A need for effective anti-corruption laws | Sunday Observer

A need for effective anti-corruption laws

4 December, 2022

It is a proven fact that economies that are influenced and manipulated by a high level of corruption are faced with immense problems and are not capable of flourishing as expected. Sri Lanka is no exception.

The country is ranked 102nd (out of 180) in the “Corruption Perception Index 2021,” which amply explains the magnitude of the ongoing situation. Misappropriation and abuse of power in the form of money and, at times, materials were common in Sri Lanka for several decades, primarily by politicians and State officials.

The use of power to achieve personal benefits by illegal, dishonest, or unfair means has become a common practice. The irony is that, similar to the battle against dangerous drugs, eliminating corruption in Sri Lanka is a daunting task that requires a complete paradigm shift and general attitude transformation.

Corruption prevailed during this period and prevented the natural laws of the economy from functioning properly and freely. The result caused the entire society in the country to suffer enormously as the funds were pilfered through corruption, bribery, and malpractices. Corruption has an unwavering and explicit impact on public welfare, such as education, health, infrastructure, and security.

Recent media reports revealed that the initial Cabinet approval was granted for a proposal for a new anti-corruption act to carry out investigations independently. The full content of the proposed activities has not yet been accurately publicised, although the public expects the new proposals to be more effective.


However, the proposed law will be brought in to give effect to the United Nations Conventions Against Corruption (UNCAC) and other internationally accepted practices. The intention of the new proposal is to appoint an independent commission to investigate bribery and corruption in the country more effectively and efficiently. The new commission will replace the current CIABOC, which is an act the whole country will unanimously welcome.

As the Minister of Justice himself has recently pointed out, the public’s perspective on the currently functioning Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) is below zero. For the past many years, they have not only dragged their feet on even the most important public complaints but also have not been able to secure convictions on any major incident they have pursued. Their success was only against those who were prosecuted for petty, corrupt acts.

According to popular opinion, none of the previous Governments paid adequate and genuine attention to preventing widespread corruption in the country. The most known reason is that some of the politicians of almost all political parties are involved in corrupt acts, and successive Governments have habitually attempted to cover them up in some way. Ironically, a conviction against any of the alleged accused with political influence was never heard of in Sri Lanka.

There are various forms of corruption that prevail in Sri Lanka, including petty corruption, where the general public is often compelled to pay bribes to public servants to get even simple things done. This practice is common in almost every Government office, although the level and magnitude of the abuse depend on how important the institution is and the type of service they provide.


Even the protesters who participated in the scandalous “Aragalaya” addressed only political corruption but not the corruption in public sector institutions. The simple reason is that, apart from the university students’ unions, the majority of other participants were trade unionists in the public sector. As a result, they were obviously unable to deliberately bring State sector corruption to light during the protests because they, too, had been a part of it for years.

For example, the workers belonging to the petroleum sector who were very active in these protests have allegedly obtained overtime payments and other perks in an unjustifiable manner, causing financial harm to already loss-making institutions. Nevertheless, they openly criticise others for corrupt acts, throwing stones from glass houses.

Corruption is a global phenomenon, although the scale of such acts is enormous in low- and middle-income countries and much greater than that of developed countries. Evidence shows that corrupt acts, particularly by politicians and bureaucrats, stifle economic growth and divert desperately needed financial resources from public welfare. Also, corruption intensifies inequality and injustice, depriving people of a peaceful existence. Although a proper study has not been done accurately by anyone thus far, the siphoned-off figure can be billions of rupees annually.

Although politicians and public servants bear the majority of the blame, some private-sector organisations are also complicit in promoting corruption. At times, in order to secure Government-funded deals, private sector organisations offer bribes to politicians or State officials that are completely against good business ethics. Because the entire system is so corrupt, private companies frequently seek to commit such heinous acts.

Private sector

Obviously, the private sector also has a responsible role to play in fighting corruption by adhering to good business practices. In addition, financial institutions that accept corrupt and unaccountable proceedings, lawyers who assist corrupt transactions, and accountants who facilitate corrupt accounts are also accountable for encouraging corruption.

In Sri Lanka, for the past many years, not a single day has passed without horrendous news of some type of corrupt act, primarily by Government institutions. Unfortunately, these news reports usually fade away after a few days and rarely return to the forefront.

Most often, the alleged offenders produce a lame explanation or excuse and go scot-free. Syphoning or abuse of public funds has almost become an accepted practice. Therefore, it is high time that the Government create a stolen asset recovery mechanism through the new act and enforce it rigorously.

Corruption prevention in Sri Lanka has never been effectively enforced by consecutive Governments. Although CIABOC had powers to investigate and prosecute, such powers were rarely used by them historically. Whenever there is a public outcry over a high-profile case, CIABOC officials typically provide doubtful but unchallengeable explanations. The country is anticipating that there will be more pragmatic solutions provided with the new act.

Regardless of the instructions, legal notices, directives, and circulars stipulated in the Establishment Code, public servants resort to various illicit practices and often take cover under trade unions or use political influence whenever there are accusations. Therefore, a more effective and efficient mechanism must be introduced to initiate disciplinary investigations, culminating in strict punitive action. The ground reality currently is that corrupt officials have no fear of engaging in corrupt acts due to the prevailing sluggish and procrastinating system.


Particularly, transparency and accountability in matters of public finance must be promoted, and specific requirements should be set up to prevent corruption in critical areas of public sector procurements where allegedly most of the malpractices take place.

No matter how large a budget is required to establish the anti-corruption mechanism, the need of the hour is to protect billions of dollars of public funds, mostly collected through direct and indirect taxpayers.

If the new proposal can trap and grab big-time rogues who embezzle State coffers instead of the current practise of netting sprats, the country would not have to go begging for money from every Dick, Tom, and Harry.