How Sri Lanka has moved on in accountability?

Corruption was endemic in Sri Lanka for decades as a way of life? Corruption had affected both public and private sectors in Sri Lanka. The increasing participation and the relevance of Trade Unions in the vanguard for fighting corruption and nepotism, and recently civil society organisations, has been a noticeable feature. In the complex post conflict situation in Sri Lanka, fighting corruption was difficult, in fact dangerous.


by Victor Cherubim

( August 19, 2017, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) If Britain has bus lanes, Sri Lanka must have at some stage similar or better bus lanes, whether our roads can accommodate all types of road users, including cows. If in San Francisco they have Mexican Taco, a corn or wheat “tortilla” folded or rolled around a filling of some sort, is it “must visit” a Taco in Colombo? If in Caracas, women were seen out on the streets, we too saw some days ago, women in numbers outside Matara town, shouting slogans, rightly about Samurdhi, whether they are young mothers or grandmothers. If they built the Shard at London Bridge, should we also turn Galle Face into a charade of high rise luxury penthouses to better the Shard or Dubay?

Is it collective wisdom or was it the “way to do things”? It is anybody’s guess? Collusion between businesses around the world and politicians is witnessed as they siphoned off billions in revenue from national economies benefitting “the few at the expense of the many.” Corruption it seemed endemic, perhaps, as a form of “Crowd Culture” everywhere? We see the correction mechanism, the Panama Papers and the Pakistani connection. But what about the Indian “gulabi” bakskis”?

Corruption and inequality

“The connection between corruption and inequality which feed off each other to create a vicious circle between both, and the unequal distribution of power in society and unequal distribution of wealth”, is nothing new.”

“In too many countries around the world, people who are deprived of their most basic needs, while the powerful and the corrupt enjoy lavish life styles with impunity,” was the observation of Jose Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International.

How corrupt is Sri Lanka?

When politicians fail to tackle corruption, people grow cynical. To see corrupt practices taking root in Sri Lanka like in many other parts of the globe. was not unusual. Transparency International rated Sri Lanka very high in its Corruption Perception Index (CPI).How far are we down or up the ladder?

Corruption was endemic in Sri Lanka for decades as a way of life? Corruption had affected both public and private sectors in Sri Lanka. The increasing participation and the relevance of Trade Unions in the vanguard for fighting corruption and nepotism, and recently civil society organisations, has been a noticeable feature. In the complex post conflict situation in Sri Lanka, fighting corruption was difficult, in fact dangerous.

Several segments of society joined in the fight against corruption, including activists, academics, and journalists. In December 2014 the MOU signed by the “Good Governance Party” with 49 other political parties and civil society organisations had four basic tasks mainly to fight corruption. Its hope was immediately to prevent through greater transparency and accountability, the earning of “commissions,” as well as wastage of public funds and for the law to take action against abuses.

How far have we gone down this road, other than a Minsters’ resignation? Former Minister Ravi Karunaratna’s removal, is hardly or in any way, an admission of guilt? We now hear that the Yahapalanya Government is no better at fighting corruption than Great Mahinda’s Chintana? Can we in Sri Lanka, change human nature?

The way corruption has thrived was by intimidation, deception of the general public, by manipulating information. Corruption has fuelled social exclusion. The conditions seemed right during the war years and since for corruption with impunity. Have we now got the political will to put it right?

The bribers and the bribed

In Sri Lanka for decades political parties did bribe voters during elections by distributing/donating food parcels, dry rations and most of all liquor, recently money. We see it was the applications for jobs, particularly housing, in fact obtaining bank loans, cement bags and even permits for sand, zinc and asbestos sheets? What prevailed in making appointments to government and State owned institutions is well known. We were never weaned off the “Government Service” culture. Even as a qualification for marriage, we had to be in government service. Why go far, getting a child admitted to school. hardly to mention Royal, or St.Thomas’ College, or even getting an application processed within a reasonable timeframe, all needed a back hander. Nepotism and Cronyism was part of our way of working, so when during the days of the Rajapaksa regime, the need to pay a ransom to “be free.” it was not unusual? Do we really know what to do with these “compliments of the season?”

What was the expectation?

They say “the fear of the unknown is often worse than the reality of a situation”.

In Sri Lanka, there is the quid pro quo? Politicians don’t do something for nothing? They expect “something in return for their service.” There was a time nothing could be done without a back hander. The business of spin or a system designed to make money at the expense of the poor was considered the norm. The poor were “conned,”
with Samurdhi?

But since and after the conflict, the country needed infrastructure and big money was on offer to our politicians, which they naturally accepted with glee. The “giving and the taking” was the order of the day. The givers were international business; the takers were Sri Lankan politicians. The givers were unscrupulous in their methods, most with double standards. Unfortunately, or even fortunately, the takers were novices. Number Index Bank accounts were set up overseas for the accumulation of “commissions. We reliably learn if these secret numbers were lost, the accounts were forfeit. Good luck for these special accounts? We saw regular monitoring visits by politicians’ visits abroad, purportedly on the pretext of medical checks, but to check balances. The rest is history.

That which could not be ignored is pursued?

Thus came about COPE (The Parliamentary Committee of Public Enterprises), The Bribery Commission, The CID, The FCID, The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIAOBC). No notable prosecutions have taken place and the public is concerned. Does it mean that delay is inevitable due to proper investigation? Does it mean, the cases in question, the evidence is weak? Or as JVP Leader, Anura Dissanayake, stated yesterday at Ratnapura, ”appey ammah?

All these bodies currently deal with accountability issues. The Parliamentary oversight Committee on Financial Matters promoted increased transparency, and then came the birth pangs and passing of legislation on the Right of Information Act. Civil organisations and NGO’s local and foreign are also the invigilators, the Moderators?

Too many observers, not enough clout?

We hear the names of Transparency International Sri Lanka (Asoka Obeyasekera) former FCID’s Dilrukshi Dias Wickremasinghe, not to mention Saman Rathnapriya, HSTUA (Health Services Trade Union Alliance) also among others the Federation of University Teachers Associations. few among the many, who have all been involved in setting up their functions to bring about accountability and compliance to curb corruption.

But, it appears. the functions are limited. COPE seems to have been thwarted, FCID may have funding problems, TISL has produced many confidential reports but find it difficult to implement them for fear of prosecution. The wait is on. But now the weight is on the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCI) with two eminent justices and a retired Auditor General to try to bring to book the culprits and enforce accountability. It is a hideous, thankless but a worthwhile task. But, there is much more to be done and done fast. But, if the Attorney General’s Department can be given separate powers, in the not too distant future, as in England, to separate its functions, we may see progress.

If we can try out bus lanes, for a start, we may be able to separate the AG’s Dept. functions? It is currently the Nations’ Prosecution and the Government’s Legal Advisor. There seems an obvious “conflict of interest” situation in Sri Lanka? But is it that easy to separate its current duties? Who knows, it is easier said than done?

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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