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Catch Me If You Can

By Upul Kumarapperuma

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena… People have placed utmost confidence and trust on both

The main election slogans echoed at the Presidential Election campaign of Maithripala Sirisena against Mahinda Rajapaksa in January this year were corruption, unjust enrichment and other white-collar crimes of Rajapaksa family and their stalwarts. Sirisena and his alliance promised the country that he would bring all the wrong doers before the law irrespective of their status once Sirisena becomes the President. During the election campaign, the facts and figures of embezzled money and assets and the names of the perpetrators were publicly announced.

The above-mentioned issues were openly debated in television channels and the supporters of Rajapaksa always took an arrogant stance throughout, demanding tangible proof for those allegations. Some of the debates had to be called off due to unparliamentarily behavior of the then Ministers when the allegations of corruption emerged at those debates.

After the election, President Sirisena and his newly appointed government initiated special mechanisms to encounter corruption and fraud committed by the previous government. A new division was set up in the Police Department, namely Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) with a mandate to carry out investigations pertaining to government revenue, major financial crimes, fraud, unsolicited mega projects, major financial crimes against public property, money laundering, terrorist financing and financial transactions, illegal financial transactions, unlawful enrichments, and financial crimes against National Security. The intention of establishing a separate entity was to fast track the investigations and to get results expeditiously.

In addition to the FCID, a Special Presidential Commission has also been appointed by the President comprising several High Court Judges with a mandate of probing allegations of corruption that had taken place during the previous government and further an Anti-Corruption Committee was appointed by the Prime Minister headed by himself with several other key politicians and senior state officials to probe the state sponsored corruption and other financial irregularities taken place during the tenure of Rajapaksa.

All these new mechanisms are now in operation in addition to the various conventional specialized divisions pertaining to the very subject in the Police Department and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption.

The Penal Code of the country, the Bribery Act, the Offences Against Public Property Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, are mainly involved in the legal process of dealing with the offences committed in this nature. When comparing the above legislation, the Bribery Act, the Offences Against Public Property Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act provide tougher punishments than the relevant sections of the Penal Code.

The Bribery Act deals with both bribery and corruption and the offences relating to bribery is set out in Part II of the Act and the punishment for the offences described in the said part is imprisonment not exceeding 7 years and a fine not exceeding Rs. 5,000.

The Offence of Corruption is described in the Section 70 of the Act, where it states as follows:

“Any public servant who, with intent, to cause wrongful or unlawful loss to the Government, or to confer a wrongful or unlawful benefit, favour or advantage on himself or any person, or with knowledge, that any wrongful or unlawful loss will be caused to any person or to the Government, or that any wrongful or unlawful benefit, favour or advantage will be conferredon any person –

does, or forbears to do, any act, which he is empowered to do by virtue of his office as a public servant;

induces any other public servant to perform, or refrain from performing any act, which such other public servant is empowered to do by virtue of his office as a public servant; uses any information coming to his knowledge by virtue of his office as a public servant;

induces any other person, by the use, whether directly or indirectly, of his office as such public servant to perform or refrain from performing, any act, Shall be guilty of the offence of corruption and shall upon summary trial and conviction by a Magistrate be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or to a fine not exceeding one hundred thousand rupees or to both such imprisonment and fine.”

In view of the aforesaid section, it is very clear that the scope of the section is confined to a Public Servant and the definition of Public Servant includes the position of a Cabinet Minister to a member of the Pradeshiya Sabha including the Speaker and other government servants. The offences against Public Property Law Act deals with the offences committed against public property that includes Mischief, Theft, Robbery, Misappropriation, Criminal Breach of Trust, Forgery, Cheating and Falsification of Accounts of public property.

The punishment for the aforesaid offences is an imprisonment of either description for a term not less than one year but not exceeding 20 years and a fine of thousand rupees or three times the amount in relation to which such offence was committed, whichever amount is higher. The court is empowered to forfeit the assets of the accused in order to recover the fine imposed. The very provision was applied in the VAT fraud case and assets of the accused were forfeited to recover the fines imposed on them.

Even in the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the punishment set out for money laundering is an imprisonment not less than five years and not exceeding 20 years or a fine which shall be not less than the value of the property in respect of which the offence is committed and not more than three times of the value of the property, or to both such fine and imprisonment.

 

Reasonably equipped

 

According to the aforesaid pieces of legislation, the country is reasonably equipped with powers to deal with bribery, corruption and other white collar crimes committed directly against the revenue of the State. With the slogans chanted during the Presidential Election campaign the country has expected a strict compliance of the aforesaid legislations in order to take the country to the right track. Not only had the high powered political authorities of the country but also an ordinary citizen of the country wanted to involve in cleansing the country from menace of corruption.

Even though the measures have been taken to fast-track the investigations, the authorities are yet to bring the mega scams before the law, which the country was informed by the politicians during the election campaign. Even though several incidents have been brought before court, those are nowhere near the huge amounts alleged by them.

Today everything is arranged for the setting up of a National Government.

The United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in this regard. The majority of the MPs of the SLFP would join the national government. Some of the parties would not join the national government. The country is possessed with plenty of precedents of opposition MPs joining the ruling party. During the Rajapaksa regime, the majority of the opposition joined him with the intention to strengthen his hands. Even today the majority of the law makers are the same old crowd and they have a better justification, than strengthening Rajapaksa’s hands, to form the national government to rebuild the country.

Most of the politicians and law makers, who were scheduled to be put behind bars, were fortunate enough to have a free life after deciding to strengthen Rajapaksa’s hand. Some of the law makers, who wish to rebuild the country in a national government, are also alleged of various malpractices and some got rescued by Rajapaksa as he had admitted in public.

 

Information

 

The people of this country cannot demand the information pertaining to the investigations carried out as of right and the State is also not bound to divulge the information of the investigations they are engaged in.

In two elections, the people of this country have voted against corruption and corrupt rulers. The election results show that the country has relied on the words given by Sirisena and Wickremesinghe. If the bona fide intention of Sirisena and Wickremesinghe is to have a clean country for the future, the primary requisite they should consider is to select clean politicians for that purpose. As promised to the nation, there is an ethical responsibility to the President and the Prime Minister to ensure that even a member of the national government accused of looting public money should be dealt with.

The people have given a clear mandate to the President and the Prime Minister to eradicate corruption and bribery, appreciating their pledge to the people of this country. The country is waiting to see the progress. The people of the country have been deceived by many rulers in many ways; People have placed utmost confidence and trust on Sirisena and Wickremesinghe not for their personal benefit. So the people expect that the same rotten politico would not show his back to the country and challenge, ‘Catch me if you can’.

 

(The writer is a senior lawyer)

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