Sri Lanka’s Bribery Commission needs more fire-power

Sri Lanka’s Bribery Commission needs more fire-power

briberySundayTimes – By Prasanna C. Rodrigo 

The country’s focal point for investigating bribery or corruption has received 3224 complaints on bribery or corruption in 2009. Though I don’t have further details as to what happened to those complaints and the investigations that are taking place in regard with those complaints, the number is big enough to be worrying.

In a backdrop where the ones in power or closer to power such as the legislators haven’t shown much interest in dealing with the subject first hand in the years that have passed away, it is encouraging to see there are brave citizens who are ready to at least make a complaint against the corrupt ones.

However have the men in power or the ones who were in power, been able to make those brave efforts of ordinary citizens worthwhile, by establishing proper mechanisms to counter bribery or corruption? Going by the revelations made by the officers in the commission to investigate bribery or corruption, I don’t think so.

Present situation
The Bribery Commission is lacking the necessary firepower to investigate, prosecute and report acts of bribery or corruption as stipulated in the law. A senior official whom I spoke said so in three simple words: “We are handicapped”.

Some further investigations into the above statement shows that the Commission is understaffed on many fronts. It does not have adequate Investigators, Legal Officers, Clerical staff and even vehicles to go on raids, etc.

The two most important official categories in the Commission are the Investigators and the legal officers. Currently there are only around 80 Investigation Officers to cover a population of 20 million, which one Commissioner I spoke to said is highly inadequate. If you divide the 3224 complaints received in 2009 into the available 80 Investigators, each has to handle 40 cases per annum, which senior officials at the Commission say is highly impossible.

They say a maximum number of cases an investigator can handle is around five cases per annum, which they say would bring in the desired results. The Commission only posses 20 vehicles and is in need of more vehicles and no provision is being made for more. According to a senior officer, out of the available 20 vehicles, nine have been given to nine senior officials and there are only 11 vehicles remaining for Investigating Officers and Legal Officers to carry out their task, which he said is highly inadequate to carry out day to day activities of the Commission such as go on investigation tours, raids, court visits, etc.

A serving Commissioner who did not want to be named, said when one officer wants to go to an outstation area to conduct an investigation, he doesn’t have a vehicle. So he has to stay until some other cases in the same area piles up to go with a group of investigators to examine each others cases, thus delaying the investigation process of many cases.

So, Sri Lankans can imagine the plight, the country’s focal point for investigating bribery or corruption has got into. Apart from those issues the Commission is also short of around 10 administrative staff members from the approved cadre base.

The Commission hasn’t also filled the post of Director – Investigation for the last one year period with an acting Director Investigation doing the job.

Structural issues
Apart from the above day to day resource constraints, the Commission is also highly affected by structural issues. Investigators (police officers) don’t directly come under the Commission and are governed by the Police Department and are expected to return to the service once their stint is over at the Commission. Apart from that, the IGP has powers to recall these police officers at any times jeoparding any ongoing investigation at the Commission.

Currently, the Commission has three commissioners with one of them also performing the duties of the Chairman of the commission. The role of those commissioners is to see whether the complaints received are investigated, prosecuted and due action is taken. However these commissioners undergo various difficulties in performing their duties. One commissioner told me that they don’t have direct control over the investigators as the investigators come under the Police Department and arepaid by the police while the Legal Officers come under the Public Service Commission. So the commissioners find it difficult to discipline the officers when the need arises as they don’t have any controlling power over them.

The Commission should be given full powers to recruit their own Investigating Officers and Legal Officers to work as permanent employees of the Commission. The successful anti corruption body of Hong Kong which is known as ICAC does have this power. They have the power to recruit their own people via a sound selection process and good performers are rewarded.

Apart from the above issues faced by the Commission, its three independent commissioners are due to complete their 5-year term on March 29. They were recommended by the then active Constitutional Council hence we can call them independent commissioners. However once the term of the current commissioners ends, there is no Constitutional Council to appoint new commissioners, which means after March 29, either the Commission will function without any commissioner or the Executive President can single handedly appoint commissioners as he wishes.

Immediately work towards establishing a fully fledged Independent Commission to fight bribery or corruption taking place in the society. The Commission needs to be given wide ranging powers to act against any element who goes against the rule of law and if there are any laws which hinders the curbing of bribery or corruption, those archaic laws need to be removed.

In doing so, we can take the example of Hong Kong’s anti corruption unit ICAC, which was established in 1974. ICAC has helped Hong Kong to become one of the cleanest in the world.

Along with the powers they have, the ICAC has adopted a 3-pronged approach to fight corruption and bribery. Among them are the law enforcement, corruption prevention and community education backed by a highly professional and dedicated team which even includes professionals such as qualified accountants, auditors and engineers among many others helping the investigators with expert knowledge when handling cases which need such inputs.

Any reader can visit the website of the Hong Kong anti-corruption unit and do a study on its success story, which will be worthwhile. Another important fact is that the Hong Kong anti corruption body has around 950 investigators covering a population of just 7 million, while Sri Lanka has only around 80 investigators to cover a population of 20 million.

Keeping promises
President Mahinda Rajapaksa during his re-election campaign promised to bring in tough laws to curb bribery and corruption. The extended version of the Mahinda Chintana promises to establish an independent board to eliminate all forms of corruption, fraud and malpractices and the President also promised to introduce a special act to eliminate the above three elements and alsothe violation of tender procedures in government corporations, boards, and financial institutions, during his second term.
Mr. President you eliminated terrorism from the motherland, now it is time for you to start work on eradicating bribery or corruption from this country.

(The writer is a TV journalist who does extensive research on social and economic issues. He could be reached at

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