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Bribery Commission probing 60 cases of alleged graft, says wants more officers, vehicles to combat bribery and corruption

Justice Balapatabendi

The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIAOBC) is investigating over 60 complaints of corruption and illegal assets acquisition against politicians including MPs, Provincial Councillors (PCs) and members of Local Authorities, Commission Chairman Justice D.J.De S. Balapatabendi said.
 Along with these the Commission is also investigating complaints against several senior public officials including departmental heads, he said.

“There are well over 60 complaints against MPs, PC members, Pradeshiya Sabha members, Mayors and Municipal Council members as well as senior officials including departmental heads,” Justice Balapatabendi told the Sunday Times.
 He said that as most cases involve charges of recent acquisition of assets, the process is complicated as assets investigations take time.

“We have to go into bank accounts, assets and properties of these persons and we have to see whether their expenses during the period concerned were more than their income. When we are convinced that the allegations are valid, we send a show cause letter. It is only after giving that opportunity that we go to court against them,” he said.

Justice Balapatabendi said most of the complaints against politicians are still at an investigation stage but some have been sent letters to show cause.

The CIAOBC Chairman said that corruption remains most widespread in the education sector, followed by the Police and then at the level of local authorities.“Corruption in the education sector is going out of control because of the school admission issue. We get complaints against principals and teachers who ask parents for money to admit students. The parents give money and get their children admitted to school and then send us anonymous complaints which we cannot entertain,” he said.

Under the existing bribery and corruption law, complaints of bribery can only be investigated if the complainant identified him/herself as they are required to give evidence against the accused, he said.

With applications for school admissions for 2013 being received, the complaints coming in too have increased, he added.
 Justice Balapatabendi said the majority of the complaints being lodged with the Commission are against public officials with whom the public come into contact on a regular basis.

“We have been accused of catching the sprats and not netting the sharks but there is a reason for this. The ordinary citizen goes to the grama niladhari’s office, the Pradeshiya Sabha, the police station or the District Secretariat to get some work done. So even if an official in any of those places asks for Rs.1,000, we receive a complaint and such persons are trapped by us. But no person comes and complains to us that the thoru, moru (sharks) have asked for a bribe,” he said.
By Chandani Kirinde

Commissioner wants more officers, vehicles to combat bribery and corruption

A shortage of personnel and vehicles is hampering the work of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIAOBC), its chairman Justice S. Balapatabendi said.
 He said the commission had only 18 legal officers to carry out prosecutions in court; attend to other legal matters and assist some 120 police officers.

The commission also has only 26 vehicles for its official work. “Of these 26 vehicles, 17 are very old. Some were bought around 1994,” Justice Balapatabendi said. The maintenance of these vehicles had cost the commission heavily. “Nearly Rs. 200,000 was spent to repair one vehicle while repairs to another vehicle that was bought some 15 years ago cost around Rs 1.5 million,” he said.
 Justice Balapatabendi said the commission should be given more vehicles to facilitate its official work which included about four to five raids a week and regular visits to courts in various parts of the country.

 The present commission was appointed in May last year. It had remained defunct for nearly one and half years after the term of the previous commissioners lapsed.

“When the new commission assumed duties in May 2011, there was a backlog of more than 3,600 files or complaints. “The Commission sat almost daily and cleared the backlog within six months,” he said.
 At present some 290 cases are pending in court while an equal number of cases had been completed, 128 of them ending in convictions, he said.

Justice Balapatabendi explained that for a bribery charge, a complainant had to initiate a trap. “Without a complainant no bribery trap could be organised. There are complaints we receive where the bribe has already been given and then a complaint is lodged with us later. In such cases, the complaint is studied and if it is genuine, the commission will conduct an open inquiry,” he explained.

The commissioner said that not only taking or soliciting a bribe was a crime but giving a bribe was also an offence under the law.

 Complaints of corruption can be made anonymously but should contain details of how the corruption had taken place. “We need not have a complainant by name. We will entertain an anonymous complaint but they should give details,” he said.
 Commenting on complaints regarding sudden acquisition of wealth, the commissioner said an investigation into such cases was complicated because not only the commission had to verify the complaint, if it was an anonymous one, but the petitioner also had to disclose sufficient information for the commission to act on it.

 The bribery and corruption law dealing with assets states that the complainant should have the knowledge that the person they are accusing has recently acquired the wealth. “There are many instances where people send bogus complaints.

Therefore, we have to be extremely careful because if we start an investigation on such a complaint, the reputation of an innocent person would be ruined,” he said.

With regard to corruption in the education sector, Justice Balapatabendi said a better system must be put in place so that there would be transparency in school admissions.

 He said there was an acute need to conduct awareness programmes to educate the people on what constituted an offence under the bribery and corruption laws so that people would be aware of their rights.

 He said a Right to Information (RTI) law too would help make state administration more transparent. “If things are happening behind the screen people will not know what is happening,” he said.

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