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Pathfinder hosts third ‘Dialogue with Diplomats’ in Colombo

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Pathfinder Foundation (PF) hosted its third ‘Dialogue with Diplomats’ in Colombo and deliberated on the topic ‘Role of the Donor Community in Promoting Good Governance and Curbing Corruption in Sri Lanka’.

The Pathfinder ‘Dialogue with Diplomats’ focused on significant contemporary issues as Sri Lanka’s position has declined considerably in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived.

The discussion highlighted that corruption is considered a major problem in the country at all levels of society. Corruption weakens, if not destroys, good governance by eroding the citizenry’s trust.

The eminent panel consisted of Dr. Nishan de Mel, Executive Director, Verité Research, as the Lead Presenter with Nadishani Perera, Executive Director, Transparency International Sri Lanka; Subhashini Abeysinghe, Research Director, Verité Research and Bernard Goonetilleke, Chairman, Pathfinder Foundation functioning as Discussants.

The participants at this event ranged from representatives of the Colombo-based diplomatic community, international donor agencies, senior government officials, think tanks, NGOs and private sector members.

A request made to the donor community was to go beyond the usual framework and to request strong anti-corruption measures and accountability as essential conditions for the disbursement of financial aid such as loans and grants. While understanding that the international community represented by diplomats is challenged due to the necessity to balance geopolitics, they were requested to consider this issue from a civil society and public perspective.

Pathfinder ‘Dialogue with Diplomats’ further highlighted that the donor community, including institutions and development agencies, can significantly contribute towards combating corruption and improving governance in the disbursement of official development assistance (ODAs) to Sri Lanka by focusing support on initiatives that make information publicly available, transparency of government actions, and promoting the democratic accountability of the public sector.

In this regard, it was suggested that the donor community change the approach of ODA to (a) focus on rewarding end outcomes rather than processes towards such, when directly supporting the government, (b) Support and leverage non-governmental institutions that make government actions visible, comprehensible and accountable to society (c) Use the IMF and Civil Society governance diagnostics as guides to prioritizing assistance towards improving governance. (d) Take care not to substitute (or detract from) the democratic accountability of the government by the ODA positioning itself to deliver the outcomes on behalf of the government – as has often occurred in the past.

The presentations made by the panel and ensuing discussion highlighted several concerns and suggested important areas for consideration by the donor community when providing assistance and engaging with governments. The fact that less transparent processes in procurement are part of the corrupt system as direct perpetrators or enablers have made corruption a deep-rooted problem, ultimately worsening and undermining development efforts by misusing funds. A disturbing fact highlighted was that there has been no change in widespread corruption even with successive governments, as the malady has spread across political parties and the bureaucracy.

During the discussion of the Pathfinder ‘Dialogue with Diplomats’ that followed, it was mentioned that transparent procurement processes concerning donor assistance were a requirement of the IMF. Therefore, such information is available on relevant websites.

It was further highlighted that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) set of guidelines could be used by the donor community to address disbursement and combat misuse of funds. Furthermore, it was suggested that international agencies should think strategically when dealing with their local counterparts, careful of being leveraged in a way that could facilitate corrupt systems bypassing accountability.

An area specifically highlighted was Sri Lanka’s lagging in implementing WTO Trade Facilitation commitments related to custom modernization and cross-border formalities and procedures, where there are high levels of corruption, which creates a force against proper reforms, therefore demanding accountability and conditionality when assisting or restructuring is mandatory. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, which has the competency to address economic crimes, was noted as a platform where citizens could complain about corruption if needed.

The event was the third in a Dialogue with the Diplomatic Community series organized by the Pathfinder Foundation. The first event held in 2022 focused on the Privatization of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in Sri Lanka, and the second dialogue on the ‘Timing of Next Local Government/Presidential Elections and their implications on the Society and Economy’, was held in August 2023.

The PF intends to continue such dialogues, allowing the diplomatic community to discuss crucial issues faced by the country while allowing them to exchange views with individuals and representatives of local institutions that deliberate on issues confronting the country.

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