Corruption as political weapon
Posted on December 14th, 2014

Editorial The Island 

There are two things that all politicians seek mandates at elections to eliminate—poverty and corruption. But, as is common knowledge, they do precious little to make good their pledges. Instead, we have seen most politicians eliminate their own poverty through corruption while marketing their humble origins as the progeny of farmers and slum dwellers to woo and dupe poor voters. They amass so much of wealth through corrupt deals that they bequeath their children billions of rupees so that the latter can not only live in clover without being employed but also bribe the public with various handouts in return for votes.

In what may be considered an all-out attempt to destroy former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK) politically in retaliation for her efforts to bring it down, the government has reproduced the Chaura Rajina (Bandit Queen), a book by former Ravaya editor Victor Ivan on CBK, as a special newspaper supplement. The damning allegations therein against her have gone unchallenged legally or otherwise.

Interestingly, in the run-up to the 1994 parliamentary polls CBK declared that during her self-exile in London following her husband Vijaya Kumaratunga’s assassination in the late 1980s her children had been wearing hand-me-downs. Claiming that she was dependent on bank overdrafts, she made a solemn pledge to eliminate bribery and corruption as a national priority. But, she has come to be described in derogatory terms by one of her erstwhile chums who backed her to the hilt then! We refrain from commenting on the allegations in Ivan’s book; suffice it to say that Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion!

Opposition presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena claims that the government leaders’ corrupt deals have resulted in massive cost overrides in road construction projects among other things. He has also made several other allegations of corruption against his former political masters. UPFA MP Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, who broke ranks with the government, has recently told this newspaper, in an interview, that Sirisena once, in a conversation with him, criticized ‘corrupt road construction deals’ while the latter was still part of the incumbent administration. So, the question is why Sirisena did not take up the issue of corruption at Cabinet meetings. He would have remained mum if he had succeeded in securing the post of prime minister.

Similarly, the government is accusing Sirisena and his family members of various rackets ranging from hoarding paddy, illegal sand mining and logging and, above all, having abused political power to open the sluice gates of a reservoir in Polonnaruwa to prevent a family hotel in its reservation being submerged during rains thus creating water shortages in the areas for the past so many years. Why didn’t those who are making these allegations take any action while Sirisena was in the government?

Strangely, those who make themselves out to be paragons of virtue by accusing others of corruption don’t want their claims investigated. They only use allegations of corruption as a political weapon against their rivals. They only promise to appoint special commissions for that purpose! In 1994, CBK promised to investigate the plunder of state resources under governments since 1977 and confiscate the illegally acquired wealth of the UNP politicians. But, after being ensconced in power, instead of carrying out that pledge, her government with the help of Opposition MPs from the UNP and the JVP stripped the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) of powers to initiate inquiries without waiting for formal complaints.

We are reminded of a pithy slogan that the JVP once coined to condemn both the SLFP and the UNP for their corruption and abuse of power—unuth ekai, munuth ekai, which roughly put into English means ‘there is no difference between both of them’. The JHU changed the slogan to ‘unuth ekai, munuth eka, thopith ekai—‘all three parties [the UNP, the SLP and the JVP] are the same’. And, frustrated voters who know all politicians for what they really are may say: thopi okkoma ekai—all of you are the same!

6 Responses to “Corruption as political weapon”

  1. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Both Presidential candidates should appreciate the fact that corruption is the real problems that has run rampant both in politics and in the state structures that provide basic services to ordinary people and should introduce some solid proposals to combat corruption.

    Fight against Corruption is not only limited to Sri Lanka, even in the United States President Obama has recently called the fight against corruption “one of the great struggles of our time.” The costs of corruption in the US are immeasurable – injustice, misallocation of resources, economic decay. Corruption affects a staggering number of livelihoods and lives and erodes the faith of citizens in their governments and in the rule of law. The United States views corruption as a growing threat to the national security of their country and allies around the world.

