Rising Levels of Corruption – What Could Be the Lessons Learnt?

We, as a nation celebrated the 69th Day of Independence on 4th of February 2017 with pride and glory, reminiscing the freedom from British colonialism, which was gained with a long-term struggle. Freedom is indeed a phenomena which makes a positive impact on development. In fact, Sen (1999) has written about development in relation to human freedoms. However, it is questionable whether our country is performing well in terms of development, making use of the freedom and peace that we achieved 69 years ago. The information of the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 clearly manifests that our mode of development has gone in the wrong path increasing the levels of corruption. According to the latest study done by the Transparency International, which is a non- governmental organization against corruption, Sri Lanka ranked 95 in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) in 2016 along with a disappointing score of 36. In 2015, we ranked 83 among 168 countries. CPI 2016 expounds the corruption level in the public sector from the information gathered from various institutions.

Moreover, countries like Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Singapore have gained higher scores in the range of 80-90. It’s high time for us to learn from these countries since our score is not indeed satisfactory and we have gone down the ladder compared to 2015, with no signs of improvement or growth.

First, it is essential to know what the public sector is. Government and its decentralized units encompass the public sector. Public sector corruption occurs when public funds or property are used for the private gain. When the government officials use the public property for their private gain they go against the political accountability. Political accountability is the responsibility of the government officials to serve the interests of the masses. In hindsight, the information depicted by the CPI, shows that the public sector in our country is not held accountable by the nation.

However, the government has indeed taken measures to curb corruption by various measures. For instance, recently the Right to Information Act was implemented in Sri Lanka, so that the mass has access to the information. Also, accusations levelled against individuals have made its way into interrogations and arrests. Yet, there have been delays in the legal procedures in combating corruption; and scandals such as, the alleged Central Bank Bond case make us question the accountability of the political promises of those who are in power: curbing corruption and restoring good governance. Moreover, these loopholes point out the inefficiencies within the system of governance which has undoubtedly resulted in the problems of accountability. Majority of the citizens voted for the current government aspiring a ‘change’ or in sought of Yahapalanya which was the popular slogan promoted in the political rallies. Aspirations for ‘change’ and good governance cannot be met if the offenders are not punished. In a democratic government, one vote for the candidates with the intention that they would preserve one’s interests. It is the prime duty of a democratic government to comply with the interests of the community.

Subsequently, it is vital to note that institutions and organizations of any society are the vanguards of development. Weak institutions and its organizations will interrupt the equilibrium of the society and make the developmental processes dysfunctional. Institutions and organizations with transparency, freedom, creativity and innovation will boost development. Using a football analogy, Fredrick North (1990) notes, that institutions are the ‘rules of the game’ and organizations are the ‘team of players’. Institutions enforce rules and obligations to the society and allow individuals to sustain a common goal. Organizations are the agencies that put this action in to play. Also, they create incentives to control human behavior. There are positive incentives (rewards) and negative incentives (punishments). The organizational ethics, sub-culture and its structure determine the efficiency of its incentives and organizational goals. It is evident that our institutional and organizational framework have become ineffective. Countries like Denmark and Singapore have scored well in the CPI due to the phenomenal institutional framework. They have strict legal setup and rules to restore order. However, lack of transparency, accountability and freedom of our institutional set up had given rise to the corruption. Series of accusations were levelled against the former government for the practice of nepotism and execution of political power on institutions such as judiciary etc. Present government should rectify these flaws using a proper institutional set up.

Moreover, one could argue that we, as a nation still lag in development and struggle to combat poverty due to the rising level of corruption. Increase of corruption leads to the wastage of national wealth and rise in poverty. Sen (1999) defines development as the force which ‘increases human freedom’. Human freedom is indeed needed to boost the efficiency of the human capital. However, a society ridden with poverty and corruption do not enhance human freedom. The country would have been lot better if the wasted national wealth is used for the betterment and to reduce poverty.

Last but not least, in hindsight, the score of CPI 2016 is a clarion call to the government and the society as a whole, to mitigate the issue of corruption. It is high time for the government to punish the offenders with a functional and a transparent institutional framework. Also, it will not be fair to criticize the government alone. The civil society should also be educative and aware of the law and order and be supportive to the government to curb this matter.