Transparency International Sri Lanka publishes the Sri Lanka Governance Report annually with the goal of improving the quality of public debate on issues of governance and corruption by
Exposing shortcomings where they exist, and pointing to best practices that should be aspired for.
The 2009 Report carries articles pertaining to corruption and its effects on both the economy and society of Sri Lanka. The Report examines developments and incidents that occurred during the period of July 2008 to July 2009.
Among the most pressing issues covered in the Report are post-conflict challenges of governance, the threat to media freedom, and the governance crisis in the financial services sector.
Governance in Times of War and Peace
Transparency and Accuracy of Central Bank and Treasury Data
Governance Crisis in the Financial Services Sector
Perceptions of Sri Lanka in Governance Indices
Interview with the Chairman of the Bribery Commission
The Decline of Media Freedom in an Age of Fear
Failing to COPE: Parliamentary Oversight in 2008/2009
The Politicization of Public Administration in Education and Foreign Service
Interview with the President of the Clean Hands Alliance
Post Conflict Challenges of Governance
Introduction: Post-War Governance Requires Real Changes of Attitude and Process
Definitions of “governance” are notoriously slippery. It is clear that an all-encompassing mandate under the rubric of governance is often counter-productive because it leads to vagueness and impracticability. The UN-supported trend to be more inclusive and integrative in describing this concept, however, is gaining wide acceptance because it seeks to address the inter-related concerns that confront us in the complex societies that we live in today. We no longer have the luxury of artificially separating the economic from the social and political. This is especially true in terms of governance, as the consequences and ramifications of each impinge so crucially on the others.
The UNDP’s policy document on good governance and sustainable development provides an excellent over-arching framework and lens through which the diverse yet related essays in this Report should be viewed.
“Governance can be seen as the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises the mechanisms, processes, and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations, and mediate their differences.
Good governance is, among other things, participatory, transparent, and accountable. It is also effective, equitable, and promotes the rule of law. Good governance ensures that political, social, and economic priorities are based on broad consensus in society and that the voices of the poorest and the most vulnerable are heard in the process of decision-making over the allocation of development resources.
Governance has three legs: economic, political, and administrative. Economic governance includes decision-making processes that affect a country’s economic activities and its relationships with other economies. It clearly has major implications for equity, poverty, and quality of life. Political governance is the process of decision-making to formulate policy. Administrative governance is the system of policy implementation. Encompassing all three, good governance defines the processes and structures that guide political and socio-economic relationships.
Governance encompasses the state, but it also transcends the state by including the private sector and civil society organisations.”
TISL’s 2009 Governance Report seeks to progress beyond minimalist and exclusively statist definitions of governance. Indeed, it is important to grasp the multiple, yet inter-connected, foundations of good governance which include issues of participation, transparency, accountability, gender sensitivity, and anti-corruption to name but a few. The report attempts to address these issues in pro-active and people-empowering ways, as opposed to the usual passive defaults that are demonstrably inadequate due to hierarchies of power and hegemony in fraught contexts such as Sri Lanka.
Thus, the chapters in this report describing the year’s performance of COPE, the Central Bank, and the Bribery Commission share a common underlying theme. That is, accountability must not be confined to specialists and privileged interlocutors who are able to demand information from responsible and crucial state regulatory institutions. Instead, accountability should be pro-actively transparent towards all sections of society. The analysis of post-conflict governance in the North and East articulates the view that, irrespective of the motives of government, legitimacy can only be derived through meaningful participation and ownership of projects, which must include serious input into decision-making and periodic review. This also applies to the analysis of governance concerns regarding the politicization of the education and foreign affairs ministries.
The relationship between fundamental rights/freedoms and good governance is less clearly defined in the literature, though it is implicit in the chapters discussed above. It needs to be stressed that in the Sri Lankan context specifically, but also in general, an enabling environment or safe space for dissent, difference, and discussion is a key pre-requisite of good governance. This is because the mere existence of avenues for participation, redress, and so on will do nothing to enhance accountability and transparency if other forces and realities deter the general public from asking questions and seeking remedies. In situations where there is no safe space, public discussions will yield no tangible results in relation to holding government officials accountable, and in ensuring that government processes are transparent and user-friendly.
Many of the contributors to this report have identified this mismatch between the existence on paper of good practice and the non-use of remedies available to the public to seek redress. This is invariably because such remedies are costly, time-consuming, not well-known, or beset with negative repercussions that may be even worse than the problem for which redress is sought. Further, as has been noted in this and previous reports, the absence of a Freedom of Information Act is both debilitating and unacceptable from even the narrowest of governance perspectives.
This is nowhere more clear than in the case of the Government’s record on human rights and media freedom. Without a doubt, this report documents a sad tale of missed opportunities and short-sightedness that has led to the failure to realize the potential that the end of the three decade long conflict could have brought. To be sure, there is an urgent need to implement reform measures if we are to avoid a repetition of history.
This concern is borne out by the analysis of international indices such as the Corruption Perception Index which shows Sri Lanka declining further to rank 97 out of 180 countries, while the Failed State Index lists it as the 22nd most vulnerable out of 177 countries. The Worldwide Governance Indicators identifies, for instance, “Control of Corruption” as an area where Sri Lanka is around the 50% range globally. The end of the conflict will surely help raise Sri Lanka’s status in future indices. Nevertheless, core issues that adversely affect governance such as corruption and the breakdown in the rule of law need to be urgently addressed.
What is significant about the studies found in this report when taken as a whole is the clear overlap and mutual influence that they demonstrate in regard to core governance issues. The government’s apparent lack of respect for media freedom and the public’s right to know has had a direct bearing on the quality of democratic political governance. It has further negatively affected the post-conflict rehabilitation of the North and East, and has significantly exacerbated some consequences of the financial sector crisis. Finally, it has raised serious concerns relating to the continued militarization of our society, the recent upsurge of police brutality and the seeming impunity that has come along with it.
The latter half of 2009 marks a period of hope and potential for Sri Lanka. Yet, as the cliché has it, winning the war seems to have been easier than winning the peace. The contributions to this report acknowledge positive changes made by the State as well as real obstacles that need to be overcome by all stakeholders. From government, this requires a change of emphasis and focus as much as a new regimen of accountability and transparency, which replaces military logic with public legitimacy and empowerment.