    For years, the United States has led the fight against international bribery. In 1977, it passed the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, domestic legislation which prohibits Americans and other persons and businesses that fall under the jurisdiction of the law from bribing foreign officials in order to obtain or retain business. To level the playing field, the United States sought to create a “race to the top” by encouraging other OECD countries to criminalize such bribery. The Anti-Bribery Convention was signed in 1997 and took effect in 1999, becoming what Transparency International calls “the gold standard” in the fight against corruption.

    Sri Lanka can easily follow a similar action taking into consideration the following features

    1. Corruption – Sri Lanka needs a solid legal framework to fight the corruption that has run rampant both in politics and in the state structures. Some legislation similar to US criminal conflict of interest statute, 18 U.S.C. § 208 is needed as fewer safeguards means an increased corruption risk in the government. Once the legislation in place the legal system should be capable of handling and prosecuting those who are involved in corruption.

    2. Nepotism and cronyism – Nepotism and cronyism can bring about conflict of interests. Conflict of interest is a situation in which a public official or a politician has a private or other interest which is such as to influence, or appear to influence, the impartial and objective performance of his or her official duties.

    Therefore, only way of tackling the issue of conflict of interest is to actually prohibit (prevent) certain conflicts of interest.

    Regulation should be designed not only to impose obligations on public officials and politicians, but also to help them to resist improper approaches, and more generally to contribute to the development of a fair public service culture. For that criminal conflict of interest shall be explicitly defined in the statutory book and penal code.

    3. Without that we will be using the word corruption as a political weapon for ever.

  2. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    The reality is that the governing politicians and the officials in the government are two entirely different sections. There are two different mechanisms works. one is politics and other one is governance. the system to be there to do the governance. we can’t blame just the politicians for corruption. the government officials in the system are the very much corrupted too.

  3. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    Corruption today continues to take a great toll on our societies, and threatens to exacerbate wider challenges that our societies face – may these be poverty, inequality of income, the environment, delivering public services to all citizens or maintaining peace and stability.

    Corruption strikes particularly hard at the most vulnerable in our societies, exacerbating poverty and ultimately taking lives. Corruption reduces access to essential services and means of making a living.

    In Sri Lanka at least one person in four around the world pays bribes to access public services. In some countries it is 3 in 4. In the poorest and least stable countries, the problem is of pandemic proportions. We have got police asking for a bribe. We have health services unavailable to children; We have absent teachers, or worse, Pricipals asking for bribes to admit students. The World Health Organization also estimates that counterfeit drugs are responsible for 700,000 deaths from malaria and tuberculosis due to counterfeit drugs. Counterfeit drugs being a market worth $32 billion.

    Bribery plagues sectors key to setting up a new business, with one person in five paying bribes to registry their company, seek a permit and land services and more than one in ten having to bribe regarding utilities, tax and customs. Corruption can become endemic and leave people feeling that the institutions supposed to help them are in fact turned against them. The institutions we rely on to stop corruption – police and judges — are considered the most corrupt institutions after political parties. Police as the most corrupt, and an average of 50% of people had been asked to pay a bribe to the police.

    The result of justice systems being weakened by corruption for development is that people become disempowered, losing their ability to seek justice in courts or hold politicians to account. This makes them further impoverished, but also sows the seeds of conflict by dissolving any ties of loyalty between people and a state seemingly captured by private interests.

    The failure of leaders to tackle corruption can become a self-fulfilling spiral when people no longer take commitments seriously. While elections are often won or lost on the corruption issue, those who profit from corruption can be a barrier to reformers who come to power with a promise to clean up. Early engagement often fizzles as pressure increases to stop the cleaning of the administration.

    Leaders act on behalf of the people, who entrust them to uphold basic ethical standards. In many parts of the world we are seeing massive protests because people feel their leaders are not living up to those standards. People already think global leaders are failing, and many no longer expect their leaders to act in the public interest:

    Political parties are seen to be the most corrupt institution in many parts of the world. If you pay a lot of money to a candidate running for election, that candidate owes you something when it comes to deciding the right policies. The question is whether the power of money is greater than the power of ethics?

