Investigative journalist Poddala Jayantha has won this year’s Global Integrity Award. Transparency International (TI) created this prestigious award to recognise the courage and determination of individuals and organisations fighting corruption around the world.
This is the second time that a Sri Lankan won this award. The first time was when Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga won the award in its inaugural year in 2000. Both were selected on the recommendation of Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL).
Poddala Jayantha who fled the country following a brutal attack in June 2009 which permanently incapacitated him, could not attend the award ceremony held in Bangkok on Friday evening at the International Anti-Corruption Conference. The award was received by TISL Executive Director J C Weliamuna on his behalf. Over 1200 officials, activists and media personnel representing 214 Countries attended the ceremony held in Queen Sirikith National Convention Center in Bangkok.
Poddala Jayantha won the coveted National Integrity Award at the inaugural presentation by TISL in 2004 following his revelations as an investigative journalist in the ‘Silumina’. Amidst threats he investigated fearlessly into malpractices in numerous sectors including health, education and transport. Besides, there were dozens of exposes he wrote week after week that blew the lid off fraudulent job agencies, child farms and tax evasions.
The activist in Poddala Jayantha did not allow stories to be simply printed and then be forgotten. After publishing the investigative report exposing how a bogus job agency operator was collecting lakhs of rupees by hoodwinking poor job seekers on the pretext of collecting seed money, he took the initiative to file a complaint with the Fraud Bureau of Sri Lanka. This resulted in the arrest and conviction of the offender. While this special report brought threats to his physical safety, for the exceptional commitment displayed through journalistic practice to curb corruption, TISL conferred the National Integrity Award 2004 upon him.
Poddala Jayantha’s investigative report on the misappropriation of US $ 3.6 billion collected as Value Added Tax (VAT) by an organized group is considered Sri Lanka’s largest ever corruption scandal in the recent past and one of South Asia’s biggest tax scams ever to be exposed. There was a series of newspaper articles by him that systematically exposed the level of misappropriation of tax money. The first such report exposed was a speck of the full amount exposed in the subsequent articles. He openly advocated the need to bring the offenders to book and finally the law was set in motion.
As the Secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), he strived to develop the Association to fight for free expression in Sri Lanka with no holds barred. His persistence as a campaigner for media freedom eventually made him a victim of unparalleled violence. He was finally abducted by unidentified assailants and brutally assaulted.
Sergei Magnitsky, a Moscowbased lawyer whose commitment to integrity ultimately cost him his life and Greagory Ngbwa Minsta, a Gabonese activist also receive the integrity award at this year’s ceremony. The latter supported an investigation against three South African leaders who had acquired luxury properties in France.