Corruption in Sri Lanka: 1,749 Complaints, 8 Convictions

Sri Lanka Grapples with Rampant Corruption as Annual Report Reveals Alarming Figures

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[ Cartoon by: Abdelghani Dahdouh ]

In the latest annual report on human rights issued by the United States State Department, Sri Lanka emerges as a focal point for concerns regarding corruption, with a staggering number of cases reported. The report underscores the pervasive nature of corruption within the country, reaching even the highest echelons of government.

According to the report, corruption remains deeply entrenched in Sri Lanka, with numerous instances reported across various sectors. International companies operating within the country frequently encountered demands for bribes, ranging from customs clearances to government procurement processes. Despite laws in place to combat corruption, their effectiveness is called into question, as the government struggles with implementation.

July marked a significant milestone in the fight against corruption, as parliament unanimously passed new anti-corruption legislation, fulfilling a requirement set by the International Monetary Fund program. The legislation aimed to bolster the mandate of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), expanding its authority and enhancing its independence. Additionally, the law mandated public asset declarations by politicians and introduced new criminal offenses for corruption, including the criminalization of demanding sexual favors.

However, criticisms have been levied against the new legislation, particularly regarding inadequate protections for whistleblowers and the right to information. Despite these concerns, civil society groups cautiously welcomed the law as a step forward in addressing endemic corruption in the country.

The lack of capacity and political will within the government and CIABOC to combat corruption remains a significant hurdle. Impunity for government officials accused of corruption is widespread, and both the police and judiciary lack the necessary training to tackle complex financial crimes effectively.

One notable case highlighted in the report involves former parliamentarian Sajin Vass Gunawardena, who faced accusations of misappropriating millions while serving as the CEO of the state-owned airline Mihin Lanka. Despite the charges brought against him in 2016 by CIABOC, the Colombo High Court ordered the charges dropped in March, underscoring the challenges in holding high-profile individuals accountable for corruption.

Corruption within the health sector has also garnered attention, particularly regarding the procurement of medicines and medical equipment. Reports of deaths and injuries at state hospitals allegedly due to substandard drugs have raised significant concerns.

The scale of corruption is reflected in the figures provided by CIABOC, which received a staggering 1,749 complaints of corruption from January through July. Despite this, only 42 corruption cases were filed during this period, resulting in just eight convictions, all of which involved low-level officials.

Sri Lanka Guardian

The Sri Lanka Guardian is an online web portal founded in August 2007 by a group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens including journalists, activists, academics and retired civil servants. We are independent and non-profit. Email: editor@slguardian.org

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