    Many citizens think governments are largely or entirely run by large entities acting in their own interests rather than for the benefit of the citizenry.

    Corruption siphons money away from public spending, and diverts valuable public income such as that coming from natural resources. It undermines both the availability and quality of these services. Because this happens in the dark and off books, we may never know just how great the scale of wasted, lost or stolen public money is.

    One of the major reasons that people in power can continue to get away with corruption is the ease with which they can use the international financial system to hide their ill-gotten gains.

    Global tax evasion could be costing more than $3 trillion a year, according to research from Tax Justice Network, while as much as $32 trillion – twice the size of U.S. gross domestic product – may be hidden by individuals in tax havens.

    Today the corrupt, the criminal organizations, the drug cartels, and terror networks are able to move their resources and operations across borders almost with impunity, through high technology and complicit networks and because of weak regulatory regimes and poor enforcement. They also have the resources to push back on important legislation aimed at the public good.

    It means that those who want to offer and accept bribes can now turn to facilitators: accountants, financial agents, and lawyers, many of them based in jurisdictions that will ask few questions about where the money came from.

    This is exacerbated in countries without the required sophisticated resources to do extensive offshore checks.

    This comes at a cost. In an interconnected world, gaps in our ability to sanction corruption anywhere will expose people everywhere to the cost of corruption.

    As long as this system continues, corruption will undermine all our efforts to transform our institutions and achieve more just societies.

    In today’s globalised world, international criminal networks are perfectly poised to take advantage of weak states. The globalization of crime means that the scale of international illicit trade is enormous. The World Economic Forum estimates that the trade in arms, cigarettes and other goods is upwards of $650 billion.

    Such is the scale of illicit trade that it undermines national institutions. organised crime cartels growing so powerful that they challenge official government institutions, create criminal patronage networks sustained by bribery and intimidation, institute parallel government structures or infiltrate state institutions.

    Access to this vast illicit wealth, specialist personnel such as accountants and lawyers and the lack of international frameworks to control them gives international criminals “state-like commercial and political power”.

    When you have drug lords with more power than elected leaders, you can talk about state capture. Parliament and parliamentary committees may be influenced or even controlled by members who have conflicts of interest when it comes to policy decisions. Judges may rule in favour of the corrupt when disputes arise, irrespective of evidence and the law.

    People do not wish to see their institutions both state and private being complicit to fraud and criminal activity.

    The country that we believe in should be open, free, safe and just with a decent quality of life for all and state institutions that are ethical, transparent and accountable to the citizens, with a clean private sector and educational institutions that prepare their graduates to have a strong moral compass in their professional and private life.

    As a first step it is absolutely vital to have strong and committed leadership at the top setting an example. Leaders who will create a culture of transparency and integrity within institutions with zero tolerance to corruption.

    They ensure that people throughout their institutions do what is right. They act by setting codes of ethics for all to follow, setting up policies, training systems, incentives and disincentives.

    Efforts to tackle corruption have often failed because of corruption in the justice system. When there are factors that encourage the judiciary to take action contrary to the public interest, it can be very difficult to create a strong disincentive to corrupt behavior: politicians, businessmen and criminals can be encouraged to break the law safe in the knowledge that justice can be evaded.

    Independent, professional, impartial, transparent judiciary is at the heart of a system that protects the people. It includes a fair and open system for the appointment, promotion, and removal of judges. In an increasing number of jurisdictions there is an independent judicial council responsible for these processes.

    Increasingly, all those working in the justice system require a much higher degree of sophistication in dealing with economic crime to at least match the sophistication of criminal networks.

    Having a code of conduct sends a message to voters and leaders alike where the line is drawn between acceptable and unethical behavior. Providing for a set of ethical standards, increases public trust in and respect for the institution, as well as establishing rights and responsibilities for parliamentarians. Codes of conducts should include conflict of interest rules and oblige public disclosure of assets and those of immediate family. Avoiding conflict of interest remains essential and when placing one’s affairs in a special trust we have to ensure that it is not overseen by the spouse or the children, otherwise making it hardly blind.

