by Thambu Kanagasabai LLM [Lond.], November 14, 2016
Former Lecturer in Law University of Colombo
With the support of 6.2 millions, the present Sri Lankan Government swept into victories at the both Presidential and general elections on the slogan of ‘Good Governance’ to remove the ‘Bad Governance’ of former President Mahinda Rajapaksha who was hailed as a ‘War Hero’ after defeating the ‘Do or Die’ LTTE in 2009. His victory was not a solo effort but a combined and co-ordinated one with the military and logistical assistance of twenty two countries who were united to get rid of the LTTE and its leadership, at any cost and price. Mahinda Rajapaksha wallowing in this military success and popularity among the Sinhalese and Buddhist clergy captured the power and exploited the euphoria of support to embark on a path of family dictatorial rule, self-glorification with abuse of power, and seizing controls over judiciary and all other independent commissions to consolidate the power and position resulting in rampant corruption, while an atmosphere of fear and insecurity began enveloping the country where human rights activists, political opponents and journalists who exposed the truth faced killings carried out by state agents after abductions in ‘White Vans’.
With all norms of democracy in tatters, the literate and politically matured Sri Lankan voters waited for the elections to remove the Mahinda Rajapaksha’s regime. Sensing the Island wide resentment and opposition to Mahinda Rajapaksha’s rule, Maithiripala Sirisena jumped from the Mahnida Rajapaksha’s wagon and joined hands with Ranil Wickremasingha to get rid of Mahinda Rajapaksha and his all powerful no questions asked family rule. ‘GOOD GOVERNANCE’ was the coined slogan of Maithiri and Ranil which mesmerised the public. The western powers also lent their backing to unseat Mahinda Rajapaksha who was an irritant to them for his closer and closer relations and hobnobbing with China. The ‘GOOD GOVERNANCE’ election manifesto of Ranil Wickeremasingha and Maithirtipala Sirisena contained many promises for fulfilment in justification of the ‘GOOD GOVERNANCE’. Some of the promises which the public trusted and voted for this unique coalition are:-
- Promotion of rule of law
- Ending the culture of impunity
- Eradication of bribery and corruption
- Punishing the corrupt politicians and officials particularly those who
held high offices and those who controlled the state machinery in the past
- Promoting accountability, justice and reconciliation and solving the
The vast majority of Tamils in the North and Eastern provinces also voted for the newly formed Ranil/Maithri coalition reposing faith on their promises made during the election campaign in the North and Eastern provinces. They [Tamils] had high hopes on the coalition of Ranil/Maithiri for delivering solutions to recover from the harrowing and traumatising experiences underwent during the genocidal war which ended in 2009 where more than 70,000 civilians killed and about 65,000 missing.[UN estimate}
President Maithiripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil wickremasinghe and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera doled out various promises concerning the Tamils and the important and pressing ones were:-
- Demilitarization of North made by the Foreign Minister Mangala
Samaraweera on January 20, 2015 at a press conference in Delhi
while Maithiri and Ranil promised reduction of Army and its presence. On the contrary the military is taking steps to strengthen and reinforce its positions confirming its permanent presence in the North & East
- President Maithiri’s promise of return of seized lands by the Military
within six months which ended in June 2016.
- Both President and PM Ranil promising to release all political prisoners
first within one month, then within three months and later within six
months all of which until now remain on paper, and there is still no sign
or hope concerning their release. On the contrary, more lands are seized
by the security forces now and also promised that those who involuntarily disappeared, missing or unaccounted would be fully investigated including investigations into the killings of Journalists.
It is relevant to mention some of the acts of ‘GOOD GOVERNANCE’ along with various acts of the old ‘BAD GOVERNANCE’.
ACTS OF ‘GOOD GOVERNANCE’
- Enacting the 19th Amendment to the constitution and setting up a Constitutional council and setting up of various commissions including Independent Commissions to investigate allegations of Bribery and Corruption.
Amendments were also enacted restricting the powers and duration of office by the President – permitting only two terms.
