While corruption remains prevalent throughout South Asia, the fight against corruption in post-conflict Sri Lanka is proving particularly challenging. A recent study showed that nearly half of Sri Lankans perceive the problem to be increasing and one in five pay bribes. Furthermore, grand corruption and limits on press freedom make Transparency International Sri Lanka’s job of increasing public awareness of corruption a tough one.
Despite Sri Lanka’s sensitive political environment, our chapter continues to make progress. This is exemplified by the launch of a ‘Coalition against Corruption’ in October. This event brought together representatives of trade unions, civil society organisations and professional associations, as well as academics, media personnel and artists, in a new initiative to challenge corruption at all levels of society.
An oath against corruption
Participants in the coalition took an oath of allegiance firmly assuring not to be party to any form of bribery or corruption, and to act against all forms of corruption with determination. They stated that:
Protecting day-to-day life
Contributors then pronounced that fighting against corruption is a means of protecting day-to-day life, society and security within the country. Coalition members say they’ve ‘realised that this is the only non-violent method of protecting our respect, pride and safety’.
Prior to the launch, several discussions were held among Sri Lanka's leading trade unions and civil society organisations to identify the aims and objectives of the coalition. An Action Committee was formed and our Sri Lankan chapter was chosen to carry out the secretarial functions of the coalition.
Among the aims of the coalition are to:
- Fight against all forms of corruption, bribery and fraud
- Prevent the misuse of public property
- Push for legislation on right to information
- Work towards better transparency in state finances
- Promote the strengthening of parliamentary oversight committees on financial matters
- Enact legislation on whistleblower protection
In addition, the coalition will investigate and reveal instances of corruption and request relevant authorities to take necessary action. A 'People's Tribunal' will be formed for public hearings on corruption.
The formation of the coalition is an important achievement for Transparency International Sri Lanka, and promises to be a big step for the country as a whole.
There is hope that with members from so many different sections of society committed to transparency and integrity, corruption will be pushed to the top of the political agenda and that awareness of the problem can be raised among the people of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka National Integrity Award
This month, Transparency International Sri Lanka raised more awareness of corruption by awarding a brave customs officer its National Integrity Award 2012.
The officer, Sanath Fernando, investigated cigarette smuggling as well as dodgy car and palm oil trading. His refusal to give in to corruption saw him face death threats on several occasions, including from a big garment manufacturer. In a symbol of the pressures Fernando faced while working to maintain the integrity of his office, his detractors even sent mock obituaries announcing his ‘death’ to local newspapers.
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