Bribery and corruption, a deep-rooted cancer | Sunday Observer

Bribery and corruption, a deep-rooted cancer

12 February, 2023

Bribery and corruption is a global problem and Sri Lanka is no exception at present according to the latest statistics issued by Corruption Perception Index (CPI) issued in 2021, which had ranked our country in the 102nd position out of 180 countries.

It is alarming given the dire economic situation in the country. It elucidates very clearly the high degree of corruption, malpractices and misappropriation of public funds by the politicians and State officials.

It is not possible to trace the beginning of bribery and corruption in the country as there had been a few instances where public officials had been found guilty of such acts even before we won Independence in 1948. Since then up to the late sixties there had been few instances where the politicians were involved in bribery and misappropriation of public funds. However, when they were found guilty following the due legal process they had to undergo punishments meted out to them and no amnesties were granted by any authority.

With the passage of time vast changes were made in the social, political and economic fabric of the country and especially with the new economic policies of the President J.R. Jayewardene regime massive development projects were carried out which involved huge amounts of funds. It had been the general belief even at that time the ministers and high officials who were in charge of these projects were financially benefited by these project transactions. But unlike in the present days nobody dared to accuse or challenge them openly and the said allegations faded away with the time. No organisation rated us as a corrupt country at that time.

But indeed during the past two to three decades all successive Government politicians and its officials in the higher echelons of power had committed economic crimes or rather siphoned off public funds and enriched themselves. The use of political power to earn millions of rupees overnight has now become a common practice.

Bribery and abuse of power in the form of money and sometimes other luxury requirements is quite common at present mainly by politicians and state officials. It had been observed during the past so many years that not even a single day has passed without news of some kind of corrupt activity by state institutions.

Different forms of corruption

There are different types of corruption taking place in the country at present. The general public is unable to get their matters through unless they oil the palms of most public servants or attend to their needs. The level and the magnitude of the abuse depend on how important the institution is and the type of service they provide.

Bribery and corruption intensified

Bribery and corruption, malpractices and misappropriation of public funds intensified over the years. Large scale unviable development projects were carried out under the guise of development activities squandering huge amounts of public funds. It is the general belief that those in charge of these projects siphoned off a substantial percentage of the total cost of those projects.

There are instances where foreign investors who were prepared to invest billions of dollars in Sri Lanka had gone to Bangladesh and Vietnam as huge payments had been demanded by our politicians and officials. All Government contracts and supplies of material were handled by politicians, officials or their cronies incurring huge losses to Government coffers. No proper procurement procedure was followed or tender notices issued in most cases.

Local Bodies’ members were allowed to carry out so-called development activities in their areas and all contracts were done by them with no respect for the standard or quality. Hence sometimes the same job was done twice or thrice within two or three years. That was how they strengthened their vote base. The result caused the entire society in the country to suffer as the funds were pilfered through corruption, bribery and misappropriation. Mass scale corruption has a direct impact on public welfare, such as health, education, infrastructure and common amenities.

There are a number of State institutions where corruption and malpractices are rampant such as Sri Lanka Customs, Inland Revenue Department, Registrar of Motor Vehicles and the Police Department to name a few.

Big time businessmen

There are big time businessmen who regularly import vehicles, vehicle spare parts and various machinery into the country and very often they prepare under -valued documents with the concurrence of their foreign counterparts along with officials and clear the goods paying only a minimum duty to Sri Lanka Customs. This practice deprives the national coffers of a huge amount of money annually, while officials become very rich overnight. Given here is just one example but there are various other methods adopted by importers to avoid paying the correct duties.

Similarly revenue officials also have established a close relationship with big companies and help them to prepare their tax files reducing their taxes to a minimum level depriving the national coffers of its legitimate revenue.

The Sri Lanka Police discharge a great service to the nation in maintaining peace and civil administration in the country for which the entire nation is thankful to the Police force. But unfortunately due to the bribery, corruption and misconduct of a handful of police officers of all ranks, the image of the entire police force has been tarnished in the eyes of the general public. Every now and then we hear of some police officers involved in bribery, corruption, drug trafficking, theft and even sexual abuse. It is also shocking and surprising to hear that some police officers had demanded sexual bribery from aggrieved parties to settle their problems.

It should be the duty of the IGP and the decision makers to cancel the enlistments of these errant officers immediately after they are found guilty in order to save the sublime image of the Sri Lanka Police.

Provincial Councils were introduced in the country with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1987 as a solution to the ethnic issue. But it serves more as a breeding ground for upcoming politicians in most parts of the country.

Public opinion is that the Provincial Councils (PCs) are a white elephant as over 75 percent of the expenditure is spent on the maintenance of the PCs. In addition to that they spend an enormous amount of money on foreign tours for all the Councillors irrespective of party politics.

It is very doubtful whether these tours bring in any productive returns to the country other than enjoyment, entertainment and personal happiness to the councillors.

Public opinion is that it is a gross misappropriation of public funds which could be utilised for the welfare of the downtrodden masses of the nine provinces.

New Laws

Measures taken to prevent corruption and malpractices were not effectively enforced by any Government. Although the Commission to Investigate Acts of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) was vested with all the powers to investigate and prosecute the offenders, it is doubtful whether it lived up to expectations of the general public. Recently Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe himself stated that the general public’s perception about CIABOC is below zero.

If the authorities are seriously interested in wiping out corruption, bribery and malpractices, the new commission in the pipeline should be vested with all the powers and authority to carry out their duties independently, expeditiously and rigorously. People are anxiously waiting to see this deep rooted cancer rooted out. President Ranil Wickremesinghe has pledged to make this a reality.