Building a culture of integrity to combat corruption | Daily News

Building a culture of integrity to combat corruption

Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) recently said that a National Action Plan to combat corruption in Sri Lanka has been prepared. He added that the Plan will also look into amending laws as well as introducing a corruption prevention programme.

It was a long felt need and the right-thinking citizens will welcome the move.

Just about a year ago, Director General of CIABOC, answering a question raised by an interviewer said,

“The most effective tool to control bribery and corruption in our country is to give wide publicity to convictions. In addition, we must create an environment in our state institutions that bribing is not necessary for the public to give gratuities to get an official and lawful service from officials.”

“Above all, we must put more emphasis to create a culture that grows in the minds of people that bribery and corruption is a crime, a disease and social evil that goes against all civilized and democratic norms of a country. They must realize that it is a social stigma and compromises the dignity of the giver and taker of the bribe.”


He further quoted Bhutan as an example to follow. According to Bhutan Corruption Report- 2018 – issued by Transparency International, its rank is 25 out of 180 countries and their overall score is 68%.

Transparency International in their 2018 report, has placed Sri Lanka in a rank of 89 out of 180 and 38% in overall score. Compared with Bhutan, Sri Lanka definitely cannot be happy with its results of anti-corruption programme.

In the wake of the much-publicized corruption scandals, the majority of the public have now identified five adverse effects on the social, political and economic fields: erosion of the public confidence in political institutions, distortion of the allocation of resources, inflation of the expenditure on public procurement and undermining of competition in the market place. These are serious issues.

In business point of view, corruption has created a devastating effect on investment in foreign and local both. Moreover, with weak administrative and political institutions, corruption is slowly beginning to become systemic. The public support for essential macro-economic reforms is jeopardized when corrupt officials ignore the rule of law in favour of ad hoc “special” deals.


When a common citizen studies the relevant statistics and reads and watches the day-to-day news coverages, it’s no surprise he (or she) might question whether we are already losing our fight against corruption. It is certainly not for lack of effort or effectiveness, but for many other reasons.

Today, fighting corruption is not easy. It has become a multifaceted social phenomenon that has already penetrated horizontally and vertically in every aspect of the society. There are extensive efforts within governmental and non-governmental organisations to fight corruption but the outcome does not meet the public expectations. On and off, new laws are introduced.

But laws alone will not change citizen behaviour. All citizens must remain involved if the laws, regulations, conventions, and other reforms are to prove effective. They must foster a continued change in attitude and take advantage of today’s window of opportunity to achieve practical results. In essence, we need to create a culture of integrity.


A culture of integrity can only be built, fostered and developed through the comprehensive education of the younger generation. Such wisdom is not to be found on the top of the graduate school mountain, but in the sandpile at elementary school. That is where the education authorities have a role to play.

The efforts should not be limited to young people. Senior public servants, political leaders and private-sector actors – individually and collectively – need to be educated. It is the first step towards establishing and strengthening a culture of integrity. The final outcome should be a high-quality service delivery and professional performance standards, treating individuals with respect and dignity, and – above all else – playing by the same rules of fairness, honesty and integrity.

Corrupt culture

A few days ago, I asked a young political science graduate about her opinion of the country's corruption crisis. “Most Sri Lankans believe that corruption has already become a part of our culture,” she said, “and without a big cultural change, we will never be able to fight it because the culture itself is now corrupted”. She was voicing the concern of the average Sri Lankan.

But there is another side of the story. People frequently condemn corruption and its consequences as immoral and socially ruinous, yet they also participate in seemingly contradictory behaviours that enable, encourage, and even glorify it. The same people while condemning corruption in the morning, pay a bribe to get a much-needed service in the afternoon, and then in the evening complain that nothing can be done because corruption has become part of their culture.

When people complain about corrupted cultures, they have in mind the shared values, beliefs, and norms of a group of people. In fact, cultures are not merely customs to which people have a sentimental attachment or badges of “identity.” Cultures are particular ways of accomplishing the things that make life possible - the continuation and preservation of the particular segment of the people, the transmission of knowledge to them, the absorption of the shocks of change and death, among other things.

Cultures differ in the relative significance they attach to time, noise, safety, cleanliness, violence, thrift, ethics, intellect, sex, and art. These differences in turn imply differences in social choice, economic efficiency, and political stability. A culture begins to get corrupted when traditional cultural ideals are neglected and scorned, and instead, greed is introduced and elevated. Therefore, it is obvious that without a complete change in culture (a reappraisal of values, a new mentality, a conversion experience), the standard approaches to and remedies for corruption (including laws and punishment) will flounder.

Social and political leaders can play a critical role in fostering citizens’ well-being and are ideally positioned to help them manage their problems and achieve their goals. Political leaders, however, are typically endowed with power, and power can corrupt. If they get tempted to use their power in self-serving ways, instead of wielding their power for the greater good, then the whole exercise will fail.


Also, corruption depends not only on ethical values; but on calculations of risk and reward. Autocratic power enables greater rewards and probably fewer risks. Accountability, in the sense of both information about actions and results and incentives linked to them, increases the risks and reduces the rewards. In autocratic power situation, corruption increases and in accountability situation corruption decreases.

Understanding this basic “theory,” the developed countries have created a variety of policies and institutions to mitigate corruption. Policies include the competitive elections, merit systems to evaluate political representatives and public officers, separation of powers, competitive procurement, independent auditors, and many more.

And, there are politically independent institutions to implement the policies: Election Commissions, Public Service Commissions, Judicial-legislative oversight systems, procurement boards, internal and external auditors (including supreme audit authorities), prosecutors, police, and many more. E-government and automation enter, too, as methods of reducing discretion and enhancing accountability.

Variations in corruption across countries can be partly understood in terms of the quality of such policies and institutions - and the gap between the laws and policies on the books and their implementation in practice. The efficiency of public institutions is in turn is correlated with a variety of variables, including levels of education and measured intelligence. When abilities to process information are weak, corruption arises in government.

For the fight against corruption to succeed, it is essential that all these initiatives receive sustained political commitment and the involvement of public and non-government organisations to play their roles well. 


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