Mohan Peiris reaffirms Sri Lanka’s commitment to fight corruption

Mohan Peiris reaffirms Sri Lanka’s commitment to fight corruption

12 June 2021 03:54 pm

  • First ever UN General Assembly Special Session against Corruption took place in New York
  • Sri Lankan highlighted the importance of international cooperation and engagement with media, civil society and the corporate sector in the fight against corruption.
  • Sri Lanka assures that the draft law on Proceeds of Crime in Sri Lanka will strengthen the country’s anti-corruption efforts.
  • International cooperation required to eliminate safe havens for stolen assets and to repatriate them.
  • TISL reiterates that the Government should expedite the Proceeds of Crime Law and its measures to strengthen transparency in public procurement and beneficial ownership of companies.

The first ever United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) against corruption took place in New York from the 2nd to the 4th of June. During the event, countries from across the world came together to discuss challenges and measures to prevent and combat corruption while strengthening international cooperation.

A key outcome of this Special Session is the Political Declaration that the UN member states adopted as after months of negotiation. It recognizes the importance of putting in place preventive measures, policies and practices to enhance beneficial ownership transparency and prevent money-laundering. By adopting the political declaration, the member states reaffirm their commitment to criminalize and enforce laws against acts of corruption, ensuring the protection of whistleblowers. Countries have also committed to promote and support international cooperation, technical assistance and information exchange in combatting corruption and to facilitate effective asset recovery processes.   

Sri Lanka was represented at this special session by the Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, Mr. Mohan Peiris. He took to the stage on the final day of UNGASS and stressed the importance of international cooperation and engagement with media, civil society and the corporate sector in the fight against corruption, while assuring that the draft law on Proceeds of Crime in Sri Lanka will strengthen the current regime’s anti-corruption efforts.  

TISL has for several years been advocating for the passage of a robust proceeds of crime law, subject to procedural safeguards. TISL was also one of the parties consulted early in the process of creating a policy framework for this law. Peiris stated that the present draft is being finalized with comments from a wide range of stakeholders including the Commission to Investigate allegations of Bribery and Corruption, the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Central Bank and law enforcement authorities.  

Money that is stolen from the Sri Lankan public through corruptive measures are often hidden away in foreign jurisdictions. The citizens of Sri Lanka to whom such money belongs to are left without recourse or access to such money which would otherwise have been invested in meeting the needs of the people and developing the country. TISL reiterates the need for a Proceeds of Crime law that would ensure accountability and responsible asset return for the benefit of the people.

Mohan Peiris likened corruption to the Covid 19 virus, remarking that it is everywhere and that it knows no borders. He noted that there is a need to educate and empower our citizens to promote transparency and strengthen international cooperation to recover stolen assets.  Peiris added that the battle against corruption is vital for the success of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. He also noted that repatriation of public assets is an international obligation. He added that elimination of safe havens for stolen assets and overcoming bureaucratic procedures and legal barriers that prevent the repatriation of stolen assets remains a key priority in the fight against corruption.

TISL wishes to highlight some concerns about the statement made by the Sri Lankan representative. The statement made by Mohan Peiris lays the blame for corruption on the general public and civil society.    

"It must be noted that it is the very public that complains of corruption that resorts to corruption, that resorts to corrupt practices to achieve unlawful advantage through the offer of illegal gratifications."  

"Forget not the reality that, so long as there are givers, there will be willing takers. That is the reality of it. These givers or offerors, as I mentioned before, come from the so-called civil society and the corporate entities that believe that everything and every person is a purchasable commodity."   

The statement by Peiris suggests that large scale corruption takes place because there are persons who are willing to offer payments to those in high-ranking positions. While this is partly true both in relation to citizens and the private sector, the statement does not sufficiently address the complicity of those in high-ranking positions who exploit their positions and manipulate bureaucratic systems to obtain unlawful gains. They are enabled by opaque governance systems that prevail in countries, especially with regard to government procurement and beneficial ownership (ultimate human owners) of companies.  

The statement also fails to take into account the higher duty of care owed by those that are appointed or elected into office to exercise their functions in trust for the people. It further fails to acknowledge that in contexts of systemic, widespread corruption, individual citizens or entities cannot overhaul corruption on their own, and there must be top-down, systematic reforms put in place, with independent law enforcement supported by the State.  

Peiris who has years of judicial experience both as a prosecutor and a judge also noted, "I can assure you that these criminals are not one step but three steps ahead of us. Their networks are well organized with their tentacles well into the very fabric of our societies. We therefore need to meaningfully address the issue and take the fight beyond just rhetoric."   

TISL wholeheartedly agrees that the fight against corruption must be taken beyond just the rhetoric. However, so long as corrupt transactions are allowed to flourish in secret, the task remains a steep up-hill battle.