Sri Lanka is poised to take drastic and somewhat revolutionary steps to combat corruption and stem it effectively. It will be an essential step in the country’s path to economic revival.

Throughout the years, it has become apparent that corruption is spreading in leaps and bounds from the corridors of power, creating chaos and ripping not only the economy apart but the country’s integrity too. According to Transparency International’s 2022 Corruptions Perceptions Index, on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean) Sri Lanka scored 36.

Indiscriminately, corruption is rampant all over the country, escaping unchecked and putting innocent and unsuspecting masses in a quandary.

Against this backdrop, the country needs a strong legal framework to deal with the situation. It also requires an effective brigade of investigators who can accomplish the extraordinary job of eradicating or at least minimising corruption.

Without stringent measures and necessary reforms to suppress corruption’s ugly head, all of which should be underscored by political will, Sri Lanka may not be able to move forward with modern society. We, as a country, are already lagging behind others in the region owing to the selective implementation of bribery and corruption laws. Corruption has a direct effect on economic growth and foreign direct investment. It undermines the rule of law, discourages entrepreneurship and innovation, and makes it difficult for businesses to grow and thrive. By curbing corruption, the country can create a better investment climate and pave the way for economic growth.

These reforms should include introducing a code of conduct for government officials, increasing transparency in government operations such as procurement, and introducing financial penalties for those found guilty of corruption. These new measures, by all means, should ensure that public funds are used for their intended purpose and limit its misuse for personal gain.

The country’s catastrophic economic downturn since 2021 could only be arrested by controlling waste and corruption.

The International Monetary Fund has also laid down conditions for Sri Lanka to minimise corruption, which reached its zenith during the Rajapaksa administration. These IMF conditions include strengthening the country’s governance framework, increasing transparency and accountability in the public sector, and strengthening the country’s anti-corruption measures. This will help reduce the prevalence of bribery and other forms of corruption in government.

Accordingly, under the new anti-corruption law, there will be a relentless focus not only on the public sector but also on private sector entities, which are at times obsessed with bribery and corrupt practises involving state officials.

As soon as the new law is enacted, private sector entities will also fall under the scope of corruption probes for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka.

The law specifies that private entities could be charged, convicted, and penalised accordingly if they commit crimes within the ambit of the Anti-Corruption Act, which will become law soon. Previously, it was limited to the public sector.

There are a few amendments that the Supreme Court has suggested. Once these amendments are perfected, the Act becomes effective as one of the most unique pieces of legislation in the annals of the administration of justice.

This is a major shift in the legal landscape since, before the Act, private entities were not held accountable for any corrupt practises.

With the new Anti-Corruption Act in place, they will be subject to criminal liability for any corrupt acts they commit.

These newly enacted provisions were revealed and explained at the Sectoral Oversight Committee on a Just and Law-Abiding Society held at the parliament complex last week.

Consequently, a specified business enterprise as defined in Section 5 of the Sri Lanka Accounting and Auditing Standards Act, No. 15 of 1995, shall be liable for any offence under the said Bill once enacted.

Moreover, the Bill also includes provisions to recruit specialists from specified fields for this purpose, which is not limited to police officers.

Parliamentarian. W. D. J. Seneviratne chaired the oversight committee, which comprised many members from the government and opposition benches of parliament.

Sections of the government and the opposition welcomed this move to create a society devoid of widespread corruption. Stemming corruption and unethical practises is vitally important for Sri Lanka to return to global competitiveness. It is widely accepted that corruption and unethical practises can lead to a lack of trust in a nation, which can lead to a lack of investment and a decrease in foreign direct investment. This can make it difficult for Sri Lanka to attract the kind of investments necessary for economic growth and global competitiveness.

Notwithstanding all these, the government’s commendable deeds could be negated by the rotten, corrupt elements of the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna), who have dubious credentials.

