Justice Minister right man in the wrong job

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The more I read of or listen to, excerpts of Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s parliamentary interventions shrouded in mystery the more I am tempted to empathise with those who say that he is in the wrong vocation.

Just last week I read Justice Minister Rajapakshe’s tale to parliament of a secret plan to burn 100 houses of MPs and political leaders including those of the opposition. That was to have been on May 10 last year, the day after the arson attacks on the houses and other premises of government and pro-government politicians.

Some say that the May 9 attacks were in retaliation for the physical assaults earlier in the day on peaceable Aragalaya protesters that started opposite Temple Trees and spread all the way down Galle Face Green.

The stories about these attacks — what happened, how they happened and who made them happen– vary from armed thugs walking out of the prime ministerial abode bearing their weapons of war to them being assaulted by protesters to high-ranking police officers standing by enjoying the sea breeze while the storm troopers rolled by, as it were, continuing their fell deeds.

All seem more than somewhat confusing, reminding one of that nursery rhyme “Who Killed Cock Robin” one learnt as a child.

In the last month or so the Justice Minister has come up with two fascinating stories in parliament making one wonder whether there is a hidden streak of a story-teller buried under the sour exterior of a law enforcer determined to rid the nation of the corrupt and the money launderers, not to mention any person who even remotely seemed a prospective protester a la the proposed anti-terrorism Bill.

To those watching from a distance and not embroiled in the filthy business euphemistically labelled politics, it might seem like another episode in those never-ending teledramas that pass off as entertainment, competing with that variety show a few days each month called Our Legislature.

Except, of course, that for those back in our former home, there are elements of mystery intermingled with flights of imagination to inject regular fits of laughter into the otherwise unedifying mediocrity that passes off for parliamentary debates.

So when I read Justice Minister Rajapakshe had unveiled yet another thriller, I was not quite sure whether it was more Baron Munchausen born out of Aesop’s fables or John Le Carre’ via our long-time friend and BBC correspondent turned mystery novelist, Humphrey Hawksley, topped with a blob of ‘low grade’ self-promotion by some diplomutts, all spruced up for effect.

It was not too long ago that Minister Rajapakshe shocked the nation to its rotting political roots, so to say, with what seemed like a fairy tale of a huge amount of lucre passing to unknown hands to stop Sri Lanka from getting its due share of compensation.

It was to come from that disaster at sea which saw some kind of unnatural pearl sinking to the bottom while our legal luminaries, environmentalists, state officials, insurance agents and other assorted busy-bodies jumped into the Indian Ocean fiasco to rescue what they could.

Among them apparently were those who did not want to pay Sri Lanka its due share for turning the country’s environment and eco-system into a tragedy that would affect several generations.

While those concerned, especially about the millions of dollars owed to a cash-strapped nation, and why some legal eagles appear to be putting the brakes on legal proceedings and where to do so, up jumps Minister Rajapakshe in Parliament one day and rattles off about somebody whispering in his receptive ear, so to speak, about dirty tricks and money changing hands to stop Sri Lanka getting its just moola.

So what’s new in that, some may ask. After all it is déjà vu, hundreds of times over, no? This surely is an ingrained characteristic in our socio-political system and as old as Methuselah!

What Rajapakshe tried to do is what old Hollywood low-budget cinema producers of serial movies wished to do — leave the viewers in suspense and end the episode saying await the next thrilling one. Rajapakshe held back the name of the so-called recipient of the $250 million santhosam so he could perhaps have another field day.

A day or two later and another whisper in the ear and hey presto — the name is dangled like a freshly-minted King Charles coronation coin.

Hold on! The story is not over. Last week the same magician minister told his parliament colleagues that on May 10 last year, there was a list of 100 houses of politicians that were to be destroyed as Hitler had got done to the German Reichstag.

“We”, the media quoted Rajapakshe as saying, with obvious patriotic fervour, alerted the Defence Ministry which, acting with equally nationalistic exuberance, opened fire. Exit three miscreants, very dead.

And if Minister and Chief Government Whip Prasanna Ranatunga is to be believed (which as some might concur is a big ask) democracy was saved thanks to the tactical thinking of Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Like in his X-Press Pearl parliamentary narrative, here too the Justice Minister does not do justice to the unsatiated appetites of the Sri Lankan people for what they see as embellished narratives or tall tales. One cannot blame them. If so-called leaders cannot satisfy their stomachs, they might as well try to survive on political make-believe.

What would puzzle any average citizen who has already laid his hands on Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s magnum opus, the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which has been legally torn into more shreds in Sri Lanka and abroad than the X-Press Pearl did, is why he waited one year to break the news, if ‘news’ indeed. A 100 houses! Such a precise number too. Who prepared a list of such round figures? What happened to the list makers and why have we not heard of them? Did they too exit amidst alarums? Why no political uproar then?

Or is this more hearsay to stir up a Macbethian witches’ broth?

Perhaps someone whispered in his ear only now — like the one who told of the millions of dollars bribe. Justice, it appears, is not only grinding extremely slowly but shabbily too.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London.)



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