Corruption is the misuse of political or bureaucratic power. Fraud is an intentional act or an omission designed for the purpose of deceiving others, which results in the victim suffering a loss while the perpetrator gains.
In Sri Lanka, both government and private sector organisations are constantly facing fraud risks. Due to fraud, there have been massive losses in numerous sectors causing irreparable damages and consequences to the people and the public sector. Fraudulent action of key politicians, executives with the support of their subordinates, has caused untold misery and this has impacted the reputation of those involved negatively causing closure of banks, financial institutions, state ventures, etc. These are huge losses and are a big burden for the poor countrymen.
WHAT DO WE NEED TO DO
This does not seem to be an easy task. Nevertheless, in my view plans need to be drawn to enhance integrity and transparency, at whatever cost, in our employees whether they are big or small. In addition, we need to take steps to bring back the political culture that existed some decades ago. It is, therefore necessary to open doors to the educated people to enter the political arena.
It must be stated that one’s integrity alone does not help in regard to corruption. This no doubt is connected to one’s commitment to perform the duties and responsibilities to the best of one’s abilities with sincerity and dedication. The majority in the Sri Lankan context belongs to the opposite category. It is, therefore, no doubt we need to recreate the culture in those holding high positions, whether it is political or otherwise, to follow rules, regulations, etc. including the laws of the land. The culture of impunity which existed in the past should be replaced immediately with good governance.
In these circumstances, it must be understood that if someone does not follow guidelines, etc, perhaps due to lack of knowledge, such acts or commissions are also considered to be faulty and hence lack integrity. Therefore, nobody should fail to comply with rules and regulations. We need to train our staff to demonstrate a high level of integrity through awareness, knowledge, and belief. We could see people of integrity always say, promise and do things with their unshakable character and good reputation. They are reliable and responsible. They earn the trust and respect of others. They make tasks become duties and at work places they do not waste time but gladly carry out their responsibilities; they do not engage in destructive and negative gossip, but build self confidence, learn their work, increase their morale and they do not abuse their privileges and position. Employees also need to respect their employer’s property and reputation.
"In these circumstances, it must be understood that if someone does not follow guidelines, etc, perhaps due to lack of knowledge, such acts or commissions are also considered to be faulty and hence lack integrity. Therefore, nobody should fail to comply with rules and regulations. "
In Sri Lanka, we have heard of numerous instances where large sums of money, government properties and other resources have been fraudulently abused, mismanaged and even defrauded for various corrupt purposes. Infamous VAT scam, hedging deal and COPE reports have revealed losses running into billions and billions of rupees. It may be worthwhile to mention that the some institutions have incurred heavy losses for several years and it has been stated in the relevant reports that losses were due to mismanagement, corruption and inefficiency.
The incumbent President during his election campaign promised that these shocking revelations will be probed and meaningful steps will be taken to remedy these shortcomings for the purpose of establishing good governance. The President also emphasised the need to promote the rule of law to establish a culture where there will be no room for abuse of power or corruption leading to nepotism.
The President, thereafter, without any delay took immediate steps to appoint a Presidential Commission of Inquiry consisting of five well-known members and the writer as its Secretary. The Commission was tasked with the responsibility to look into such complaints, allegations and petitions and to take appropriate steps to prevent recurrence of similar cases in the future. This no doubt is a step in the right direction.
The Commission was set up barely a month ago. The Commission took swift action to publish notices in three languages in three prominent dailies on the 23rd of last month and we have now received more than 100 petitions. The Commission has met so far on nine occasions and has decided on the course of action in regard to a good number of petitions already.
This no doubt is what the President and the countrymen would be pleased to be aware of with regard to the progress made by the Commission to date.
May I now add that based on my personal experience, having served as the Secretary to both oversight Committees, (i) PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE (PAC) (II) COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ENTERPRISES (COPE), for a considerable number of years, it is my considered opinion that steps need to be taken to enhance the integrity and transparency of all those public sector employees scattered throughout the country including politicians, bureaucrats, local government heads, employees of boards and other government-owned undertakings.
1. HEADS OF INSTITUTIONS
Steps need to be taken to ensure that Financial Regulations and all departmental rules pertinent to financial management are strictly adhered to by everyone since there is a need to be accountable and transparent to prevent fraud and corruption.
Government servants must now learn to politely refuse what is irregular. I have myself had to face an extremely difficult situation during my career as the then Director (Administration) when I politely refused to carry out a wrongful order, which has now, having proceeded ahead dictatorially and with insanity caused an irreparable damage, which created serious salary anomalies, since early 2000 or so in a closed department, namely, the Parliamentary Secretariat.
HOW DO WE ACHIEVE THESE:
I) Constant supervision of staff involved in day-to-day financial management to check whether they are diligent and competent,
II) Effective monitoring through established mechanisms such as departmental audit committees, which have been set up on the guidelines issued by the General Treasury to discuss audit and other financial issues.
Iii) To conduct spot checks on a regular basis
Iv) To provide continuous training to improve competency and integrity building and anti-corruption attitudes and
Vi) To take disciplinary action against staff who are responsible for mismanagement/ fraud/corruption, etc.
2. ROLES OF AUDITORS
Most government Institutions in the past did not provide adequate staff or the other facilities needed to strengthen internal audit units. It is important to strengthen the internal audit divisions to play an active role to combat fraud, corruption, etc.while ensuring enthusiastic support and encouragement to establish good governance and rule of law by the relevant Heads of the Institutions.
3. THE ROLE OF AUDITOR GENERAL’S STAFF IN INDIVIDUAL DEPARTMENTS
The Auditor General’s staff have been deployed with extensive powers arising from Constitutional provisions to carry out audits in the whole country and in every single government office and sub offices. The practice so far has been to discourage and disturb independent audit inspections with ulterior motives.
The President has also assured that the Auditor General’s Department will be further strengthened by an Act which will be introduced in Parliament shortly. This again is another step in the right direction .
4. THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA
There is no doubt that the media has taken great pains to give the widest publicity needed to minimise corruption, fraud in the public sector. It is, therefore, imperative that the media should do everything possible to expose fraud, corruption including financial lapses and other irregularities.
In conclusion, I have no doubt that our Commission too will be able to unravel issues of a serious nature that had gone under the carpet for various reasons. The Commission will also be pleased if the people took the liberty to forward as many petitions as possible for investigation. The Commission, which has been located in the 5th block of the BMICH, will no doubt treat them in confidence and carry out the necessary inquiries.
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