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Wednesday, July 19, 2017
By Kavindya Chris Thomas-2017-07-18
Last Thursday (13) Co-Cabinet Spokesman, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, addressing the Cabinet media briefing, said that the Anti-Corruption Secretariat had not delivered on its promises. This was in response to a question which was raised regarding extending the Anti-Corruption Secretariat's term which expired on 30 June. "The government spent Rs 65 million on the secretariat, but we have not seen it achieve much," Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said. What exactly is this Anti-Corruption Secretariat and why was it shut down?
On 29 January 2015, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe put forward a Cabinet Paper, calling for an institution to crack down on large scale fraud and corruption that took place during the previous regime. The Anti-Corruption Committee Secretariat was set up with the objective of collecting information from the general public (which would assist in cracking open cases) and relaying that information to the Bribery Commission or to the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID). When the Anti-Corruption Secretariat was formed after the 8 January revolution, it was approved by both the Constitutional Council and the Cabinet of Sri Lanka. The Secretariat which was led by the Prime Minister had a subcommittee and a rapid response committee. The secretariat also had its own short-term and long-term goals.
Following Cabinet approval on that same day, it functioned till Friday, 30 June thanks to extensions provided to its tenure, until Dr. Rajitha Senaratne stated that they have decided not to extend the term after its expiration.
On 30 June 2016, the Cabinet approved a proposal by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to continue the operations of the Anti-Corruption Secretariat and extend the services of its staff till 31 December 2016. The then Co-Cabinet Spokesman, Gayantha Karunathilaka said that the government aims to restructure the Anti-Corruption Secretariat and to establish a full-fledged Serious Fraud Office similar to the Serious Fraud Office in the UK. However, no such restructuring took place in the year that followed, and Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said the Cabinet decided not to extend the Anti-Corruption Secretariat's term after 30 June 2017.
Having been aware of the expiration of the Anti-Corruption Secretariat's extension period, its secretary wrote to the Premier's secretary a day before the expiration, to question what the officials should do after the tenure expired. According to reports, the officials serving at the secretariat, the official residence of the Prime Minister, stayed back till late (8:30 p.m.) on Saturday 1 July, in the hope that someone would arrive from the Prime Minister's Office to move the equipment and documents stored at the premises. However, the Secretary to the Prime Minister had not even acknowledged receipt of that letter. Nevertheless, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne stated that it was only supposed to be set up for a year when he attended a Cabinet media briefing at the Government Information Department last Thursday. This was in response to a question as to whether the secretariat will remain open. "The Cabinet Paper to establish the secretariat was put forward in February 2015. When its term expired in November, it was given another six months extension until 30 June," he said. Dr. Rajitha Senaratne further stated that the task of the secretariat was to prepare documentation and direct complaints of corruption to other investigating agencies. "We have 14 government agencies to investigate corruption. What the secretariat needed to do was to prioritise the cases, but they have sent everything to the FCID and the FCID was formed to investigate large scale corruption," he said.
Meanwhile, Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister, Mahinda Amaraweera had remarked that given the achievements of the previous regime, its top officials should be forgiven for their corrupt practices. Dr. Rajitha Senaratne responding to the comment said that neither the Cabinet nor its ministers had the power to pardon anyone and that it was up to the Courts to decide.
Last May, the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement that said a committee comprising of officers from the Bribery Commission, FCID, and the Anti-Corruption Committee Secretariat are preparing a special report on regularizing the functions of the Anti-Corruption Institution. This was in response to a newspaper report, which stated that the Anti-Corruption Committee Secretariat was going to be shuttered.
The statement in May added that a final conclusion would be reached as to whether the Anti-Corruption Committee Secretariat will continue to function, whether its duties would be revised, and whether it would be given responsibilities similar to the Bribery Commission and FCID. However, the Cabinet announced that the Anti-Corruption Secretariat's term has not been extended after 30 June. The Anti-Corruption Secretariat, which was formed with so much hopes and dreams, has died an untimely death, not having served its purpose at all.