    As the ultimate body deciding on the legal and regulatory framework of countries, it is vital that voting on laws and rules be aimed at the public good and not at those who contribute to elections. The onus is on decision-makers to publish the interest groups who contributed to decisions.

    The use of lobbyist registers and the publication of “legislative footprints” documenting who gives input to new laws, public registers of who the lobbyists are and disclosure by political parties of who finances them will also increase trust in politics.

    Financing of political parties remains a major issue today. Many countries have taken steps to regulate political party and campaign financing by introducing laws on disclosure of finances and requiring parties and candidates to report on the donations received, including the origin of the donation, the amount and party expenditure. External auditing and publication of results must be part of this transparent framework. A number of countries are now preventing businesses and organisations to contribute to political parties and candidates which means that only individuals can contribute. Some jurisdictions have also capped the amount that can be given.

    Independent, professional and well-resourced Election Commission with the necessary authority is essential to prevent political parties from manipulating the electoral system to their advantage.

    A starting point to promoting ethics and prevent corruption is to ensure a culture of transparency in the areas where it matters most: at the heart of government, in the institutions that defend the public, offer security, serve the public and manage.

    One way to achieve this is the disclosure of assets and interests – clear rules obliging public servants to disclose assets, financial interests, gifts or hospitality received to avoid conflicts of interest.

    Rules for declaration of assets can be a disincentive to dubious activities, and help expose them. They can be made more effective through oversight by an independent body, and by being made easily available to the public.

    Secondly, to have complete transparency in government, it is crucial to build transparency into every stage of the system; from supply chains to dealings between business and government to service delivery. This allows people to check promises against the reality and gives citizens a higher degree of trust in their government officials and parliamentarians.

    Information is not a gift, it belongs to the people. Access to information legislation with systems in place to grant access to that information on request is essential. Indeed, many public authorities are recognising the benefits of transparency and participation and proactively publishing ALL public information.

    When all government revenues, budgets and their disbursements right to the point of delivery a strong message is given to the people. It means that the people know how money is available for their school, for their health clinic for their community and question when the services are not rendered.

    In Brazil online data on budget execution and revenue collection of the federal government is updated on a daily basis. A web portal allows citizens to easily follow up the financial execution of all federal programmes, all federal spending, procurement or contracts for projects and services.

    Thirdly, procurement and construction are highly vulnerable to corruption. This is a vulnerable area for all countries. This is especially important for big projects. Growing economies need growing infrastructures, be it water, waste, power, transport or buildings. Much of this massive spending will be contracted out by government offices to private companies. This nexus of public and private sector can be a major corruption hotspot. These projects are carried out with the people’s money, so the government must show that the process is being carried out ethically.

    It is possible to prevent corruption in this area or detect it quickly when it happens. The emergence of government, making it possible to carry out lucrative public tenders online, is one way to contribute in keeping public spending clean. Another approach is to use integrity pacts. . The idea was to bring together officials organizing procurement processes and potential suppliers from the private sector under the supervision of an independent observer. However, bidders agreed that the pact would also be enforced by severe sanctions for anyone breaking the “no bribe” agreement.

    A third mechanism, to prevent corruption in this sector is the use of social witnesses, or independent professional monitors, during the course of a project. In Mexico, such “social witnesses” are required by law and have overseen more than 60 billion dollars of public spending and tendering procedures.

    Oversight institutions can be a first line of defense against corruption within an organization, state or company. They are a vital part of an integrity system’s checks and balances, providing an independent assessment, thus promoting accountability and the opening of institutions to scrutiny. In a country, they can take the form of an office of the ombudsman, an anti-corruption commission or supreme auditor, integrity commission or office of procurement management.

    These bodies need to be fully independent, professional, properly resourced and have a strong mandate. Anti-corruption commissions for example should receive complaints, conduct investigations and, as is the case in some countries such as Norway, even to prosecute.

