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What’s the Deal with Sri Lanka’s Corruption Investigations?

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The Pulse

What’s the Deal with Sri Lanka’s Corruption Investigations?

Sri Lanka’s government has been talking big about transitional justice, but are corruption investigations floundering?

Are Sri Lanka’s ongoing corruption investigations on a road to nowhere?

The new government’s incipient steps towards transitional justice have received significant attention in recent weeks. Yet it’s important to keep in mind that widespread corruption was a serious problem during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure and a hot topic during the presidential election last January. On the one hand, complex financial fraud investigations may take time. Yet we’re not necessarily talking exclusively about complex cases.

A leading Sri Lankan weekly has recently published a strong editorial about the current state of affairs. Here’s an excerpt from that piece:

Forget punishment. We are not even seeing indictments! The law enforcement agencies are busy trading allegations of incompetence. It is a race to the bottom. The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, is in deep sleep. When the Commission is asked about investigations it hides behind a secrecy clause, but in fact, the Commission is non-functional. It is functus officio with no authority or legal efficacy. We see law enforcement authorities trading allegations for the incompetence. The endless stream of self-righteous politicians that marched through its gates for the press cameras, carrying stacks of files, has dried up.

Much has already been written about the Rajapaksa administration’s dubious use of American lobbying organizations, though plenty of information remains shrouded in ambiguity – something that’s noted in the abovementioned editorial. Furthermore, Sirisena assumed office nine months ago. Thus far, there have been only a few indictments. While clearly not a shock, this has disappointed Ruki Fernando, a prominent human rights activist. Quite a bit “more has to be and could have been done,” he says.

Jehan Perera, executive director of the Colombo-based National Peace Council is also not surprised that there have been so few indictments. “There is an impression that deals are being struck. This is a period of transition. So we cannot expect what we hope for,” he mentions.

Corruption has been a longstanding problem in Sri Lanka and this is something to watch closely in the months ahead. Are we witnessing a post-Rajapaksa era where things have truly begun to change? Perhaps it really is too early to tell.

“It will take time for the system to work,” says Perera.