18 August, 2022


Sri Lanka’s Fight Against Corruption

By Upali Cooray

Upali Cooray

“As good customs have need of laws for maintaining themselves, so the laws, to be observed, have need of good customs. In addition to this, the institutions and laws made in a Republic at its origin when men were good, are not afterward more suitable, when they [men] have become evil. And if laws vary according to circumstances and events in a City, its institutions rarely or never vary: which results in the fact that new laws are not enough, for the institutions that remain firm will corrupt it.” ~ Nicolo Machiavelli

This compilation is to explore and focus attention on the issues of political forthrightness and the fight against corruption as essential components of the process of strengthening democratic institutions. It aims at contributing a set of initial contemplations on crucial topics related to political integrity, such as the blueprint of conflicts of interest, the role of the press in monitoring the abuse of political office and, most of all, the control of the role of money in democratic elections. All these issues are built-in in democratic governance. As such, this compilation is both an attempt to identify some good and bad international practices to deal with these issues; a discussion that is domestic as much as it is international.

There is a justifiable desire to ascertain political corruption. The discussion is not about what corruption is, so much as about how one can arrive at a standard formula for analyzing the naturally flawless condition from which corrupt politicians veer. Political corruption echoes the political system in which it is based. As such, the different natures of the political ideology would modify the forms and range that political corruption takes. Thus, political corruption in a democratic body politic might take a very different form to that in a non-democracy. 

The perspective on politics from which the interpretation of corruption gives birth will play a major role in defining the political corruption.

Definitions of political corruption within restrictive boundaries fail to take into account everlasting factors, most importantly those dealing with standards of observable factors. Thus, without knowing what norms or standards of politics one should accept, it is not possible to solve problems in defining and analyzing political corruption. Another path uses the concept of ‘public interest’ to illustrate the crux of corruption.

While this definition focuses our attention on any act or set of acts that threaten to destroy a political system, one should determine what the public or common interest is before assessing whether a particular act is corrupt. Furthermore, this definition enables a person to justify almost any act by claiming that it is in the public interest. Then, if we agree that political corruption is what the public in any given society perceives as violations of the common interest, we will face even more difficulties with such an approach for two reasons. First, public opinion cannot be freely expressed on any given issue and it is debatable to use a term ‘common interest’. Moreover, studies of public opinion have depicted that in many cases public opinion about ‘common interest’ is either inconclusive or divided. Second, the reliance on a ‘common interest’ makes any equivalent analysis very difficult, since the definition of common interest would be culture-specific. What is corrupt in one country may not be corrupt in another. This leads to situations in which similar acts can be defined as infringements or not according to where they take place. 

Another group of academics have developed market-centered definitions, primarily related to demand, supply, and exchange concepts derived from, in his article ‘The Concept of Corruption’, states that economic in theory, political corruption is viewed as a particular model of agency relationship. Jacob Van Klaveren states:-

“A corrupt government official regards his public office as a business, the income of which he will, seek to maximize. The size of his income then does not depend on an ethical evaluation of his usefulness for the common good but precisely upon the market situation finding the point of maximal gain”

Each government servant determines the reward for his services in every case, according to the well-known principle of the railways’ rate policy, “charge what the traffic can bear.” The civil servant will regard his public office as a business particularly if he does not obtain a salary or obtains symbolic payment.

The market-centered approach, when compared to other approaches, to a greater extent emphasizes the mechanics of political corruption and circumstances under which it becomes possible. Moreover, the market-centered approach might be too simplistic to capture all aspects of the corruption phenomenon. Neither the politicians’ decisions nor the corrupt bureaucrats can be treated as private entrepreneurs and thus the simplistic application of market analysis is not sufficient. To make progress, one must combine an economist’s concern of modeling self-interested behavior with a political scientist’s recognition that political and bureaucratic institutions provide incentive structures far different from those presupposed by the competitive market paradigm.

As illustrated above, multiple definitions of political corruption introduced by diverse groups of academics have been proposed. However, the complexity of the phenomenon and questions about how and why it occurs makes it difficult to find a single general, satisfactory definition. The number of different types of political corruption makes this challenging

Political corruption 

Political corruption, i.e. the abuse of assigned power by political leaders carry off personal reaps, with the objective of increasing power or wealth! This is one of the realities of our age. Hardly a day goes by without a regime being rocked by the uncovering of corrupt political practices by power-holders. While the gravity of the problem may vary across countries and regions, no political system seems to be immune to corruption. From the toppling of presidents in Venezuela and Brazil to the emergence of the new oligarchs in Russia, from Watergate in the United States to the startling revelations of the Tangentopoli affair in Italy, from the cash for peerages scandal in the United Kingdom to the streak of scandals that have long plagued Japanese politics, the list of corruption and abuse that have put democratic institutions under stress is endless. The latest casualty is Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He resigned from his position after court decision found him guilty. And this is only democracies, where a measure of checks and balances is in place. In the other regimes, where transparency may be as scarce as freedom, fare much worse, as Lord Acton’s famous saying reminds us that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Countries with very low standards of living are especially vulnerable to systemic political corruption, which is a relatively common problem for many developing democracies. Patronage politics target the poor, the unemployed, the dispossessed and the socially dependent. Vote-buying schemes, for example, would presumably be less successful if aimed at the rich or educated. If politicians can secure votes by giving voters small gifts, they will have absolutely no reason to be accountable—after the elections are over. Jayalalithaa of India used this practice very successfully. Thus, vote buying and poverty reinforce each, given the costs of mounting political campaigns, high levels of poverty also mean that only wealthy citizens can afford to run for office.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s corruption index in relation to other countries since 2006 is given below (Transparency International)

Year              Rank

2006              94

2008              92

2009              97

2010              91

2011              86

2012              79

2013              91

2014              85

2015              83

2016              95

It is an irony that a government which came to power with optimistic looking promises out of which “yahapalanaya” (good governance) was the guiding word of honor, has failed miserably to fulfill the people’s expectations. No government since the independence, 69 years ago have had corruption scandals of the magnitude happening now. As it is, by the end of the year; the ranking is likely to be over 100. Highest, since independence.

