More draft laws, more comic opera ahead

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Last week when reference was made to a Pohottuwa MP’s slicing denigration of our cabinet of ministers — or some of them to be accurate—this column said it would refrain from any further comment on that particular issue.

To put it in perspective, Ampara MP Wimalaweera Dissanayake finally felt that he should vent his spleen on some of his colleagues now safely positioned in the cabinet and call some of them idiots.

Right now there are 22 ministers—by my last account I might add— for one cannot predict what could happen between this writing and its publication, what with threatening demands to expand the cabinet to its constitutionally permitted limit or they would quit the government and reduce President Wickremesinghe’s quivering parliamentary majority.

One reason we intended to refrain from further reference to idiots in the cabinet was hoping that MP Dissanayake in another boost to his spleen would name those whom he considered belonged to this special category or in an unexpected burst of anger decided to label them all as guilty.

Moreover, there was always the possibility that some politician of not very sound mind—surely there cannot be many like that—and anxious for some free publicity would file some motion in the Supreme Court accusing us of violating his fundamental right of being a crazy coot.

Having due consideration for the Supreme Court and the justices of the apex court already burdened with work as bemoaned (if that is the appropriate word that would not cause consternation among our learned justices) by Justice Priyantha Jayawardena in his keynote address to the National Law Conference at Nuwara Eliya recently, one thought it unfair to add another fundamental rights case because some aggrieved MP disapproved of the intelligence
quotient assigned to them or the thinking capabilities of a cabinet minister.

But the more one reads of, or views on television or YouTube, some of the happenings and doings in our Resplendent Isle, the more one wonders why MP Dissanayake’s disparagement was limited to some odd bods in the cabinet.

Admittedly in recent years the composition of our cabinet hardly approximated the conventicles of Socrates and the more cabinets we have, the less that agglomeration of the country’s rulers would respect democracy and have heard of human rights, let alone Socrates.

To the Ampara district MP his grouse is with some unnamed ministers which is why he misses the larger picture. Leave the cabinet alone; there are far more idiots outside it.

That is not to say they are all the same when it comes to assessing their intellectual worth. Some are more concerned with what more they can scrape from the gravy pot before President Wickremesinghe, unable to stand any more Pohottuwa threats might, in a pique of anger, dissolve parliament before five years costing them their pension.

But then how many of them are really worthy of their daily attendance allowance when little attention is paid to what is discussed in the House by the Oya or even read the draft laws that account for some ludicrous content?

Just last week I was listening to an exchange in parliament between the Public Security Minister Tiran Alles and Tamil Member Gajendran Ponnambalam over the latter’s arrest by the police. The police have done nothing wrong said the minister obviously hurt that such a publicly respected and universally applauded guardian of law and order should be chastised for doing something untoward as arresting a person for no valid reason such as demanding the identity card of a person claiming to be a policeman.

Obviously, that is not the thing to demand of an intelligent and not-so-intelligent officer given that the streets and every nook and crevice are filled with such persons in search of university students, trade unionists, terrorists and stand-up comedians when there are so many such persons standing up whenever they wish to speak.

Take the case of that domestic worker who died while in police custody just recently. Her detention might not have been recorded but see how promptly and with admirable prescience the authorities acted transferring the OIC from Welikada to another station.

But there are idiots outside this charmed circle that keep their heads below the parapet, so to say. They are the ‘experts’ who drafted several bills, some of which drew strictures from the country’s highest courts for their crass incompetence.

The Supreme Court found that several provisions of the new Monetary Law draft called Central Bank Bill for convenience, to be “capricious and arbitrary” and against the constitution.

Space limitations restrict any further quotes from judgments relating to them. But there are other drafts floating around that suggest the drafters knew little about drafting laws and/or knowledge of the subject they have delved into, like some stupid jumping into the deep end of a pool without knowing how to swim.

Recent examples of such ineptitude and ignorance are the Anti-Terrorism Bill, Anti-Corruption Bill  and the Broadcast Authority Bill and the seeming drift in the new labour laws spearheaded by a Labour Minister who is too clever by half.

His intention appears to be to tame the trade unions and prepare them for sacrifice to please the IMF in a Faustian deal and help crony capitalists whose malodorous repercussions are yet to be felt.

The latest example is the Broadcast Bill that smells of the dirty hands of state officials who have served in state institutions such as the Information Department or the Media Ministry and are intent on imposing the kind of control and censorship they were accustomed to against state media institutions and has as much knowledge of mass media as their capability to spell it.

The result is a third-rate draft bill prepared by poor-quality administrators, intent on paying obeisance to the president by laying all the powers at the feet of His Excellency and reducing the broadcast media to a shivering caricature of what Singapore was when Lee Kuan Yew was monarch of everything.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe sits there virtually washing his hands off these drafting tragi-comedies saying, at various times, they are “just proposals”, “open for public discussion and views”, “still nothing is decided” and other sweet talks.

Now that we are waiting for the Americans to flood the place succeeding the Chinese and Ambassador Julie Chung is trying out her bulgogi recipe, perhaps Minister Rajapakshe can tell all this to the Marines when they land.

(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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