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A spark of hope?


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Fighting corruption is a popular topic in Sri Lanka. So popular that it regularly gets trotted out by politicians on both sides of the divide and has featured prominently in the constitutional crisis as well. 

Much concern has been expressed by the public over the open involvement of funds in Parliament crossovers since 26 October with even President Maithripala Sirisena openly saying that amounts as high as Rs. 500 million were demanded by some. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake making a statement in Parliament said that money was demanded not just to change sides but to remain in political parties.   

Despite the constitutional crisis blowing the cover off such high levels of bribery, the general public sentiment remains that little will be done about it. The perception against fighting corruption in Sri Lanka has always been that even if law enforcement authorities act it will only be against smaller offences, with the rich and powerful always enjoying a certain level of impunity in Sri Lanka. It cannot be denied there is some level of truth to these public views but there are also signs that change is happening. 

According to the Bribery and Corruption Commission’s yearly evaluation report, 62 convictions have been achieved from trials in 2018. In the year 2017, that number was 57. From 2005 to 2010 the number usually ranged from 15 to 20 and the commission has insisted that the higher number of convictions is due to cases being filed with the aim to achieve convictions, rather than merely filing cases for appearances sake.

A main criticism levelled against the commission is how cases are filed against individuals holding lower positions in the society, while those individuals who hold higher positions are disregarded. Yet when one looks at the last two years, cases have been filed against the former Attorney General, a former judge of the Court of Appeal, three former ministers, a Chairman of the State Printing Corporation, Chairman of Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, Director of Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, Chairman of Laksala, Managing Director of Laksala, Director of Finance of Laksala, Project Manager of Laksala, former District Court Judge, official of the Ceylon Electricity Board, Chairman of Avant-Garde, former Brigadier of the Army, Director of Customs, Superintendent of Customs, former Governor, former member of Pradeshiya Sabha and other officials holding high ranks. A special case has been filed for two offences of giving and accepting a bribe by a former Brigadier and the Chairman of Avant-Garde.

The commission has also pointed out that within the span of this year, 48 arrests have been made during raids conducted while bribes were taken. As such, among the arrests made, high ranking officials such as Import and Exports controller, as well as the Chairman of the Timber Corporation who was also the President’s Chief of Staff and the Chairman of the Department of Animal Production and Health were arrested. 

To a jaded public, these details, coming in sporadic fits and starts throughout the year, may seem pointless. While there is no question that much more needs to be done to wipe out corruption, and there has to be significantly stronger political and governmental support to the effort, there is clearly incremental change taking place. The challenge now is to continue it and scale it up despite the political uncertainty and ensure that people don’t entirely lose sight of it.


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