SRI LANKA: The existing model of bribery commission needs to abandoned in favour of a better institution for the elimination of corruption
Last week the Sri Lankan Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) successfully prosecuted a police sergeant who had solicited and accepted a bribe of Rs. 6,000/= (US$ 60.00). The news of this successful prosecution only evoked a sarcastic response from the public. In one newspaper a columnist referred to it as catching the sprats again. The same newspapers that reported this case carried extensive reports of the enormous corruption that has spread into all areas of life in Sri Lanka. The chairman of the CIABOC was quoted as saying that bribing has even become a part of Sri Lankan culture.
Any serious reflection on the endemic bribery and corruption prevalent from top to bottom in Sri Lanka will reveal that the country does not have adequate machinery to investigate, prosecute, educate the public and eliminate corruption. None of the characteristics of a successful corruption control agency exists within the CIABOC. The major weaknesses of the existing Commission are as follows:
No attempt to develop independent professionals in the elimination of corruption
The CIABOC personnel that engage in investigations into allegations of corruption are seconded from the Sri Lankan police. A cardinal principle in any successful corruption control agency is that all of its operations should be under the control of persons who have been recruited from outside any of the other government departments. This includes the police department. It is only a group of independent professionals that could evolve the commission into a successful agency that can deal with the complex problems of the elimination of corruption. The elimination of corruption requires the evolution of principles and strategies that can address the complex policies and practices of those who want to benefit from corruption. It is a group of such professionals that might contribute to the permanence of an institution that can communicate its strategy to the people and win their confidence with their integrity and seriousness in dealing with this problem.
The present chairperson and the commissioners should rather look into the inherent defects of their own commission rather than blaming the Sri Lankan culture of bribery. There is no such culture; what there is, however, is the lack of a comprehensive understanding of how bribery and corruption can be controlled in any society. Many countries that were once categorised as having a culture of corruption have, within a very short period, eliminated corruption to a high degree by evolving institutions and professionals to deal with the issue. As long as the Sri Lankan commission depends on staff from the Sri Lankan police or any other branch of the government it will be working on a formula that can only lead to failure.
To evolve professionals whose purpose in life is the elimination of bribery and corruption would mean that from the very inception such persons should be encouraged to opt for such a career. To be successful in this the corruption control agency requires the ability to convince such persons that they would have all necessary resources and powers to engage in this work and that their jobs will remain secure as long as they work within the discipline of their profession. A commission that cannot engage in such recruitment and give such assurances should do well to abdicate rather than to assist in perpetuating the false conception that it is engaged in the elimination of bribery and corruption.
Making the elimination of corruption an integral part of the macro vision of society and the state
The elimination of corruption has never been treated as in integral part of the macro vision for Sri Lankan society and the state. The British colonial power that introduced the modern structure of the state into Sri Lanka was, at the same time, engaged in what essentially, colonialism represents; the theft of the colonys resources. For this reason they could not have had a vision of a society and a state which they might envision for themselves in their mother country. While they communicated certain laws and practices which were borrowed from their country, the basic notion of society and state which they worked on was that of a colony. While the colonial power tried to introduce some discipline into the civil service it also engaged in a policy of compromise with the local elite, whose cooperation was needed in order to rule without challenge. The elite continued with their feudal mindset and prevented any break in the continuity of the corrupt practices and the abuse of power as practiced under the rule of kings. Thus, the same elite which were to become the political leaders of the country at a later stage did not work towards a macro vision of a corruption free society where abuse of power for personal enrichment was curbed by an effective legal machinery. Therefore, from its inception the Commission on Bribery and Corruption was envisaged to be an organisation of very limited significance and importance.
Since 1978 the victory of the United National Party lead by J.R. Jayawardene, the macro vision of society and state in Sri Lanka changed radically. Within this macro vision, written into the constitution and all other practices, absolute power became the ruling style and absolute power lead to absolute corruption. The macro vision of this society was one in which corruption was not only permissible but encouraged. All internal defenses against corruption were destroyed during this time in which the rhetoric of a Just Society was proclaimed to be the macro concept of society and state. However, there was no link between the highly propagandised Just Society idea and the actual exercise of political and legal authority within the country. It is still the macro concept of the Jayawardene regime that prevails in Sri Lanka. The difference is that in the early years of the practice of this idea, there was certain limited resistance within the legal system and the mentalities of the bureaucrats and the people. In the decades that followed this resistance was broken and the period that emerged is one in which corruption is practiced to incredulous extent.
There is of course, a popular frustration against this macro concept of society and state. Those who articulate such frustrations are subjected to severe punishments including death. However, the extent to which the lives of people have been ruined by such widespread corruption is so grave that there is, today, wide protest by the ordinary folk, as well as the business community against the corruption that has reached levels of self destruction, both for the society and the state. Both internationally and locally the state in Sri Lanka has been regarded as having failed. On the other hand there is open admission that Sri Lankan society has collapsed so completely that basic protection does not exist for people anymore. Abductions, killings when ransom is not forthcoming, rape, murder, forced disappearances and every other form of crime is widespread in the country and the perpetrators are assured of impunity. The successful prosecution rate against serious crime is only four percent and the system of justice does not evoke any confidence. Under these circumstances in the depths of the minds of people, of all classes of society in Sri Lanka, is the fundamental desire for a different type of state that is able and willing to restore normalcy to society. Thus, the psychological acceptance of a macro concept of society and state that is capable of effectively eliminating corruption through effective institutions is present at the moment. How the civil society leaders, intellectuals, media personnel, the business community and in fact, all who have the capacity to articulate would engage in the achievement of entrenching such a macro concept for their society and state is the issue on which the future stability of Sri Lanka depends.
Corruption control requires a strong component of education and the evolvement of popular cooperation
Successful corruption control cannot be achieved only by investigations and prosecutions. The experience from the more successful agencies demonstrates that what is more important is a very strong component of continuous education which allows the people to participate actively in the elimination of corruption. Thus, an agency that is in charge of dealing with the corruption issue should have a very strong component for education. Once again the issue is as to how professionals in this sphere can be created from within the agency. To do that it would be essential to recruit the right persons, to give them the assurances required for safeguarding their professional rights and duties, and to provide them the necessary freedom to exercise their profession. Professional educators against corruption are an unavoidable aspect for success. In the modern age where there are tremendous possibilities within the state, as well as the private media for spreading information and strategies , such qualified and dedicated professionals can make a tremendous impact within a short time to convince society that it is possible to eliminate corruption. School education itself from the very early stage can include corruption elimination. To create a mindset that does not regard corruption as inevitable and in fact, believes that it can be defeated by collective effort can be created with the leadership of such dedicated professionals.
Opportunities for civil society monitoring of the efforts to eliminate corruption
Any corruption control agency that is seriously pursuing its mission would want a civil society to actively support it by being part of various forms of monitoring groups. These groups can involve professionals from all walks of life, academics, natural leaders of various social groups, the media, students and the common man in the street. When such groups are formed all over the country they will constantly observe what is happening in all sectors of life, they will collect information about all such happenings and they will raise their critical voices to blow the whistle at the right time and keep continuous vigilance on this issue. Naturally an agency that is itself unsure of its mission and which is unable to offer anything other than apologies, will not take the necessary steps to involve civil society in such a monitoring mission. It is only an institution that believes in its own mission that can venture to seek such popular cooperation.
In such bleak times where corruption rules and where the mindset of the people in all sectors of society are bitter with frustration perhaps it is time for more decisive interventions to develop a comprehensive plan and strategy to eliminate corruption and find ways to implement it.