On August 28th, Groundviews hosted a Twitter chat themed around corruption, using the hashtag #anticorruptlka. Participants included Executive Director of Transparency International, Asoka Obeysekere, Research Director at Verité Research, Gehan Gunatilleke, Chilaw Urban Councillor Jeevanee Kariyawasam, youth group Hashtag Generation and activist Mohamed Hisham. The conversation generated over one hundred tweets and a number of interesting insights on corruption.

Interrogating corruption in Sri Lanka is particularly pertinent with the recent resignation of former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ravi Karunanayake (reportedly on the President’s advice) after serious allegations were levelled against him in connection with the investigation into anomalies around the Central Bank bond issue. Karunanayake was replaced by Tilak Marapana, a move that caused concern due to his defense of the controversial Avant Garde, which was accused of corruption during former President Rajapakse’s regime. Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Harsha de Silva also recently made an emotional speech acknowledging a “widespread culture of corruption” which had the Chairman of the National Human Resource Development Council, Dinesh Weerakkody tell him he needed to be “more realistic”.

The discussion focused on the factors that perpetuate corruption in Sri Lanka, and what could be done to combat it.

From the outset, the participants spoke about how deeply corruption was embedded into current systems of governance, echoing de Silva’s words.

Almost immediately, people began sharing their own personal anecdotes:

Responses to questions on the factors perpetuating corruption all acknowledged the problem of relative impunity. This even came from within the Government.

The results of this impunity disproportionately impact marginalised communities.

There were interesting views raised on the role of political will.

Different potential solutions put forward in terms of the public sector’s role, including advocating for the use of the Right to Information Act to hold state bodies accountable.

The private sector and its complicity in buying into a corrupt system was also discussed:

Finally, the conversation moved on to steps the public could take to combat corruption.

A series of polls on Twitter which collectively had over 100 respondents showed that many did continue to pay bribes to access public services. The services chosen were based on Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer.

It was revealing that many asked for the ‘none of the above’ option – proving that a few did choose to pay the price of inconvenience.

The second round of polls showed that most of the respondents paid bribes either to the police or to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The Twitter conversation too noted this complicity, adding that the only way out was to refuse to participate in this system – even if it meant extra hassle. It was interesting too to see open discussion about the pervasiveness of corruption and the many personal anecdotes shared around the topic. Words aren’t enough. Although politicians like de Silva have spoken out forcefully about corruption, this needs to be followed through with concrete action – and recent events, such as Marapana’s re-appointment are therefore cause for deep concern.

View an interactive data visualization of the discussion here. An archive of all the tweets can be accessed here.