25 September, 2021

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Corona & Corruption Virus Wreak Havoc In Sri Lanka

By Tassie Seneviratne

Tassie Seneviratne

It is an acknowledged fact that corruption has become a way of life in Sri Lanka. It has been described as a virus as virulent as the Corona virus. Their combination knows no bounds. But who is worried? Not the all-pervasive Crown. And, corruption in the Health sector, at this moment, is most disconcerting. In the wake of the current Covid-19 crisis, corruption has taken on a new dimension of free rein for corruption.

Bribery was a limited concept for over a hundred years when the Penal Code law provisions were, for so long, sufficient for its control. In the late nineteen- hundreds, (1900s) however, the term corruption was brought in to supplement bribery as a criminal offence.   

In the mid- 1960s a Bribery Commissioner (BC) was appointed. With this appointment, instructions went out that all matters of bribery: petitions, information etc. are to be reported to the BC for action. The Public Service was stripped/relieved of action and responsibility for bribery and corruption. As a result, bribery and corruption became a criminal offence to be dealt with under the law and the courts. Bribery was no longer to be treated as the administrative offence it was till then. By this, the Establishment Code (EC) went completely into disuse. Sole responsibility and action on bribery was with the BC, the law and the courts, to the exclusion of the Public Service and the EC whose concern it is to keep its house in order.   

This relegation of the administrative authority was in breach of UN Convention against Corruption: ‘2003, Article 5 Prevention, Section 3, prescribing ‘Legal and Administrative Measures.’ Sri Lanka was a signatory to the UN Convention. To date, however, there has been no will to reinstitute the EC administrative measures for control of bribery and corruption. The result is that this useful means in the EC to control corruption is blatantly disregarded. One wonders if respective BCs are even aware of the UN Convention. Apparently, the idea that yet prevails as the law has developed is that action is taken only when complaints are made to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC). This is in spite of the fact that the CIABOC is tasked with Prevention and Detection of corruption.  No inquiries are made on information gathered/received. A glaring instance was just three days ago at Hikkaduwa: at a girls’ school, where health department officials had signed certificates that vaccine has been administered, when, in fact, vaccine had not been injected. The medicine was taken away by the officials in full view and protest of the public. Apparently the CIABOC, though tasked with Prevention of corruption, will not inquire into this since no complaint is made. The situation is replete with similar instances where the CIABOC should take action. In other words, corruption is rife and action is very low. A commissioned study, taking only a sample, reflected this inadequacy at Nochchiyagama, where a complaint has to come to Longdon Place, to expect action to be taken.

By reason of the way judicial adjudication in cases of bribery and corruption is determined, the administrative transgression of the public servant gets lost in the court’s determination. When the case in courts fails, it precludes administrative sanction against the officers concerned. It has been the general experience to see accused acquitted gleefully, in court cases on the slightest of technical grounds. And, as a result, the superior officer is unable to make due assessment of the subordinate officer for promotion etc. Every offence of corruption carries with it features that are material to determination of his promotion. Thus, each EC rule, figures around the bribery case: discreditable conduct, disobedience to orders, lack of integrity, neglect of duty, and much more that are relevant to the bribery case. But when the case fails as aforesaid, corrupt officers come back with clean (laundered) sheets to serve as supervisory officers directing subordinate officers. In fact, the police service is seriously compromised in their standing by this impediment. It is not only that the UN Convention has been ignored, commonsense too has failed to keep order in the public service. The Bribery Act, in effect, only provides a safety valve to errant officers.

The failure from inadequate administrative means is thus conspicuous and evident. The problem with corruption relentlessly persists. The whole picture cannot be taken in. This article confines itself therefore to the corruption within the current Covid-19 crisis.     

Action on the Covid-19 crisis started very well. Many plaudits were extended to the Army in all aspects of quarantine control. The food, the courtesy, accommodation, toilets etc. were mentioned in glowing terms by Dr Lucien Jayasuriya, a former Medical Administrator. But that was for a very brief time. Under the Task Force, the situation changed dramatically to the opposite. At every turn corruption is the order in the Covid-19 crisis. Hotel quarantine, ‘vaccine warfare,’ drugs, ventilators, and tenders, hospital overcrowding, beds reserved for the selected who are willing to pay and for other considerations, Covid-19 Fund collections of questionable repute with no audit, corruptible use of quarantine regulations for political purposes as at Mullaitivu, clearing of forests under cover of Covid-19 curfew, the list goes on. All this is while patients are dying like flies in most uncongenial conditions in corridors, nooks and corners.   

However, an occasional light is brought to shine through the darkness. The church in some places offered temporary accommodation for quarantine and health purposes. The Association of Medical Specialists (AMS) came out with their 24/7 Programme to help possible Covid-19 contacts with medical assistance which the government was unable to offer. In effect, the AMS help cuts across corruption problems in direct service to the people. Significant too is the Opposition proposal to donate their funds direct to the hospitals than channel it through the government funds.     

The Bribery Act has had a chequered run on its programmes. A former Bribery Commissioner, Sarath Jayamanne, PC, (SJ) a couple of days back spoke on “How to do away with Corruption in Sri Lanka / Role of Law.”. There was much publicity on this at colossal expense for seminars etc. Plainly, the propaganda was in lieu of effective action to control corruption. Perhaps, it mesmerized the people. Forward action was not in the agenda. Not in the manner that Mr. Ian Wickramanayake as BC took positive action. IW obtained the assistance of senior Police officers with experience in the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) to formulate strategies. In the case of big-time bribery, where SJ makes the excuse that no complaints are received, the strategy was to ‘watch and catch’ both parties in the act, and proceed with the investigation from there. That kept all public servants on their toes. All that is required is a little bit of ingenuity and will. I know of these things because I was in the B C Department then.

