The fate of the Joint Opposition’s no-faith motion against beleaguered Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake is in the balance. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has referred it to the Attorney General to determine whether it is sub judice in view of the ongoing presidential commission probe into the Central Bank bond scams. Why has the yahapalana administration suddenly become so concerned about legal principles?
It may be recalled that both the UNP and the SLFP have jealously guarded parliamentary supremacy vis-à-vis the judiciary. In 2001, the late Speaker Anura Bandaranaike rejected, out of hand, a Supreme Court interim order which sought to restrain him from entertaining an impeachment motion against the then Chief Justice (CJ) Sarath N. de Silva. Bandaranaike received praise from both the UNP and the SLFP.
We thought UNP-led governments had no regard for judiciary or judicial decisions or legal principles. In 1984, the J. R. Jayewardene government went flat out to impeach the then CJ Neville Samarakoon on some flimsy pretext because he had refused to toe its line. He reached his retirement age while the impeachment process was underway. In 2015, the first casualty of the liftoff of the UNP-SLFP rule was the then Chief Justice Mohan Peiris. Did the present-day rulers who have referred the Joint Opposition’s motion of no confidence to the AG’s Department care to consult the judiciary before declaring CJ Peiris’ appointment null and void? The SLFP-led Rajapaksa government, of which current President Sirisena was a prominent minister, ‘impeached’ Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake over a Supreme Court ruling on the infamous Divineguma Bill.
The late Sirimavo Bandaranaike, before being stripped of her civil rights by the JRJ government in the most draconian manner, had invoked the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal and obtained a Writ of Prohibition against the presidential commission which ‘tried’ her. Her contention was that the warrant at issue was invalid as the law was not retrospective in its operation and did not authorise any inquiry in respect of a period prior to the enactment thereof. Parliament declared the Court of Appeal ruling null and void and went ahead with its witch hunt!
Dr. Colvin R. de Silva minced no words when he said the UNP had ‘slapped the Court of Appeal in the face’. He called the law used to victimise Sirimavo ‘a disgrace to our statute book and a shame on our parliamentary democracy’. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has recently celebrated the completion of 40 years as a parliamentarian. Those four decades have seen numerous slaps the judiciary has suffered in the face at the hands of the UNP and the SLFP.
Interestingly, in 1981, when the TULF, which had defended Sirimavo to the hilt, moved a motion of no confidence against the JRJ government, the UNP retaliated. It moved a no-faith motion against the late TULF leader A. Amithalingam, who was not even allowed to defend himself during the debate thereon; UNP MPs, most of whom were anti-social elements, kept on heaping verbal abuse on Amirthalingam and even threatened to harm him. Objections raised by the TULF and the SLFP were overruled by the Speaker and the UNP’s motion was passed!
Why the government is wary of taking up the motion of no confidence against Karunanayake is patently clear. There is no love lost between Karunanayake and the top UNP leadership. But, the motion is sure to lead to a division in the UNP as well as the government. Some UNP heavyweights have pledged to support it even if their party decides to vote against it. The SLFP ministers have already declared that they will vote for the motion.
On the other hand, the no-faith motion, if taken up for debate, will be used by some Opposition firebrands to carry out a frontal attack on Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and even President Sirisena. The Central Bank, where the bond scams occurred, has been under the PM, who defends former CB Governor Arjuna Mahendran under a cloud. The President not only torpedoed the first COPE report on the Feb. 27, 2015 bond scam by dissolving Parliament before it was presented but also reappointed Karunanayake Finance Minister in August following the general election in that year.
The term sub judice, to us scribes, means that a certain matter is under trial or being considered by a judge or court. The current presidential bond commission itself has declared that its is only a fact-finding mission. The JO maintains that its no-faith motion will have no bearing on the ongoing presidential investigation. This argument sounds sensible and tenable. Whether the AG’s Department, which has subverted criminal action against the bond racketeers and even throttled civil action against them, has acted impartially in deciding whether the no-faith motion at issue is sub judice or not will be seen today.
Unless the government benefits from deus ex machina by way of a favourable opinion from Hulftsdorp on the no-faith motion, Karunanayake will have to either walk the plank himself or be made to do so. For, the yahapalana leaders are dead scared of facing a debate on bond scams.