The Dailymirror discussed bribery and corruption, its prevention and prosecution of suspects with the Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), Sarath Jayamanne PC.
Q The public, the media and politicians charge more often than not that the CIABOC has failed to bring before the law those big time perpetrators like politicians and top officials in the public sector who had allegedly engaged in bribery and corruption. What do you have to say on this allegation?
The CIABOC solely and entirely investigate, establish a case and file charges against suspects of bribery or corruption on the availability of evidence. I agree that there is some merit in the public perception that the CIABOC has not brought big fish and only small or middle level public officials and politicians before the law. What I want to emphasize is that almost all big time perpetrators or suspects of bribery or corruption do it in an extremely professional way. Whether he or she is a top politician or senior and influential public official they take bribes, commissions, immovable or movable assets or gratuities using technology. Their transactions don’t leave any trail and lucre ill-amassed using IT are in many instances not found in Sri Lanka. They are usually changed hands as foreign bank accounts, foreign assets or shares in foreign companies.
In 2017, there were a record conviction of 57 which was the highest in a year. The CIABOC also deploys sleuths at sensitive state institutions prone to bribe taking. In the recent past we have been able to arrest a number of school principals and top level police officers red handed and even persecuted a couple of top most former and incumbent officials of the judiciary.
Besides, when our sleuths make inquiries on those ill gotten wealth, they have to confront various laws, regulations and secrecy laws of the respective countries and banks. All top level suspects are professionals and they know how to do it without leaving a clue for us to inquire and catch them. In short, in many cases it is a professional job. They don’t do it in a rest room, wash room, on the roadside or in their office. It is normally a big job involving big money and assets. Also in a transaction carried out using IT, you don’t find names or the identity of the giver or taker. They are nameless and they have only a number. So, this is the situation not only in Sri Lanka but in any other country. After a regime change , politicians and top officials clear their desks, files and computers erasing any sign of grey spots in their tenure.
Q Does that mean you need more legal teeth, human resources and logistical support to do a better job?
Yes indeed. The CIABOC Act No 19 of 1994 is obsolete and archaic and has not been amended for the last 28 years. Therefore, we have confronted many a hitch in our work at the CIABOC.
The amendments to the CIABOC Act is the first priority and we have in place a ‘National Action Plan’ to combat bribery and corruption in Sri Lanka which will look into amending laws on bribery or corruption in addition to introducing a corruption prevention scheme. Sadly we have no National Policy to combat bribery and corruption right now. A 50-member team will be appointed to formulate a plan with special attention given to prevention programmes.
Amendments to the bribery laws which has received the cabinet nod include allowing bribery cases to be filed in High Court instead of the Magistrate Courts to fast track cases and to allow CIABOC to direct serious cases to High Court where they can arrange a 3-Judge Bench to hear such cases on a daily basis. The CIABOC will also bring in laws to allow to use evidence from Presidential Commissions to investigate into corruption or investigate their findings further. I personally believe that the CIABOC must be given more power to work independently.
Other hindrance faced by the CIABOC is that it has no power to recruit its own officers directly and investigations, raids and analysis are done by Police officers obtained from the Department of Police (DOP) and they are under the command of the IGP. They are controlled by the DoP and can be assigned for special duties outside the CIABOC. Therefore, it is obvious that the CIABOC is dependent on sources outside of its purview and disciplinary control. This is one of the incapacitating factors affecting the CIABOC.
We must put more emphasis to create a culture that grows in the minds of people that bribery and corruption is a crime, a disease and social evil that goes against all civilized and democratic norms of a country
However, we are in the process of recruiting 200 officers with the cabinet approval for the CIABOC and they would be given a thorough training by local and foreign experts with the assistance of the UNDP and the World Bank. I have also sent our officials for training in Hong Kong and I paid a visit to Bhutan recently with a team of officials where bribery and corruption is non-existent.
There are certain grey areas of the CIABOC Act that one can get confused as to who could prosecute a suspect under one of the Sections of the Act. These provisions have to be amended.
However, I am sad to note that though I have overtaken almost all the hurdles thrown to me from the government agencies to secure a land to construct a spacious and decent building with modern facilities but the Urban Development Authority (UDA) blocks it for no obvious reason.
The most corrupt countries in the world according to the index are Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen among 180 countries with scores above 175. Sri Lanka is at not so satisfactory 91
Q Why politicians and public officials solicit bribes to perform a legitimate duty?
I think this is where we must put more emphasis to create a culture that grows in the minds of people that bribery and corruption is a crime, a disease and social evil that goes against all civilized and democratic norms of a country. They must realize that it is a social stigma and compromises the dignity of the giver and taker of the bribe. That is why we need national policy on prevention of Bribery and Corruption and students must be taught on the evil effects of it.
