Why Lanka is still paradise to Govt MPs and public officials
On August 9, a former chairman of the now-defunct Kankesanthurai Cement Factory (KKS) Gamini Ekanayaka made a complaint against State Minister of Primary Industries Chamara Sampath Dassanayake.
In his complaint to the CID, he alleged that Chamara Sampath was behind the theft of 22 million iron ore worth hundreds of millions at the factory premises.
The following day State Minister Chamara Sampath told Parliament that if the charges can be proved, he’ll willingly surrender to the CID, and pleaded with the Deputy Speaker to grant permission to the CID to arrest him, since ‘the Speaker’s permission was necessary to arrest a parliamentarian.’
The Deputy Speaker of Parliament SLPP’s Ajith Rajapaksa, who was the Chair in the absence of the Speaker said that since Chamara Sampath was willing to surrender ‘the Police can arrest him any time’.
What’s the rush? No need for Chamara Sampath to rush to get handcuffed and thrown into the slammer. The police, after they have investigated the complaint and come to a finding of prima facie guilt, will do the needful. It’s pointless to storm the police station and demand to be arrested the day after the complaint is made when the inquiring officers haven’t even gone through the allegations yet, and sometimes never will.
The arrest will come later if the initial assumption of innocence is shattered when gathered evidence proves the assumed innocent is guilty as hell.
But the police — despite the false belief held by certain ignorant parliamentarians as was revealed on August 10, that the Speaker or Deputy Speaker’s consent must first be obtained for their arrests — do not need to first seek the mandatory permission of the Speaker or that of his Deputy to arrest a Minister or MP on sight.
Perhaps, the immunity granted to MPs to pillory their foes with scurrilous defamatory blasts within the sanctified air of the Parliament without fearing legal reprisals for anything said though false and however malicious against those outside Parliament, may have fed the belief they are immune to police arrests for criminal offenses too.
Especially when they have never seen in living memory, a single member of their ilk arrested, whatever they do.
But it’s unfair to blame politicians alone for their conditioned ‘sacred cow’ mentalities. The same ‘untouchables’ syndrome seems to have struck down the entire police force and retarded their brains and rendered them unable to move a muscle against MPs however clear their guilt.
Take the infamous case of Lohan Ratwatte, the then State Minister of Prisons. His midnight break-in to the Anuradhapura jail in a drunken state in September two years ago where he had held his gun against the trembling heads of kneeling PTA detainees had provoked a storm of protests. Demand was made that an immediate investigation be launched and that court action be instituted to bring the offending Minister to justice.
Despite Lohan resigning from the prison ministry, he, however, continued to hold government office as State Minister for Gems and Jewellery. He is presently the State Minister of Plantation Industries, having been sworn in by President Wickremesinghe on September 8 last year.
But his resignation alone as Prison Minister couldn’t muffle international uproar. The Cabinet appointed a committee headed by retired High Court judge Kusala Weerawardena to probe the prison incident. But the findings of the report were not released to the public. It remained suppressed until the Centre for Society and Religion (CSR) made an RTI application on September 20, 2022 to the Justice Ministry requesting its release.
The request was denied by the ministry on September 30 last year on the basis that the report was ordered by the Cabinet. The ministry said it was forwarded to the cabinet but there had been no response.
The CSR appealed to the RTI Commission. The Commission directed the Justice Ministry to release the report and threatened legal action if it failed to do so. Thereafter, the ministry released the report.
On June 11, the Center for Society and Religion reacted to the damning report and issued a blistering statement urging the Attorney General to take immediate action against Lohan Ratwatte based on the Justice Ministry’s Committee report, and stated the report contained ‘credible evidence of attempted murder, illegal acts, and human rights violations committed by Ratwatte during his visits to Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons in September 2021.’
SLPP Secretary Sagala Kariyawasam who thrives on defending the indefensible, sought refuge in the hackneyed legal maxim and exclaimed: ‘All are innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.’
As Christians would say: ‘The devil quotes the biblical scriptures when it suits.’
But how can the police take a suspected MP to a court of law in even a clear ‘open and shut’ case, when they themselves lie struck inert by the ‘untouchable MPs’ syndrome to prove anyone’s guilt that had prevented them from taking the initiative in enforcing the law and following the due process impartially since the dark ten-year rule of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime when in those halcyon days, he, as local pontiff with omnipotence, safeguarded his devoted flock and ‘shaped’ the wayward that went astray.
The police enjoyed a brief five-year respite from the syndrome but seem to have suffered a relapse with the return of the regime in 2020 with a record-breaking 6.9 million votes and a two-thirds majority which enabled the syndrome to linger on.
The ‘sacred cow’ syndrome seemed evident when TV Derana’s newspaper ‘The Morning’ asked the Police as to why the recommendations made by the one-woman committee that probed the ‘Lohan Ratwatte Prison Break-in Affair’ had still not been implemented since the police have failed to file a B-report listing out the charges against the Minister at the Anuradhapura’s Magistrate’s Court.
The answer the newspaper got from the Police Media Spokesman, Senior Superintendent of Police, Attorney-at-Law Nihal Thalduwa and published this Friday was: ‘This committee has made recommendations, but the relevant party that appointed the committee should decide whether or not to implement them.’
Apart from any cabinet-appointed committee’s findings, didn’t the police investigate a midnight prison break-in attendant with violence and come to their own conclusions? If they did, as they ought to have done, did they find no proof to show the Minister had committed any criminal act, even though the alleged act of him holding a gun to a prisoner’s head was witnessed by jail guards and scores of prisoners? Did they present their dossier of evidence to the Attorney General and seek his advice whether or not to prosecute?
