Sri Lanka’s anti-graft body stalls X-mas bribes
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s main anti-graft body will take stern action against both givers and takers of end-of-year gift hampers which have become a way of bribing private and public sector officials, a commissioner said today.
The authorities say key personnel, including police officers, customs officials and bureaucrats were being given expensive year-end gifts as an "inducement" in anticipation of favours and the practice would be considered corruption.
"Those who give hampers are not having ‘dan sala’ (alms giving) and giving away hampers. There is a motive behind it and that is the expectation of undue favours in the future," anti-graft Commissioner Neville Guruge said.
He said both giving and accepting hampers were against the law and the CIABOC would take action based on complaints.
Instead of giving outright cash, many public officials were being gifted large amounts of super market vouchers as well as expensive consumer goods, television sets, mobile phones and groceries as year-end gifts.
Guruge said both the giver and the recipient should be able to explain the gifts and, in the case of public servants, he did not think they should accept them.
"There is a clear motive in giving these hampers," Guruge said. "We are ready to act on complaints from the public."
The newly energised Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) has carried out high-profile operations to nab bribe takers, including senior police and customs officials recently.
Public servants may have to be wary of people bearing hampers this year as they could well be decoys used to nab suspects in the act of accepting undue gifts.
CIABOC Director General Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe who spearheaded an anti-graft walk last week to mark the International Anti-Corruption Day with the participation of President Maithripala Sirisena is pushing for tighter laws.
"I will be strongly campaigning against any form of gratification," Wickramasinghe said of planned anti-corruption laws. "Zero tolerance for corruption means nothing (should be given) at all. Hope it will be supported by all."
Supermarkets, consumer goods dealers and on-line retailers have tacitly encouraged the practice by offering expensive hampers with some throwing in free home delivery to any address within the country.
Guruge said there was a distinction between people exchanging gifts during the holiday season in a spirit of giving and the undue inducements to public and private sector officials.
"When friends and relatives exchange gifts, there is no issue, we know the motivation," he said. "It is not an undue inducement like in the case of offering a hamper to a public official."
Most five-star deluxe hotels and companies maintain a practice of offering expensive hampers to senior office officers in their areas in a bid to buy their patronage.
The Keells Supermarket offers a hamper for LKR 121,999.00 each (packed in a wooden chest and wrapped in cellophane, including a greeting card) Cargills and Arpico offered their top-end hampers at LKR 68,000. (Colombo/Dec18/2015)