Sri Lanka’s youth, it appears, have no qualms about fibbing to get jobs or compromising on ethics and integrity, the latter because family matters above principles and the former because that’s how things are done.
A recent survey on youth integrity and corruption conducted by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) reveals that Sri Lanka’s youth, 40% in urban areas and 25% in rural areas, are willing to compromise on ethics and integrity to please a family member or simply ‘because it is how things are done.’
Highlighting some disturbing trends in youth thinking, it reveals only 6% of youth at all levels of education know anything significant about anti corruption rules and regulations, while 45% had felt their voice would not have any effect on corruption and 23% had felt taking a stance against corruption was not their business.
A disconcertingly high percentage, more than 80%, had admitted they would indulge in unethical behaviour to get a job or collect an important document. However, this was more likely among males than females and among rural youth than their urban counterparts. Interestingly, the survey also highlighted that urban youth were more likely to value integrity than their rural counterparts.
Executive Director TISL, S. Ranugge, commenting on the survey said the most troubling fact emerging from the survey was that many youths did not feel the need to prioritize ethics to get a job done.
“Youth as an energetic and vibrant section of society could play a significant role in combating corruption. Having recognized their important role, TISL commissioned a Youth Integrity Survey (YIS) as part of the cross country survey initiated by Transparency International. The other participating chapters in the survey are Fiji, Indonesia and South Korea, he said, elaborating that the survey was carried out by the Open University with support from the National Youth Services Council (NYSC) and that the findings would help them understand the current integrity levels of Sri Lankan youth.
Basis with evidence
A sample of 1,004 youth had been selected from 10 Districts covering all the Provinces in the country for the survey, which had also included adults as a control group. “TISL conducted a peer review meeting to discuss the key findings of the survey to identify advocacy components before launching it publicly”, Ranugge said, adding that the findings of the survey provides a basis with evidence, for the next step to planning youth engagement in the fight against corruption.
Meanwhile, Secretary to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development, K. A. Tillekeratna said, there have been instances where the youth singly and collectively have stood against bribery and corruption.
Referring to a finding in the youth survey that allegations of bribery and corruption are higher in the government service than in the private sector, he said this was to be expected because the government service monopolizes many sectors that serves the public, but claimed that it was when an individual cannot get his work done that he resorts to bribery.
Describing the focus on youth in corruption as a timely and national need, NYSC Chairman, Lalith Piyum Perera, stressed the need to educate the youth on integrity and corruption issues and said the youth survey had provided an ideal platform for discussion.
YIS aimed to explore the ideas youth have on integrity, its intrinsic and extrinsic value and the way it is perceived, used a series of questions asking the youth to identify their attitudes, generally and specifically, to real life situations.
The survey revealed that though Sri Lankan Youth place significant emphasis on integrity in theory, but in practise have a flexible understanding of what integrity means and how it is expressed in daily life.
While 88% of youth respondents believed integrity was very important in their own lives, this commitment was not always strong in practice. When asked if a person of integrity broke the law in order to demonstrate family solidarity, the majority had said ‘yes’. Meanwhile, 20% of respondents believed a person of integrity is one who sometimes breaks the law and 24% had said it was best to have integrity only sometimes, if it means financial success as well, while 30% had believed that being honest and obeying rules is only somewhat important in life.
Less than 25% of the youth had actually engaged in certain corrupt transaction in the past year. Yet, despite this relatively low level of actual corruption, a significant percentage had expressed a willingness to engage in certain corrupt acts.
While 70% of students would not engage in corruption in an academic context, a troublingly high 80% had claimed they would display unethical behaviour to get a job or an important document.
Commenting on the findings of the YIS, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Jagath Wellawatte said, in the present economic and political scenario, where bribery and corruption take place as part of the system, it does not come as surprise that youth consider this to be a norm more than an offence.
“For instance, if you take the majority of business firms, not only in Sri Lanka, but in the other parts of the world as well, they have this system of giving commissions per each deal.
If one takes the media, there are commissions involved in the form of hampers and gifts. Unless one has a clear vision about what is a bribe, one tends to consider it as part of the system,” he said.
According to Wellawatte, the way media or society display corruption also may have contributed to youth getting confused about what is actually an act of integrity.
“For instance, people go to town about a police constable taking a bribe to not press charges against someone, they also speak about sexual bribery, they know about corrupt deals happening in the education sector.
But does anyone consider those at the medical supply division being bound to purchase or supply a particular brand of medicine endorsed by a group of doctors, who in return get a commission from manufacturers, as a corrupt deal. No, it has become a norm that those in the field as well as outsiders consider it to be a part of the very system,” he added.
He also said Sri Lanka’s failure to bring those who are engaging in bribery and corruption to book and penalize them has indirectly helped encourage others to commit the same offence.
By Gagani Weerakoon