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Anti-corruption lessons from India?


Comments / 1322 Views / Wednesday, 15 February 2017 10:15


Sri Lanka’s ‘Yahapalanaya’ administration, which has been struggling to put away corrupt politicians for over two years, could learn a few lessons from the Indian Supreme Court which has upheld a landmark anti-corruption verdict to keep a powerful politician behind bars.   

India’s Supreme Court convicted the head of the ruling party in Tamil Nadu of corruption, ending her attempts to become chief minister. Sasikala Natarajan was an aide of late chief minister Jayalalitha, who towards the end of a colourful career in politics was convicted of corruption and sent to jail.  

Though Sasikala has never held public office, the ruling AIADMK party said last week that she would be the southern state’s next chief minister. But the state was plunged into uncertainty after the acting chief minister revolted against her.

Indian law bars convicts in corruption cases from contesting an election for a period of six years after completing a jail sentence. Tuesday’s ruling against Sasikala brought a four-year jail sentence, meaning she will not be able to run for office for 10 years.

Quashing the Karnataka high court’s acquittal, the bench of Justices Pinaki C. Ghose and Amitava Roy restored the conviction against former Tamil Nadu J. Jayalalithaa, Sasikala Natarajan, Ilavarasi and V.N. Sudhakaran for criminal abetment in amassing properties worth more than Rs. 66.65 crores, according to local media. 

Even though the case against Jayalalithaa stands abated with her demise in December 2016 Sasikala and the others will also have to pay a fine of Rs. 10 crore each. The reinstated verdict automatically disqualifies Sasikala from the running for the chief minister’s post opening a new chapter in Tamil Nadu politics. 

Drama of Chief Ministerial selection aside, the verdict proves that if the judiciary is empowered and allowed to work independently it can and will put corrupt politicians behind bars. Sri Lanka, which thrives on better social indicators than India, could still take lessons from the determination of the Indian judicial system to see justice done. 

In contrast Sri Lanka’s Government, despite coming into power with roaring pledges of fighting corruption and putting offenders behind bars, has failed dismally in this effort. Successive Governments since Independence failed to check corruption with it reaching record levels during the previous administration. This situation has continued to deteriorate because impunity is allowed to thrive and even the ‘Yahapalanaya’ Government has failed in its duty to empower key institutions and give real teeth to officials. Delays in passing legislation for independent commissions, including the national audit commission, is one such example where good governance has been ignored. 

Sri Lankan politicians are free from mandatory declarations of assets and can run for office or hold office even when they are accused of serious corruption. In the brief honeymoon period enjoyed by this Government in 2015, the Bribery and Corruption Commission received complaints against 90 of the 225 Members of Parliament. Yet even this tip of the iceberg has not been probed and the public has lost confidence in this Government’s anti-corruption promises. 

In terms of scale of corruption, India may be ahead of Sri Lanka. But in the game of trying to promote accountability India has at least a few strikes against Sri Lanka’s zero.    


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