20 January, 2020

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Need To Go Beyond Using Anti Corruption As Political Weapon

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

One of the promises of the government alliance when they contested the 2015 presidential and general elections was to end corruption. The belief that corruption was deep rooted in the former government was well entrenched by the time of those elections. The promise to end corruption by the new government leaders was also believable as both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe did not come with such baggage. This belief was increased by the immediate passage of the 19th Amendment to the constitution that strengthened the independence of the judiciary, the police and the bribery commission.

However, by the time of the local government elections in early 2018 the situation with regard to corruption had deteriorated for the government alliance. The Central Bank bond issue took a heavy toll on the government’s anti corruption credentials. This was coupled with slow movement of the anti corruption investigations into members of the former government. Making matters worse for the government, at the local government elections President Sirisena made anti corruption one of the main planks of his campaign. Ironically his target appeared to be his own coalition partner, the UNP and its leadership.

Indeed, the local government election campaign became a bizarre one in which the SLFP section of the national unity government led by the president publicly came out assailing its main coalition partner the UNP led by the prime minister and undermining the credibility of the entire government. In an ironical twist, those in the opposition who, under more rational circumstances, ought to have been the targets of anti corruption investigations were spared. They made use of the advantageous political environment to attack the government on charges of corruption. In these circumstances of internecine warfare within the government, it was not surprising that the government parties performed poorly at the local government elections.

Power Shift 

The sudden arrest of President Maithripala Sirisena’s chief of staff on a charge of extorting a large bribe for a commercial transaction in a sting operation by the Bribery Commission came as a surprise. The question is why the President’s chief of staff was selected for the sting operation when corruption is believed to be widespread and sting operations could have been done elsewhere as well. It would be an embarrassment to the president who only three months ago during the local government election campaign was championing anti corruption and promising to put an end to it.

The revelation of corruption at the highest level of government and the president’s own office would weaken the attempt of the president to present himself as the anti corruption champion of the government. This could have implications for the balance of power within the national unity government. Following the abortive no confidence motion and the attempt of the president to sack the prime minister, the balance of power within the national unity government has been steadily shifting in favour of the UNP led by the prime minister.

The sting operation involving the president’s chief of staff is a testament to the strengthening of institutions that has taken place during the past three years and indicates that political interference is no longer absolute. However, there is much more to be done in terms of strengthening institutions of accountability. Highlighting the continuing weakness of independent institutions, Director General of Commission to Investigate Allegations against Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC), Sarath Jayamanne said that only four persons had been convicted of corruption during the past 23 years. He said that corruption had been categorised as an offence in 1994 with the establishment of the CIABOC. According to him, 75 cases had been heard over the past 23 years though only four cases had been proved. On the positive side, convictions were brought in 57 Bribery cases last year, the highest recorded in a single year.

Strengthening Institutions 

The Commissioner further said that the amendments would be made to the Bribery Act, Bribery Commission Act and the Property Evaluation Act. However, he added that it is likely that the capacity to implement the law will continue to be weak as CIABOC is understaffed with competent personnel. The commissioner said that some 200 investigators had been secured from the police but none of them was a degree holder from a university or an accountant. When compared with other countries in Asia, the number of investigators available to CIABOC was not sufficient. Comparing Hongkong with Sri Lanka he said, “We have 200 investigators for 21 million people. Hong Kong has 1,200 investigators for six million. All those investigators are graduates and have expert qualifications.”

One of the government’s proposals to counter corruption by strengthening institutions is to set up a special high court on corruption through amendments to the Judicature Act. This would have three Special High Courts with three-judge benches to conduct daily sittings, in the morning and the afternoon, in cases related to bribery, corruption, fraud or other political crimes by politicians or officials. Although several cases have been currently filed against those accused of corruption at the highest levels from the former government there has been long delays, slow progress and allegations of political deals.

There is a need for the government to invest in anti corruption measures. These investments can yield quick political and economic dividends. If corruption is not dealt with the cycle will not stop and will reach crippling levels. It is because corruption happens with impunity that ideology does not matter, and politicians shift from right to left to right depending on what they can get. They look at their self interest rather than the collective interest. Instead of merely skimming off the top it can lead to entire development schemes being jeopardized. There is the production of inferior economic infrastructure and services, such as the highways that are narrower than they should be or airports set in the midst of bird sanctuaries.

