Since the opening up Sri Lanka’s economy to the world in 1977, the country may have achieved some targets set out by previous governments. At the same time there was a cancer also generated with the open economy which has gradually spread to the smallest veins of the economy, and today, it is fully diagnosed as the cancer of bribery and corruption. The time has come to eradicate this cancer before it spreads to the present and future governments.
‘Bribery and corruption’, ‘mega deals’, ‘commissions’ are buzz words today which are increasingly talked about by all sections of the communities in Sri Lanka. Allegations of bribery and corruption are pointed at members of Parliament, Provincial Councils and Local Government as well as some government officials, politically appointed officials and close associates of politicians’ henchmen who are business people. They robbed money through several means, government budgetary allocations which use private contractors for contracting out government projects, internationally-funded government projects (mainly loans) and influence of political power.Transparency International Sri Lanka has a categorization on who should be held responsible for increase of corruption in Sri Lanka; government officials, politicians, general public and the judiciary.
Corruption has been the easiest and safest way to earn quick money for politicians in Sri Lanka during the past few decades. At the end when, any financial crimes are committed by those sets of powerful people, the loss is borne by the ordinary people, mostly those the of the pyramid of the economy. Today, corruption is linked to the international money laundering networks which operate in a heavily organised manner. In some cases, directly or indirectly international terrorist networks link with the international money-laundering business.
When the government and its sponsored networks did such hideous financial crimes, people did not go against them since they do not like to go against their favourite politicians or the State which use their maximum powers to muzzle the voices of people against such corruption. Interestingly sometimes ordinary citizens are not interested or do not give any attention to over millions or billions of dollars worth of deals carried out by their favourite politicians. But their only worry is to meet their day-to-day living expenses. When the poor people meet day-to-day living expenses, indirectly they re-pay such loans (with high interest rate) borrowed by the government. This is mainly through high taxing on essential goods and services. Politicians do not pay any single amount to repay such loans since their expenses are looked after by the government. Indirectly the public look after them and in the mean time they indulge in highly corrupt deals.
The New Democratic Front (NDF) government came into power in early January this year promising that the previous United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) regime’s financial frauds would be revealed, recovered and the perpetrators brought before justice. As reported, the seriousness of this predatory corruption amounting to millions and billions of dollars public money is being diverted abroad via money laundering. Since the opening up of the economy in Sri Lanka in 1977 no politician has been found guilty of committing any financial fraud or even were they brought before the law. It seems that the NDF government’s election promise crackdown of bribery and corruption has now been put into work and action. This may be the beginning of an end to this notorious exercise of bribery and corruption carried out by the politicians and others. The new NDF Government must work on a system which empowers the ordinary citizens to know that each cent of government funds is working in a very transparent and accountable manner on any government project. For this the government must have a strong system or a mechanism to monitor how such funds work at each stage of the project cycle (initiation, planning, execution and closure).
The Auditor General’s Department, the Bribery and Corruption Commission or the proposed Audit Service Commission only looks into any suspicious financial fraud or to investigate them if there are complaints after the completion of any project. Before any project can get off the ground there should be an independent thorough screening process which helps to prevent not only any financial frauds but also socio, cultural and environmental issues as well. Prevention is better than cure can be proved in this regard. This way the project can achieve its set target and does not need to have any post-mortem on whether there had been any corruption since the government and citizens engage throughout the project cycle until it getting completed.
The previous UPFA Government carried out certain mega infrastructural projects such as highways, roads, bridges, power plants, air port, harbours, housing schemes, building projects which should have been tested before an independent evaluation team. Now it seems that many of them became failed projects in all aspects. Such mega infrastructural projects carried out by the previous UPFA government with the support of Chinese loans not only reported the levels of corruption but also low quality of completion, projects inability to recover its initial Return on Investment (RoI), what is more there is no technology transfer for Sri Lankans or jobs created as well as severe environmental concerns. This should not be repeated by any government in the future at any cost. If this continues Sri Lanka will become a failed state in terms of the high levels of bribery and corruption and in the meantime accumulating huge amounts of international and local debt to repay. This will certainly reduce Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) to the country. Currently Sri Lanka is ranked 85th in the Corruption Perception Index of 2014 of the Transparency International.
The draft 19th Amendment to the Constitution has suggested a new commission on procurement, the National Procurement Commission (NPC) (Chapter XIXB).The functions of the proposed NPC mentions that; it is to formulate fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost effective procedures and guidelines, for the procurement of goods and services by all government institutions 156C(1). The NPC should also carefully study projects in terms of social, cultural and environmental issues before it gives its approval.
The existing legal instruments and other for curb on bribery and corruption in Sri Lanka will directly supplement the work carryied out by the NPC. The Bribery Act, No.11 of 1954, The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption Act, No.19 of 1994, The Prevention of Money Laundering Act, No.5 of 2006, The Financial Transaction Reporting Act, No.6 of 2006 and The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) of Parliament. Since 2004 Sri Lanka is signatory for United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
In future the Right to Information (RTI) Act will further empower the citizens of Sri Lanka to question of any irregularities, suspicion on such projects carried out by the government. Good governance can be more meaningful when the people-centred development takes place with the direct participation of people. This will break new ground for Sri Lanka’s development drive and enhance the need to study other countries where such systems are available, how they work and their good practices in this regard. This will directly help ordinary citizens to meet their day-to-day cost of living and achieve a higher quality of life as set out by the UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI).
The writer is a researcher in socioeconomic development and he can be reached at email@example.com.