“A TISL study has claimed that women have faced the highest instances of corruption in obtaining legal services. The Police and the Judiciary need to take special note of the fact, and take preventative and remedial measures to purge their institutions. After all, they are the implementing and remedial agencies of the law”, said Professor Maithree Wicramasinghe, Director, Center for Studies, University of Kelaniya.
“Sri Lanka signed and ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in March 2004; yet ten years later, the standards, measure and rules in the Convention have still not been translated into the legal and regulatory frameworks of the country – conveying a lack of political will’ Prof. Wickramasinghe said.
She was delivering the keynote address at the launch of Transparency In Intenational Sri Lanka’s Research Report on Women’s Experience of Corruption in Public Service. The launching ceremony took place in BMICH committee room F on 25th June 2014.
Following is the full text of her speech.
“Thank you for inviting me to participate in the launch of your pioneering work on women’s experiences of corruption in the public sector and for giving me the mandate to speak a few words. As far as I am aware, this is the first research of its kind to deal with the interplay between corruption and gender in Sri Lanka, and I have no doubt that it will add greatly to our understanding of the disproportionate impact of the practice – especially on women.
I think it would be accurate to begin my talk by reiterating the fact that corruption in the public service has a multidimensional impact on both women and men.
Of course, we tend to discuss the consequences of corruption in generalized or even abstract terms of democracy: as a denial of basic entitlements from the state; or a deficit in the quality and efficiency, or wholesale failure of the public service; or a breakdown in the rule of law or government; the overall outcome being a deficiency in democracy and a loss of public faith.
At the level of citizens, we can consider how corruption can have a differential impact on diverse groups in societies – including women as a collective. A report by UNIFEM (published in 2008) claims that women are more vulnerable to the impact of corruption than men, especially in terms of public service delivery, given that they form a larger proportion of the poor; and take on the primary responsibility for childcare, the sick and the elderly irrespective of whether they do productive work. Consequently, they are more reliant on free public services, both for themselves and their families.
Within women as a collective then, the research study by Transparency International conveys there could be a variance in the impact of corruption depending on a number of factors. These include considerations such as whether these women are located in rural, plantation or urban locations; whether they are from poor or low-income backgrounds; whether they are the sole breadwinners in their families or whether they come from female-headed households; whether they speak Sinhala or Tamil; whether they have links to community-based organizations, etc. Here I would like to flag a few points of import arising from the study.”
Firstly, one of the respondents in the study suggests that the breach of the Official Languages Act in public service offices can pave the way for corruption. Not conducting official business in Tamil can lead to unscrupulous officers demanding money for free services and third parties moving into the equation. This will impact on women not only in terms of denying their fundamental rights; but also as a usurpation of the doctrine of public trust, and needs to be rectified immediately – especially in Tamil-speaking areas.
Secondly, not only is it important to acknowledge the economic, developmental, social, political, and linguistic differences amongst women as determining impact when addressing corruption, but it is also crucial to consider whether these distinctions lead to a compounded impact in some women. To illustrate the point, the various intersections in a woman’s identity – the facts that she is a poor,
Tamil-speaking, head-of-household from a more rural section of Pasbage Korale could perhaps lead to compounded or layers of impact given the implications of vulnerability associated with these features of her identity.
Thirdly, although the study refers to how poor women face verbal harassment in public service offices – a clear misuse of power on the part of officials, it unfortunately, does not explore instances of sexual bribery or what is considered quid-pro-quo sexual harassment. As you know, quid-pro-quo means ‘something for something’; in other words, instances when sexual favours are demanded in return for a free service. Given the psychological and physical impacts of sexual harassment on victims, these are vital areas for further research. This is especially so in light of the fact that there is agreement by a majority of respondents (79%) that there is sexual harassment in public service offices. Moreover, it is also important to note that ‘soliciting gratification under the Sri Lankan Bribery Act has been expanded to embrace sexual gratification in Sri Lanka’.
Finally, based on the findings and recommendations of the study, I would like to delineate and refine some of the ways to move forward. Sri Lanka signed and ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in March 2004; yet ten years later, the standards, measure and rules in the Convention have still not been translated into the legal and regulatory frameworks of the country – conveying a lack of political will.
In such a context when there is a failure in government, there is a burden on the other authorities in the country, the Police and Judiciary as well as the relevant public service authorities to fully exercise their existent powers to combat corruption. Given that the respondents in the TI study have claimed that they faced the highest instances of corruption in obtaining legal services, the Police and the Judiciary need to take special note of the fact, and take preventative and remedial measures to purge their institutions. After all, they are the implementing and remedial agencies of the law.
On the other hand, the public sector need not wait for the government, for instance, to ensure that the Official Languages Act is implemented in the public service. Nor should they simply concentrate on remedial action; and wait for the police or the bribery commission. Instead, they should take the initiative to establish independent organizational mechanisms to prevent corruption; install checks and balances within public sector institutions.
Both employees and clients should be made aware of these specific means. In fact, employees should be trained; and, both employees and clients should be encouraged to complain to the relevant authorities. We all know that corruption does not happen in a vacuum – generally everyone knows about it. Messages, therefore, should be directed to the majority of women clients – with clear definitions as to what constitutes corruption, instructions on confidential and effective ways to report corruption to institutional authorities, the police and the bribery commission.
Moreover, I believe that it is vital that public awareness initiatives and campaigns on anti-corruption should encompass school children – at all levels. Modules on personal ethics, ethics in public service, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens should be incorporated into the syllabi of schools, administrative service training and women’s empowerment programs particularly in the rural areas.
May I congratulate you on the study; I have no doubt about the hard work that went into it. I wish you all the best in whatever advocacy and follow-up initiatives that you are planning to undertake based on your work. “