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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2678

Bribery and corruption threatens the foundation of any civil society

By Quintus Perera – Asian Tribune

Colombo, 16 April, ( Bribery is an evil practice that threatens the foundation of any civilized society and the Privy Council in a recent case, speaking of corruption in the same breath as drug-trafficking characterized both as “cancerous activities”. Many world leaders have castigated corruption as a cancer and one such leader has commented that “It is the greatest threat to national security as well as to reconstruction efforts.

This was said by Justice Ameer Ismail, Chairman, Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption and he was speaking at the Third Key Person’s Forum jointly organized by the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL) and Small and Medium Enterprise Developers (SMED) at Trans Asia Hotel.

Nawaz Rajabdeen, President, FCCISL welcoming the guests said that through the Forum has become singularly important where in the earlier Forums strongly topical and burning issues with social and political significance outside the boundary of trade and commerce were discussed with Key Persons.

He said that they have now invited Chairman, CIABC to speak on a subject ‘Bribery and Corruption’ which is crucially vital for the future, integrity and development of the country. They have got a person experienced in the judiciary and the most appropriate person to educate the business community on this vital subject.

Justice Ismail continuing said that though none of the business community do not involve in bribery and corruption, yet, companies big and small right across Asia do these things everyday. Some companies manage to survive and get away with it. Others get caught up in public scandals that cost them a fortune destroying their brands, defending themselves and ultimately losing out on business.

He said “Compliance with the law is easier said than done. Compliance with policies, procedures and customer expectations around ethics is even harder. ‘Corporate ethics’ is about doing the ‘right thing’”.

Any form of behavior which departs from ethics, morality, tradition and civic virtue could be labeled as corruption and corruption slowly buy steadily destroy the fabric of society. Corruption is the misuse of power, office or authority for private profit which could occur in the public and private domain. Enforcement in all sides is necessary to ensure not only individuals but also high-powered politicians and corporations will be subject to the same standards. Law enforcement and corruption investigation would then be a uniform process.

He said that corruption is a global phenomenon, but it has a greater impact on developing nations and the characteristics of corruption is extremely destructive in the third world where corruption occurs up-stream. Most of the money gained through corrupt means in the third world is immediately smuggled out to safe heavens abroad.

Justice Ismail said that in the third world corruption is not effectively confronted, but it is sometimes overlooked and not punished. It leads often to promotion of individuals rather than to prison in this part of the world. He said “Big fish, unless they belong to the opposition, rarely fry. In contrast, through a process of accountability even top leaders in industrialized countries are investigated and prosecuted. It, in the third world results in further impoverishment and diminishing of dwindling resources.”

Justice Ismail pointed out that the per capita income of a large proportion of the population is far below the poverty line. The reality is that while some make a fortune through corruption in the third world, the majority of the population cannot meet even their basic needs while national budgets have yawning gaps. He stressed “Corruption in such a scenario, if unabated, will lead to massive h7uman deprivation.”

He said “Combating corruption in this region is not just about punishing corrupt politicians and bureaucrats but about saving life and preserving the right to life.” He said that it robs civic life of public virtue and in developing countries is most destructive and savage. It would be difficult to exaggerate the revulsion of ordinary citizens to the institutionalized venality of public life.

He said that petty corruption is especially endemic at the lower clerical levels of administration – precisely the point at which ordinary citizen comes into daily contact with officialdom. He said that people are forced to pay bribes for securing virtually any service connected with the government, even that to which they are entitled by right and law.

He said that people tend to judge the entire structure of government on the basis of their own direct experiences with the agents of it. The bottom ranking countries in the corruption perception index of Transparency International is notorious for influence peddling politicians, money seeking bureaucrats and bribe dispersing entrepreneurs. He said that the prime issue in most Asian countries fuelling public anger is public sector corruption involving politicians, public servants and law enforcement officers. The biggest cost to the country is political.

Justice Ismail said that because corruption reaches to the very top in so many societies, a bottom-up strategy for weeding it is unlikely to work. Instead a top-down approach is needed. In Malaysia when Abdullah Bawawi became Prime Minister, he gained public support for trying to tackle corruption In India, Manmohan Singh began his prime minister-ship with the huge advantage of widespread public perception that he is clean and incorruptible. His public perception of probity remains intact, Justice Ismail said.

He said that in the short run it is difficult to change the basic institutional, political and cultural settings. But he said that corruption could be reduced as courageous leaders around the world have made impressive progress against corruption while the case of each country is different but the themes which emerge from their strategies might be helpful for leaders to.

