Corruption: An Appeal to the Sri Lankan Media

I googled “Sri Lanka Corruption” today and found out that most of the articles written on the web about corruption in Sri Lanka comes out of our own writing and our own newspapers. Not at all surprising, just as expected, one would say. Thereafter, one might find the international NGO’s, writing about corruption in our paradise isle completing the list.

For example, check out the Transparency International’s site where they list the 2009 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) and we rank at 97, while USA ranks at 19, UK at 17, Australia at 8, France at 24, India at 84 and Saudi Arabia at 63.

According to World Audit Organisation 2009 report, we rank at 76, while USA ranks at 16, UK at 14, Australia at 8, France at 18, India at 64 and Saudi Arabia at 46. World Audit compiles their evaluations based on data coming from NGO’s such as Freedom House, Transparency International, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and The International Commission of Jurists etc.

According to Gallup Poll – often referred to as the most reliable source of public opinion – corruption index in the above countries paint a totally different picture. According to the poll, Sri Lanka’s corruption index is 54.4%, while USA scores a higher corruption rate at 63.4%, UK 48.1%, Australia 36%, France 49.6%, India 77.2% and Saudi Arabia scores the lowest corruption at 34.3%. Lower percentages are better.

Now comes the truth. People in India and the USA think that their countries are more corrupt than ours, while people in the UK and France think that their countries are (almost) as corrupt as Sri Lanka.

And occasionally, these countries even withhold aid, claiming that WE are a corrupt nation!

Who would you trust? The NGO’s or the most trusted source of public opinion? Please check out the chart below and you will see the gap between the NGO data and public opinion for the countries that usually fund the NGOs. Compare that to the data of Sri Lanka or Saudi Arabia where the public opinion reflects NGO data.

Wouldn’t the American politicians invading Iraq for the control of oil business qualify for corruption? How would Bush+Cheney Business Enterprise that ran Halliburton and Blackwater etc escape the NGO corruption rankings? How would USA remain at the top when the level of corruption in the US is monumental..?

The truth is that we wash our dirty linen in public while the West doesn’t. NGO’s need to keep their funds pouring-in; they are either run by, or controlled by the West. They paint a bleak picture of developing nations as the most corrupt countries in the world, while conveniently ignoring the billions of dollars that change hands under their own tables, in their air-conditioned comfort. A traffic cop taking a couple of dollars instead of issuing a ticket makes it to their list, while high profile incidents such as the former British Transport Secretary who charged 5,000 pounds a day (=Rs 845,000.00) escapes the list. That would be equal to 1,690 traffic cops taking a bribe of 500 rupees each, a day. Not only that, 5,000 pounds is a teeny weeny amount compared to the millions and millions of dollars that change hands in the West everyday.

I’m not going to waste my time writing about NGO’s and how they manipulate facts for their own advantage. We’ve witnessed their antics as the Wanni region came out of the jungle.

Post war Sri Lanka is entering a new era. There is much hope and there are huge expectations. In our journey to recovery, our image plays a major role. I have written about what it means to maintain an image of a country – so let me finish this with a humble request to those who contribute to the mainstream media and citizen journalism.

Please, please don’t tarnish our image. Look beyond Sri Lanka, do a bit of research and follow independent, most reliable and trusted sources and look at our country from an international perspective. Sri Lanka is not as bad as you think. What you write goes out there in to the oblivion and it gets printed in an NGO report as “reliable information coming from Sri Lanka” – just like Amnesty International has “Sri Lanka Experts” when they don’t even have an office anywhere in the country. It doesn’t help when Minoli Frenandes says that “there are no independent reporters allowed in the frontline” when her Al Jazeera crew reports exclusively from the frontline.

Please don’t feed those who are going to rip us apart.

Please be responsible. Focus on the positive side of our beautiful island, the image of Sri Lanka – our little paradise – is in your hands.


  1. I don't think you can compare individual country perceptions of corruption with comparative rankings.

    People in each country ranking their own country's corruption would have little experience overseas to understand how their standards compare to other countries. They just rank how they feel about their own country's level of corruption and they would probably relate it to their own past experience. Therefore if we take the Gallup poll the proper thing to compare it with is the USA's own previous % 5 years ago, last year, 10 years ago.

    The comparative indices published by bodies such as Transparency International attempt to compare across countries. You will need to compare various methedologies used by these bodies to see which index is better constructed and surveyed etc to see which can be relied on.