Developed Practices

There is also a need for the political and opinion leaders in the country to engage in public education programmes on the importance of anti corruption activities. It is necessary for the government to develop a communication strategy to counter opposition that downplays anti corruption work as a political vendetta. If corruption is not dealt with others problems too cannot be dealt with. The evidence gathered so far suggests that the president’s chief of staff kept blocking the commercial transaction for three years in order to get his money. This shows how corruption becomes an obstacle to economic development. Investors, especially foreign investors, prefer to go where they can invest their money without being blocked by those who are seeking illegal gains.

It is to the president’s credit that he did not make any attempt to thwart the law enforcement authorities. It is important that this incident should not be used by one side of the government to weaken the other and undermine it as occurred during the local government election. The manner in which the president and prime minister are handling the situation suggest that they are cooperating with one another rather than engaging in one-upmanship. Such a course of action, as followed by the law enforcement authorities against the president’s chief of staff would have been inconceivable during the former government, when impunity prevailed in regard to the highest in the land.

If the country is to develop, the practices in the country should reflect those practices in developed countries. Those who are in positions of power, whether in developed or undeveloped countries, often succumb to the desire for personal benefit. The difference is that in developed countries the law is applied to all without fear or favour. This is the difference in approach which Sri Lanka too should strive to achieve. The sting operation that has netted the president’s chief of staff needs to become the first of many such actions that shrinks the culture of corruption that has been threatening to envelop the country.

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Latest comments

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    All complaints made to the CIABOC before including bond scam were allegations after the so-called act of corruption or bribery was supposed to have been committed. Proving these in a court of law is difficult considering the legal complications. However this sting operation and the one conducted by Dilrukshi the former commission head 3yrs back are while the acts were being committed. Conviction is therefore easy as evidence is clearly available. We only hope that the cases will be filed correctly under the right law by the AGs Dept without allowing reputable lawyers to wriggle through on behalf of these white collar rogues. It is important that the CIABOC conduct more sting operations on big corruption soon when complaints are made by the public.

  • 1
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    JP
    In which planet are you now residing?

  • 1
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    Is Sirisena dumping baggage to throw off the scent, just in case there is an investigation that would implicate him?

    Seems to me that Sirisena needs a big dose of public confidence to survive politically, so has to appear white than white to the public. Let’s see if this case results in a conviction, & fast.

  • 2
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    Is it PM’s turn to set the screws on President?
    We need urgently a new Leader with clean credentials and values to start a new Political Party and take over the reins in SL

    • 0
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      N.
      The Pres and PM are both screwballs; opportunists.
      The status quo prevails; perhaps until 2020.
      Doubtful positive changes after 2020.
      Time to accept the nature of the beast !

  • 0
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    This looks typical Western Drama, a PAge of politics taken from the west. Earlier, Tamils and LTTE wrecked Sinhale. Now Protestants and Evangelists are ryining the country. So, Ranil is the president.

  • 0
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    One point by JEhan PErera is true. EMployment is given for those PArty card holding members and not for qualifications. So, that is true for Govt institution management and for other positions. There are many places in Srilanka that can go forward.

  • 1
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    Jehan Perera questions ~ “………..why the President’s chief of staff was selected for the sting operation when corruption is believed to be widespread and sting operations could have been done elsewhere as well…….”.
    Well well well, we have always had the feeling that Commission to Investigate Allegations against Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC) is not quite independent.
    The ‘prosecute the corrupt but not certain people’ attitude is simply not good.

  • 4
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    Mr. Jehan Perera: You wrote this article after the arrest of two VIPs and one person being the “Chief of Staff” of the President. Then immediately after that, the President did not “waste” any time to fill the vacancy created as a result of one arrested being the Chairman of STC. You know very well who this appointee is and he is none other than Anurudda Poligampola. You know this man’s background. Now you say: “Needs To Go Beyond Using Anti Corruption As Political Weapon”. When such “NOTED” vagabonds are appointed to such high positions, do you honestly believe this President and the PM would heed your call to “Go Beyond……..” If you really believe or “TRUST” these two to go that “Beyond”, sorry to say, you need immediate attention by a psychiatrist.

    • 0
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      D.
      Spot on.
      The political leadership {e.g Bond Scam };the Judiciary {Sarath Silva; Mohan ( C J )) The Police and Law Enforcement , the Army and Navy Personel all have skeletons in their cupboards.
      This is a BANANA REPUBLIC.
      There is no end in sight.
      SAD.
      Pray for a miracle .!

