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TI report on Sri Lanka calls for Independent Anti-Corruption Authority and tighter rules for public tendering

To curb corruption, public administration reform must include the strengthening of parliamentary oversight and accounting bodies, says TI report

"The anti-corruption reform agenda in Sri Lanka must be co-ordinated, designed and its implementation managed by a newly empowered Independent Anti-Corruption Authority," argues J.C. Weliamuna, Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka. There is a widely held public perception that corruption is rife in Sri Lanka, but a lack of legal proof is similarly widespread, according to a new report published today by Transparency International (TI).

"The primary 'check and counter-check' institutions are severely hampered," said J.C. Weliamuna, "as they are fragmented, understaffed, and inadequately skilled to perform their duties". These institutions include the Auditor-General's Department, COPA/COPE [parliament's Public Accounts Committee and Public Enterprise Committee], and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC).

According to the National Integrity Systems TI Country Study Report Sri Lanka 2003, published today, "since the enactment of the 1994 Bribery Act and the establishment of the CIABOC, few allegations have been lodged with an even lesser record of prosecutions and a rarity of convictions. Additionally, CIABOC's internal administration has been crisis-ridden and plagued by political manipulation."

"There is also an urgent need to eliminate nepotism and cronyism in the appointment of senior public officials, to stamp out petty corruption, such as 'speed payments' in the civil service, and to tighten public procurement guidelines and open up the tender process to public scrutiny," said J.C. Weliamuna.

The US$4.5 billion pledged in June 2003 at the Tokyo donors' conference on building peace in Sri Lanka leaves the country particularly vulnerable to corruption in public infrastructure programmes. As stated in the TI report, "currently, the decision process is opaque after the tender bids are opened - meaning that neither the decisions arrived at in the technical tender evaluation nor the tender-awarding process is accessible to the public. Whilst there may be cogent arguments for holding these processes in camera (to minimise outside interference), there is little rationale, short of protecting unjust decisions, for not having the documentation of criteria, evaluation etc. accessible, questioned and if required litigated upon after the decisions have been taken. The Freedom of Information Act is intended for such purposes."

The TI report highlights the need for public administration reform in a public service drenched in maladministration and a culture grown in the tolerance of corruption. Bureaucratic workflow practices "easily attract speed money (to get things done quickly) and hush money (to ignore illegalities) from a public that is frequently compelled to use the government's services (e.g. customs, police, hospitals, schools)."

Public administrative reform, states the report, "is a major exercise which many previous governments have attempted but with little success. Indeed, the government needs to realise that the necessary re-engineering of the workflow process requires professional expertise and is not just a matter of directing Heads of Departments to gain a 'client focus in the delivery of their service'. Thus it is imperative that the administrative reforms be funded and skilled so that the desired change in attitudes and processes is achieved. Short of this, corruption in the public service is expected to thrive."

The report's authors conducted interviews with a diverse range of people, including public service officials amongst whom "it was indeed a rare Head of Department that recognised corruption as a problem in the delivery of the department's service. If a Head did recognise the problem, he or she felt helpless to do anything about it or deferred responsibility to a higher level". A notable exception, however, was the Immigration Office, which "has been seriously addressing corruption and is showing signs of successfully turning around what was a very corrupt passport-issuing process". The new Controller has begun to strengthen the department, rotate staff, and streamline workflow processes, and has instituted a high frequency of random checks by the Controller himself.

A positive start, states the report, has been made with the establishment of departmental Ombudsmen, for instance in the police force and the education department. The latter is known for its rampant corruption regarding gaining entry to leading government schools.

Recommendations for reform, said J.C Weliamuna, include "the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act, accompanied by whistleblower protection legislation, to dispel for instance the confidentiality that surrounds the Assets and Liabilities Declarations of senior public officials and politicians". Despite legislation, in place since 1988, requiring that senior public officials declare their assets and liabilities annually, states the TI report, "to date such yearly declarations are dormant records until a corruption complaint is received. Indeed, many times the declarations are delivered late or not sent in at all."

In addition the National Integrity Systems TI Country Study Report Sri Lanka 2003 states that "the deficiency in the law must be rectified and, like many other countries, Sri Lanka should have a law requiring political parties and political candidates to disclose audited financial statements of their sources and amounts of funding, including their political expenditure outlays."

TI's diagnosis of the state of Sri Lanka's national integrity system builds on TI's pillars-of-integrity approach to fighting and preventing corruption, whereby a system of checks and balances is required across government, private sector and civil society to build strong institutions underpinned by core values of public service and integrity.

The National Integrity Systems TI Country Study Report Sri Lanka 2003 was prepared by Leonie Solomons and the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Sri Lanka, under the auspices of a programme developed by the Transparency International Secretariat in Berlin, Germany, together with Professor Alan Doig and Stephanie McIvor of the Teesside Business School in the United Kingdom. It is the latest in a series of TI country study reports on national integrity systems. TI is the leading international non-governmental organisation devoted exclusively to the fight against corruption

The National Integrity Systems TI Country Study Report Sri Lanka 2003 and other country study reports can be downloaded at: www.transparency.org


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