    I don't agree with your appeal to people "not to tarnish our image". If we don't even admit to a problem there is no hope of finding a solution. Sweeping things under the carpet will only make things worse.

    In my own personal experience and knowledge corruption here is growing exponentially.

    Incidentally there are two forms of corruption, one involves money, the other involves the use of power and influence to subvert the system.

  2. JP, thank you for the comment. Yes, I agree. But what is the reason behind such a big gap in the West when they are supposed to be enjoying all the “freedoms” (Media freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of expression...) where all the information is available to the public?

    What I am saying is that corruption is everywhere in the world, in one form or the other and Sri Lanka is no exception. It is understood why a poor man wants a hundred rupees, but a rich man in a rich country taking a bribe is far from saving his life from starvation. The poor man’s act gets publicity, the rich man buys the media.

    Media has the power to build an image or completely destroy it.

    In our move towards rebuilding Sri Lanka, we better focus on the good things in life in the eyes of world – as long as we delve in negativity we are not going to get anywhere. I’m not saying we forget the corruption, instead of writing about them in the press and making a hollow noise, we should dial the hotline, take action, take them to courts; me thinks.

  3. True enough. I read two examples this morning:

    1) This article - http://www.slate.com/id/2248288/ - about the tomato paste industry in the US
    2) The rotten boroughs section of Private Eye in the UK every week

    This goes to show that while Transparency and Amnesty are ignoring the giant beam in their own eyes, the general public of the US/UK is not that hyperopic (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_opposite_to_myopic).

  4. good post.

    i think one factor contributing to the difference you highlight, is that lot of forms of corruption prevailing here are open ( as you say we tend to 'wash ...' ) and directly break the law ( that is against actual laws both here and in west), but usually does not result in prosecution.

    forms of corruption in west tend to take advantage of loopholes of laws, etc. rather than directly breaking the law.

    here a politician may get bribed directly, in usa there are pacs, 527s, foundations, and all sort other things, to which the briber may 'contribute' and do, and which ultimately help the politician.

    here the administration may give a mp an empty ministerial portfolio and real benefits ( ie apparent ability to dispense patronage ) in order to get him to vote with gov. in usa there are 'earmarks' ( look it up ) and laws filled with unrelated benefits to senator's states ). observe the debate on healthcare ( look up “cornhusker kickback' etc. ). same thing in both cases.

    public rightly perceives both direct violations and taking advantage of loopholes, etc as same corruption.

    out of touch ngos with their own agenda differentiates and call us more corrupt .

    more prosecutions here is good, but will result in only changing the forms of corruption.

    ultimately the only cure for corruption everywhere is to reduce the control that public officials have over other ppl money and lives ( though regulations etc ).

  5. "But what is the reason behind such a big gap in the West when they are supposed to be enjoying all the “freedoms” "

    I think the difference is one of perception and is probably related to many factors including personal expectations of corruption and tolerance of the practice.

    The relatively poorer rankings of countries such as the US in the Gallup polls could possibly be due to the freedom of the media.

    When the media reports freely on such matters people will tend to see a lot of corruption in the news, hence their own poor perception of their country.

  6. Also the problem is, that thanks to corruption, systems such as the courts don't work anymore. Remember what happened with Wijedasa Rajapakse's COPE report?

    Also see this report:


  7. I believe the media has a certain moral duty to expose any form of corruption. This moral duty should be encouraged and safeguarded by all of us. Asking the media to simply concentrate on the 'rosy picture' simply serves to ignore the issues and encourage the perpetrators to be more audacious in their dealings!

  8. SI _ i agree with you. in the relative scheme of things corruption in Sri Lanka is not that bad. Corruption manifests itself in many many different ways and I do not have the time to go into the ways multi-nationals bribe local officials whilst claiming to be holier-than-thou on their websites. Even so-called squeaky clean Singapore is way more corrupt then they would ever have you know - just ask some large businesses there and they will tell you of the price that has to be paid. of course they would never breathe a word of it to the media. When i was living in Switzerland the Swiss gov't did not want to take on the tobacco companies as they said they didn't have the funds to battle to them! There is also corruption in Switzerland btw..

    How do the Transparency Internationals and the like judge corruption? Is it by how much you have to bribe a police officer for committing a minor offense? Do they get anecdotal evidence from a third party trying to win a govt contract? Do they try to bribe a random official? They must have a methodology that should be dissected.

    JP - how can you say corruption is rising exponentially? What is your proof?