  • 1
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    Here is a legitimate question from Jehan PhD
    The question is why the President’s chief of staff was selected for the sting operation when corruption is believed to be widespread and sting operations could have been done elsewhere as well.
    ………………..We will look at it why at the end……………………………….
    Jehan PhD did not find an answer to that. So it is anybody’s pick. But let us look at another one.
    The sting operation involving the president’s chief of staff is a testament to the strengthening of institutions that has taken place during the past three years (The PhD Has quickly switched the side. That is OK……………….)
    That is true, but when you carry a baby on bus or train accidents can happen; so Jehan PhD take one extra diaper. Here it is.
    That political interference is no longer absolute.
    Let’s see few accidents too :( 1). Russian junkyard warship was stumbled and paid by Tea and asbestos. (Commission goes big guy pain and disease goes to small guys. Ravi was punished for leaking these stories. News Media was censured for publishing it. (2).Hospital Pharmacies are said to be buying from New Royals Family. Even the New King said the worst ministry is Health during the Old Royals time. (3). Lankawe importing rice. No real action against rice hording. (4).PRECIFAC report no long in the public. (5). The woman, who wrote the on the name of daughter, from Thathige’s propaganda department was not paid her fee. She was told “Tata” and sent off with the salary of the government department. (6).Ponny not simply denied his job, but now he is being punished. Already Ranil has warned Ponny for saying it was New King, who skipped him, to protect Old Royals. But the Big Guy may remove his Wild Life Ministry and in addition would consult AG if there is a way to put Ponny in prison. (7). I never heard from Dilrukshi, anybody has any news?

  • 0
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    Political interference is not ” absolute “ but it is the extra diaper if any accidents happen…….. What a shame for Jehan PhD to attempt to white wash the ultimate political crook crimes lie that.
    Let’s look at how Colombo Media reporting. After this revenge of each other within them, one should think if the Unity National should continue: It was a foreign Media broke the story that it was Ranil set the sting to catch Mahanama. When last time New King met PM Modi and loaded complain that Ranil was blocking the ETCA, it was reported Modi said to New King that “You stopped the Sampur Power plant…. We know who your Prime Minister is; we have come to know about him.” There two things creating questions of what Colombo media reported that time. One is, PM Modi had blamed New King as a party to block Indian projects; he had at least one proof that is Sampur. Second thing is Modi had said he knew Ranil. We all know for sure that he doesn’t, but let’s see why he would tell something like that! There is chance that the Indian Trader had taken his troubles to PM Modi and had told about how he was working with Ranil to nap Mahanama. It was just a little before this episode New King had appointed Mahanama to be his assistant. Modi didn’t talk about Kanthalai , because, probably he wanted to keep Kanthalai as secret until Mahanama was caught. If that part is accurate it is really imbecility a Lankawe head lying to Indian PM, getting caught red handed, but did not realize it; did not save his assailant. But funny is part Jehan PhD white washing all these, without reading Colombo Media.
    ” Yahapalanaya election moto of 2015 was “No Leader, No Commander, No Soldier will be prosecuted “ If that is not an open interference in Law and Oder what else is interference?

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      Itis Indian which doe snot allow the development of China Bay tanks, I suppose. Indians are never in Srilanka to support Sri lanka. they want to fulfill their agenda like making Sri kankan Tea expensive by organizing estate Tamils, the same thing with Tamils in ethnic enclaves. Fill Srilanka with Indians with tourist and work visa. What India has done for us except giving LTTE ?

  • 0
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    Anti corruption is the slogan of the bankrupt. So far no completion of verdicts, no recovery of the looted goods, no backbone to stand up to injustice, murderers are walking about freely. All talk, no action. GMOA dictated to intimidate leaders, but now GMOA in bribery net, offering false, illegal MD of Nizhny, No sending med.school, No SLMC recognition specially twin program, deceiving students, extracting money with false promises and the govt. is blind for need to irradiate GMOA to justice.

    • 0
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      Yes, Anti corruption is a slogan. The fact is that corruption is also associated with the politicians. Politicians are associated with the Mahanayake’s (Highest Buddhist Institutions). For example, you can’t take action against Rajapakse’s because Rajapakse has a policy against Tamils and Muslims. Not a single officer including judges will not go against Mahanayake’s. Overall power remains in the hands of Mahanayake’s.

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