The arbiter of last resort is Sri Lankan civil society; ultimately, it is we who must organize, come together and hold the Executive to account. They, in turn, should play a pivotal; role in combatting fraud and corruption and ensure the effective enforcement of the rule of law. Insatiable greed of the powerful few to plunder public resources results in the denial to the vast majority of the impoverished poor of livelihood, food, healthcare, education, housing, etc. This amounts to a violation of our human rights and needs to be so addressed.
Pope Francis, quoting from the Bible, once said: “The necks of corrupt people should be tied to a large rock and they be thrown in to the sea…. Persons engaged in corruption appear beautiful on the outside, but are full of dead bones and putrefaction on the inside.” His Holiness, during the recent visit to Africa, severely condemned those involved in corrupt practices as making the poor even more miserable and poor. Lee Kuan Yew actually took this action. He took the occupants of Changi Jail, loaded them on an old boat and because it was not sea worthy, it sank!
In a World Bank Staff working Paper No. 580, David J. Gould and Jose A. Amaro-Reyes reported:
“Corruption is pervasive in the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The government monopoly of economic activities in developing countries, when combined with conditions of political softness, wide spread poverty and socio-economic inequalities, ambivalence towards the legitimacy of government and its organizations and systematic maladministration, provide fertile grounds for corruption, which has a deleterious, often devastating, effect on administrative performance and economic development; for example corroding public confidence, perverting institutions processes and even goals, favouring the privileged and powerful few, and stimulation of illegal capital export or use of non-rational criteria in public decisions”.
Nevertheless, SAARC countries, enmeshed in mega corruption, at the heads of State Summits have never dealt with the issue of corruption while, ironically, at the same time lamenting the great poverty of the impoverished poor of the region.
The above perception that fraud and corruption were pervasive in less developed states was proved wrong by the Enron and WorldCom frauds and the fall of reputed auditers, Arthur Anderson, resulting in the enactment of Sarbanese-Oxley Act in 2008 in the US and Europe by supposedly respected banks and financial institutions caused such economic impact that governments had to step in to bail them out with ‘stimulus’ packages whilst leading financial institutions, such a Lehman Brothers, went into bankruptcy. In December 2014 it was reported that UBS, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC had agreed to pay a total of 3.3 billion in fines.
It was the civil society agitations on a platform of major corruption allegations which led to the installation in office of the present Government, committed to combat corruption and ensure good governance. This led to article 46 of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, introducing Article 156A 9(1) (c) which stipulates that “Parliament shall by law provide measures to implement the United Nations Conventions Against Corruption and any other international convention, relating to the prevention of corruption, to which Sri Lanka is a party.”
Sri Lanka has a multiplicity of non-correlated statutes with responsibility of enforcement by several agencies whereby not withstanding all the good intentions, the menace of corruption has become worse. What Sri Lanka needs today, given the political commitment, is the enactment of an all-encompassing statute to fulfill all the obligations stipulated in the Articles of the UNCAC, and a multi-disciplinary agency for investigation and prosecution with private expertise and foreign technical assistance where necessary. This need to be done according to a well planned strategy with private expertise with the education of the public of the consequences of corruption and the offences under such a statute; preventive measures should also be put in place. All being equal before the law and ruled by the law, such investigations and prosecutions should be non-selective, regardless of the status and standing of personalities, without any socio-political considerations. In certain state investigations, prosecutions should be closely monitored through interactions of teams or by supervisory oversight and or with review by civil society representatives.
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