- Passing of the Right to Information Act, July 01, 2016 and the Office of Missing Persons – August 2016. This office is yet to function and the efficiency of this office was detailed by the author in an earlier article on September 30, 2016
- Atmosphere of fear and extra-judicial killings including political enemies and dissenters are now reduced appreciably including white van abductions.
- Freedom of movement, expression and speech are not under any state restrictions but surveillance is enforced through the security forces in the North and Eastern Provinces during protests, demonstrations, and meetings and in places where public gather and meets like market.
If one looks at the track record of the ‘Government of good governance’, some election promises have been partially activated with some aborted and some still-born. The question of their implementations particularly promises given to Tamils remain with more and more promises of hope and zero exhibition of concrete measures.
The vital promise to haul up and indict all those involved in bribery, corruption and abuse of power and position, is already breached and reversed by the President who has gone to the extent of criticising his own Minister and other officials and also condemning their hauling up of top security personnel including former Defence Secretary Gotabaya before the courts which is the normal procedure.
The President’s open critical statements have now resulted in the ‘security personnel released on bail’ and almost guaranteeing their impunity. This unacceptable step is the foreboding for future non initiation or stalling of prosecution and the President also directed his anger at the CID, FCID and Bribery and Corruption Commissions casting aspersions while undermining their independence as guaranteed in the 19th Amendment. He has thus used his position to influence and interfere with their entrusted functions which is a mockery of the ‘GOOD GOVERNANCE’ often boasted.
The fall out of this interference has cast doubts on the other election promises of ending impunity, eradication of bribery and corruption, punishing the corrupt which are only heralding the end of ‘good governance’.
The prosecution and/or trials of former President Mahinda Rajapaksha and his family members is allowed to drag on to reach a stage of either absolving or withdrawing only to stymie the political rise and ambitions of Mahinda Rajapaksha and his family members against whom numerous corruption and bribery allegations are floating with several millions of rupees involved in various shady deals and transactions during the last ten years. Besides, the promises of accountability and justice are almost defunct with President Maithiri openly declaring to protect all members of security forces involved in the war from any prosecution or culpability for the alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity committed during the genocidal war. As an extension of this blanket impunity, the most boasted reconciliation has also suffered its death, and no reconciliation will last or succeed before dispensation of accountability and justice to the desperate Tamils In addition, President Maithiri has conveniently omitted to initiate investigations into the killings of about 15 Tamil journalists killed since 1990 for reasons known to him. However, his initiation of investigations in to the killing of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha and the disappearance of cartoonist Eknaliyagoda, to mute the popular outcry for justice is also proceeding on a zigzag course obviously to reach a dead end or cover up.
As stated earlier, the return of seized lands, release of political prisoners, the reduction of military in the Northern Province have remained on paper and certainly will remain so due to lack of political will and courage to exercise the Executive Presidential Powers and discretion particularly viewing the state agenda of Buddhisisation and Sinhalisisation going in the Northern and Eastern provinces.
Regarding the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act, even if it is repealed, it is learnt that the new ‘Counter Terrorism Act’ which is expected by the end of the year will come out as a photocopy of the existing PTA with added countering features when viewing the title word ‘counter’ which implies counter moves as well as retaliatory steps while the word ‘prevent’ implies stopping from happening but not allowing retaliatory steps.
Besides, Sri Lanka’s ‘Good Governance’ is on its course to solidify Sri Lanka as a Buddhist country which is already declared and underwritten by the President in his statement at the United Nations at the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly – 22. 09. 2016
“Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country, where Theravada Buddhism is practiced.”
[The ongoing attempts to erect Buddha Statute http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/8355 ]
It is to be noted that 28 Buddha statutes have been erected along A-9 Highway since the war ended in May 2009.