He said that successful reformers create short term successes that are highly visible and change expectations and work through existing institutions. They mobilize and co-ordinate a variety of resources inside and outside the government. He said that the fight against corruption requires allies. The business community and civil society can provide information about where corruption does occur and how corrupt systems work.

They can suggest remedial measures. The media has a social responsibility to expose acts of corruption and nepotism, as the effective functioning of the press is dependent upon the public legitimacy of its existence. The media is a public trust. He said that its functions in the form of reporting and influencing public opinion ought to reflect public interest, societal sensitivity and democratic governance.

He said that in the long term reducing corruption requires better systems and corruption fighters must reduce monopoly; clarify discretion and increase transparency in many ways. Reducing monopoly power means enabling competition and limiting discretion means clarifying the rules of the game and making them available to common man and woman.

He said that State sovereignty is impacted by corruption in several critical areas as it has the potential of threatening national security. A sovereign state ought to ensure that laws are enforce in a non-discriminatory manner.

Justice Ismail said that the purpose of evolving a human rights approach to corruption control is to supplement and enhance the corruption control mechanism that now exists, which itself needs to be revamped. Corruption does violate human rights in a profoundly significant manner. Human rights create entitlements among people.

He said that transparency in governance is crucial to ensure that the state exercises its power in a responsible manner. In fact, allegations of widespread corruption of the state and its institutions mean that the state is not functioning to capacity and that the law enforcement machinery is weak.

He said that the corruption has the potential to threaten national security. Human security is another dimension of state sovereignty p- to ensure that people of a state are empowered to face a number of threats, including from terrorism, natural disasters, deadly diseases, environmental disasters due to global warming and climatic change.

Justice Ismail said that it is important to recognize the connection between corruption and state power or sovereignty from both a national and human security standpoint so that al issues of public policy and governance are pursued on the basis of transparency. Corruption is an all pervasive –phenomenon that affects the exercise of the functions of the state in a wide manner.

He said that sovereign state ought to ensure that laws are enforced in a non-discriminatory manner. Corruption does not allow this. Hence criminalization of politics and politicization of crime takes place. The sovereign state becomes too weak to enforce the law an all institutions of governance suffer from a crisis of legitimacy as well as of autonomy and independence which are required to enforce the law including that against corruption. He said that a scrupulous adherence to the law would ensure that the legal system responds to injustices and inequalities within the system. The problem of corruption creates a government administrative system that discriminates people on the basis of irrational criteria.

He said that a corrupt state cannot ensure that its legal and political existence is duly supported by following the best practices of a good governance process. Sovereignty as a facet of state responsibility demands that the state exercises its powers in a manner that ensures corruption free governance.

A sovereign state should ensure that there is social and economic development of the people. However, it is seldom realized that corruption plays an important role in the state not fulfilling its functions. The resources allocated from domestic sources or development aid from international sources is diverted in the form of corrupt transfer of wealth to a few persons.

He said that development aid becomes a source of a huge internal conflict and improper use of resources, thereby undermining the sovereignty of the state. These actions delay and under cut the development process. A corrupt state creates a vicious circle in which the sate quickly loses its authority and ability to govern for the common good. Corruption makes it possible for critics to be silenced, for justice to be subverted and for human rights abuses to go unpunished.

Justice Ismail said that these corrupt systems could be subverted, but it cannot be counted on members of organized crime to clean them. Instead, they must analyze the corrupt systems and ask “How might they be destabilized?” It can be a new president and his or her team, or a new mayor or head of a public enterprise. It can also be everyone as members of civil society. Around the world people see new examples of citizen activism, of business groups entering into “integrity pacts” of intellectuals and journalists and religious leaders going beyond lectures and sermons to analyze corrupt systems and work together to subvert them

He said that corruption perpetuates discrimination as bribe payers are given special treatment as opposed to those who do not pay a bribe which looses the government’s basic legitimacy to govern, people losing faith in the government machinery and the capacity to make decisions based on the respect for the law.

Justice Ismail contemplating on an arduous exercise of meticulously explaining how the entire system of bribery and corruption work and how they could be remedied, in conclusion said that accountability is about power – about the people having not just a say in official decisions but also the right to hold their
rulers to account as they can demand answers to questions about decisions and actions. They can sanction public officials or bodies that do not live up to their responsibilities. He said “This is the kind of accountability that the human rights approach to corruption prevention hopes to achieve.”

- Asian Tribune -

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