Sri Lanka anti-graft chief wants special court; institutional reform may be needed
COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – Sri Lanka’s newly appointed anti-graft chief said a dedicated court would be needed to handle hundreds of potential cases of bribery corruption that had piled up at her office and institutional reform may also be needed.
Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe told reporters that she had already requested for the administration that a "bribery court" would be required to move cases forward quickly, and the Prime Minister has agreed.
Wickramasinghe said there were some shortcomings in the bribery office’s underlying law.
"I have myself looked at the Act and I see weaknesses – lacunas – within the Act. The commissioner themselves have identified some of the lacunas.
"But give me a little time because I need to get rid of 1,600 files."
Her predecessor was transferred by the new administration.
"The appointing authority has the right to appoint and remove, there is no issue about it," she said.
Asked by reporters whether she may suffer the same fate later, Wickramasinghe said would be happy to go back to the Attorney General’s Office where she was earlier working.
Political and constitutional analysts have pointed out that Sri Lanka’s corruption expanded and rule of law deteriorated after independence from British rule as the public service was destroyed by breaking the institution of ‘permanent secretaries’ of ministries, that existed before a 1972 constitution.
Permanent secretaries were appointed, disciplined and transferred by a civil service commission of peers and the political class could not arbitrarily transfer them for any reason.
As a result all officials serving under the permanent secretaries were also shielded from the arbitrary acts of the elected ruling class.
The current regime was elected on a platform of re-establishing a constitutional council to make senior appointments, which is expected to help boost the independence of the public service.
It is not clear whether the mechanism would be as effective as the civil service commission and permanent secretaries. The last regime changed the constitution to scrap the constitutional council.
Meanwhile Wickramasinghe said she was "lost among the 1,600 files" piled up when she took office in mid-February.
She said 16 officers were working on them and within a week 423 had been forwarded for further action and 525 files were readied for her signature.
Complaints that came after she took office were being dealt with separately and she took personal responsibility for those matters.
She said the biggest challenge was the lack of staff to deal with the mountain of cases that were arriving at her office.
There were vacancies in the bribery Commission’s cadre that had to be filled. The investigations division itself was 48 persons below strength but it was difficult to find skilled officers. She also needed modern technology.
She had to get the permission of the commissioners to go ahead, when she decided there was enough reason for an inquiry.
There had earlier been concerns that commissioners had not given permission to proceed with some inquiries.
But Wickramasinghe said while she was barred by law from revealing the names of individuals who were being probed, she could reveal to the public if permission was not given to proceed with an inquiry.