Following the surprising defeat of Sri Lanka’s long-serving president in 2014, the new administration, led by President Maithripala Sirisena, set out to tackle the deeply entrenched corruption that had plagued his predecessor’s repressive regime and robbed the state of millions of dollars. The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) immediately recognized the essential role of the legal profession and civil society in sustaining ongoing pressure for reform, monitoring implementation of the government’s 100-day plan for reform and the U.N. Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and ensuring that anti-corruption initiatives do not fall prey to the same influences they seek to eliminate.
To that end, ABA ROLI and BASL assembled a diverse array of stakeholders from the legal profession, government, civil society and the U.N. for a High Level Dialogue on Combatting Corruption in April 2016. At the dialogue, 63 participants attended sessions led by Sri Lanka’s Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), BASL and ABA ROLI. They learned about and discussed the recommendations from Sri Lanka’s recent UNCAC implementation review and international best practices, identified concrete steps to enhance and advance anti-corruption measures within the government and promoted engagement and collaboration between civil society and government in anti-corruption efforts. Participants considered the practical challenges of UNCAC implementation and good practices for effective implementation of its provisions. For example, participants discussed the need for investigations of serious cases of fraud and corruption to include not only police investigators, but also forensic accountants, forensic auditors, digital forensic experts, lawyers and CIABOC.
As a rare opportunity for inter-agency and civil society to engage each other on the issue, the dialogue served as a platform to enhance strategic partnerships and alliances between the government, public sector and civil society organizations committed to preventing and combatting corruption. The participants were unaccustomed to collegiate debate on major policy reforms yet nonetheless engaged in attentive and positive discussions focused on how civil society and government could build upon their fledgling partnership. J. C. Weliamuna AAL, the chairman of the Presidential Task Force Recovery of Proceeds of Crime said that there is a need for “a collective understanding of anti-corruption, … It is not only a fight of lawyers. Lawyers need to realize that we need to walk along with others, … This is a first step, and we should collectively think about how we could go ahead.”
The dialogue resulted in a range of recommendations in five key areas: constitutional, legal, judicial, institutional and civil society reforms. On the final day, the participants divided into three working groups to map-out action plans as the first step in a benchmarking exercise on the three identified priorities: policy and legal reform; the creation of a joint-agency integrity group; and prevention of fraud and corruption by the role played by civil society organizations and private enterprise. Based on these three clear priorities, BASL agreed to work with participants on the subsequent Benchmarking Practicum.
At the end of the event, Yasantha Kodagoda, PC, Additional Solicitor General, said, “These two and a half days in my view signal the dawn of a new era for the BASL. … BASL is involved in social reform in the areas of the administration of justice and rule of law and democracy. As such we felt it important to involve ourselves in law enforcement and criminal justice responses to corruption. We saw in the past two days how well the state and civil society could partner and collaborate if they so wished.”
To learn more about our work in Sri Lanka, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at firstname.lastname@example.org.