Lessons from Korea

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2017-04-21

The Bribery Commissioner's Department (BCD) established by statute in 1958, 36 years later, underwent a name- change in 1994 and was renamed the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC).

Its Director General Sarath Jayamanne PC, speaking at a function in Colombo yesterday, said that with these changes, CIABOC was also empowered to investigate 'corruption', not covered by the previous BCD.

BCD's powers were limited to investigate bribery charges only, a legacy of the British, with the introduction of the Penal Code of 1883, a Code which has undergone only a few changes since, he said.

Jayamanne said that corruption covers the declaration of assets and seeking explanations from the defendant as to how assets were accumulated. He however said that Sri Lanka's bribery laws, since its inception in 1883, broadly cover only the public sector, though there is a section in its laws which says that offering a bribe is an offence.

The insinuation being that the offerer, being a member of the private sector or a private person, making or promising of such an illegal undertaking to a public sector official, so that some work, illegal or otherwise, may be executed, or hastened to be executed, has also committed an offence.

He said that CIABOC was a 'legacy' of the 17 year rule of the UNP which immediately preceded its establishment. CIABOC was instituted by the UNP's arch political rival, the SLFP led PA coalition, elected to power in 1994, to investigate alleged corrupt acts of its predecessor, the UNP.

Jayamanne also averred that similarly, the birth of the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID), a branch of the Police, took place, after a near 21 year rule of the PA/UPFA Government, ousted after the election of incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena on 8 January, 2015. Sirisena's ascent to power was possible due to the support of the then Opposition led by the UNP.

He said that it's only the FCID and the CID which are empowered to investigate money laundering (ML). Jayamanne said that CIABOC doesn't have the teeth to investigate ML, a crime which was recognized by law only in 2006, with the passing of the ML Act that year.

The CIABOC Chief said that currently a team from Switzerland was in town to help the authorities to strengthen their ML investigative capabilities.

Governments, which have ruled this country since independence, have either been the UNP and/or with other coalition partners, or the SLFP and/or with coalition partners. The political race, right along, has been a two-horse race.

In this context, successive governments' fight against bribery, corruption and ML within the past 40 years, namely by the UNP and/or with its coalition partners, or the SLFP and/or with its coalition partners, discounting the brief two plus years of the UNP/UNF rule in between, i.e. from December 2001 to February 2004, has mainly centred round trying to detect illegal enrichment by their rival politicos, when in power.

The SLFP led PA Government, elected to power in 1994 after the end of the first 17 years of those 40 years strengthened the hand of the BCD by including 'corruption' also as a crime. Further, BCD was also reconstituted as CIABOC, in a political vendetta, to seek and prosecute UNP politicos which governed the country in the immediately preceding 17 years, for allegedly stashing ill-gotten gain, aside from allegedly breaching an over a century old law which had already recognized corruption's twin brother 'bribery' also as a crime. But CIABOC's activities were primarily confined within the borders of this land. In an evolutionary stage, of seeking and prosecuting,mainly politicos who ruled the roost immediately preceding the election of a new government 21 years later in 2015, of allegedly stashing ill gotten gain outside the borders of this land, the FCID was also created that year, the year the UNP's Presidential candidate was elected to power. FCID was empowered to conduct such criminal investigations outside the borders of this island.

But, as inferred to by the UK's High Commissioner to Sri Lanka James Dauris, who was also a speaker at this event, who, quoting Transparency International, an NGO, said that Sri Lanka's corruption perception index was ranked high, i.e. by being placed 95th out of 175 countries and getting a failed score of 36%, whereas its giant and closest neighbour India, scraped through with a pass by getting 40%, whilst being ranked 79th.

He imputed that such country rankings are perceived as being important to foreign investors, where a higher corruption perception index acts as a negative to attract such investments.

Therefore, what Sri Lanka needs are not only laws nor the strengthening of laws to go after ill gotten gain, but independence, courage, strength and competency to implement the same.

Not a single prosecution of a politico has taken place since the institution of CIABOC 23 years ago with taxpayers' money in 1994 and the same may well be said of the FCID since its establishment two years ago in 2015. But, on the other hand, look at Korea, where a sitting executive President has ended up in jail within a year on charges of bribery!

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