They still rule the roost with complete control of parliamentary affairs. Parliament controls public finances; therefore, the President is placed in a difficult predicament to seek parliament’s approval for all his intended programmes for implementation. There are checks and balances in the system where Parliament could block the executive and halt its progressive steps. This is because the President can only exercise his executive powers through the enactment of laws passed by parliament. This means that the President’s proposed policies can only be implemented if approved by parliament. Therefore, parliament has a significant degree of control over the executive branch, allowing it to influence the direction of the country.

It underscores the fact that the President and his cabinet have limited power when it comes to public spending and policymaking as they must get approval from parliament before any decisions can be made. The parliament can block executive decisions even though it is difficult to override presidential directives. However, the President discusses governance matters with the government’s parliamentary group. This is to iron out any issues or paradoxes that may crop up from time to time. The parliamentary group, composed of representatives from the ruling party in the legislature, serves as a conduit to ensure presidential decisions are in line with government policies. This helps to prevent conflicts between the two branches of government.

Nevertheless, the SLPP parliamentary group, which constitutes the majority of parliament members, sends out mixed signals to the government hierarchy about its support base. They are vocal enough to announce they will run a separate campaign for their presidential candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections scheduled for 2024.

The COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) Chairman Ranjith Bandra has now suggested considering other options for the impending presidential elections regarding their nominee for the common candidate instead of the incumbent President.

Ranjith Bandara is a well-known Basil Rajapaksa loyalist. Everybody’s guess is that Basil Rajapaksa entered the political fray to checkmate Ranil Wickremesinghe. However, there is a group within the SLPP which supports the incumbent President in securing his desired candidature at the impending presidential election. In addition to Kanchana Wijesekara, Shehan Semasinghe, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, and Ali Sabry, Nimal Lanza played an integral role in supporting the candidature of Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Ranjith Bandara has supported Basil Rajapaksa and advocated for his return to the political stage. He has been a driving force behind the effort to secure the SLPP nomination for Basil and has worked diligently with other SLPP members to rally support for Basil Rajapaksa.

It is in this developing scenario that the SLPP has put forward their latest demand to nominate the top-rung members of the ruling hierarchy as Cabinet Ministers who lay down policies and implement them. The top-rung members of the SLPP are notorious for various misdeeds, and there could be growing resentment among the people if the President appoints them to the Cabinet. The President stands to lose goodwill if he appoints the top-rung members accused of various corrupt practises. Nevertheless, the President would be compelled to consider their request if he were to stake a claim for the presidential candidate slot backed by the SLPP.

The common candidate could muster the support of the political entities encompassing the Sri Lanka Podu Peramuna (SLPP), the UNP, and several smaller numbers of parliamentarians representing the opposition. The Tamil parties may also support Wickremesinghe with reluctance since he would be the only political figure from the South in whom the Tamils could place some sort of trust.

The main opposition party, Samagi Jana Bala Wegaya (SJB), has apparently aligned with the SLPP breakaway group headed by Professor G.L. Peiris and Dallas Allahapperuma. If the top-rung members accused of corruption are inducted into the Cabinet, it would send the wrong signal to the public that he is not taking the accusations seriously and is rewarding them with power. This would not only hurt the President’s credibility but also lessen the public’s trust in the government as a whole.

Political analysts believe that India, as in the past, will also play a crucial role in the Sri Lankan presidential election. It may support a candidate less harmful to Indian interests in the region. It is likely that they will choose Dullas Allahaperuma over Sajith Premadasa to build their support base as a neutral candidate. This is not a clear indication of their interest in Sri Lankan politics. Keeping Chinese interests in the region at bay would be their goal. Sri Lankan leaders, whoever returns as President, will carefully assess the political landscape to determine their political trajectory after 2024. Right now, anyone could see four candidates joining the fray, including incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe, SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, a candidate from the SLPP, and the JVP’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake

If Basil Rajapaksa could shed all his affiliations with the United States, he too could be a candidate to fill the SLPP vacancy. In his absence, it could create a void, and it would be difficult to determine who would benefit. Although some analysts pin hope on Allahapperuma to be in the fray, the chances are very slim and remote given his electoral experience.

Eventually, some predict that Wickremesinghe’s prediction may come true, with nobody polling the required fifty percent plus one vote to clinch the presidency in the first round of counting.