Thus a new phenomenon has emerged where Buddha statutes are being erected along the A9 route that leads to Jaffna where hardly Buddhists reside. Very recent attempts to erect Buddha statute in the Hill top in Ampari District in Batticoloa where Muslims Muslims and Tamils live is causing tension in these areas. The Chief Minister of Eastern Province, a Muslim, and SL Minister Rauf Hakeem along with other Muslim politicians from the district and in the province have condemned the installation of this Buddha statute. This Buddhisisation simply and plainly breeds disharmony and not reconciliation.
The clause in the constitution specifying Buddhism as the foremost religion in Sri Lanka with the duty to foster and protect being mandated on the state is nothing short other than confirming the statutory duty of state to carry out Buddhisisation, leaving the other religions to fend for themselves. Even the common term ‘secular state’ is yet and unable to find its place in the constitution. This provision by implication allows Buddhist extremists and state machinery to engage in further acts of suppression and discrimination against the minorities and their religions to advance the process of Buddhisiation. In short, Sri Lanka is now facing the twin evils of racialism and religionisim which are also fostered by the Buddhist clergy giving rise to mushrooming religious groups and extremists. The recent formation of a group called ‘Shiva Sena’ is one example among many others which are in the making.
It is another episode of the ‘Good Governance’ to pinpoint the inordinate delay in prosecuting those involved in the Central Bank Security Bonds scam which was exposed by COPE, implicating former Governor of Central Bank Mr. Arjuna Mahendran a close friend of the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasingha. The matter is in the hands of Attorney-General and the prospect of prosecution could take many years likely to orchestrate its natural death.
As for the Tamils, they have already lived under the ‘DHARMISTA’ slogan of the late President J.R. Jayawardena [architect of the existing Sri Lankan constitution consolidating all power under him and saying that except to change a man to a woman or change a woman to man he has all the powers under his constitution] and ‘TRIPLE GEM’ slogan of Madam Chandrika Bandaranayaka former President of Sri Lanka – who was responsible for the breakdown of the peace process undertaken by Norway, which have only compounded miseries for Tamils and worsened their lives in all spheres language, religion, equal opportunities etc. The present ‘Good Governance’ slogan is just a continuation of those majority hegemony rules and no different than the Mahinda Rajapaksha’s rule as far as the issues confronting the Tamils are concerned. Sri Lankan Government’s promises always vary and differ from each other, depending on the place, occasion and people. One promise given to United Nations and world dignitaries, another promise in the North and East to the Tamils and yet another promise given to the Sinhalese in the South Out of these, only promises to Sinhalese are intended for fulfilment while others remain as inactive and opportunistic statements meant for instant consumption.
Viewing the past record and experiences undergone by the Tamils, the Tamils including the political leaders and parties must rise to the occasion to have their voices and grievances heard all over the concerned countries including the United Nations. Confining within Sri Lanka and heaping faith on promises by the President and/or Prime Minister will end up like the story of a parrot waiting for the ripening fruit which when ripe burst and flew out as wool.
Tamil National Alliance Leader Sampanthan is still hoping for a solution by the next ‘Deepavali’ in 2017and all hope that there won’t be many more similar ‘Deepavalis’ offering the unknown and undisclosed correct and just solutions to the Tamils.
The dubious commitments of Sri Lanka to justice and accountability can be observed from the relishing of the success of President elect Donald Trump by the Sri Lankan Government and others in the south rushing in sending congratulatory messages expecting his rescuing action from war crimes and international investigation etc. without bearing in mind that his hands are full with several serious commitments regarding US economy, illegal immigration, unemployment, untying US from some international commitments and his goal to make “AMERICA GREAT AGAIN’ by asserting its own uniqueness, strength and ability to stand on its own feet. To cast doubts on his vigilance and concern for human rights violators and even his condoning them to go scot free is nothing but casting doubts on his down to earth approach to problems while being the leader of the world’s most powerful democratic country which values, upholds and defends human rights and rule of law.
The statement of Pearl –S Buck is worth quoting “WHEN GOOD PEOPLE IN ANY COUNTRY CEASE THEIR VIGILANCE AND STRUGGLE, THE EVIL MEN PREVAIL”
So, it is now or never and better late than never.