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Fighting corruption


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The five-member presidential anti-corruption commission is to hand over its final report on large-scale corruption, fraud and abuse of power and State funds to President Maithripala Sirisena this week. It will be the latest in a series of investigations initiated by the Government since it came to power in 2015. Yet the public remains dissatisfied with the quality of the anti-corruption drive initiated by the Government. Why? 

The latest report also includes about 17 final investigations into large-scale corruption, including at SriLankan Airlines and several other State departments. The Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power (PRECIFAC) had investigated 34 major cases of large-scale fraud and corruption after probing 415 allegations out of 1,600 petitions.

 The Weliamuna report on SriLankan Airlines, the report into the trafficking of elephant calves, about five Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) reports and the latest Bond Commission report are among the many anti-corruption documents completed and handed over to the Government with minimal results. The COPE and COPA reports in particular detail dozens of instances when public finances have been wasted and mismanaged but the continued silence over them has been chilling for good governance supporters.    

The sheer number of complaints submitted to PRECIFAC and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) show the high level of enthusiasm and commitment the public initially showed to the anti-corruption initiatives rolled out by the Government in January 2015. Three years down the line anti-corruption has returned to centre stage as the Local Government elections inch closer. 

Political discourse, particularly from President Sirisena, has returned to the thorny issue of corruption with new promises for tougher action being rolled out. The latest installment of this is likely to be announced today by President Sirisena as he outlines the way forward on the bond commission. How the public reacts to these renewed pledges is likely to be reflected in the votes on 10 February. 

CIABOC has also announced a new roadmap for 2018, which aims to streamline its activities to deliver faster investigations on complaints. The new framework is to also include deadlines as one of the key complaints has been delays by legal departments and the larger court system of Sri Lanka. 

But the new roadmap overlooks a key constraint on the part of the Bribery Commission, which is that it is difficult for it to cooperate with other law enforcement authorities such as the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), making the entire anti-corruption system in Sri Lanka fragmented and less effective. In addition, the Government has largely concentrated only on criminal prosecution of local corruption cases and not on the aspect of repatriation of stolen assets from foreign countries, which can be done without the former. The shift in attention to asset recovery has only been discussed publicly over the last few weeks and this oversight could cost the Government at the polls. 

Political action is about communication and the Government should create a central figure who will inform the media of steps taken, their progress and what has been achieved over the last three years to improve its image as a defender of good governance.   


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