    Given the global nature of corruption, we have seen that it can be very hard to fight back without involving all stakeholders; corruption often occurs at the nexus of business and government, so these need to work together to find sustainable solutions. A number of interesting initiatives have been initiated in the recent past.

    While some businesses supported the push for better legal frameworks for fighting corruption, there was also a need to establish common standards for good business behaviour.

    One area where cooperation was clearly needed was the extractive sector. Too often, money from extraction of natural resources was not going to the people. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative has been successful in building voluntary agreements from governments and business to disclose extractive payments, so that people can “follow the money”.

    The Construction Sector Transparency Initiative has taken a similar approach to advance on complex issues such as information disclosure, environmental impact and pro-poor investments. Under it, both the public and private sector participants to disclose data about public contracts to ensure better value for money in infrastructure with stakeholders that are better informed about public tenders, leading to more efficient projects and fair competition for contracts.

    Although too many companies still feel that they need to bribe their way into getting contracts, an increasing number of companies have decided that it is in their best interests and that of their shareholders and stakeholders to be a clean business. In addition, some of them come together in order to exchange best practices on anti-corruption and compliance measures and training. And some do not hesitate in joining together to go to government authorities where solicitation of bribes has prevailed in order to work with the leaders of these government entities to fix this problem.

    Education is key in building strong ethical individuals in our society. A huge potential in combating corruption through education lies in incorporating ethics in the education system from the youngest classrooms to the PHD level.

    This can happen by making ethics part of regular courses as well as through a separate ethics stream. Inculcating basic ethical values needs to start at the youngest age through appropriate learning activities. A number of institutions are moving in this direction and need to be encouraged to move faster.

    Transparency International’s chapter in Chile a number of years ago devised a whole year programme of teaching materials for students in grade 3. In agreement with the Ministry of Education, these were sent to 1500 schools up and down the country. Teaching ethics throughout the education system will sow the seeds for better societies. With nearly a fifth of the world’s population between 15 and 24 years old, young people have the potential to stop corruption both as the citizens of today and as the leaders of tomorrow.

    The education institutions must function at the highest level of integrity, without any corrupt practices. If they do not, no matter how much ethics you teach in the curriculum, the students will be conflicted about what ethical behaviour should be and those courses will have little value.

    The opportunity to get away with corruption in one country can undermine efforts to prevent corruption in another. A major priority for the world today is to set higher standards for transparency in important areas like taxation. If we could limit the global loopholes that allows money laundering and tax evasion, it would be a significant way of dealing with poverty reduction, fraud, illicit trade and contributing to country fragility and conflicts.

    The G20 has already adopted a number of measures including:
    The adoption of the OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) plan, which, if implemented, could see a fairer distribution of taxes paid by multinationals.
    Another is the realisation of automatic exchange of information as a new global standard, presented in February 2014 and to be finalised mid-2014 with roll-out in G20 countries before 2015. Leaders acknowledge that the next challenge is commitment to and implementation of this standard. It will be important to find a model that is inclusive for developing countries.
    In this regard, the OECD has recently published a new single Standard for Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information. This means that it should be easier for tax authorities to work together, so the move will promote financial integrity and help prevent the flight of capital and tax evasion.
    At the moment, many tax revenue authorities have to go and chase information from other revenue authorities if and when they suspect foul play. This new standard means the information will be exchanged automatically on an annual basis between countries that sign up.
    This new global tax transparency standard was endorsed by G20 leaders meeting in St Petersburg last year. The UK initiated a pilot automatic exchange of information programme. G8 members France, Germany, Spain and Italy signed up, as has G20 member South Africa.
    The G20 has pushed forward on the issue substantially in the last few years and this standard, if and when it becomes truly global, will hopefully have a real impact on the global nature of illicit financial flows.

    Other governments should support the G20 and encourage them to keep moving on their commitments.

    While the G20 has also recognised the need to reduce hidden company ownership, the G8 has moved faster in this area.

