Looking for honest and courageous people in today’s Sri Lanka: NIA 2010

From aspiration to reality...looking for honest people who stand their ground

Sri Lanka’s National Integrity Award ceremony 2010 was held at BMICH, Colombo, on 9 December evening. This marked the culmination of weeks of work in reviewing nominations and verifying information. I was part of the three-member independent award committee that chose the winners.

The occasion was both solemn and quietly inspiring. It was telling that the winner of this year’s award has been dead for nine years – killed for being honest and forthright in his work.

The late Sujith Prasanna Perera, a former Assistant Superintendent of Customs, paid the price with his life standing up against corruption and promoting integrity in his own department. It was a moving moment when the wife accepted the award from my Nepali friend Kanak Mani Dixit, who was chief guest.

The audience stood up and observed two minutes silence as a mark of respect. Some people who never knew the winner in person were in tears.

Angela Perera, wife of late Sujith Prasanna Perera, receives the award from Kanak Dixit

A Maulavi (Muslim priest) from Kinniya in the Eastern Province, M Y Hathiyathullah won recognition with a Special Mention for his active involvement in anti-corruption activities.

My fellow judges were Dr Rohan Samarajiva and Dr Selvy Thiruchandran. On behalf of the award committee, I read out a statement that explained the process of selecting winners, and our observations. Here are the last four paras, where we touch on the wider challenges in promoting integrity and transparency:

“Having studied this year’s nominations, we feel that more work needs to done to enhance the public understanding of corruption. This cancer is not limited to isolated acts of bribery or influence peddling or subverting the rules. Indeed, these are merely the tip of the iceberg — and there are many other ways in which corruption and mal-governance erode our entire social fabric. When people can better recognise the many ugly heads and tentacles of corruption, we hope it would motivate more public-spirited individuals to counter them.

“In our view, the various legal, regulatory and other structural arrangements are all necessary – but not sufficient – to combat corruption. Corruption is deep rooted in human greed. The temptations and opportunities for corruption are greater today than ever before. Faced with these stark realities, we must find the bulwark of resistance in our individual and collective values.

“In the end, the journey to a cleaner, honest and more equitable society begins with each one of us – the man or woman in the mirror. Each one of us is corruptible. At the same time, each one of us also has the potential to counter corruption. In this era of mobile phones and WikiLeaks, the opportunities are only limited by our courage and imagination. No act is too small or too insignificant. And silently looking away is not an option.

“I would like to end by quoting the Malaysian social activist Anwar Fazal, whose words sum up what the National Integrity Award is all about. Begin quote ‘In a world that is increasingly violent, wasteful and manipulative, every effort at developing islands of integrity, wells of hope and sparks of action must be welcomed, multiplied and linked…’ End quote”

Read full statement on TISL website

Nalaka Gunawardene speaks at National Integrity Awards ceremony 9 Dec 2010