In Bhutan, one of the prominent South Asian countries where bribery and corruption is unheard of, politicians and public officials do not accept even a gift from any one. If they cannot refuse a gift, they accept it, fill a form with all information pertaining to the gift and place the gift in a vault, showcase or cupboard as a public property.
Q Two former Parliamentarians were fined Rs.1,000 each for their failure to declare their assets making the entire process of fighting corruption a joke. Your comments on this...
We are in the process of amending the law and various proposals on this matter are being reviewed. One of the proposals was to increase the fine to Rs.100,000 from the current Rs.1,000 and also the prison term from current one year. I believe that with the approval of the amendments to the CIABOC Act No.19 of 1994 in Parliament in near future all these issues debilitating the CIABOC will be addressed.
Q Bribery and corruption are deep rooted in developing the so-called third world countries. Do financial crimes have a link to poverty?
Yes and no. I cannot vouch for the presumption that developed or rich countries have fully eradicated bribery or corruptions because we more often than not watch, read and hear stories of bribery and corruption those countries. But I can safely say that in many developed countries this evil acts are not entrenched in the society, in the public or governance and most importantly people in those countries are feared of giving and taking bribes. It is simply a stigma in the society.
If you make a search on the recently released Corruption Perception Index of 2017 by the Transparency International, you will see that the top ten countries with highest marks for the prevention of bribery and corruption in the developed countries with top most ranking of 1st place among 180 countries is held by New Zealand while almost all the Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden coming to first five rankings. Other rich countries like Switzerland, Canada, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Britain ranking in the first 10. The richest country in the world, US is on 16 and best in Asia in corruption busting is Singapore at 6th and in South Asia Bhutan at 26.
The most corrupt countries in the world according to the index are Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen among 180 countries with scores above 175. Sri Lanka is at a not-so-satisfactory score of 91.
Officials and politicians in poor or low income countries are usually prone to solicit and accept bribes. People in those countries compel to Greece the palm of officials and politicians to get done an official function. It is no secret that politicians expect a gratuity when jobs are given, a fat commission to approve a project or a tender and officials solicit a ‘santhosam’ [gratification] to give a transfer, admit a pupil to school, approve a payment or release a cheque. In courts to put a case on the top of the files, in prisons to give extra time to a prisoner to chat with family member or even to supply drugs.
The system needs a complete overhaul. People must be taught from the kindergarten level to say a firm ‘No’ to bribe taking and giving. It must be embedded in our blood, make it a national policy and a habit in the society like in those countries where this evil has been fully eradicated.
Q What are the measures taken by the CIABOC to control bribery and corruption in the country?
The most effective tool to fend off, discourage or create a fear psychosis among the people resorting to give bribe and politicians and officials to soliciting and accepting bribes is to give wide publicity to convictions for bribery and corruption. In addition we have instructed state institutions to create an environment in their respective institutions that bribing is not necessary for the public to give gratuities to get an official and lawful service from officials. The CIABOC conducts awareness programmes regularly at state institutions to educate public officials to repercussions of taking bribes.
In 2017, there were a record conviction of 57 which was the highest in a year. The CIABOC also deploys sleuths at sensitive state institutions prone to bribe taking. In the recent past we have been able to arrest a number of school principals and top level police officers red handed and even persecuted a couple of top most former and incumbent officials of the judiciary. These are in addition to new amendments to be introduced to the CIABOC Act and new legislations.
The CIABOC is to introduce a new and simple form to declare assets and establish a data base with newest available technology to scrutinize, categorize and preserve assets declaration by opticians and public officials. A public officer will have to submit online his or her assets declaration even after one year of retirement. In many instances, public officials used to explain unusual amassing of assets or assets beyond his or her means as winning a sweet jackpot, from a close relative or from a relative living overseas etc. The new form of assets declaration has addressed this weakness.
Q What is the biggest drawback you have confronted in the fight against bribery and corruption?
Lack of human resources and other logistical infrastructure mainly. The CIABOC as I said earlier needs concrete evidence to establish a water tight case against a suspect. It is counter productive to file charges against a suspect with not so strong evidence. A big majority of complaints or petitions we get are anonymous. Those who send petitions to the CIABOC on corruptions and illegal assets don’t come foreword in many instances to give evidence.
Q I have heard you say that a legal arm like CIABOC does not exist in countries where bribery and corruption are unheard of. Can you further explain this?
Yes, in New Zealand, Scandinavian countries, EU nations and Canada where bribery and corruption have almost been eradicated, the maladies do not exist.
pix by Nisal Baduge