Applaud only when the law holds corruptors responsible (Original Title)
For those who laboured long and hard to bring fresh cleansing winds to Sri Lanka’s degenerate political culture in 2015, these are times of mortified reflection. The collective angst of the United National Party (UNP) amidst a dismaying disarray and loss of public confidence beggars the imagination. Its parliamentarians are filing no-confidence motions against its own ministers as well as those from the other half of the (dis) unity alliance. And the very air is rendered hideous with their loud lamentations that Justice is not being done.
Satire of the most devilish kind
We are battered by complaints that the focus is only on current corruption rather than gross violators of the previous regime. This is vis a vis the resignation of the UNP’s Foreign Affairs (formerly Finance) Minister in the wake of testimony before the popularly styled ‘Bond Scam Commission’ relating to an egregious conflict of interest. The public is told that it must rejoice since ‘a Minister resigned.’ Alas, this is satire of the most devilish kind.
So after whitewashing the Central Bank bond fiasco for well upon two years, is applause the fit reaction when ‘a Minister resigns’ and that too grudgingly due to a public outcry? Lest we forget, the whitewash of this incident by the UNP included appointing a committee of largely unknown party lawyers to skim over the responsibility of former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran.
It also included the UNP parliamentarians in the parliamentary committee on public enterprises (COPE) insisting on adding ‘footnotes’ to the COPE report to preempt questions of legal wrong doing on the part of the former Governor. In truth, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa must be engaging in fiendish chuckles in his Medamulana lair at the predicament that the Government, (his bête noir as well as a protector of sorts) finds itself.
Less than propitious performance of ministers
Regardless, let us see where the truth lies. Since the inception of this coalition Government, portfolios of the most important ministries relating to law enforcement and justice have been held by the UNP. However, the performances of the respective ministers were less than propitious. Not only were principles of conflict of interest disregarded but this unconcern was blithely paraded in public.
In the first year, the minister holding the portfolio of Law and Order, himself a senior lawyer who should have abided to more fastidious standards than his plebian colleagues, resigned in the wake of a conflict-of-interest uproar. This was over his defence of the controversial maritime security firm Avant Garde on the floor of Parliament, referring to the said firm as his (one-time) client and protesting that the controversy had no factual basis.
To be plain, the issue here was the propriety of the Minister of Law and Order holding forth in regard to a matter that was under investigation and adjudication. Whether the allegations against Avant Garde were justifiable or not, whether they will be ultimately proved in a court of law or whether the ordinary foot-dragging that takes place will result in a stalemate outcome was therefore not the question.
Who should the UNP blame but itself?
Besieged by an angry public, the Minister resigned. Then too, the public was asked to clap its hands at the ‘rare’ spectacle of ‘a Minister resigning.’ He was brought back a few months ago to be gifted the portfolio of development assignments. At the time of his resignation, his Cabinet colleague, the UNP’s Minister of Justice managed to adroitly wriggle out of an outcry when he reportedly made statements partial to the Rajapaksas in relation to ongoing investigations.
Now, to add spice to the mixture, his party colleagues are waving a no-confidence motion before the Justice Minister for preventing speedy resolution of an enormous amount of corruption investigations against Rajapaksa politicians and for not supporting the establishing of a special Corruption Court.
So, I am bewildered. Who should the UNP blame for these unnerving dilemmas other than itself? When the Department of the Attorney General allegedly delays in proceeding against corruptors or when the ordinary law collapses under the strain, (or so we are told rather unconvincingly), should not the responsibility rest on the Justice Minister? And when the Inspector General of Police (IGP) is captured on television cameras abjectly promising the current Law and Order Minister that a ‘person’ (later exposed as a favorite of the previous regime) would not be arrested, in whose direction should fingers be pointed?
Understanding a simple logic
In the political tug-of-war that these dramas reflect, promises by the President and the Prime Minister that the law would be respected are pure balderdash. Only one credit is due. Up to now, this Government has not directly interfered with the judiciary aside from certain flippant statements made by some who should know better.
But it is quite clear now that President Maithripala Sirisena failed to take decisive action before the rot became pervasive and engaged in political compromises within the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) itself which undermined the legitimacy of the pro-governance platform which gave him the mandate two and a half years ago.
On its part, the UNP must surely refresh the knowledge of its top tier leadership as to the precise meaning of the law in relation to conflict of interest. There is no point in querulous queries as to why the UNP is being held to this standard when these lofty principles never bothered the Rajapaksa regime. If the people wanted the Rajapaksas and their degradations to continue, they would have voted them back. They did not. Is this simple logic so difficult to understand that it must be repeated at each and every turn as if to an imbecile?
Rightful public applause must wait its turn
That said, it must be acknowledged that as dismal and as disheartening as it is, these fiascos signal one fact. Public pressure works at least in some instances though not in all. This week’s withdrawal of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Special Provisions) (Amendment) Bill, another ill-begotten effort of the Justice Minister is a further indication of this.
Notwithstanding such apparent ‘victories, the spectacle of a ‘Minister resigning’, tears and all does not suffice. The law must take its due and proper course into corruption allegations, sophisticated or crude as it may be. Perpetrators must be punished.
The cycle of impunity must be broken. It is the same rationale as in regard to transitional justice really.
It is at this point that applause will be rightfully fitting. Not before.