Would they have still awaited cabinet orders to prosecute had that midnight’s frenzied events, led, God forbid, to a prisoner’s murder? Does the police inertia turn due process to an undue process?
Even public officials are not immune to the syndrome that make them think they’re immune to arrest and jail if they misuse public funds.
After the Auditor General had released his draft report on the national cricket teams’ Australian tour for the T20 World Cup last year where it was alleged that the Cricket Board had used millions of its public funds to purchase travel fares to a host of film actresses and family members of its executive staff to tag along, the Cricket Board Chairman Shammi De Silva angrily denied the charge.
He said: ‘Yes, we gave letters for Australian Visas to certain actresses and celebrities but we did not spend a cent on their travel. If these allegations that I misused Cricket Board funds are proved, I will resign’.
Resign? If charges of abusing public funds are proved he will be arrested and jailed.
Until this demon syndrome is exorcised from the body politic by executive action, Sri Lanka will still be a paradise to government MPs, the influential rich and the politically well-connected public officials and a living hell to the rest.
On whose side is Moragoda batting on his Indian tour?
Modi couldn’t have wished for a better PR man to plug his ‘dream’ bridge than the Lankan High Commissioner to India
As even long Indian summers must come to an end, so must the last days of the Pukka Sahib lifestyle of Sri Lanka’s man in New Delhi come to a close.
Milinda Moragoda, the non-career political appointee of Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the post of High Commissioner in India, announced that he will be returning soon after a two-year innings at the post.
Before he had assumed his duties as High Commissioner designate on August 30, 2021 he had that same month presented his own 27-page ‘Integrated Country Strategy (ICS) for Sri Lanka Diplomatic Missions in India’ where he stressed the importance of connectivity between the two countries.
Perhaps to implement his ideas he had demanded from the President cabinet ranking and plenipotentiary powers, the special power the old viceroys of India had to act in the sovereign‘s name and take decisions on their own accord. Though he appeared to be blessed with both, a Sunday Times’ right to information application revealed in October 2021 that no cabinet rank had been given to him.
Now it turns out a sigh must be exhaled in great relief that pomp and power both had been denied. But it has not still served to dampen his spirit nor to curb his tendency to champion issues which have still not received an official warrant and to shout his mouth off as if he was echoing the voice of all Lanka.
In an interview with the ‘Hindu’ on July 30, where he had lobbied with such gusto for Hanuman’s monkey bridge between Lanka and India far more fervently than the Indians had done for their proposal, left many wondering if Moragoda had exceeded his diplomatic brief; or whether he had – as the old British colonists in India used to say of some fellow countrymen’s quirky behaviour – gone completely native. Had something in the soil or air made him go Indian, way too far for Lanka’s own interests?
Whereas the Indian Prime Minister Modi expressed the poetic aspirations of an Indian nationalist poet and based his slushy case on India’s emotional need to get ‘physical’ – far too close for Lanka’s comfort – Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner attempts to bolster and add substance to Modi’s romantic dream with a junk of economic facts and figures, economic forecasts and grandiose economic hopes to support the Indian case to rebuild the bridge that once had been the stepping stone to conquer Ravana’s island, Lanka.
Last September he told the ‘Indian Express’ that Sri Lanka was looking for integration with India to develop itself into an energy, electricity and tourism hub which was well within his diplomatic brief. Last month he told the ‘Hindu’ that land connectivity was essential for the growth of ties between India and its neighbouring country and that ‘if Sri Lanka is looking at this idea of piggybacking on India’s growth story we have to have bridge connectivity,’ which was well outside his diplomatic ambit.
Furthermore, he had said in his flight of fancy that such a special partnership would lead to the expansion of Sri Lanka’s footprint in India.
Sri Lanka’s Lilliputian footprint will be one tiny speck on the vast Indian mainland, while India’s reciprocal footprint – the collective weight of 3 billion Indian feet – will stamp Lanka out of her existence, and leave her national identity submerged in the Indian Ocean.
As for Moragoda’s assertion that a direct bridge will facilitate a significant Lankan economic presence in an Indian market of 1.5 billion people, will not the opposite be true should the Indian juggernaut of private capital and enterprise roll down on the carpeted road on the Indian Bridge to overrun the feeble competition and command for itself a monopolistic economic presence in Lanka?
What the High Commissioner, while he drools over the prospect of a connective bridge, conveniently has ignored is the threat to Lanka’s sovereignty and national security. The Indian Ocean moat that surrounds the Lankan isle has been, is and will be this nation’s best defence against a quick invasion by India to realise her inspired dream of making Lanka the 29th pranth of India.
As even the Hawaiian Isles – 2000 miles away from the USA – became the 50th state of America in 1959, Moragoda’s blueprint, which does naught else but champion complete integration with India with a bridge link, will only serve to expedite Modi’s chartered course to bring Lanka under India’s thumb.
Doesn’t the Lankan diplomatic code for this politically appointed High Commissioner specify that he should not blow his diplomatic trumpet to promote his own hobbyhorse but use it only to echo in suave diplomatic jargon his master Lanka’s sovereign voice alone?
Now when stumps are drawn and this dual American citizen’s long two-year innings at the crease have finally dragged to an end, his recent utterances made as the Lankan High Commissioner promoting, with no holds barred, the Indian line of rebuilding Hanuman’s bridge to Lanka, the nation asks Moragoda the question: On whose side were you batting on Indian turf?