Lofty aspirations on rotten foundations
Posted on November 5th, 2015

Kumar Perera Colombo Courtesy Island

I am glad to hear Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faizer Mustapha has announced that a co-ordination unit will be set up for probing fraud and corruption of local government bodies.

While I commend the Ministry for this effort, I hope that this unit will not lose momentum in a few weeks after the initial media attention.

In order to truly weed out corruption in local government bodies and make an impact, I hope Minister Mustapha and the co-ordination unit will do the following.

1. While investigating serious fraud, the co-ordination unit should also look into the improper way local governing bodies have granted approvals and licenses for commercial activities and buildings in localities. Often one looks at structures and commercial establishments which are not in conformity with the zoning and building laws and wonder how such structures and businesses were ever granted permission.

2. Take the initiative to get the public involved to bring attention to corruption/illegal activities and then expedite action. In a news report announcing the co-ordination unit, it was mentioned that the Bribery Commission investigated a bribery complaint five years after it was lodged! That is unacceptable. Investigating a complaint after such a long time is an ambulance you call in an emergency arrive a week later! It is no wonder the public has lost faith in the system.

3. Regular updates on progress. I hope that the Ministry will take the steps to update the public with monthly reports on progress and that the media will also shine a constant spotlight on such initiatives and make sure that the unit follows through on its promise. In the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, Sri Lanka occupies a lowly 85th place among 174 countries. A country gripped in corruption from a grass root level to high echelons of office can never fulfil its lofty aspirations of bench marking against Singapore (incidentally, ranked No. 7 on the index) when its very foundations are rotten. The Provincial Councils and Local Government Ministry’s co-ordination unit for probing fraud and corruption of local government bodies is a small but crucial step in a series of much needed initiatives required to purge Sri Lanka from corruption.

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