­japaksa lost the elec­tion. It was ap­par­ent that the charges of cor­rup­tion and nepo­tism against Ra­japaksa and his fam­ily had re­stricted him from be­com­ing the Pres­i­dent again. The

present gov­ern­ment promised to make the coun­try cor­rup­tion free. So far, it has not lived up to that prom­ise.

Cor­rup­tion is rife in Sri Lanka. The over­all ad­min­is­tra­tive land­scape of the coun­try presents a gloomy pic­ture. Cor­rup­tion re­mains a big prob­lem in do­ing busi­ness in the coun­try where brib­ing pub­lic of­fi­cials, nepo­tism and crony­ism are com­mon. Bribes are paid to avoid bu­reau­cratic red tape and seek un­due favours from of­fi­cials. Of­fer­ing and re­ceiv­ing grat­i­fi­ca­tion is pro­hib­ited un­der the Preven­tion of Cor­rup­tion Act, yet it is a com­mon prac­tice. There is a gov­ern­ment body, namely The Com­mis­sion to In­ves­ti­gate Al­le­ga­tions of Bribery or Cor­rup­tion (CIABOC), founded in 1994, to in­ves­ti­gate and pros­e­cute in­ci­dents of cor­rup­tion. Known as the “bribery com­mis­sion”, the com­mis­sion, so far, has not per­formed up to the mark due to its lim­ited man­date, po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence and trust is­sues. It was found by Olken in his study “Cor­rup­tion in De­vel­op­ing Coun­tries”, con­ducted in 2011, that there is lit­tle stigma at­tached to pay­ing bribes in Sri Lanka as it is in other de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

Data shared by Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional about Sri Lanka is not en­cour­ag­ing. It re­veals Sri Lanka scored low on the Cor­rup­tion Per­cep­tion In­dex in 2015. It stood at 83rd po­si­tion on the In­dex. More than 60% Sri Lankans be­lieve cor­rup­tion has in­creased in the pub­lic sec­tor over the years. Around 33% of the re­spon­dents say pub­lic of­fi­cials and civil ser­vants are cor­rupt. Al­most 64% of the re­spon­dents feel the po­lice force is the most cor­rupt in­sti­tu­tion in the coun­try. Ap­prox­i­mately 8% of ru­ral en­ter­prises com­plained about mak­ing unof­fi­cial pay­ments to tax depart­ment while 30% of en­ter­prises ex­pected to give gifts to secure gov­ern­ment con­tracts. Cor­rup­tion and in­ef­fi­cient gov­ern­ment bu­reau­cracy were among the most prob­lem­atic fac­tors for do­ing busi­ness in Sri Lanka in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum’s re­port of 2014-15.

A strong pol­icy to halt cor­rupt prac­tices is needed. The gov­ern­ment ap­pears en­thu­si­as­tic about it, though the fate of mea­sures taken in this re­gard is un­cer­tain. The gov­ern­ment ini­ti­ated a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion against Sri Lankan Air­lines in which it was re­ported that large-scale em­bez­zle­ment was traced in the 2013 pur­chase of ten air­craft worth $2.3 bil­lion. Sim­i­larly, for­mer Pres­i­dent Ra­japaksa’s fam­ily was in­ter­ro­gated over charges of mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of funds, nepo­tism and mur­der. His son, Yoshitha Ra­japaksa was ar­rested for al­leged fi­nan­cial crimes in Jan­uary 2016.

Con­tin­u­ing the war against cor­rup­tion, the gov­ern­ment has taken an­other mea­sure to sub­stan­ti­ate its drive. CIABOC, an anti-graft body, is­sued a cir­cu­lar in De­cem­ber 2015, ask­ing pri­vate com­pa­nies to re­frain from dis­tribut­ing gifts. The cir­cu­lar warned gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to de­sist from so­lic­it­ing and ac­cept­ing grat­i­fi­ca­tion on oc­ca­sions like Christ­mas and New Year. It reads, “Any per­son who aids and abets any pub­lic ser­vant in com­mit­ting the of­fence is li­able to be tried un­der sec­tion 25 of the Act.” CIABOC Com­mis­sioner Gu­ruge be­lieves dis­tribut­ing sea­sonal gifts is an act of bribery and, thus, needs to be stopped. To him, a gift is some­thing valu­able given with­out ex­pect­ing some­thing in re­turn while a bribe is some­thing given in the hope of re­ceiv­ing de­sired ben­e­fit in ex­change.

It is a wel­come move taken by the gov­ern­ment which seemed to have run out of steam in its war against cor­rup­tion. The Sirisena-led gov­ern­ment was be­ing crit­cised for not pur­su­ing gen­eral crimes and eco­nomic mal­prac­tices of those who held or hold high po­si­tions in the gov­ern­ment. This re­cent ac­tion of the CIABOC is ex­pected to thwart and rep­ri­mand and the gov­ern­ment was ex­posed in two ways - sub­stan­ti­ate its rhetoric of mak­ing the coun­try cor­rup­tion free and en­sure that en­ter­prises op­er­at­ing in the coun­try ob­serve busi­ness ethics in deal­ing with pub­lic of­fice-bear­ers.

It is com­mend­able that the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment has em­barked on cleans­ing the coun­try rid­dled with bribery, graft and cor­rup­tion. The gov­ern­ment has taken ac­tion against mal­prac­tices of its of­fice-hold­ers as it is cog­nizant of the fact it has come into power on the prom­ise of mak­ing the coun­try rid of cor­rup­tion. It is high time that the com­mis­sion is em­pow­ered by over­com­ing de­fi­cien­cies in the leg­is­la­tion. Also, tan­gi­ble mea­sures must be taken to en­able the com­mis­sion to work free from po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence. Hopes are high the on­go­ing cam­paign against malfea­sance of au­thor­i­ties will go fur­ther with more zeal.

It is com­mend­able that the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment has em­barked on cleans­ing the coun­try rid­dled with bribery, graft and cor­rup­tion.

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