Protect Independence Of Independent Commissions

Sunday Leader Editorial

Most political analysts are still wondering about the reasons behind the outburst of the usually staid and placid President Maithripala Sirisena on the three key investigative organisations probing political and financial crimes and bribery and corruption – the FCID, CID and the Bribery Commission.

This outburst sent a strong political tremor that hit the bottom of the piles propping up the political edifice of the Yahapalanaya government and its aftershocks were being felt throughout the week.

President Sirisena is not known for exuberant and violent rhetoric and his serious political statements have been delivered in calm and measured tones. He would have well anticipated its impact on the UNP, without whose support his presidential victory would not have been possible. Thus, was this a warning – a shot across the bows – as said in naval lingo – or is as some pro Rajapaksa political jackals anticipate, the parting of ways of the Yahapalanaya.

Cabinet spokesman and Health Minister, Rajitha Senaratne, claiming that the President had not been correctly reported, said: What the President said was that this government would not explode as expected by the Joint Opposition. The President had also said that those who dream of remaining in power until ‘nirvana’, even after they were rejected by the people, would not survive in politics any longer’.

This statement may erase doubts about any possible political intentions of President Sirisena teaming up with his former leader. But what made him come out with all guns firing against the three investigating institutions whose officials come under his aegis?

As Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, was he infuriated to see the former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and three former Navy Chiefs hauled before courts? Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka could give a contrasting manner in which he was tried by a military court. Highly qualified professionals and those holding high office are now not usually treated in a manner befitting of their status in present times.

Whether the three persons deserved better recognition and treatment is for the courts to decide.

Some have argued that such treatment accorded to the former defence secretary and the navy chiefs would adversely affect the morale of the services. This is a claim made by armed services quite often when the conduct of their personnel is brought into question in public. While the morale of an armed service could be adversely affected in many ways, it is the responsibility of the commanders of such forces to take effective action. The morale of other professional services too may suffer under such circumstances but no such claims for protection are made.

Equality before the law is an essential requirement of the 21st Century. Chief Justices have been sacked and Supreme Court Judges charged with murder.

Equally or even more important is the impact of President Sirisena’s allegations of political bias on members of the Independent Commissions whose intrepid investigators have been endeavouring to bring killers to justice and star class racketeers milking the finances of an impoverished country.

These officials are doing the unenviable task of investigating some of those who had earlier been their powerful superiors. It takes great courage and commitment to grill former bosses on their past decisions and conduct and file reports on them. President Sirisena, chiefs of Three Forces and Police should endeavour and assure them of legal protection against retaliation by anyone in the future.

What is to be noted is that these investigations provide a landmark in criminal and fraudulent probes. The numbers may not be that great but those who have been called into question are top notch politicos alleged to have abused their power killing those who were a threat to their criminal activities such as journalists and widespread abuse of power using their office to rake in millions with deals, the typical crony capitalist way.

Million or Billion dollar contracts for high rise projects, creating communication institutes such as TV stations with no visible sources income, plantations in the suburbs with classy bungalows now having no claimants because funds required to purchase properties cannot be accounted for and valuable real estate in the provinces which are also devoid of owners because their well known owners cannot account for the funds with which the properties were purchased.

More remarkable is that most of them belong to a charmed circle that strode the country claiming to be descendants of legendary monarchs of yore.

The most disgusting feature is that the polarised politics has resulted in so called intellectual Marxists trailing behind them in the hope of a political resurrection and a political niche for them.

Though the number of suspects is not very much this could be the beginning of the end of political nepotism in Sri Lanka.
The charge of political agendas has been made because investigators have not taken up the issue of the Central Bank bond scam that took place last year. While an investigation into the million-dollar scam could have thwarted allegations of political bias, it could be said that there were over 2,500 complaints of bribery been made to the commission. How does the commission pick and choose its investigations? Last come first served or vice- versa? A system of selection to investigate complaints on a priority basis should have been initiated at the very beginning. Nonetheless the Central Bank issue can still be investigated by a special presidential commission appointed by President Sirisena.

No Sri Lankan politician of note has been prosecuted for bribery or corruption since Independence. A breakthrough has been made and should be expanded and continued with vigour. Independent Commissions should remain Independent even of presidential directions and investigators encouraged and protected.