The ‘National Integrity System (NIS) study 2010, a comprehensive assessment of the legal basis for and actual practice of functioning of Sri Lanka’s key institutions responsible for preventing and curbing corruption – has just been released by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL). The NIS is a termed coined by Transparency International in the 1990s.
The study is an institutional assessment of the integrity, transparency and accountability of a set of “pillars of integrity” and their contribution to the overall integrity of society at large. When these governance institutions function properly, they constitute a healthy and robust National Integrity System, one that is effective in combating corruption as parts of the larger struggle against abuse of power, malfeasance and misappropriation in all its forms, the NIS Study introduction states. However, when these institutions are characterized by a lack of appropriate regulations and by unaccountable behaviour, and when they have a limited role to play, corruption is likely to thrive with negative ripple effects for equitable growth, sustainable development and social cohesion.
Thirteen component pillars were identified to represent the most important sectors for describing and assessing the integrity system in Sri Lanka. They are: the Legislature, the Executive, the Judiciary, the Public Sector, Law enforcement agencies, the Ombudsman/Human Rights Commission, Anti-Corruption Commission, the Election Commission, the Auditor General, Political Parties, the Media, Civil Society, and Business. In the Study, each of the pillars is assessed along three dimensions – i) the institution’s overall capacity to function, ii) its own internal governance in terms of integrity, transparency and accountability, and iii) its role in contributing to the overall integrity of the national governance system.
TISL Executive Director, Dr Wijaya Jayatilaka says that the Report is meant to promote open dialogue and debate among a wide range of stakeholders, including policy-makers and civil society. It also provides specific proposals for reform as well as more long-term objectives for the strengthening of the integrity system in Sri Lanka.
Reviewing the NIS Report at its launch at the TISL head office, Dr Devanesan Nesiah said that of the thirteen pillars, several have taken a battering, and a few are on the verge of collapse. “It is reported that it is the private sector that, overall, has stood up best. Among the media and civil society organisations, several have emerged, shone brightly, and a few have declined, been co-opted or taken over by the state, and some have disappeared altogether. Several state institutions have done poorly.”
He found it to be “a reliable guide to what is right, what is wrong, and what kinds of corrective actions are needed in respect of the National Integrity System in our island.”
Touching on the ‘Overall Situation Analysis’ in the publication he said that since the war ended, developments in the North have caused much concern to the population of that Province. There has been no move towards either reconciliation or accounting for the missing, or, meaningful rehabilitation of the displaced. Disappearances and abductions are yet continuing, though on a smaller scale than earlier, and no action is being taken against those responsible. In particular, media personnel and human rights activists have been attacked and assassinated. The civil administration remains heavily militarised. The Governors of the North and East and the Govt. Agent of Trincomalee are all military personnel and it is they who run the administration. The activities of the civil .society organisations, including INGOs, are curtailed and closely monitored. Everywhere military presence is overwhelming and huge chunks of territory are designated as High Security Zones.
He went on to analyse some of the key points taken up in the Study. Referring to the 18th Amendment, he said that this legislation is at the root of many of our problems. Unfortunately, it has added greatly to the already considerable powers of the Executive President and, for that reason, it is virtually locked into the Constitution, he pointed out. “Neither the current President not any of his successors may have any incentive to remove the amendment from the Constitution,” he added.
He quoted from the section on Corruption in the Report: “Bribery and corruption are of great concern in Sri Lanka. The VAT scandal that was exposed by the Auditor General in 2004 allegedly led to a loss of 441 billion rupees (U.S.$3.96 billion) Two reports by the Committee on Public Enterprise(COPE) released in 2007, both of which highlighted corruption, waste, and inefficiency in the public sector, received widespread public attention. The reports found incompetence and leakages in state-owned enterprises (notably the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, the Ceylon Electricity Board, the Bank of Ceylon, and the Ports Authority) to be a severe drain on public funds, and losses incurred in 26 public enterprise reviewed in 2006 were estimated to amount to Rs.100 billion(US$).90 billion) In 2008, several scandals hit the financial sector, with many depositors losing their assets and the regulatory bodies seen to be failing to protect them”.
Summing up, Dr Nesaih said that most readers will use the Report as a reference book and refer to one or two sections at a time. “This is facilitated by the lucid classification into chapters and sections. Monumental work has gone into the design of the report, and the collection and presentation of the material. Overall, the effort has been worthwhile and those responsible need to be congratulated on a difficult and exacting task well done.”