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Quest to eliminate bribery and corruption



Neville Guruge

CRACKDOWN ON BRIBERY: Director Investigations of the Commission to Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, Neville Guruge outlines his plans to minimise bribery and corruption in the country to Daily News staffer Rafik Jalaldeen.

What is your mandate as the Director Investigations of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption?

I am a Senior Superintendent of Police and have served the Police Dept. for 31 years. I can serve the general public who are suffering, who are being victimised over the high cost of living. Misusing of public funds by politicians and corruption is taking place in every nook and corner.

When the public go to a Government office to get their work done for instance getting a driving licence etc, the Government servants solicit bribery. It's the general public who suffer and I'm in the right place now to eliminate corruption and bribery. My target is to make the country free of bribery and corruption. My aim is not to punish them but stop corruption.

In which sectors do you find bribery and corruption?

Both sectors are corrupt but it is mostly the public sector. The private sector is also corrupt to a certain level, unfortunately we don't have authority to investigate the private sector. We are empowered to investigate only the Government institutions. There's corruption in both sectors and the public are affected.

What are your major strategies for netting the culprits?

Our operations are mainly targeted on bribery. We have to act fast on bribery matters because the bribe giver can act faster than us. According to our Commission's Act we need to have complaints to initiate investigations, we must have them in writing.

In bribery matters we get information over the telephone. To investigate these matters we have to get the approval of the Commission. Postal complaints should be sanctioned by the Commission. In the past we used to get many complaints through the phone.

At present the complaints receiving have reduced due to the awareness programme. The public and Government servants are afraid of giving and taking bribes. The media plays a big role to give the message to the general public. The media assists us to implement the awareness programme.

How does the Government support your activities?

We need more assistance from the Government. The assistance we receive from the Government now is reasonable. For example the investigation division cadres numbered 103. I requested the Commission and the Commission provided upto 180 cadres to the investigations division under the approval of the Treasury.

However, the facilities we have are limited. All my officers cannot be accommodated in the office as office space is limited. My investigators are from Colombo and suburbs. They are all residing in Colombo.

If we have lodging for the investigators, we can employ investigators from around the country. We receive complaints from all parts of the country and due to lack of the investigators we cannot handle them all.

This is time to decentralize the commission to have branches around the country. I think we should have at least three branches in Galle or Matara, Kandy and Anuradhapura. It is easy and effective.

When I receive complaints from areas outside Colombo, I have to send investigation teams and they have to move fast.

send them faster we need fast vehicles. Most of the things are happening with modern technology and we are not equipped with the new technology. We have received some equipment from the UNDP and have requested more new equipment.

How do the operations take place?

All the investigations are conducted under my supervision. I initiate the investigations with the approval of the Commission. I get the complaints and I detail the team.

What are your plans to overcome bribery and corruption?

Usually we are acting positively against bribery and corruption. I have a police team to investigate criminal matters. They have gained experience at their training schools. They need more training and we are trying to provide them with enough training. The UNDP is conducting some training programmes for the investigation team. Their knowledge of the English language should be enhanced.

I have requested the UNDP through the commission to conduct an English class. I think the investigation team is able to handle the matters. We also need some experts like engineers and quantity surveyors. There are many acts of corruption in this field. We are depending on the other departments to solve such acts of corruption and we are not working independently.

We are planing to recruit some experts. When we have to depend on the other departments, the bribe givers offer them bribes. I also suggested offering an independence investigations team to the Commission which acts directly with the commission but not from the police. Besides, we need more technical assistants to work along with the new technology. The technical section should be strengthened.

We should have foreign exposures for our investigators. They should go abroad and learn the tactics used in the investigation process and exchange their experience with counterparts from other countries. We recruited some legal officers to advise on the legal aspects of the investigation process. They have been trained on prosecution.

How far have you succeeded in tackling bribery and corruption?

The present Commission is active and Commissioners are always available at the office. They direct us to investigations. Therefore the public know that the Bribery Commission is working and it is effective.

Still I feel it's inadequate and we have to act more and use more techniques to tackle the criminals. We have to be alert to eradicate this menace. In 2005 we conducted 142 raids and 62 of them were successful. We have arrested 82 Government servants.

In open investigations we have arrested nine Government servants and on asset investigations we have arrested four Government servants including one former minister and one Director Customs. In 2006 we conducted 96 raids, out of which 37 were successful. We have arrested 48 Government servants.

How do you compare Sri Lanka with other countries vis-a-vis bribery and corruption?

The developed countries educate their future generation to combat bribery and corruption. They teach about bribery and corruption at school level.

It starts from primary level and continues until they graduate from their school. The ICAC (Investigation Commission Against Corruption) in Hong Kong has a training course for teachers to combat corruption. In contrast, in Sri Lanka children are taught to be corrupt from their school life. They get the first lessons in corruption and bribery as parents are bribing principals to get their children admitted to popular schools.

The teachers are being bribed by their parents to get high marks for children, a place in the first row, to become a prefect, to be a member of sports team and so on.

The parents give bribes through the children and they grow up with it. It is dangerous and completely ridiculous. I blame the parents and teachers for this situation.

Do you think that legal action meted out to the convicts in the bribery cases is sufficient?

The conviction percentage is very low these days. The punishment must be enhanced. And we must have severe punishment.

Do you come across any political interference?

So far there is no political interference and no one contacts me. We are free to investigate and we are doing it independently.

 

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