Fearless Customs officer – This year’s NIA Winner

The late Sujith Prasanna Perera, former Assistant Superintendent of Customs who paid the price with his life for promoting integrity in the department,  won the National Integrity Award 2010 for his fearless work at a ceremony held at the BMICH on 09th December.

The audience stood up and observed two minutes silence as a mark of respet at the end of which his wife Angela Perera walked up and received award from chief guest Kanak Mani Dixit, writer and activist from Nepal. The audience which included senior Customs officers led by Director General Sudharma Karunarathna.

A Maulavi (Muslim priest) from Kinniya in the Eastern Province,  M Y Hathiyathullah won recognition with a Special Mention for his active involvement in anti-corruption activities.

Another solemn occasion was when the parents of investigative journalist Poddala Jayantha walked up and received the Global Integrity Award presented to him recently. Poddala Jayantha who fled the country following a brutal attack in June 2009 which permanently incapacitated him, could not attend the award ceremony held at the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Bangkok in November. The award was received by TISL Executive Director J.C. Weliamuna on behalf of Poddala, who requested that the award be handed over to his parents.

Speaking at the ceremony, chief guest Mr Dixit thanked TISL for maintaining a fine tradition recognizing people with integrity. He was happy that in the past few years journalists, civil servants and trade unionists had won the Award.

Special guest Mrs Jayantha Bulumulla, senior adviser SLIDA paid a glowing tribute to TISL for worked done particularly in the rural areas. She recalled with gratitude the TISL’s contrbuiton towards improving governance among public officials in the Kurunegala district when she was Government Agent.

The presentation of the National Integrity Award is the key event at the ceremony organized by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) annually to mark UN Anti-Corruption Day. This was the seventh successive year that the ceremony was held.

The NIA panel of judges this year comprised Founding chair and CEO of LIRNEasia Dr.Rohan Samarajiva, Editor and author Ms Selvy Thiruchandran, Science writer and Journalist  Nalaka Gunawardene.

Mihilaka Madura where the NIA awards ceremony was held was filled to capacity. The invitees included a cross section of civil society, public officials, media personnel and  representatives from Community Based Organizations (CBO) from different parts of the country. 

 

 

National Integrity Award Winner 2010
Sujith Prasanna Perera

A fearless Customs officer who paid the price with his life for doing good to the society upholding the principle of equity and worked towards a corrupt free Customs department maintaining a high level of integrity, is the National Integrity Award winner 2010. He is late Sujith Prasanna Perera, Assistant Superintendent of Customs who was gunned down at Kelaniya as a result of a conspiracy by two Customs officers whose corrupt activities were exposed by him.
 
A leading investigating officer in Sri Lanka Customs, he fearlessly fought the offenders of Customs law as well as corruption within the department with dedication and honesty. He was well known as an officer who did not give in to pressure, internal or external, and was never influenced by the position or power of the persons involved and treated everybody alike without fear or favour.

The Director General of Customs, Mrs Sudharma Karunaratne describes him as “an officer who upheld the ethics of the public servants and displayed the highest level of integrity.”

 

He was courageous enough to fight against several defective orders by his superior officers favouring suspected parties during inquiries into customs offences. He was one officer who was able to convince the head of the department to reverse such flawed orders and subject the accused to appropriate punishments.

There was also an incident when a Customs officer illegally altered or deleted data in the computer system in order to favour a group of businessmen to cover up their fraudulent activities thereby preventing a post-audit being conducted. Sujith Perera exposed this officer who was subsequently dismissed.

He exposed another Customs officer who was helping a group of smugglers to smuggle several consignments of commercial goods in the guise of cargo brought in under duty free facilities thereby denying the state of revenue. He was a key witness in the court case as well as the disciplinary inquiry against that officer.

His in-depth investigation also exposed the involvement of another Customs officer who had willfully assisted a group of smugglers to clear several import consignments on forged Customs duty payment receipts.  Here again he was the key witness in the inquiry against the suspected officer.

Sujith Perera had to work in a hostile environment in the department. He received death threats which he ignored and carried on with his mission. Once he narrowly escaped an attempt to implicate him in a bribery allegation conspired by those who were affected by his fearless investigations. However, he could not escape the assailants who gunned him down on 24 March 2001.

Joining the Customs department in August 1989, he served in several divisions including the Intelligence & Investigations Division, Preventive Division and the Automated Data Processing Division. He was also Joint Secretary of the Customs Officers’ Union.

He was married and was the father of a daughter at the time of his assassination.

 

 

Special Mention – Moulavi. Y. Hathiyathullah

A Mo Maulavi ulavi (Muslim priest) from Kinniya in the Eastern Province,  M Y Hathiyathullah won recognition at the presentation of the National Integrity Award 2010 with a Special Mention for his active involvement in anti-corruption activities.

While serving as a school principal, he is also the secretary of the Kinniya branch of the All-Ceylon Jemiyyathul Ulama (Council of Muslim theologians) contributing much towards promoting ethnic harmony settling disputes among the Muslim population in the area.

His probing into irregular activities of a Quasi (a judge appointed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to look into family disputes among Muslims) resulted in the Quasi being dismissed from his post by the JSC.

Having followed the suspicious activities of a school principal he led a team and caught a lorry transporting 25 bags (50Kg each) of ration rice from the school premises to a private shop. The rice was meant to be distributed among poor families through students. This resulted in a punishment transfer of the principal.

He preached about the impact of corruption and promoted integrity in his Friday prayers. He distributed handbills and leaflets, and organised seminars on these themes.