In a recent educational workshop organized by the We Have a Dream Collective on January 19, 2024, Mr. Sarath Jayamanne, President’s Counsel and former Director General of the Bribery Commission, shed light on the main features of the groundbreaking Anti-Corruption Act No. 9 of 2023. The Act, designed to combat bribery and corruption, introduces several key provisions and aims to strengthen the investigative and punitive mechanisms.
A Historical Perspective: Learning from Singapore’s Experience
Mr. Jayamanne commenced his presentation by drawing parallels between Sri Lanka and Singapore’s historical experiences. He emphasized the impact of corruption on Sri Lanka’s development, citing instances where inefficiencies and port strikes provided an opportunity for Singapore to surge ahead economically. Drawing on Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership in Singapore, Mr. Jayamanne highlighted the importance of a meritorious civil service in driving development.
Mr. Jayamanne underscored, “In countries such as Sri Lanka, substantial wealth is eroded due to the pervasive issues of bribery and corruption. However, there is a notable dearth of research and studies addressing this critical concern. Bribery has become deeply ingrained, permeating our society like an insidious force within its very fabric – in the skin, flesh, bones, and veins.”
Need for Comprehensive Legislation
Reflecting on the necessity of a robust legal framework, Mr. Jayamanne stressed that comprehensive legislation requires effective leadership for successful implementation. He noted that bribery and corruption are deeply ingrained in Sri Lanka’s society, causing significant damage to the nation’s wealth.
Evolution of Anti-Corruption Laws
The presentation delved into the historical progression of anti-corruption laws in Sri Lanka, tracing back to the introduction of the Bribery Act in 1954. According to the 1954 Act, the investigations were carried out by the Criminal Investigation Department. In 1958, a Bribery Department was created under a Director General and investigations were entrusted to it.
The subsequent Bribery or Corruption Commission Act of 1994 marked a significant step forward. However, Mr. Jayamanne highlighted the need for specialized investigative officers and the challenges faced in recruiting and retaining talent.
Mr. Jayamanne highlighted, “Under the provisions of the 1994 Act, the Bribery or Corruption Investigation Commission was granted the authority to prosecute cases. However, the crucial role required the expertise of legal officers, who unfortunately received less than one-third of the salary offered to lawyers in the Attorney General’s Department. This considerable salary disparity made it less appealing to legal professionals of high caliber, and despite efforts to address this issue, bureaucratic challenges impeded successful resolution.”
Key Features of the Anti-Corruption Act No. 9 of 2023
Expanded Definition of Corruption: The new Act broadens the definition of corruption to include decisions made with a dishonest motive, causing unfair advantage or loss deliberately.
Commission’s Independence: According to the new Act, the Commission should prepare a list of expenses and submit it to the Parliament. It goes to the Treasury subject to parliamentary approval. Expenditure is subject to audit by the Auditor General. This paves way to the Commission to absorb experts with due remunerations. According to the new Act, the investigation of bribery and corruption should be done by the Bribery or Corruption Investigation Commission, and the police have no power to do so.
Asset and Liability Declarations: Public officials are now required to declare assets and liabilities, with the Act introducing penalties for non-compliance. The declarations, including expenditures and obligations, are made available to the public through an online platform safeguarding the privacy. These measures align with international best practices and position Sri Lanka on the path to robust governance and accountability in public service.
Protection for Whistleblowers: The Act provides protection for officers, witnesses, and whistleblowers involved in bribery investigations. Favourable cultural traits have been leveraged to facilitate individuals’ access to information regarding assets and liabilities. In this context, if an individual intentionally provides false information to the Bribery Commission, they can face legal consequences and be subject to punishment under the law.
Preventive Measures: The Commission is empowered to take preventive measures, seeking public support and collaboration from government officials.
Implementation Challenges and Future Outlook
While applauding the enactment of the Anti-Corruption Act, Mr. Jayamanne acknowledged the challenges in its implementation. He emphasized the need for expert assistance in recovering stolen property abroad and highlighted ongoing efforts to prepare additional legislation in this regard.
The need for international cooperation in recovering stolen assets hidden abroad is also recognized. A committee, led by Supreme Court Justice Yasantha Kodagoda, is currently drafting legislation to address this aspect.
In conclusion, the Anti-Corruption Act No. 9 of 2023 represents a significant step forward in Sri Lanka’s fight against bribery and corruption. With its comprehensive provisions and emphasis on prevention, the Act aims to create a more transparent and accountable governance framework for the nation.