With the Commission to Investigate Bribery and Corruption ceasing to function for some time, a plethora of problems arose country wide. Bribe-taking by public officials and the bottomless pit of corruption, prevalent in public institutions, have given service providing State organisations a bad name. The increase in such practices can be attributed to ineffective implementation of the strong Action Plan and the public’s unawareness of the consequences of giving and taking bribes.
Director General of the Commission to Investigate Bribery and Corruption Piyasena Ranasinghe in an interview with The Island spoke on the current functions of the Commission and its future strategies in combating bribery and corruption in the country.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: We understand that the vacancies in the Bribery Commission have been filled. Could you give a brief account of the members appointed to the Commission?
A: The Bribery Commission comprises retired Supreme Court Judges Ameer Ismail and P. Edusuriya, and retired Inspector General of Police Indra de Silva. They have served the country in the legal arena and security fields for a long time and in terms of seniority, they have the best credentials to be the members of the Commission.
Q: The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has submitted a set of proposals to streamline the Commission’s activities. Is the Commission ready to incorporate these proposals in the Action Plan?
A: Yes. ‘The ‘Capacity Development Strategy’ will be prioritised in the Action Plan recommended by the former Director Corrupt Practices and Investigation Bureau in Singapore Chua Cher Yak. He has suggested to the Commission that the ‘capacity development strategy’ is sine qua non for the functioning of the Commission. The proposals have been handed over to President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunge for President Rajapakse’s notice. Lalith Weeratunge will subsequently appoint a committee to study the proposals and recommendations, before implementation. In addition to set of proposals, the UNDP has also provided financial assistance to streamline the services of the Commission. The money given by the UNDP will be utilised to purchase required materials, to recruit and train human resources and to conduct effective awareness programmes on the evil influence of bribery and corruption in the country.
Q: Do you believe that awareness programmes will be effective and people will discontinue bribe-taking and corrupt practices in the society?
A: Yes. We are positive that when people are informed and educated on the dangers involved in bribery and corruption, they would get discouraged and might discontinue such practices. Most bribe takers and people dabbling in corrupt practices are not aware of the harm they cause to the country and economy, both socially and culturally. They will also be convinced that they are doing a wrong to the society in which they live.
Q: Bribe-taking and different forms of corrupt practices are exposed through the media almost daily. Some high ranking public officials are alleged to be engaging in bribe-taking and various sorts of malpractices. Are the bribe-taking and corrupt practices of public officials on the increase or decrease?
A: There is no disputing the fact that the incidences of bribe-taking by public officials are on the increase. In 2005 the Bribery Commission’s Flying Squad had launched 142 raids and 27 police officers, including Police inspectors and sub inspectors, had been caught red-handed taking bribes. Four officers of the Prison department, two officers of provincial councils,13 Public Administration employees, six employees of Registrar General’s Office, one school principal, five Motor Traffic Department employees, seven Ministry of Judicial Services officers and altogether around 82 public officials were prosecuted.
Q: What about raids in 2006. We believe that the incidences of bribe-taking and corrupt practices had shown an upward trend in 2006. Could you elaborate on that?
A: In 2006 the Commission had conducted around 233 raids and around 40 police officers had been caught red-handed in the act of bribe-taking,12 officers in Public Administration Ministry, five in provincial councils,five in the passenger transport authority, four in the Labour Department, four in the Health Ministry, three in the Emigration and Immigration Department, two in the Motor Traffic Department, five in the Registrar General’s Office, nine Education Department employees, three Excise Department employees, three Wildlife Conservation Department employees, two in the Sri Lanka Customs and some officials of the Fisheries Ministry,National Housing Development Authority, CEB, Valuation Department, and some high officials of the Water Resources Board, had also been caught red-handed and legal proceedings were instituted against them.
Q: Some politicians have become fabulously rich overnight. Has the Commission received complaints of bribe-taking or corrupt practices against politicians?
A: No complaints on bribe-taking by politicians have been received so far, but complaints on the possession of disproportionate assets have been received by the Commission. Some politicians are alleged to have amassed wealth disproportionate to his or her regular source of income. The Commission is in the process of investigating those complaints and will take appropriate action in due course.
Q: Bribery and Corruption has been a great stumbling block to the development of the country. Do you agree with that?
A: Yes. Chances of fraud, bribe-taking and corrupt practices in any society curtail the knowledge (technological) and human resources development. This leads to ‘Brain-Drain’ and a perpetual vicious circle of hopelessness and chaos. In such societies there could be individuals with ‘excellence’ but knowledge of economy (technological development) and institutions essential for stability, do not emerge.
Q: Does the Commission intend to formulate an effective National Anti-corruption Strategy?
A: Yes. The Commission has already formulated a set of anti-corruption strategies. They include increasing transparency in public procurement, increasing access to information, ensuring the independence and transparency in the judiciary, enhancing public sector integrity through codes of conduct and conflict of interest rules, protection for whistle-blowers and improving transparency in financial services.