“I think corruption is there in every country; even in the developed countries,” said the Founder and Chairman of Lanka Impact Investing Network (LIIN) Chandula Abeywickrema, pondering Sri Lanka’s consistently poor ranking in the Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).
He added: “People are taken advantage of and we are part of a corrupt society headed by corrupt individuals.”
Abeywickrema was speaking about how pervasive corruption has become in society, observing that “the politicians are surviving because of the structure. The foundation for corruption started with the business and bureaucratic communities.”
In 1977, Sri Lanka could claim a bureaucracy that matched that of India, Japan and Italy; and members of the judiciary, and parliamentarians were those who spent their wealth on the nation and sought no monetary benefits from the country for themselves.
“After 1977,” he said, sharing his thoughts on the trajectory of corruption, “the elected government was vested with unprecedented power, which has corrupted all these… An unscrupulous group of businessmen with corruption at the back of their minds have come in to make an extraordinary amount of money.”
It is his view that the cost of corruption is much higher than the suggested guesstimate of US$ 8 billion, and that when structures and mechanisms such as the bureaucracy, police, judiciary and parliament are corrupted, the cost is immeasurable and is passed on from generation to generation.
“Now there is a trend in the current climate – political leaders are blaming the people for electing them to the positions in which they have done a bad job!” he observed of the blame game that is played out with regard to corruption and failure.
Commenting on whether a culture of zero tolerance for bribery and corruption is conceivable, Abeywickrema said: “We need to really make sure that there is a structure in place, that there is fairness to all… a proper evaluation so that there’s no favouritism. Particularly, I would say, the private sector has a significant responsibility.”
Continuing his trend of thought, he said that the business sector either avoids or evades tax and contended that as responsible corporate citizens, the right tax liability must be paid.
Abeywickrema insisted that “the people responsible for feeding corruption need to be dried up… The audit, tax and legal firms look for ways in which businesspeople can avoid or evade taxes and encourage revenue generation at the expense of the majority of society.”
He also shared his thoughts on the aragalaya, and said he believes that if it continues in the same vein, it’ll die a natural death: “It has to be more inclusive to move forward, covering all of Sri Lanka’s community segments horizontally and vertically – not only the youth; but children, women, the working class, farmers and even entrepreneurs.”
However, Abeywickrema is convinced that the aragalaya has achieved some objectives, which were not thought possible in the history of our country, and commended the efforts of the people’s power movement in raising awareness of the prevailing state of the country.
“People will always migrate. You cannot stop that… that has been happening since the beginning of civilisation. But creativity has no limitation, no restriction… the brain drain is not the issue,” he responded, when asked about the large numbers seeking to leave Sri Lanka.
And he continued: “Innovation and creativity blossom when a problem or need of society is identified. We need to use the creativity and innovation of those who remain in the country.”
In closing, Abeywickrema reiterated his view of better times: “Before 1977, we had one of the best systems of governance compared to Singapore, Japan and Italy.” He urged Sri Lankans to consider where they had gone wrong since 1977, and to take steps to correct the course of the nation.