Many people are concerned by both the rising crime rate and the high level of corruption but may not realise that these problems are linked, and that the electoral system has built in incentives that foster both corruption and crime.
When large sums of money need to be spent to enter politics, (a presidential campaign can cost Rs.1bn) it tends to create two problems:
1. People entering office need to recover the money spent and therefore have an inbuilt incentive to corruption.
2. Campaign finances are raised from many sources and the politician is under obligation to the financiers. This creates further incentives for corruption. The most dangerous situation is when organised criminals finance politicians, this leads to a breakdown of law and order which can eventually result in the failure of the state.
Sri Lanka is already on this dangerous path, the following are some measures that can correct the problem.
1. Do away with proportional representation and revert to a first-part the post system. This will give clear working majorities to winning parties and prevent them being held hostage to minorities like the JVP/JHU/CWC.
2. Do away with preferential votes for individuals; a vote is only made to the party. The party thus needs to run just one campaign for each district; individuals need not run their own campaigns. This reduces the expense of running election campaigns and removes the need for individual politicians to raise campaign finance-and thus be under obligation to the financiers.
3. Strict spending limits on election campaigns. An elections commission to monitor spending by each party and details of spending to be made public. Scrutiny by rival parties and the public is the best way of ensuring spending stays within limits. The spending limit should be set at a low level and strictly enforced; exceeding the limit should result in disqualification. This cuts the need for finance and reduces the incentive for corruption.
4. Each potential candidate needs to declare his assets and produce a tax clearance certificate from the Inland Revenue prior to standing for office. Annual declarations to be made while in office.
5. The bribery law be amended that evidence of living beyond ones declared means may be taken as evidence of corruption.
6. Details of campaign finance, giving names of individuals/organisations financing political parties also needs to be made public.
None of these are easy measures to implement, but it is necessary that the fight against corruption starts at the top and starts early, before goodwill is lost.
From a broader, national point of view, it can prevent the country from sinking to a failed state in a morass of corruption.