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Reform Space to Watch: Strengthening Governance in Sri Lanka

Christina Socci|

This series was written in consultation with the Transparency International chapters in each country. The reforms described in this series build on priority areas identified in the 2022 Broken Links report, which was written with the support of the Global Data Barometer (GDB) and the Data for Development Network, based on GDB’s survey data.

Sri Lanka is striving toward economic recovery after the unprecedented economic crisis that was fueled by a governance crisis. In March 2023, the Sri Lankan government entered into an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout of US $3 billion. The current government’s challenge will be to implement open government reforms that, at a minimum, meet the IMF’s governance conditions and ideally go further to mitigate corruption risks. To do so, the government must adopt and implement new policies to promote integrity, eliminate corruption and corruption vulnerabilities, collaborate with civil society, and learn from the innovations of other countries. 

Starting from the people’s uprising last year, there is mounting pressure from all sides to reform the country’s governance structure.

The IMF released a Governance Diagnostic Assessment in late September 2023 to analyze “governance weaknesses and corruption vulnerabilities” that represent obstacles to economic recovery. Sri Lanka’s case is among the first instances that the IMF has included governance reforms as a condition of debt restructuring.

Just as importantly, a group of civil society organizations, led by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), released a governance diagnostic report, which is referenced in the IMF report. TISL has played a critical role in advocating for open government reforms aligned with OGP values, including progress on ensuring the right to information (RTI) and increasing political finance transparency. We take a look at the current state of the reforms and opportunities for further action below:


  • The passage of the RTI law in 2016 represented a major achievement for Sri Lanka, with the Centre for Law and Democracy finding that the country’s RTI law was the best in the region, and the fourth best in the world. The government of Sri Lanka can build on the strength of its legal framework by ensuring the public can access and use RTI data. Here is a closer look at the opportunities in two areas:  
    • Raising awareness: In recent times, TISL and other civil society organizations have worked with the Ministry of Mass Media, the agency in charge of RTI, to develop a strategy to raise awareness of this right and how to access it among the public. While access remains a challenge in terms of national-level data, outreach at the local level has seen positive results. These efforts need to be further expanded, including by providing the public with the tools to request and understand the data at national and local levels. 
    • Proactive disclosure: Like many modern RTI laws, Sri Lanka’s law sets out basic information which should be made available proactively. The Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees about 70 percent of all public institutions in Sri Lanka, now needs to shift current RTI practices from the reactive disclosure of data (where information is provided when a request is made) to the proactive disclosure of data (where information is provided without a request being made). 


  • The government passed a campaign finance regulation law in January 2023, called the Regulation of Election Expenditure Act. The act creates a process for the Election Commission to set expenditure limits for political parties, independent groups, and candidates and to collect information on all expenditures and donations received. The act also prohibits certain sources of cash and in-kind donations, such as from foreign companies and international organizations. Though the government published the law without consulting civil society, its passage nonetheless represents a starting point for reform.
  • It is important now to turn to full implementation of the law. This would include creating a tool to track campaign finance donations and expenditures, launching a website to present the data, and supporting the work of the commission to oversee implementation of the law and to identify misconduct, in collaboration with civil society. 

The challenges facing the government of Sri Lanka are considerable but they are solvable. Fully implementing the laws on anti-corruption, right to information, and campaign finance can help build momentum to address the other governance and corruption vulnerabilities identified in the IMF and civil society assessments. The government of Sri Lanka can also leverage its membership in OGP to address its vulnerabilities in navigating the current crisis, gaining public trust, and building a strong foundation to prevent future crises. Ensuring that future reforms fulfill the open government principles of transparency, participation, and public accountability is key to accomplishing this goal.  

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