Rs.1,000 fine for not declaring assets and liabilities
Ex-Parliamentarian Sajin de Vass Gunawardena pleaded guilty for not declaring his assets from 2011 to 2012 and was imposed a fine of Rs.1,000 by the Colombo Additional Magistrate on December 7, 2017.
In April, former Defence Ministry Monitoring MP Duminda Silva was ordered to pay a fine of Rs.1,000 for each year that he failed to declare his assets and liabilities by Colombo Chief Magistrate’s Court.
Former Petroleum Industries Deputy Minister Sarana Gunawardena who pleaded guilty of two cases regarding the same offence while he was serving as Chairman of National Lotteries Board was ordered to pay a fine of Rs.2,000 in July this year.
Any reasonable man would find this particular operation of crime and punishment rather ridiculous. Surprisingly or not so surprisingly, that is what our law provides for!
The Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law No. 1 of 1975 mandates that if any person who is under a duty to make a declaration of assets and liabilities fails to do so without reasonable cause, such person shall be guilty of the offence and be liable to a fine not exceeding Rs.1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or to both.
These types of fines encourage corruption.The whole world is laughing at this!
At the moment Sri Lanka has no campaign finance laws
Any reasonable man would find this particular operation of crime and punishment rather ridiculous!
Does our law work towards encouraging corruption and malpractices instead of deterring them?
At a first glance it is noticeable that the punishment of remaining in prison for one year outweighs paying Rs.1,000 as penalty by a large magnitude. It is also then evident that the laws related to fines are as usual slow to be revived as against the speed that the value of the rupee seems to be falling.
The law requires such a person to declare the value of his assets and liabilities once found guilty. However, in the event that the offender is found guilty years later, after his or her position is now replaced with someone else, such a measure would be futile.
What implications does this have on the functioning of law and order in this country? Does our law work towards encouraging corruption and malpractices instead of deterring them?
Neville Guruge, Commissioner of the Commission to Investigate Bribery or Corruption opined that when comparing with other massive scale corruption that takes place in the country, non-declaration of assets and liabilities is a minor issue.
"Rs.1,000 fine maybe compatible with the time that the law was passed, but when looking at the rate of malpractices happening in this country and currency evaluation, the fine can go up to 1 million – or even 10 million and there must be a minimum imprisonment of 10 years"
He admitted of a lack of a proper system to realize this law. He suggested that the head of departments need to have a systematic method of enforcing this law on an annual basis.
“Corruption starts at the time of parliamentary campaigns. People fund politicians with the intention of receiving some favour. And once money is obtained, candidates are under an obligation. In the good old days, politicians used to sell their own properties and gather wealth to fund their elections.” “It is very difficult for the Commission to Investigate Bribery or Corruption to investigate on these matters because we don’t have a strong cadre of investigators. Although more than 400 investigators must be there, at the moment there are only around 200. Investigators are usually taken from the Police Department, but the few officers who are up to standard are needed by the IGP. As a solution we now recruit freshers and train them to be investigators.”
Asoka Obeyesekere, the Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka pointed out the key areas in the antiquated Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law that needs immediate attention.
“At the outset, it is important to highlight the fact that there are two elements of punishment – the fine and the prison sentence. There have been a lot of public outcry around the Rs. 1,000 fine, and I believe that the government must take responsibility for that. On the one hand there is a need to revise financial penalties and on the other hand, a need to relax the prison sentence.”
“There must also be revision of the secrecy provisions in the law. Countries like India allow full disclosure of assets to the public. Even Ukraine, which is a country far below Sri Lanka in the corruption index, allows full disclosure. It is ironic how, if a person who is required to preserve secrecy of the value of assets owned by someone to whom this law applies, discloses such information, such person can be punished with a Rs.2,000 fine and a prison sentence of two years”
When inquired about the implication of the law to declare one’s assets and liabilities has in respect of financing campaigns for elections, Obeyesekere mentioned that everyone is aware that running for parliament in Sri Lanka is a financially illogical proposition.
“The public must know where the money comes from. At the moment Sri Lanka has no campaign finance laws. We have even proposed that one of the basic things that can be done is requiring disclosure of details about campaign contributions “.
Asoka Obeyesekere also stated that the time given for the Bribery Commission to investigate is insufficient and that the forms of regarding asset disclosure must be modernized by recognizing modern concepts like beneficial ownership and conflict of interests. Dr. Prathiba Mahanamahewa, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Colombo took a strong position on making punishment more rigorous.
"Corruption starts at the time of parliamentary campaigns. People fund politicians with the intention of receiving some favour. And once money is obtained, candidates are under an obligation. In the good old days, politicians used to sell their own properties and gather wealth to fund their elections - Neville Guruge"
“The Rs.1,000 fine maybe compatible with the time that the law was passed, but when looking at the rate of malpractices happening in this country and currency evaluation, the fine can go up to 1 million – or even 10 million and there must be a minimum imprisonment of 10 years. Civic status must also be terminated. If not, we can’t stop corruption in Sri Lanka, because at the end of the day, perpetrators are aware of the simple punishment and commit the
“It is these types of fines that encourage corruption. The whole world is laughing at this. When people come to politics, they don’t even own a vehicle, by when they leave, they are certainly well off.
A special amendment is needed, at least in relation to the punishment. However, I assure you that no one will come to
parliament that day”.
Dr. Mahanamahewa also emphasized on the need for a global network involving Interpol to prevent money laundering and trace assets in foreign banks and that Sri Lanka needs to ratify international conventions related to this.