Recognising corruption fighters

Thursday, 9 December 2010 01:07 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The misappropriation of over Rs. 3.5 billion collected as Value Added Tax (VAT) by an organised group is considered Sri Lanka’s largest-ever corruption scandal in the recent past and one of South Asia’s biggest tax scams ever to be exposed.

In a series of articles in the ‘Silumina,’ investigative journalist Poddala Jayantha systematically exposed the level of misappropriation of tax money. He openly advocated the need to bring the offenders to book and finally the law was set in motion.

Besides the ‘VAT scam’ there were dozens of exposes he wrote week after week that blew the lid off fraudulent job agencies, child farms and tax evasions. He did not forget about the story after writing it but meticulously followed it up.

After publishing the investigative report exposing how a bogus job agency operator was collecting millions of rupees by hoodwinking poor job seekers on the pretext of collecting seed money, he took the initiative to file a complaint with the Fraud Bureau of Sri Lanka. This resulted in the arrest and conviction of the offender.

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) leading the anti-corruption campaign in Sri Lanka recognised Poddala’s efforts by presenting him the National Integrity Award (NIA) at the inaugural presentation in 2004.

The NIA was created to recognise the courage and determination of the many individuals and organisations fighting corruption. The winners are a source of inspiration to the anti-corruption movement because their actions echo a common message: that corruption is surmountable.

Poddala’s exposures resulted in a series of threats until he was finally abducted by unidentified assailants and brutally assaulted. After being physically incapacitated he fled the country. He won this year’s Global Integrity Award, becoming the second Sri Lankan journalist to be recognised with this prestigious honour. The first was The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, who won the award in its inaugural year in 2000.

Audit Superintendent Lalith Ambanwala who ignored threats to his life and investigated a Rs. 44 million fraud in the Education Department and ended up losing his sight in one eye as a result of a vicious acid attack also received the National Integrity Award in 2004.

Since then seven have won the Award and four more have been recognised with a special mention. Among them were public officials, media personalities and trade union activists.

The winners are selected by an independent panel of judges every year. This year the panel comprised CEO of LIRNEAsia Dr. Rohan Samarajiva, Executive Director of the Women’s Education and Research Centre (WERC) Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran and science writer Nalaka Gunawardena.

The presentation of the National Integrity Award coincides with the International Anti-Corruption Day falling on 9 December. After adopting the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) on 31 October 2003, the General Assembly designated 9 December as International Anti-Corruption Day. This decision was taken in order to raise awareness of corruption and of the role of the UNCAC in combating and preventing it.

The Assembly urged all States and competent regional economic integration organisations to sign and ratify the Convention as soon as possible in order to ensure its rapid entry into force. It is significant that Sri Lanka was the second country to sign the Convention in early 2004.

Every year TISL invites an overseas guest for the presentation of the National Integrity Award and deliver the keynote address on a contemporary theme. This year the Chief Guest will be writer and activist, Kanak Mani Dixit from Nepal.

He is the founding Editor (1987 to present) of ‘Himal Southasian’, a high quality, independent, monthly journal offering critical commentary on social and cultural issues. In addition, he edits and publishes a Nepali version named Himal Kabalapatrika.

Dixit was among the key campaigners for the abolition of the monarchy during the ‘Jana Andolan’ ((The Peoples’ Movement) in Nepal and promoted the establishment of a constitutional democracy. He plays an influential role in a wide variety of cultural disciplines. He is the founder of Film South Asia (FSA), a documentary festival which has become an important platform for local creativity, stimulating innovative local film making on a range of subjects.

Dixit was awarded the Prince Claus Award for his outstanding contributions to public debate, for creating platforms that enable South Asians to connect, interact and network transcending national and cultural boundaries and for his socially engaged, multi-disciplinary approach to creativity and development.

A respected senior journalist, Dixit is a Knight Fellow and holds a Masters Degree in International Law and a Masters Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University, US.