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.
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.