    Incorporation of beneficial ownership information into annual, public corporate registries would help tackle the problems of illicit flows.
    The UK has been leading on the publication of beneficial ownership, putting it high on the agenda of the G8 last year. It led by example by announcing that companies in the UK will have to publish the names of their owners on company registers. We hope to see many other governments follow suit. European Parliament voted by an overwhelming majority in favour of Europe-wide public registries of beneficial ownership.

    Every country has a responsibility to put in place effective anti-money laundering measures: anonymous firms and secret bank accounts should not be used to launder the proceeds of corruption. It’s a question of integrity, investor interest and of reputation for all countries.

    Governments and banking supervisory authorities should require banks to go further and improve their Know Your Customer (KYC) procedures. In particular, efforts are needed to improve information sharing regarding politically exposed persons (PEPs), which are at high risk for money laundering and other illicit activities. Minimal regulations leads to a race to the bottom.

    Today corruption is one of the world’s most talked about problems. We need to work together to stop corruption before it becomes the norm and reaches epidemic levels. We hhave the energy, the fortitude to show the way in the fight against corruption.

    Each one of us can make a difference by leading ethical personal and professional lives and we can all make a greater difference by joining together civil society, academia, governments and business to ensure that life in our community at work and in our country is our free of corruption.

  4. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    Corruption is pervasive, diverse and present in almost all areas of society. From the “greed is good” heyday of the 1980s that encompassed the rise and fall of corporate high-flyers such as Christopher Skase, right through to the 2000s and the spectacular collapses of Enron and WorldCom in the US and HIH in Australia, the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, corruption seems to continue unabated.

    The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Canada among the top tenth least corrupt countries in the world. However, in recent years, corruption is increasingly a major problem in government, industry and non-governmental organizations. For instance, in 2013, 117 of the 250 companies blacklisted by World Bank “from bidding on its global projects under its fraud and corruption policy” are from Canada. Canada ranks at the bottom of the bribery-fighting rankings, “with little or no enforcement of anti-bribery measures”. The 2014 Ernst & Young global fraud survey found that “20% cent of Canadian executives believe bribery and corruption are widespread in this country”. A large proprotion of the Canadian public also “see their politicians and their institutions as fundamentally corrupt”.

    In the previous parliament, 120 of India’s 523 parliament members were accused of crimes. Many of the biggest scandals since 2010 have involved very high level government officials, including Cabinet Ministers and Chief Ministers, such as in the 2G spectrum scam (Rs 17.6 Trillion), the 2010 Commonwealth Games scam (Rs 7 Trillion), the Adarsh Housing Society scam, the Coal Mining Scam (Rs 18.6 Trillion), the Mining Scandal in Karnataka and the Cash for Vote scam.

  5. Christie Says:

    Let us go back to 1792 when the British brought Vellar administrators from Malabar coast of the Indian subcontinent to replace the Dutch administration of the coastal areas of the island nation that was acquired by the British from the Dutch Stadholder. The possessions were administered form Madras now Chennai. These high caste Indians (Tamils) were the first to bring corruption to the island. They collected taxes and did not pass the lot to the British. The British kicked out these administrated and reverted to the former Dutch administration which had a lot of Sinhalese working for the Dutch. These Vellars settled in the Jaffna and still run the affairs of the island nation. So it is the Indian colonial parasites who brought in the corruption to all dominions of the British.
    Only fools will accept that Sirisena will change the corruption culture when he committed the worst act of corruption by his act of leaving the government.

  6. Nimal Says:

    People are corrupt from the street level to the top. We need outsiders to come in put the country right, just as in 1815 and that’s the honest truth.
    No honest politician will survive in the corrupted atmosphere of the island and sadly people are comfortable with set up as they themselves are immersed in it.
    I doubt any honest politician could ever put the country right because the people themselves should be erect and honest and only a well meaning dictatorship will do, but then people will not like if they are forced to follow the righteous path. I don’t mean going to temples and churches but follow the way people behave in the western countries where most of you rightly wants to settle or settled at present.

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