On the rule of law, again

Friday Forum Statement (Island)article_image

In November 2016, Friday Forum issued a statement (Ruler’s Laws and the Rule of Law) deploring the growing denial of the rule of law in the decade ending in 2014. Friday Forum requested the government to speedily work on many fronts to restore the supremacy of the law in relations between government and persons, and among persons themselves, including legal entities. Developments since then impel Friday Forum now to deplore the failures of the present government to uphold the rule of law by bringing before courts persons alleged to have broken the law. Initial steps taken by government in this direction with regard to some allegations held out hope that the processes for seeking justice would gather some momentum.

These inquiries include those relating to the murder of the young rugby player Thajudeen, the murder and the disappearance of several journalists and some politicians, criminal abuse of power to amass enormous wealth with no credible source of income or legal transfer of property to account for them, and corrupt and irresponsible conduct of persons holding public office.

We fail to understand why, where there is ample evidence that politicians had committed offences for which other citizens are routinely prosecuted, remanded, denied bail and/or permission to leave the country, are treated by the law entirely differently. The President’s recent public statements on the appointment of a High Court Judge, has created further confusion in the public mind on the functioning of the legal system. Is it acceptable to disregard obligations under the Constitution in regard to appointments to the judiciary and then seek to make others accountable for interference in the process?

Theme cartoon googled and added by TWImage result for rule of law cartoon

This country prides itself in the possession of a system and institutions that can bring perpetrators of grave crimes to justice. We as citizens rightfully expect that investigations would be conducted and judicial proceedings completed without inordinate delay. Close to 24 months is not too short a period in which to have taken measures to drive some vigour and dynamism into these procedures and re-establish the supremacy of the law in our society. Government has an obligation to explain why the justice system is so ineffective.

Friday Forum also observes with deep concern the serious deterioration in standards of conduct of holders of public office. Despite the recent Report of the Committee on Public Enterprises providing detailed information on the bonds scam and the even more recent incident of the Head of Police, in a telephone call overheard by many over a microphone, reportedly assuring his Minister that a relative of his would not be arrested, those accused of these violations have yet to be held accountable. State accounting procedure requires that all government revenue from whatever source be credited to the Consolidated Fund. We note that blatant violation of this procedure when the sale proceeds of billions of rupees from the disposal of the state owned land occupied by the military in Colombo Fort to foreign companies was credited to an account controlled by selected members of the armed services and Defense Ministry. To date there have been no prosecutions of those responsible. No action has been taken by government in respect of these violations.

The public is also aware of the horrendous tragedy that took place in November 2012 in Welikada prison, where 27 inmates of the prison were killed. The government, as custodians of these prisoners, was responsible for their personal security within the prison. Several Committees of Inquiry have reported on what are alleged to have been acts of violence against prisoners but none of these reports have been made available to the public, vitiating the entire purpose of spending substantial amounts of tax payer’s money on the inquiries. There was renewed hope of a search for justice when this government, after assuming office, appointed another Committee of Inquiry which duly submitted its report. The government to date, has neither made this report available to the public, nor taken any visible steps to refer these reports to the relevant authorities, so that action is taken against those alleged to be responsible for these deaths.This inaction brings indelible shame on any civilized society.

The Friday Forum raised the issue of the right of the public to access this report. We even received a copy of a letter from the Prime Minister’s office addressed to the Minister of Justice, requesting a copy of the report to be issued to us. Meanwhile newspapers publish what they say are contents of this important report. To date the report has not been released as a public document. Friday Forum requests the government to officially publish the report, without delay, making it accessible to the public. Persons alleged to be implicated in this horrendous episode, must be referred to the authorities for prosecution of any acts of violence.

Upholding the rule of law, and taking action against those who have violated the law was a principal undertaking given to the citizens when the President and many in the present government sought our votes and were elected to public office. Let them not betray the trust placed in their commitment to good governance and yahapalanaya. The President and Prime Minister in particular, have an important responsibility for leadership in this regard. Problems in governance do not justify inaction, fault finding and retracting promises made to the people to give leadership in good governance.

Dr. G. Usvatte-aratchi Dr. A.C. Visvalingam, Dr. G. Usvatte-aratchi, Dr. A.C. Visvalingam, Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare, Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Mr. S.C.C. Elankovan, Prof. Camena Guneratne, Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda, Ms. Shanthi Dias, Mr. Faiz-ur Rahman, Mr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, Professor Gananath Obeyesekere, Mr. Prashan de Visser, Mr. Chandra Jayaratne
(The Friday Forum is an informal group of concerned citizens pledged to uphold norms of democracy, good governance, rule of law, human rights, media freedom and tolerance in our pluralist society.)