As the world marks International Anti-Corruption Day (9 December) many people continue to face uncertainty in their day to day lives due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “Recover with Integrity”, the global theme for Anti-Corruption Day, focuses on preventing corruption associated with the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure an inclusive recovery. Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), believes that this theme holds true in Sri Lanka’s case as well, especially considering the damaging impact of corruption on distributing relief and essential medical services to society’s most vulnerable groups.
TISL’s Executive Director, Attorney-at-law Nadishani Perera noted, “It is encouraging that when TISL first raised the issue around the need for greater transparency surrounding COVID-19 related grants and assistance, in a letter to the Prime Minister earlier this year, both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Finance responded promptly outlining steps they had already taken to disclose assistance that had been received”.
However, whilst recognising the daunting challenge facing the state in terms of the significant measures to address the health emergency and to avoid an economic collapse, TISL notes that urgent responses required during the pandemic create significant opportunities for corruption. This underscores the importance of proactive disclosure of information relating to emergency procurement measures.
Perera added, “A particular area of focus is the proactive disclosure of information on the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, the quantities ordered and plans for prioritisation and distribution amongst those on the frontlines and vulnerable groups. The prompt and efficient communication of these messages will be key to building public trust in the recovery process”.
TISL is mindful of the fact that the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic have also led to foreign exchange shortfalls, which could encourage black money inflows into Sri Lanka to address the economic need. This could heighten money laundering risks, which once again highlights the expanse of corruption risks that can emerge during the Covid-19 recovery.
TISL also recommended earlier this year, that the government establish an online platform providing all information on grants/donations received with timely updates on spending, the maintenance of an e-procurement platform to publish all government tender notices and related documents; and to ensure strict record management practices in all public institutions in compliance with provisions of the RTI Act.
In July this year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recommended that in order to help ensure that money and measures are helping the people who need it most, governments need timely and transparent reporting alongside close cooperation with civil society and the private sector. The IMF also noted that against this backdrop, countries need to prevent tax evasion and the waste and loss of funds caused by corruption in public spending.
Perera concluded, “allowing corrupt practices to occur in the COVID-19 recovery process will result in assistance not reaching the people who need it. Preventing corruption and promoting accountability will help us ensure that Sri Lanka’s recovery is inclusive in both word and deed”.
In a bid to raise public awareness on the damaging effects of corruption and given the need to maintain physical distance in the current climate, TISL is calling on the public to share their hopes for a corruption free nation, via video or text, on their social media profiles using the hashtag #HopeforIntegrity. To find out more about this endeavour call 0112 501 503 or e-mail email@example.com.