Will we ever come right again?

*The writer is a Retired Senior Superintendent of Police. He can be contacted at seneviratnetz@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 7
    0

    Will we ever come right again?
    Not in the near future. May be under Communist Chinese leadership?

  • 9
    0

    Dear Tassie,
    As octogenarians we yearn for the past of better morals and values, but then Sri Lanka has slipped tragically into an abyss. Politics and political power in selfish hands, together with a stupid electorate, have created the sordid mess.

    • 5
      0

      Franklin Roosevelt said , ” to benefit from Democracy, the voter must
      use his vote wisely . ” For this to happen , in a voting society , we need
      to understand our individual and collective values in such a system .
      The hard and frustrating fact right at the moment is , We Do Not Know
      to Value Our Selves ! The majority is to blame for this ignorance as it
      is the majority that forms their Rulers .

  • 2
    0

    In Tamil Nadu, all candidates for election have to declare their assets.

    http://varnam.org/2005/01/declaration_of_assets/

    The declarations are available for perusal by anyone.

  • 6
    0

    As a former policeman, the writer should know very well that in Sri Lanka, law enforcement defers to political will. That is why politically motivated thugs in yellow can rampage through minority-community owned shops destroying property and assaulting them while the police, whose primary role is to protect the public, watch and facilitate the desecration of the law. In that context, and in similar vein, the scoundrels clad in white national dress steal wholesale, the funds allocated for and owned by, the public with a nonchalant sense of impunity. There is no law to protect the people. There is no bribery commissioner who will ensure punishment for policemen who daily take bribes from thieves. In other words, it is futile to write about the law and the role of a bribery commissioner in the land like no other, the miracle of Asia.

    • 4
      0

      Dear Lasantha,
      .
      If law and order could work in EUrope and where you are, why cant it be the case in SRILANKA ?

      Politicians, Police, Courts and all others getting qualified/graudated from local university on the cost of tax payers are locals. NOw the times are gone, that we cant point the finger at colonists any further.

      Last time, during my travels to SL, though I am totally against bribes, I had to let it go, asking my nephew to go and bribe him because I could have lost my travle to GALLE, if I did not so. It was at a round about near to Panchikawatta. Unfortunately, I could not video the very incident.

      • 3
        0

        leelagemalli ,

        1 . In 2018 , Sirisena dismissed his government led by PM Ranil
        unconstitutionally
        2 .Incumbent regime takes part in the illegal act by accepting
        Sirisena’s invitation to form a government as if no one in
        their party knew the act was illegal .
        3 .How did the perpetrators escape punishment and get
        re-elected with such a majority ?
        4.Why did Ranil and JVP not initiate any action to get some
        punishment meted out against the very person who was
        entrusted to protect law and order when he deliberately
        did not care a hoot to break it ? All because we are not working
        to build a decent society . That simple.

        • 1
          0

          Whyehy@
          Srilanka is another hell where lawlessness is governing. Just imagine the Sugar-scandal. Illegal activities of those wholesale traders thogh caught in the act, not a single man is yet arrested. Would this be possible in any developed country? 😉😉😉😉😉Rulers and those sugar thieves should be close friends. Or what should be the reason?
          .
          Is this ” one law one nation?”? .
          🐃🐃🐃🐃🐃🐃🐃🐃🐃
          Even a dog if lived in a developed country would behave in compliance with law and order, but Gota as a person who lived in the US for a period of 15 long years to pay total blind eye in such a huge scandal? ?😉😉😉😉😉😉😉😉😉😉😉😉😉😉😉😉😉those days experts questioned that Sirisena s psychology but hoe come apolitical GOTA to behave even worst than his predecessor????????

        • 0
          0

          Dear Whywhy,
          .
          4. Why did Ranil and JVP not initiate any action to get some
          punishment meted out against the very person who was
          entrusted to protect law and order when he deliberately
          did not care a hoot to break it ? All because we are not working
          to build a decent society . That simple.


          I dont know about others, I question myself today, why AKD paid a blind eye on this ?
          .
          Also at the time, CONTROVERSAL nominations were permitted to GOTABAYA then as a dual citizen, was not questioned by JVPrs. We identify AKD and JVPrs as highly credible, however, the very same leaders to have stayed like an deaf elephant in such issues (elephant is in the room, those party leaders were silent about it). …….
          .
          SENSITIVE THINKERS… over to you what will be the OPTION for future in this country ??????

          • 0
            0

            leelagemalli ,

            Pleased to have an exchange after a long time . Yes of course , having
            lost all hopes on the rotten to the core oldies , we were encouraged to
            take a look at the JVP as the New , Young , Honest Enthusiastic and
            Genuine alternative . But we do have some of Blood-Boiling issues
            about their performances other than just pointing the fingers at the
            opponents most of the time . Doing nothing about Gota’s nomination
            was just one such betrayal of public trust . A very serious one by
            them . What they demonstrate is , in my view , learning to go with
            the flow , meaning ” when you are in Rome , do as Romans do.”
            Thank you dear !

    • 1
      0

      Dear LP.
      …”the scoundrels clad in white national dress steal wholesale, the funds allocated for and owned by, the public with a nonchalant sense of impunity.”…….
      If this is not bad enough, their gumption to open these new facilities built with public funds, and say ‘Janatha Aithiyata pathkaranawa’ = ‘handing’ over to the public, as if they have paid for it and not the taxpayer. It was always public property and taxpayer paid. How gullible the people are ( mainly media faulted here) to be fooled and give credit to these crooks.

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