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Unshackling the Bribery Commission


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This week it was reported that Transparency International flagged some Rs. 40 million in public funds that had allegedly been misappropriated, with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption being enlisted to oversee the investigations.

These complaints filed with CIABOC come on the back of four similar complaints lodged by TISL in June of this year – all of which were found out through the use of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. This of course is incontrovertible proof that the country is moving in the right direction in terms of accountability, especially when you consider that earlier this year an amendment was passed in parliament with allowed for cases of fraud or corruption to taken in the High Courts. 

Prior to this cases of fraud or corruption could only be heard in the Magistrate courts, which limited the penalties that could be imposed on crimes, especially serious large scale cases of fraud or corruption. The amendment thus allowed for stricter penalties.

However, while this is all well and good there are still shortcomings with regard to the functions and efficiency of CIABOC, and more needs to be done in terms of altering the public’s perception when it comes to how the progress in good governance is viewed.

First of all, according to the internationally recognised principals for anti-corruption agencies, an anti-corruption agency shall have the power to recruit and dismiss their staff according to internal clear and transparent procedures. However, this is not the case in Sri Lanka and CIABOC.

Apart from the obvious conflict of interest of having an agency meant to investigate allegations of government corruption under the thumb of said government, the need to be directly involved in the hiring of professionals to work at the commission should also be a given.

At present CIABOC has to depend on various Government agencies in terms recruiting professional such as accountants, auditors, engineers, banking experts and asset recovery experts. CIABOC’s liberation from the Government in terms of financial autonomy and freedom in recruitment is a must.

Furthermore in terms of public relations and communications, CIABOC also needs the official creation of a communications arm. As it stands, there is no clear way for the general public to get in touch with the commission than through direct contact with high ranking officials. The creation of a communications arm will also enable the body to keep the public better informed on the work that is being undertaken. 

While the cautious approach CIABOC is taking with regard to the information they let out is understandable, it is still possible to release aggregated information such as the number of MPs under investigation, or the estimated sum of money that has been misappropriated based on complaints over a given period. This can be done without compromising the integrity of any individual investigation.

This will provide the public with a better understanding of the momentum of the work within CIABOC, which in turn will build trust, while the need to communicate this information is essential to any credible anti-corruption effort.

If these areas aren’t addressed swiftly Sri Lanka’s ambitious strides towards accountability are sure to be in vain.


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