“Bribery and Corruption - main enemy of the nation’’ | Sunday Observer

“Bribery and Corruption - main enemy of the nation’’

10 January, 2021

Bribery and corruption are rampant and has spread like air all over with least resistance, like a terminal cancer. Bribery is defined as giving or receiving unearned reward to influence someone‘s behaviour and corruption is defined as any unlawful or improper behaviour that seeks to give an advantage through illegitimate means. It is a criminal offence under the Penal Code and Bribery Act initially introduced in 1954 and subsequently amended from time to time. Despite attempts to control bribery and corruption it has not been successful due to unlimited greed to accumulate wealth for pleasure, enjoyment for future benefits/ saving for themselves and dependents.

It is a threat to society and the smooth running of the administrative system on rules, where rules are broken by bribe givers and takers which is considered as the order of the day. The cancer has spread in the system of administration, worldwide sparing no country. Denmark and New Zealand are rated high with 91 marks, Singapore 85, Sri Lanka and China 37 and India 38, while Sudan is at rock bottom. Denmark and New Zealand are disciplined democracies while Singapore has stringent rules in fighting corruption with their own mechanism.

They initially had a five-year plan and a separate institution to monitor and are successful as a minimum corrupted country. Corruption is damaging the reputation and the progress of a country due to administrative and political corruption found in day to day life and the citizen and the governance is not taking appropriate precautions to prevent the menace Sri Lanka being a main victim. A joint effort of all the stakeholders is necessary to reduce bribery and corruption if not for its complete eradication.

In Sri Lanka there appears to be no proper efforts, plans or program for complete eradication though there were voices of combatting bribery and corruption from time to time as a media circus. Unfortunately, it is rampant and widespread like wildfire today covering the entire nation due to the indirect blessing of being inefficient and not taking tough and meaningful measures - some say due to political interference on personal interests of politicians.

We hear in the news the helpless efforts of the line minister of environment, his repeated pleas from politicians- to keep away from sand mining, deforestation and environmental destructions. The Bribery Commission is a lonely parrot on a tree branch acting in isolation with meagre resources and small staff to cover 22 million citizens which is grossly insufficient to fight the fierce group of dishonest dragons as leaders of the world of dishonesty.

Bribery and corruption have direct dealings with the underworld, drug traffickers, illegal dealings such as smuggling and shady corrupt transactions taking place with the assistance and direct and indirect patronage of corrupt politicians. Every day we hear of disturbing news of continued corruption by politicians, their stooges and dishonest public servants. Corrupt practices at the Timber Corporation, detection of drugs in Negombo and in the sea organised by a prisoner, are current hot news that increase with no immediate and harsh steps against perpetrators and with insufficient punishments.

Offences of bribery and corruption

In Sri Lanka bribery is an offence under the Penal Code, Act No 20 of 1954 amended in 1994. The Bribery Commission is headed by the Chairman of the Commission to be of highest repute, with the Director on the apex as the chief executive with lot of responsibilities and powers, who is expected to be experienced and a professionally qualified person.

He should also have a legal background to lead the campaign against bribery and corruption -one of the greatest challenges facing the contemporary world. Jurisprudence and case law, the Judicature Act, Commission of Inquiry Act, Assets Declaration Act and other legislations too are in force to assist and combat the dangerous menace of bribery and corruption in society.

Corruption may be due to or influenced by cronyism, nepotism, patronage, peddling, influence, gratefulness mercy or such reasons to influence to perform unlawful or illegal acts for the advantage of a known party. It could be political, power of money to use force on government officers, or even private parties for illegal gains or pressure to perform illegal or unlawful acts, resulting police brutalities, and repressions of political opponent’s illegal acts which is estimated at one trillion dollars worldwide as expenses and losses incurred.

Political corruption unrestrained is named ‘Kleptocracy’ which is also known as the rule by thieves. Political corruption undermines good governance and democracy due to lack of transparency, accountability resulting in anti-national consequences on the economy, bribery and tax culture, and breakdown of the systems with the lack of checks and balances. In Sri Lanka politics and politicians at all levels are responsible for the spread of corruption and act as a barricade for the rule of law, and thereby encourage the increase of bribery and corruption.

Environmental damages, illegal sand mining, frauds in the Motor Traffic Department, Tax Department, Customs, court offices and other institutions, drug trafficking, police inaction and brutality, demands of bribery and ransom and similar unlawful and illegal acts are difficult to take place without the patronage of certain politicians and political influence.

Therefore, the legal system, and the anti-bribery mechanism led by the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) is incapable due to the lack of will, strategy, and resources, of the institutions and the public is also responsible for the escalation of this menace.

Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore once said ‘’We have to keep our own house clean since no one else can do it for us’’ that is, it is our duty to take protective and preventive measures by ourselves in the interest of you and the rest of the citizens and not expect others to do it. As an example, one must refuse to give bribes at any cost and always be vigilant and social duty conscious. We must have the determination and need to keep the house in order having realised the danger of a time bomb we are living with even after gaining independence 70 years ago and as a free nation-yet unable to reform ourselves to be honest with ourselves.

While criminalising the bribe taker and technically the bribe giver too- the average citizen who is responsible for encouraging bribery and corruption by taking easy and short steps to get things done is a part of this vicious circle that leaves an adverse impact as stated by Aristotle, ‘’The truth is that men’s ambitions and their desires to make money are among the most frequent causes of deliberate acts of Injustice.’’

Indicating that everyone is responsible for the mess we are embroiled in the maze of bribery and corruption which has led to a huge impact on law and order, poverty, a weak legal system and a breakdown of governance that has led to adverse effects on international trade and investors’ confidence.

High risk areas

There are high risk areas on corruption easily invaded as soft targets such as the Public Service, Customs, Environment, Forestry, Police, Motor Traffic, Passport Office and Court Offices (only court offices not the judicial administration).

The President personally visited the Motor Traffic Department and took steps to monitor the situation by laying down certain guidelines to eradicate scams and organised crimes involving millions of rupees and this has now been made known to the public through the media.

This is a classic example of a high risk institution where a den of organised thieves are in action day and night dealing in mass corruption by robbing the password of the Department to earn millions over a long period of time which indicates the grave danger and the magnitude of the situation.

In Sri Lanka the main organisation to fight anti-corruption is the CIABOC - the independent body set up by the state headed by the Chairman of the Bribery Commission, FCID, AG’s Department and Police Department are a few active anti-graft agencies. The Police and CIABOC do not appear to play a proactive role in seriously attacking this dangerous menace except engaged in day to day work with no impact in fighting corruption. It seems that it has become nobody’s job or responsibility leaving the robbers to rob freely in the absence of a proper system, program or effective legal and administrative structure.

CIABOC performances and public expectation

The CIABOC has received 3,465 complaints, filed 36 cases and disposed of 110 while another 331 are still proceeding which is not a satisfactory number when compared to a large battery of active government institutions where there are complaints of corruption indicating that there is something wrong somewhere as this cancerous venom has paralysed the public sector.

The total expenditure for this institution runs into millions of rupees but the ordinary citizen is pressurised to get a job done in an institution for which they are entitled to as a taxpaying citizen and are at the mercy of the government servant.

It is a pity to see the silence of professional organisations such as the OPA, BASL and other active social organisations tasked in defending the ordinary citizen against this organised criminal act of bribe takers and those demanding it directly and indirectly freely.

The legal system and law and order situation and the law enforcement organisations must be prompt and vigilant in the anti-corruption campaign and unfortunately it does not appear that either the statutory organisations or the private and international sector are active or concerned in the elimination of bribery and corruption.

Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore have different mechanisms to control bribery and corruption by creating effective institutions that have reduced the menace considerably. Malta, Germany, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Bhutan had their advanced systems of taming bribery and corruption through effective mechanisms. To combat corruption there must be a political will and cooperation of the citizens, religious leaders, NGOs, active groups and professionals joined together with a collective will and understanding on the issue and dangers.

In 1977 the closed and carefully planned and managed economy was transferred to an open economy, throwing out the honesty, integrity and patriotism of the government servant through the window, and replace it with a business type westernised posh shrewd government servant that transformed the entire system to a business-like institution. Thanks to the open economy, the public service today is more an elite business group than a set of honest government servants that we had before.

Way forward

It is not possible for the CIABOC alone to fight bribery and corruption with a limited staff of some 220 personnel and limited resources. Hong Kong with a population of 7.3 million has 1,400 officers pressed into the anti-corruption campaign while Bhutan with a population of 750,000 people has 60 officers for the same purpose.

The 20th Amendment has introduced independence with security and respectability. Attack and combat on corruption should be from various directions with modern methods using the public, public officers, students, educational institutions led by universities, professionals, NGOs, and the network of working class with a powerful program to promote self-respect, integrity, patriotism, coupled with the determination towards the development of the country with a program and a strategy based on convictions. Improvement of law and order, economy, self-confession of the politicians and the forces pledging to be a part of the change is paramount.

Education plays a pivotal role in the fight against corruption while convincing the public that it is their duty to liberate the nation from the clutches of the ugly enemy that is threatening to bleed the country to death unless steps are taken promptly and properly with the community at large.

Srath Wijesinghe, PC, is a Solicitor in England and Wales, former Ambassador to the UAE and Israel, and President of the Ambassadors’ Forum