Anti-corruption drive: a foremost priority | Sunday Observer

Anti-corruption drive: a foremost priority

2 April, 2023

Although many Sri Lankans were not aware of the full impact yet, the IMF-triggered new anti-corruption drive seems to be getting off the ground soon. President Ranil Wickremesinghe declared that he will initiate immediate steps to pass the best anti-corruption law in South Asia in Parliament this year.

At a recent meeting held with the media heads, he also revealed that Cabinet approval for the Bill has already been granted. It is a cinch that no politician or political party will openly oppose this all-important action that has been a solemn expectation of the entire citizenry for decades.

Since 1970s, politically manipulated and influenced corruption was a significant challenge to the Sri Lankan economy and for the social development of the society. Placed at the 102nd position in the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, the country has a long history of corruption involving politicians, public officials, and sometimes private sector entities.

One of the key causes of corruption in Sri Lanka is the continued weak governance and lack of accountability due to political interference, nepotism, and favouritism that undermine the transparency of public transactions.

This is further exacerbated by inadequate and weak anti-corruption laws, where political influence often affects the outcomes of corruption accusations. The country has witnessed cases against politicians dismissed by courts on technical issues on many occasions.

Another factor contributing to corruption is the high level of bureaucratic red tape and administrative inefficiency in the country. This has created opportunities for bribery and rent-seeking activities, with officials using their positions to engage in nefarious activities in seeking financial benefits from individuals and businesses that are seeking Government services.

The use of authority for personal gain by unlawful, dishonest, or unjust means has become commonplace. The irony is that, like the fight against deadly drugs, removing corruption in Sri Lanka is a difficult undertaking that needs a full paradigm shift and broad mindset adjustments.

Corruption prevents the natural rules of the economy from functioning efficiently and freely. As a result of the cash being stolen through corruption, bribery, and malpractice, the whole society in the country suffered greatly. It has a consistent and visible influence on public welfare, including education, health, infrastructure, and security.

Public trust

Corruption has also undermined public trust in Government institutions, leading to a lack of confidence in the country’s political system and the public service. The public opinion is that a vast majority of politicians at all levels and high-ranking public service officials are involved in shady deals, and most lower-ranking Government servants are taking undue advantage of their positions.

This, in turn, has led to animosity and political instability in the country.

According to available information, one of the conditions in the IMF agreement with Sri Lanka is the introduction and implementation of strong anti-corruption legislation. The IMF’s anti-corruption policy framework is built on four key pillars: prevention, detection, sanctions, and remedial action. Prevention involves identifying and addressing the root causes of corruption, including weaknesses in governance and accountability structures.

Detection involves identifying corrupt practices and assessing their impact on economic stability and development. Sanctions involve imposing penalties on individuals and organisations engaged in corrupt practices. Remedial action involves supporting countries in implementing corrective measures to prevent future corruption.

Isn’t this what the country desperately needs at this point? It is no secret, and the common and popular public opinion is that the intolerable corruption that prevailed for the past few decades was one of the key reasons for the current dire economic crisis. It is not an exaggeration to say that day after day, the media reports reveal corrupt acts, inefficiencies, negligence, and waste of State resources by Government institutions.

The reports also reveal the continuing inactivity of the Government on this colossal waste of public funds, paving the way for the culprits to go scot-free almost every time.

The parliamentary committees such as the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) and the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), or even the Auditor General’s revelations, are most often falling on deaf ears despite the public outcry.

Except for the political gains for some of the political parties through public awareness, thus far, no person or institution has been subject to disciplinary inquiries, let alone legal actions, through these committees. It is true that they have no power to litigate but even if they recommend such action, thus far it was swept under the carpet through political manipulations. The truth is that the hearings were only media circuses for politicians and their parties.

It is not yet clear whether the president’s intention is to pass the same bill the Justice Minister presented to the Parliament last year or whether he intends to add more teeth to the act when he said that it will be the best anti-corruption act in the South Asian region.

The proposal presented last year by the Justice Minister was in line with the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and other internationally accepted practices. However, what is more important to the people and the country is the proper implementation of new laws rather than the mere contents of the Bill.

The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) is the foremost institution in the country dealing with allegations of corruption that has litigation powers. Nevertheless, the public perception on CIABOC is drastically low for obvious reasons. No one can remember punishing serious offenders, particularly politicians, except in a very few occasions during the past years.

The IMF’s conditionality on governance and transparency has also led to the proposed improvements in the legal framework for combating corruption. Sri Lanka has introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at improving transparency and accountability, such as the Right to Information Act, which allows citizens to access information from Government institutions. However, even the success of these acts is coming under severe criticism time and again for inaction and procrastination.

However, some factions argue that the primary focus of IMF is fiscal consolidation and economic growth which can lead to a neglect of human rights and governance issue. According to such critics, there have been concerns that the Government may use anti-corruption agencies to target political opponents or dissenting voices, rather than to address corruption. Hence, the government’s stance on such matters must be unbiased, transparent, non-political, and genuine.

The IMF commitment is seemingly more serious than previous times on anti-corruption. They have stated that they will be conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic exercise which will assess corruption and governance vulnerabilities in Sri Lanka and provide, prioritise, and seek recommendations. Sri Lanka will be the first country in Asia to undergo such an exercise by the IMF.


There are three noticeable components of corrupt practices in Sri Lanka that must be stopped at all costs. They are: bribery or seeking money from individuals and organisations for providing services; supporting illegitimate transactions in exchange for monetary benefits; and misuse of public funds for political or personal reasons.

In addition, there are numerous other corrupt acts, particularly in the public sector, where service seekers have to offer some type of benefit to obtain a service from a Government institution.

The entire citizenry sincerely expects the Government to enact this important legislation as early as possible. They believe that it is one of the most important moves the Government can make towards economic and social development.

If the prevailing, intolerable scale of corruption can be prevented through the proposed strong anti-corruption act, the country can save an enormous amount of money that can be used for social welfare and development.

The effort must, therefore, come from all quarters. Predominantly, the media can contribute enormously by keeping the public aware of corrupt acts and perhaps revealing the perpetrators. Also, the academics, civil organisations, religious leaders, leaders of civil society, and, more importantly, the public, must band together to fight corruption as the highest priority.