Sri Lanka – 92nd out of 180 at the olympics of corruption

| by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne

( February 02, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Venerable Walpola Piyananda, in his article Sri Lanka…Independent but not Yet Free published in the Sri Lanka Guardian of 1 February 2012 says inter alia, “As a nation and a people we have not yet won our freedom from egotistical self-centeredness, collective irresponsibility, pettiness, arrogance, and an unbridled lack of discipline… not a day passes without the exposure of another corrupt government official. Bribery, extortion, obstacles to progress removed or kept in place by greasing palms – all have become common in our society. Right livelihood is ignored as greed trumps integrity. Can these self-centered practices exist in a truly free society where selfless government officials work for the benefit of all the people?”

Good point, Venerable Sir. Those in power cannot just wash their hands off from this scourge, by saying they have no control over actions of their fellow countrymen. One must note that the state’s inability to implement tight monitoring systems is not the only cause of corruption. For the most part corruption reigns in the absence of an integrated system of internal supervision in the public sector. Corruption has both corrosive and toxic effects on a society. The report on Human Development in South Asia 1999 concluded:

“Corruption is one of the most damaging consequences of poor governance. It undermines investment and economic growth, decreases the resources available for human development goals, deepens the extent of poverty, subverts the judicial system, and undermines the legitimacy of the state. In fact, when corruption becomes entrenched, it can devastate the entire economic, political, and social fabric of a country…corruption breeds corruption – and a failure to combat it effectively can lead to an era of entrenched corruption”.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, says in the Times of India: “To eradicate corruption we require individuals who are incorruptible and, undoubtedly, what produces such individuals is spirituality. There is a saying that violence begins in the mind. This is true also of corruption: corruption begins in the mind. If we can alter our thinking, we can safely say that we shall have eradicated corruption by at least 50%.
Is this really so, I wonder. Although one could argue that if all of a country were to be run by monks and the totality of the bureaucracy were priests there would be no corruption (which is again something I doubt, going on what I read about them these days) , I have thought that corruption is caused mostly by want. If materialism were a determinant, most of the Montreal civil service would be corrupt as by and large the lifestyles of most North Americans are epicurean. On the contrary, I do not have to grease the palm of a clerk in City Hall when I go to obtain my son’s birth certificate, nor do I have to slip something into the hand of the staffer who issues me my driver’s license within minutes of my appearance at the Department of Motor Traffic. I believe the reason for this fiscal virtue among the North American bureaucracy is largely because these officers are well remunerated and therefore do not need to supplement their incomes by other means to feed and educate their families.
I also believe that the root cause of corruption is abuse of power, whether it percolates from politics or not. For instance, a bribe is defined as “something, such as money or a favor, offered or given to a person in a position of trust to influence that person’s views or conduct”. I would extend this definition to a position of power, because often, bribes are given to persons who are not only in positions of trust but who can also get things done.
J.S.T. Quah, in a paper Curbing corruption in Asia: A comparative study of six countries, published in 2003 stated that that in Asian countries three patterns of corruption control have been identified :
1. There are anti-corruption laws but no specific agency that implement those laws (Mongolia which has instituted the Law on Anti-Corruption and three provisions restricting bribery in the Criminal Code).
2. The combination of anti-corruption laws and several anti-corruption agencies (Philippines, China and India).
3. The impartial implementation of comprehensive anti-corruption laws by a specific anti-corruption agency (Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand and South Korea).
According to a study conducted in 2008 by Transparency International (TI), the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption, Sri Lanka occupies the 92nd position among 180 countries in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2008. The study indicates that Sri Lanka’s score remains at a low 3.2, indicating a serious corruption problem in the public sector. Neighbouring countries except Bhutan, all score below 3.5. Lack of transparency in political finance and poor parliamentary oversight are quoted as a key governance problem in Sri Lanka. Only India (3.4) and Sri Lanka are above a score of 3 with Maldives (2.8), Nepal (2.7), Pakistan (2.5) and Bangladesh (2.1) remaining with low scores. Analysts attribute India’s position to the implementation of the Right to Information Act.
Victor Ivan, a journalist does not mince his words when he says: “The foundation of the political system of Sri Lanka is based on bribery or corruption. Power politics of Sri Lanka may be defined as the right to plunder public property. There is a competition among political parties to win that right for a limited period. The group that wins plunders public property to the maximum during its term of office. It distributes among its supporters some part of the wealth thus plundered. The system of institutions including the judiciary, also functions according to that inherent ideology. Such a system of institutions is required because of the necessity to pretend that the state is un-corrupt although the official ideology is corrupt. The system of institutions including the judiciary, which are built to counter bribery or corruption, also gives the necessary protection to the corrupt practices of the ruling party in power. At the same time, implementation of the law against the corrupt practices of the opponents of the ruling party helps to give the government an anti-corruption appearance”.
I can add my personal anecdote. When I met an ambassador of Sri Lanka to a country in the Western World recently and asked how Sri Lanka is doing, his only response was, “the only problem is rampant corruption”.
I do not necessarily subscribe to this view and the others I have quoted above, nor do I reject them, purely because I consider myself unqualified to vilify the Sri Lankan way of life, having lived overseas for 22 years. But this much I can say as a Sri Lankan. We have a beautiful country steeped in noble traditions whose people follow the major religions of the world which all profess moral rectitude. We are known for our hospitality and grace, and above all our compassion to our fellow beings. Foreigners who visit our country have been known to talk in his praise of Sri Lanka. With all this, if what is being said by seemingly erudite and credible individuals about corruption in Sri Lanka is true, it is indeed sad that we have to stoop so low to land a distinguished 92nd place out of 180 in the Olympics of corruption. Maybe we should bring in the spiritualists?

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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