The electoral system does not permit the educated and the candidates short of money to run for elections. Once elected the members of Parliament excluding a handful make amends for funds spent on elections. Luxurious houses; rather penthouses, luxury cars, higher salaries and other remuneration are customary. The word “people’s representative” become a misnomer.

It is fortunate that media could not be gagged in recent times as in the past. As such, scandals have been exposed. This freedom is unlikely to last long.

The judiciary was manipulated and its independence lost. Once there was a Chief Justice who promised a President that he would give verdicts according to President’s choice. There are methods and systems whereby filibustering happens at every level of the judiciary. Leaders of major political parties have understandings and scratch each other’s back. Thus the common man is deceived.

Bureaucracy is totally subservient to the politician. They have a price for whatever they carry out as public service. Every decision has a value in money in different tiers. From the lowest office Peon to the Head of the Department in most instances have monetary value without which things will not move.

Police and Customs are two notorious Departments for corruption. It is only recently the IGP in public view showed his subservience to the Minister in charge. 

Lastly the clergy is no second to any other corrupt segment. Only the other day the minister of education revealed the Dambulla cave temple ticket sales are 2 to 8 million rupees a day for which accounts have not been maintained. The offerings in the form of gifts are resold. Some priests are spreading racial hatred among different communities.

Considering all these facts Sri Lanka is one of the worst counties in the international perspective. It will not come out of the rut in the future.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 2

    Upali Cooray,
    Glad you just touched on the doing of the clergies.
    I thought they are the protectors of Lanka deepa. They have the rights and are dutibound to keep the Dhmmica samajaya set an example to the world.

    • 4

      Upali Cooray –

      Sri Lanka Vs. the Crooks, Thieves, and Killers in the Parliament, 224 of them, replaced by musical chairs, by other crooks, and thieves.

      When will this merry-go-round stop? A Revolution?

    • 1

      Its obvious that in 2016 and after 2010 the most number of corrupt dealings have been uncovered

  • 4

    “Fight’ ha aha ha ha ha haa what fight my dear?Who is fighting whom?crooks vs crooks?One crook only has so far fallen accidentally because of a unexpected testimony of a woman. Even the rogues gallery this time coudn’t cover it up. Sri lankans are not fighting anything except cost of living.

    • 2

      Srilanka’s political history is limited to only 69 years. Srilanka built its corruption power every year since then. The corrupition is strongly associated with its racebased politics and Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism. The race for political power within the powerful western educated, Christianised capitalists took the arm of Buddhism to compete for power. They wanted a ball to play and they found a big ball, that is Tamils. High powered Buddhist Monks played a significant role to put the innocent Sinhala masses in the dark and they were succesful in converting the law & order books with Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism.

  • 1

    Corruption is the synonym for Sri lanka.

  • 2

    Unfortunately corruption has become part of rich and poorer democracies and in totalitarian states.
    Upali Cooray in “Sri Lanka’s Fight Against Corruption” is over-pessimistic by concluding “Considering all these facts Sri Lanka is one of the worst counties in the international perspective. It will not come out of the rut in the future”.
    He goes on “The latest casualty is Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He resigned from his position after court decision found him guilty. And this is only democracies, where a measure of checks and balances is in place. “
    Pakistan (like Egypt) has a parallel government run by the armed services and police. Nawaz Sharif’s conviction was a deal. Part of the deal was to make Nawaz’s brother his successor. No imprisonment or anything like that. Where is this “check and balance”?
    In SL the armed services and police was on the way to a law unto themselves. The 08 January 2015 election stunted this but do we want it back?
    The first step towards reducing corruption is obviously to have impartial police.
    Thank you Upali for the courage shown penning the article

  • 0

    I think buddha Sasana ministry is destroying the buddha Sasana. Now, monks are selling temples, and I heard, some top officlas of the buddha sasana ministry associate with these monks and sell those old temples to muslims and to christians. govt should have collected all the collections to one fund and support the poor temples and for the maintenance. I here some monks having luxury cars. The way the politicians talk they simply don’t care. See what Ranil told before the election and what he do now. Ranil, before the election, told he would legally establish the FCID and bring legislation to speed up investigations and prosecutuions of corrupt politicians and officials. He has not done anything. Instead he was doing just enough to make the SLFP disintegrate and to make SLFP infamous. Even at present, he was dithering instead of firing GAlleon-RaviK becaue Ranil aslo is involved in the theft. Now, all the politicians diverting the discussion and say, Pent-house Ravi quit without any wrong doings. Their argument, it was to investigate CB scam, and they do not talked about former finanance minister engaing in money laundering and taking bribes They should study how he has companies registered in virgin islands. and how he brought his companies to a worth of Rs 4.5 billion Even right now, his company can bring weapons and banned items to sri lanka. It is very easy for LTTE like organization to bring items via former finance ministers ware house. No one discusses those things.

  • 0

    the problem is there are so many thieves both Politicians and beruaucrats and many with multiplae charges, so how long it would take to clear all these. some of the cases are rape cases, I heard.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.