Closing the implementation gap between law and practice is important to see the proposed Anti-Corruption Bill become a success, the Government and Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs), who took part in a roundtable discussion, jointly emphasized.

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) organized a high-level cross-party discussion with party leaders, party secretaries, and their representatives on the Anti-Corruption Bill at the Parliament premises on Thursday (25) with the intention of eliciting their support for its improvements and timely passage in Parliament. The MPs were briefed on the required improvements to the legislation that can be incorporated in the Committee Stage (Third Reading) of the Bill. The event was conducted with due regard to and respect for the fact that the bill is currently under consideration by the Supreme Court.

While agreeing that the proposed Bill has many progressive provisions, which are a timely need in the country, MPs of both the Government and Opposition benches highlighted that the real challenge is to make sure that the anti-graft mechanisms proposed in the Bill are able to break the existing corruption chain so that “business as usual” is not possible thereafter.

Foreign Affairs State Minister Tharaka Balasuriya, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) General Secretary MP Sagara Kariyawasam, and SLPP MP Madura Vithanage attended the discussion representing the government, while Opposition Leader and Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Leader Sajith Premadasa, SJB MPs Eran Wickremaratne, Dr. Harsha de Silva, Mayantha Dissanayake, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader MP Rauff Hakeem, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M. A. Sumanthiran, PC, and MPs Dullas Alahapperuma, Chandima Weerakkody, and Weerasumana Weerasinghe participated representing the Opposition and other independent groups in Parliament.

TISL Executive Director Nadishani Perera urged cross-party support to pass the best possible version of the anti-corruption law in Parliament and to create an enabling environment for its full implementation, reminding that it is a call of the people. “Now the responsibility of this Bill is with Parliament, and you have a historic opportunity to demonstrate your commitment towards a system change by taking this Bill as an important step to reform the anti-corruption legal framework in Sri Lanka,” she underlined.

Commenting on the new system of declarations of assets and liabilities (DALs) proposed in the bill, MPs Chandima Weerakkody and Madura Vithanage pointed out that verifying the information given in DALs is an onerous task that requires a lot of time, coordination, and financial investment. TISL Advocacy and Research Manager Janithrika Jayasundara explained that the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) is allowed to cross-check the information in the DALs with other relevant institutions, and the electronic system, as suggested in the Bill, should automatically raise red flags on illicit enrichment.

The lack of means to prevent grand collusion in corruption was questioned by Deputy Minister Tharaka Balasuriya. The proposal to establish an independent public prosecutor’s office was floated by MP Eran Wickramaratne when TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran pointed out that the Attorney General’s Office withdrawing indictments filed before the Court for criminal offences has become a problematic practice in recent times.

Responding to the issues raised by the MPs, TISL Deputy Executive Director Sankhitha Gunaratne pointed out that the Anti-Corruption Bill does not address the whole gamut of the issue of corruption, but it would be a good start, as the prevailing anti-corruption laws in the country are outdated. She pointed out that more legislation, especially for stolen asset recovery and government procurement, would need to be passed after this bill.

TISL Advocacy and Research Officer Lasanthika Hettiarachchi apprised the MPs of the new offenses coming under the purview of the bill.

People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi, Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Executive Director Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, National Peace Council Executive Director Dr Jehan Perera, and Nishantha Prithiraj of the Sarvodaya Movement attended the meeting representing civil society organizations.