USAID funded CIABOC project:

Additional Secretary, Finance and Media Ministry Thilaka Jayasundara said early this week that the country hadn’t been able to achieve its full potential due to inconsistent government policies, political instability, inefficient government bureaucracy, and extremely poor work ethics culture.

Jayasundara compared Sri Lanka with developed countries on the basis of World Bank’s 2017 Doing Business Report.

New Zealand has been ranked the top country up one place from last year.

The report, which examines regulations that enhance or constrain business activity, assesses 190 countries and ranks them according to the impacts of their regulatory environment on business.

Jayasundara, who is also the Chairperson of the state-run Independent Television Network (ITN), said so at a forum for the civil society organizations and media partners at Movenpick Hotel on Monday (July 2). It was part of national consultations undertaken by the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) with the financial backing of the USAID.

Director General, CIABOC, Sarath Jayamanne, PC, expressed confidence in finalizing the project within three months. Jayamanne asserted that a comprehensive national action plan was a long felt requirement.

Referring to the political crisis in Mongolia where there had been 21 administrations in 16 years, Jayasundara explained how political uncertainty and inefficient public sector ruined the national economy.

She also pointed out the pathetic failure of Sri Lanka to expedite business registration process to facilitate investment.

The official shared her experience in Japan to underscore Japanese values and how Sri Lanka could benefit from following the Japanese.

Jayasundara praised the Right to Information (RTI) law as a positive step towards achieving good governance.

Citing various international indexes, Jayasundara emphasised the urgent need for remedial measures to transform the country.

At the onset of the programme, the gathering was told how the CIABOC carried out countrywide consultations, including in once LTTE bastions, Jaffna and Kilinochchi, on June 29 and 30, respectively.

Jayamanne shared his experience in travelling to Jaffna by train; meeting north bound Tamil doctors who called for tangible measures to tackle waste, corruption and irregularities.

In accordance with overall CIABOC plan, discussion covered strengthening theCIABOC, investigation and prosecution of cases of bribery and corruption, using innovative media platforms to prevent bribery and corruption, enhancing integrity of the public sector, deter bribery and corruption in the private sector, educate the public and the role of the media and the civil society.

CIABOC Commissioner, retired SSP Chandranath Neville Guruge alleged that the previous government lacked political will to develop a national action plan to combat bribery and corruption. Guruge said that the CIABOC received cabinet approval to undertake the ongoing US-funded project.

Having referred to the composition of the CIABOC, Guruge said that PC Jayamanne spearheaded the project. Recalling him joining the CIABOC way back in 2005, Guruge flayed corrupt public sector officials. According to him, out of 1.5 mn strong public sector, about 25 per cent were corrupt. The Commissioner said that of the corrupt 25 per cent, about 15 per cent could be rehabilitated and tough action was needed against the remaining 10 per cent. Guruge emphasized the urgent need to deal with corrupt officials.

Jayamanne, who is also an Additional Solicitor General acknowledged the difficulty in tackling bribery and corruption, particularly the latter in spite of their wholehearted efforts.

Jayamanne succeeded Additional Solicitor General Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe, PC; in Nov 2016 following the latter’s resignation over public criticism of the institution by President Maithripala Sirisena.

Jayamanne said that even after the arrest of President Maithripala Sirisena’s Chief of Staff I.H.K. Mahanama along with Chairman of the State Timber Corporation P. Dissanayake on May 3, 2018 soon after they accepted Rs 20 mn (USD 127,000) at a Colombo hotel, the CIABOC continued to make detections. Jayamanne said that bribe takers hadn’t been deterred even by such high profile arrests therefore new strategies were needed to address the problem.

Mahanama and Dissanayake could be arrested due to a complaint received by the CIABOC from an influential person, Jayamanne said, asserting that such high profile detection could be made only if ‘big fish’ sought their intervention.

The ASG said that bribery and corruption couldn’t be tacked by legal measures alone. Therefore, a comprehensive action plan was required to prevent bribery and corruption and influence the community to desist from corrupt practices.

The top criminal lawyer who handled a spate of major cases including the prosecution of those responsible for the assassination of Colombo High Court judge Sarath Ambepitiya on Nov 20, 2004 compared the law enforcement situation in Singapore, Bhutan as well as Malaysia with that of Sri Lanka. Jayamanne and Jayasundara agreed that Sri Lanka should strive to reach Singaporean standards. Jayamanne explained Bhutanese mechanisms in place to deter politicians, officials from accepting gifts even from visiting dignitaries. Recalling a recent visit to Bhutan along with a senior team of officials, soft spoken Jayamanne discussed how the Bhutanese tackled the issue as well as efficient anti-corruption and anti-bribery systems in place in Hong Kong.

Jayamanne explained specific measures in place to address the contentious issue of conflict of interests.

The Bribery Commission DG said that there could be a surge in complaints following change of government. The official was obviously referring to the CIABOC and other investigating agencies being inundated with complaints consequent to the change of government in 2015 January. The CIABOC couldn’t be expected to achieve political objectives, Jayamanne said, asserting that the large public sector was the primary source of corruption and bribery.

Praising the role played by the police attached to the CIABOC, Jayamanne discussed the need to bring in ‘civilian investigators’ to transform the independent commission to achieve its primary goals. Jayamanne revealed the concerns expressed by Hong Kong authorities in Sri Lanka’s failure to expand the CIABOC to accommodate ‘civilian investigators’ such as accountants to strengthen the examination process.

Responding to a query from Mohamed Ali Hassen, Director, Information, Finance Ministry, Jayamanne explained the difficulty in finalizing the recruitment of 200 accountants. Pointing out that it took CIABOC one and half years to reach consensus on their recruitment to the public service, The DG said that pushing for a higher salary scales for them at the present moment wouldn’t be realistic. Hassen pointed out the absurdity in the lower salary scale offered to accountants while expecting them to perform vital tasks.

Jayamanne acknowledged the extreme difficulty in reaching agreement on vital issues in spite of their efforts to expedite the process.

Commenting on the Auditor General’s Department, Jayamanne admitted that the department was only answerable to Parliament. Jayamanne explained the difference between the two departments as far as tasks and responsibilities.

Hassen also highlighted how a section of public servants brazenly exploited what he called sealed tender quotation system to their advantage. Jayamanne admitted that the issue had been raised at many forums and the CIABOC was looking at ways and means to tackle the problem.

The audience pointed out to the CIABOC that in addition to the bribery and corruption issues it intended to address through proposed national action plan to combat bribery and corruption, there were several issues that needed to be seriously look into including the failure on the part of the Parliamentary High Posts Committee to prevent improper appointments. The gathering was told how tainted former JVP MP Anuruddha Polgampola was appointed Chairman of STC immediately after CIABOC arrested P. Dissanayake for accepting Rs 20mn bribe along with President Sirisena’s Chief of Staff Mahanama.

The gathering was told how the parliament ignored demand not to accommodate those lawmakers who had received benefits from suspended primary dealer Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) under investigation for treasury bond scams, in the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) much to the disappointment of the public.

Other issues raised by the audience were (1) external polls campaign financing at 2015 presidential poll. The failure on the part of relevant authorities to inquire into funds made available by the US State Department and USAID in support of political projects here. It was pointed out that the US made far bigger funding than the recent New York Times exposure regarding China allegedly making available USD 7.6 mn for the Rajapaksa campaign, a charge denied by the former President (2) accommodating defeated candidates much to the disappointment of the electorate and contrary to accepted norms accommodating a defeated candidate through another political party (case in point Democratic Party Colombo District candidate General Sarath Fonseka accommodated through the UNP National List).

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