Anti-corruption bill, some hope for accountability

Tuesday, 20 June 2023 00:00 –      – 23

The long-awaited anti-corruption legislation is due to be presented to Parliament in the coming weeks. State Minister of Finance Shehan Semasinghe told reporters last week that the anti-corruption bill will be presented to Parliament with the objectives of preventing and eradicating bribery and corruption. Though this may be over ambitious, especially considering the many tainted lawmakers and executive officials associated with the regime, the legislation is welcome and will offer a tool to fight the menace of corruption that has dragged Sri Lanka down for generations.The International Monetary Fund and the Government of Sri Lanka agreed upon a $ 2.9 billion assistance package and financing assurances have been received from all major bilateral creditors. The IMF Extended Fund Facility and bilateral financial assistance requires the Government to demonstrate its willingness for fiscal transparency and reduction in corruption in order to gain a degree of credibility. It is due to these external considerations that the Government has finally been compelled to present an anti-corruption legal framework to parliament.

President Wickremesinghe had promised the introduction of an Anti-Corruption Bill that will include the ‘Stolen Assets Recovery’ (StAR) initiative, together with the assistance of the World Bank and the United Nations. The proposed bill must have sufficient laws for recovering stolen assets and holding those responsible parties accountable. The proposed anti-corruption legislation will help the country increase its transparency and enhance the ease-of-doing business. If implemented, it would allow for greater confidence and possibly usher in more direct investments to the country.

While the legislation is vital in addressing corruption, political will would be the determinant factor in addressing the issue. In this regard there is little sign of genuine commitment on the part of the Government. A good confidence building measure in this regard would be to clean up the cabinet of ministers, the highest executive body of the State. In the current cabinet of ministers there are individuals who have been convicted for soliciting bribes and those who had financial dealings with the LTTE to thwart the outcome of democratic elections.

There is no doubt that in addition to mismanagement, systemic corruption contributed significantly to Sri Lanka’s current economic predicament. The same individuals who were the perpetrators, enablers and beneficiaries of these corrupt dealings continue to hold positions of power and are entrusted with the recovery. International partners, including the IMF, have a responsibility towards their own stakeholders and more importantly towards the people of Sri Lanka that any financial assistance provided to the Government is done so in a transparent manner with demands for checks on corruption. International partners must impose strict measures to ensure transparency in the disbursement of any financial assistance and prevent siphoning of such funds meant as assistance to the general public.

The anti-corruption bill should not be a simple box ticking exercise in order to access international funds. It must be an opportunity to address the engrained, institutional corruption that has not only enabled the political elites to be corrupt but incentivised their corruption and granted them immunity for their deeds.

The Commission to Investigate Bribery and Corruption, the Attorney General, the Police Department which once had a dedicated Financial Crimes Division (FCID) have all failed to demonstrate any progress in handling high level corruption or bringing any significant culprit to justice. If the drafters of the current Bill wish to demonstrate that the current attempt is any different from previous attempts to address corruption, they must show results. The effectiveness of the legislation should only be measured by its ability to bring to justice the corrupt, especially those well entrenched within the ranks of governance.



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