Causing much worry amongst concerned people, Dagens Nyheter, the Swedish daily published from Stockholm, Sweden, carried, on Friday 11 February 2005, an unusually lengthy front page article (it covered much of pages 1, 18 and 19) titled `Corruption that gobbles up foreign aid` which dealt with corruption in Sri Lanka.
The article discussed the endemic problem of corruption in Sri Lanka. It says that corruption has become so widespread that it renders consequences for every individual of the country. But it says that corruption affects the poor more than any other group of society. The rich and the powerful, on the other hand, are the one`s who benefit from it. Therefore, it says that `corruption and poverty are two ends of the same stick` and that `corruption constitutes the poverty trap of the country`.
Sri Lanka has, according to the article, the world`s largest government with `about ninety ministers`, some of whom have become millionaires, only months after assuming office. Then, it says, `It does not matter whom the people elect to political office, the party in power buys off the MPs and other political heavyweights from other parties, offering them ministerial or other top posts within the government` This, the journalists say, accounts for the watered down democracy of Sri Lanka. Thus, they argue that the public sector of Sri Lanka is corrupt all the way from the top down.
The article further says that it is not only the people who hold top notch posts in the government who are corrupt. `Much of the administration and the bureaucracy are corrupt as well,`. Then it says that corruption has become so endemic that over 75% of the people seem to believe that bribery is the normal way of doing things in Sri Lanka.
It is not just the journalists who point out the need to uproot corruption from the land. Even University academics (in particular, the social scientists) are pointing out the need to give this issue serious consideration. They argue that corruption is one major precursor of economic retardation and social underdevelopment of Sri Lanka.
According to a study conducted by Transparency International, Sri Lanka ranks amongst the countries in the bottom half (together with Bangladesh and Zaire), as a nation that suffers from corruption.
It is not only that the level of corruption is high in Sri Lanka but, according to a team of social science scholars who visited Sri Lanka recently, it is on the rise. Credibility of the bureaucracy and administration is in sharp decline.
Corruption is a wide term that requires some clarification. It may be itemised as follows: (1) demand-driven or supply driven bribery, (2) demand-driven or supply driven extortion, (3) demand-driven or supply driven influence, (4) demand-driven or supply driven fraud, (5) cronyism driven bribery, (6) cronyism driven influence, and (7) nepotism. When speaking of corruption, this article refers to all these forms of corruption.
According to some studies, the police force of Sri Lanka is the most corrupt. Almost 40% of the respondents of the studies have maintained that the officers of the law and order are the most corrupt in the land. The irony of the situation is that the people who have as their occupation to maintain the law and order in the land are the ones who are most corrupt.
It has been reported that a man who went to a police station to lodge a complaint against a certain small-town bureaucrat who had asked him for a bribe had, in order to lodge the complaint and retrieve a copy of it, to pay the police officer a handsome bribe. It has also been reported that a policeman of a small town was paid by a businessman with the understanding that the policeman would beat up and chase out of the town a rival of the businessman. Thus, corruption is not only a commercial transaction: it also tangents on criminality.
Generally the traffic police are equally corrupt. For example, some of these officers dare to take bribes from traffic offenders in broad daylight and in the presence of hundreds of other people.
According to the findings, the public health sector is another one that is highly corrupt. Most minor functionaries in hospitals and dispensaries take bribes when treating patients and/or dispensing medicine. There have been references to situations where people have not been able to collect the bodies of their diseased family members without handsomely `oiling the palms` of the mortuary attendants.
Another sector that is corrupt is the education sector. It is widely known in Sri Lanka that most principals, vice principals and other key functionaries of prestigious schools take bribes when admitting students to their schools. Corruption seems to be prevalent even at classroom levels. With the promise that they will take personal care of the young students, some teachers collect money from the parents of the students who are under their care.
On the basis of the number of corruption-related experiences found within each sector, it seems that corruption exists not only due to flawed procedures within institutions, but also due to the encouragement of corruption by service recipients.
There are several factors that have been proposed as reasons for corruption within society and the economy of Sri Lanka. The most important amongst these is the relatively lower salaries of the public sector functionaries. According to this reasoning, the people take bribes in order to supplement their lower wages with extra sources of income.
Secondly, they suggest loopholes in the law as reasons for corruption. The school principal who collects money for various building constructions funds may be included in this category. The faulty social system has been suggested as the third cause of corruption. According to some studies, even the honest have to become corrupt in order to survive within some of the public sector departments.
Furthermore, according to research, corrupt leadership and the breakdown of the economy have also been suggested as the causes for corruption.
What is sad about corruption is that it retards economic growth and social development of the country and entraps the poor in poverty.
Therefore, corruption must be eradicated and a society based on sound institutional foundations must be built. In another case the potential is there for at least a partial breakdown of society. Over a prolonged period of time, Sri Lanka has paid much lip service for the need to eradicate corruption. Despite this, corruption is not only prevailent but, is also on the rise.
Sri Lanka needs to emerge from a watered down democracy, where law and order have not been upheld and the officers responsible for maintaining law and order are prone to taking bribes from the downtrodden masses of the nation, including the tsunami victims.
Every politician who fattens him/herself and/or secures his/her party-political position with the funds that have been allocated for the poor (including those that have been allocated for the tsunami victims) must be made accountable for his/her actions. Sri Lanka needs to redeem itself from corruption.