  9. Thank you all for your comments, much appreciated.

    @Foodie: The examples are many, but we in Sri Lanka seem to have the impression that the West is clean. How sad!

    @Sittingnut: Good point. Also, we see bribery take place openly at govt offices and by the roadside – it has become the unwritten rule. Whereas in the US, it is done very discreetly.

    @JP: I don’t think that the freedom of media is the reason why the NGO’s are rating the West less in corruption.

    Also, do you think our media is not corrupt?

    @Anonymous: I agree, the media has a moral duty to expose any form of corruption. But then again, how moral are the Sri Lankan media? When is the last time you found an impartial newspaper in a news stand? We all know which paper or which channel is on whose side, don’t we?
    The point is, I wouldn’t have written this if our media isn’t corrupt. Look no further than Sunanda Deshapriya and his NGO dealings.

  10. Ah, you're playing the broken record I've been playing for goodness knows how long :D Every day the local news here highlights irregularities in the British system...they range from politicians inventing jobs for family members, and claiming public funds for mortgages on houses that don't exist, to stating that they're open to being 'bought', and firing people who disagree with them. I doubt it's a new thing...it's just being publicised now (possibly) because people are actively looking for reasons to blame politicians for the high cost of living.

    I think the difference between the situation in the UK and SL, is that in the UK, the wrongdoers get punished, because the govt is wary of dwindling public opinion (and we're close to a general election).

    The other thing is that there appears to be less small-scale corruption here (bribes to avoid parking tickets etc.), so people are actually horrified when the politicians' shady deals come to light. In SL, find someone complaining about corruption and ask them if they've ever tried to 'shape' a traffic cop encounter, or if they've 'had a chat with someone they know' about getting a job for so-and-so...if we don't follow the system, how can we expect the politicians to do so?

    OK rant over :D

  11. What Pseudo said... :D

    Also, just coz the UK and US are corrupt, it doesn't mean that we should be corrupt too... I mean, look at the irregularities pointed out in the COPE report, has the government taken ANY action? Nope! And people still vote for them. It's as if we don't really care...

  12. Serendib, I think you missed my point, I think its the freedom of the media that is causing citizens of the West to rank their own countries as corrupt (reference to the Gallup poll).

    Maf, to cut a long story short, basically it comes from talking to other businessmen. People I have met have mentioned figures.

  13. Good one Wijitha.
    I think another reason is our politicians etc are blatant in their acts while the such are subtle in West. They don't get caught. They do it under the radar keeping their public image clean and ask us to get rid of corruption. Not that there isn't any or that we shouldn't - but hypocrisy is hypocrisy.

  14. There are other indicators that point to corruption.

    The lack of accountability in Chinese and commercial loans for instance. Questions on procurement, HiCorp for instance.

  15. @Pseudo: LOL, I know. But then there are times we just feel like saying it over and over again, right? Also, to add to what you are saying, there was a time in Sri Lanka too when the MP’s took their responsibility seriously. I remember when I was a tiny tot, the train derailed near Haputale (between Haputale and Idulgashinna) causing some deaths and the Transport Minister resigned. We have lost our dignity and pride since then, how shameless we have become as a nation. Also the publicity without punishment makes it more “tempting” (one isn’t scared of accepting a bribe anymore, rather) to everyone – so much so it has become an open, day-to-day habit.
    Sad, really.

    @Chavie: Well, I believe people should take action. Like the high-speed and the court ruling, all it needs is just one guy to make a point.
    Also, I wish there were class-action law suits in our country...

    @JP: Hmm... still doesn’t explain why there’s smoke without a fire... ;)

    @Sach: Thanks. It’s also the image, and our guys are fast learning. Some of the top ministers today (who are seen as ‘clean’) do not accept bribes, but their wives and sisters do..! LOL.

    @ Anonymous: Yep. Corruption is everywhere and lack of accountability is a serious problem. Not only in financial matters, but also in general. Please read my thoughts on the government, MP’s and their accountability here:

  16. Interesting article on the same subject here:


  17. Fraud and corruption is everywhere. What is different in Sri Lanka is the lack of checks and balances and the pervasiveness.

    Freedom of the press increases the likelihood that corrupt politicians are exposed and suffer the consequences of their indiscretions. We don't have that in SL. Also in the west it is quite difficult to bribe your way to a driver's licence or a national passport or any other privilege.

    We need to control the situation before it controls us.