Business as usual for Sri Lanka’s double faced and dying good governance

November 16, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

Maithripala Sirisena/Reuters

 

By

Thambu Kanagasabai

With the support of 6.2 million people the present Sri Lankan Government swept to victories at both the Presidential and general elections on the slogan of ‘Good Governance’, to remove the ‘Bad Governance’ of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa 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 Rajapaksa 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 Rajapaksa regime. Sensing the island wide resentment and opposition to Rajapaksa’s rule, Maithripala Sirisena jumped from the Mahnida Rajapaksa wagon and joined hands with Ranil Wickremesinghe to get rid of Rajapaksa and his all powerful no questions asked family rule.

Good Governance’ was the coined slogan of Maithri and Ranil which mesmerised the public. The western powers also lent their backing to unseat Mahinda Rajapaksa who was an irritant to them for his closer relations and hobnobbing with China. The ‘Good Governance’ election manifesto of Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithrtipala 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 were:-

 

  1. Promotion of rule of law

  2. Ending the culture of impunity

  3. Eradication of bribery and corruption

  4. Punishing the corrupt politicians and officials particularly those who held high offices and those who controlled the state machinery in the past

  5. Promoting accountability, justice and reconciliation and solving the ethnic problem.

 

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/Maithri 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 were killed and approximately 65,000 were missing (UN estimate).

President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera doled out various promises concerning the Tamils, the important and pressing ones were:-

 

  1. Demilitarization of North made by the Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera on January 20, 2015 at a press conference in Delhi while Maithri 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

  2. President Maithri’s promise of return of seized lands by the Military within six months which ended in June 2016.

  3. 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

 

  1. 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.

  1. 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 29, 2016

  2. Atmosphere of fear and extra-judicial killings including political enemies and dissenters are now reduced appreciably including white van abductions.

  3. 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 pubic 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 Gotabhaya Rajapaksa 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 Rajapaksa 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 Rajapaksa and his family 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 Maithri 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 Maithri has conveniently omitted to initiate investigations into the killings of 15 Tamil journalists killed since 1990 for reasons known only to him. However, his initiation of investigations in to the killing of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and the disappearance of cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda, 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, and the reduction of military in the Northern Province have all remained on paper and certainly will remain so due to the 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.”

 

Meanwhile, it is to be noted that 28 Buddha statues have been erected along A-9 Highway since the war ended in May 2009. Thus a new phenomenon has emerged along the A9 route that leads to Jaffna where hardly any Buddhists reside. Very recent attempts to erect Buddha statues in the Hill top in Ampari District in Batticoloa where 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 statue. 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 of confirming the statutory duty of the state to carry out Buddhisisation, leaving 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 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 religionism 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 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 Arjuna Mahendran, a close friend of the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The matter is currently in the hands of the 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. Jayewardene, (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 Chandrika Bandaranaike, former President of Sri Lanka – who was responsible for the breakdown of the peace process undertaken by Norway, which has 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 Mahinda Rajapaksa’s rule as far as the issues confronting the Tamils are concerned. The Sri Lankan government’s promises always vary and differ from each other, depending on the place, occasion and people. One promise is given to the United Nations and world dignitaries, another promise in the North and East to the Tamils and yet another promise is given to the Sinhalese in the South. From these, only promises to the 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, they, as well as 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.

The 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 to send 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 the 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thambu Kanagasabai

Thambu Kanagasabai LL.M (London) – Former Lecturer in Law, University Of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

3 Comments

  1. S Siva November 20, at 13:23

    Thanks for Mr. Kanagasabai for writing the article and Tuck Magazine, UK for publishing it. Recent US elections exposed globally about duplicity of US leaders misleading voters, apply double standard policies, abuse of power, lobby for the rich and Wall St, ignoring middle class families core grievances and most voters not relied biased Media reporting and pundits predictions. It is a hard lesson and a powerful message to greedy, mockery and war mongering leaders, their illegal wars and invasions, collaboration to mass human rights abuses and war crimes in other nations as in the case in Sri Lanka by supporting oppressive regimes and alleged war criminal leaders. Western colonialism that merged many nations as one for easy administration that led to mass human sufferings, abuse of power by majority rulers, loss of life and property, state terrorism and oppression in many nations as international community continue to fail to challenge oppressive regimes and bring perpetrators to accountability. Sri Lanka continues to fail to be democratic, fair, apply rule of law equally to all, respect all religions and races, Sinhala Buddhist hardliners and racism on the rise as leaders chauvinistic mindset to win votes. Democracy is a failure in many nations as majority races and its leaders continue to oppress and commit crimes against humanity with impunity as International community fails and aggressors have support of powerful nations. Gold bless victims!

    Reply
  2. Kumarathasan Rasingam November 18, at 07:37

    The writer explains the actual facts with proof. How the Government of Sri Lanka is fooling the UN, International Community, to his people in his country etc. It is really a wake up call for all to look into the factors and identify the corrupt leaders ruining the country. The leader of the opposition must come forward to put and end to these and stand for justice and good governance - The Tamils voted for his party trusting his promises and guarantee.

    Reply
  3. S Siva November 18, at 00:54

    The writer is an academic and his expertise in Sri Lankan legal system helped him in his analysis, providing facts on ground situation, state oppression,denial of rule of law and justice and continued failure in good governance. A well written article! This exposes that the International community continued to fail to enforce international law and put an end to state terrorism, war crimes and genocide. Due to double standard policies applied by many powerful nations on enforcing rule of law and international law, Russia has pulled out of ICC and it is a blow to human rights, humanity and mankind. Recent US election that elected Donald Trump, Brexit vote, potential EU break up exposes failures of leaders, ignoring core issues and voters took an extreme view on governance. Successive Sri Lankan regimes failed to apply R2P, Human rights, rule of law, justice equally to all citizens, failure to investigate war crimes and bring the perpetrators accountability and to deliver justice as the international community continued to fail to uphold international law.

    Reply

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