Hunt for the corrupt in tsunami reconstruction
Transparency International Sri Lanka Chapter is to launch their new programme against corruption in Tsunami reconstruction projects in Sri Lanka. The programme aims to collect details of Tsunami-related corruption and channel them to the relevant authorities for further action.
At a press conference held this week, the officials of TISL said that they hoped to visit the Tsunami affected areas and meet people who wished to make complaints whilst gathering more information. They expect the public to inform them of any incidents related to corruption in the Tsunami reconstruction process.
The project would be implemented for a period of five months. The first month has been allocated for collecting public complaints. TISL officials will meet the people of the affected areas through public forums in Hambantota, Matara, Galle, Kalutara and Colombo. All evidence will be analysed to get a perspective of corruption patterns in Tsunami recovery process. Complaints against corruption which warrant prosecution will be forwarded to the relevant authorities such as the Ministry of Public Administration, Bribery Commission, Auditor General’s Department and Colombo Fraud Investigation Bureau.
The complaints are expected to be lodged through hot-line 011-5627432 or be sent through fax to 011-2592287. The complaints can also be posted to No. 28/1, Buller’s Lane, Colombo 07, or to the e-mail address email@example.com.
Commission to Investigate Bribery and Corruption: Priority for ‘capacity development strategy’
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.
Ecologist turned aid worker helps re-build livelihoods for Sri Lanka’s tsunami affected
Two years ago, Swedish national Kerstin Bohman was working deep in the jungles of Indonesia as part of a university research team. Living was basic. She stayed with local villagers and spent her time studying causes of deforestation and how it affected the environment and the livelihoods of farming communities.
Today she is sitting in a room surrounded by a group of women from Thirukkovil in Sri Lanka’s eastern district of Ampara. The room is quiet as local Red Cross staff carefully explain details of a new livelihoods project under way in the community.
Kerstin is the driving force behind the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ post-tsunami livelihoods programme in Ampara District. “I volunteered with the Swedish Red Cross in 2006 to possibly go back to Indonesia and help on their tsunami operation. Instead, I was sent to Sri Lanka,” she recalls.
“In a way the work is similar. It involves working with people in rural and developing areas - understanding their constraints and options for their daily life – how they use available natural and other resources. Livelihoods should be suitable to the environment and the community. Only then can they be sustainable.” she adds.
The assembled women start to explain their current situations through a translator and talk about their hopes for the future. Some work in the fields helping with the paddy harvest, others rear poultry, others work as seamstresses. “I wake up at four every morning to travel on foot and then by bus to Akkaraipattu, several kilometres away, where I cut grass for cattle or help in the harvest of paddy,” explains S. Rajeswari. “I hope to learn how to manage a small business and set up a small shop close to home. Then I can also look after my two daughters,” she says.
Another member of the group, K Rasanayaki, talks about how her skills as a seamstress support her four children. “I hope that what I learn from the Red Cross project will help me and other women in the village get together and set up a small business where we can buy cloth, sew clothes and sell them,” she says.
Kerstin listens intently, interjecting with the occasional question, before explaining how the success of the proposed livelihoods project will depend upon community participation. The programme planned for this particular village in Thirukkovil aims to train community members, mostly women, in how to establish home based businesses, market products and improve production skills.
The Red Cross will partner with the British NGO Practical Action to help villagers identify needs and potential markets. A Community Based Business Resource Centre will also be established, enabling community members to support each other as they set up and build new commercial endeavours.
“The aim is to empower families and communities to regain lost livelihoods or improve and diversify on what they already do,” explains Kerstin.
An hour’s drive away and Kerstin sits down again with Red Cross colleagues and members of a fishery cooperative to discuss a project being implemented in the village of Ninthavur. Here, the Red Cross is providing funding to the 40-member cooperative and will assist them to set up a small shop where both members and other fishermen from the area can purchase fuel, nets and other items at low cost. The scheme will mean that they will no longer have to pay exorbitant travel costs or pay inflated prices with local traders in order to get the materials they need to earn a living.
As a collective the fishermen will purchase supplies in bulk at cheaper prices than would be the case if bought individually. The items can then be sold with a small mark-up, which will go towards the running and upkeep of the shop, as well as to small loans to cooperative members to purchase fuel, nets and fishing tackle.
When the tsunami struck, the fishermen lost thousands of dollars worth of fishing boats, nets, engines and equipment. Some of this has been replaced under a government funding programme but these short term loans will help members purchase other equipment or provisions needed to conduct day to day fishing activities.
According to Kirsten Bohman, listening to the communities needs is vital before the finer details of the livelihoods projects are worked out. “The discussions we are having with the villagers in Thirukkovil and fishermen in Ninthavur ensure that the people who will ultimately benefit from such programmes are being involved in their planning and implementation right from the start.”
Graft-buster campaigns to track down Sri Lanka tsunami corruption
Transparency International, an international anti-corruption group, set a five-month timetable to give tsunami victims a chance to voice any charges of graft when aid was being distributed.
"We are giving people five months to record such misappropriation of funds, and they have to back their claims with substantive evidence," said J. C. Weliamuna, Sri Lanka's executive director of Transparency International.
About 400 state, local and international charities received pledges of up to 3.2 billion dollars to rebuild tsunami-hit areas.
But the state auditor general in September 2005 noted out of 1.16 billion dollars committed, only 13.5 percent had actually been spent.
Transparency international believes only a fraction of the aid actually went to the victims, and in the absence of proper account-keeping it has been virtually impossible to track down what happened to the cash.
"During our post-tsunami audit last year, we found instants of sloppy work and no proper method to account for the money being spent," Weliamunna said.
The agency approached 70 agencies to carry out a post-tsunami audit last year, but only six responded.
Most agencies assessed failed to follow good accounting practices.
Sri Lanka, one of the worst hit by the Asian tsunami, lost an estimated 31,000 people, while another million were left homeless.