By S. L. Gunasekara -
The impeachment of a judge of a superior court is indisputably a tragic event to be dealt with due solemnity and wholly divorced from all considerations of extraneous matters such as party affiliations and `loyalties’; prospects of rewards; political gain etc. It is a solemn occasion where Members of Parliament are required and indeed bound to discard and ignore completely their party affiliations, the decisions of their respective parties on such matter as well as the instructions of their party whips and decide wholly dispassionately and objectively whether on the evidence adduced before them, the Judge concerned was or was not guilty of any one or more of the charges against him that gave rise to the resolution for his impeachment and whether such charges were of sufficient gravity to warrant his dismissal.
The entire object of an impeachment being to `cleanse’ the judiciary if indeed it needed `cleansing’, there is clearly no `place’ in such a proceeding for lawlessness, thuggery , fraud, boorishness histrionics, exhibitionism or the wholesale misuse of religious ceremonies to serve political ends. Tragically the recent `drama’ relating to the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake saw all these unsavoury features but not an iota of objectivity or any of those salutary practices that should have been evident therein.
Commencing with the Select Committee which was alleged to have investigated the charges against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake and arrived at `findings’ in respect of some of them, and ignoring, for the moment, the facts that both the Supreme Court as well as the Court of Appeal had held that it was constituted unconstitutionally and that the Court of Appeal had quashed, by way of certiorari, its purported findings, let us consider whether the conduct of that Select Committee was in any way objective, dispassionate and/or responsible.
One disgusting fact about which there can be no dispute is that some members of the Select Committee behaved in an utterly uncouth manner towards the Chief Justice which was clearly designed to humiliate her and perhaps to cause her to leave. The fact that those who behaved in such manner were not possessed of an iota of `breeding’ apart, one startling fact about such behaviour is that those who sank so low as to behave in such uncouth fashion actually thought they were doing something clever and laudable !!! What was even more startling was that they, not having been taken to task for such behaviour by even the President, the inference is inescapable that such rowdyism as was displayed by them was indeed approved by him and was part and parcel of a deliberate plan to compel the Chief Justice to throw in the towel.
Such rowdyism as was displayed within the Select Committee was echoed in a different context when mobs of raucous alleged supporters of the Government were brought to Hulftsdorp by some ambitious politicians and they, while armed to the teeth with clubs, staves etc shouted slogans and displayed banners highly defamatory of the Chief Justice, moved around the hordes of police officers who had been deployed there ostensibly to preserve law and order (!!) displaying `proudly’ their grisly weaponry without any let or hindrance from those alleged “guardians of the law”. One does not need more than one guess to visualize what their reactions would have been if those slogans had been aimed at the President or the new `Chief Justice’. It being wholly unthinkable that any police officer would have so ignored breaches of the law committed by any person whomsoever in his presence, the conclusion is inescapable that the inaction of those salaried men was necessarily a result of superior orders.
It is more than passing strange that the Government has yet failed to appreciate the dangers of using thugs as an instrument of state policy. They appear to be oblivious to the fact that the “loyalty” of the thug being wholly to himself, the day cannot be far off when the thug tires of the Government using his thuggery to impose his will on the dissenter, and decides to use their `talents’ for his own purposes even though that would be against the Government. That is a day that will be rued by all including those sycophants of the Government [whose name is “legion”] to whom no act of sycophancy or abject servility is too much provided it secures for them, some measure of patronage from the Government.
When to these facts are added the unbelievable facts that requests repeatedly made by Counsel for the Chief Justice for a list of documents sought to be produced and information about the procedure to be followed by that Select Committee fell on deaf ears, and they were given a bundle of some 1000 documents and told that the so called inquiry would be continued within 24 hours, the fact that no fair inquiry was contemplated and that the entire object of the exercise was to get rid of the Chief Justice by whatever means possible and replace her with another who, in the Government’s perception would be partial to it becomes as clear as crystal.
While this so called impeachment process has displayed a degree of perfidy unparalleled in the history of our land, one final act of overt deception damns for all time, the `Select Committee exercise’ as a `no holds barred’ exercise in victimization. This shameful act of unparalleled fraud was committed when the Chairman of the Select Committee having announced that no oral evidence would be led, adduced the oral evidence of some 17 witnesses after the Chief Justice had `walked out’. If the Select Committee intended adducing such oral evidence, how is it that so manifest a lie was uttered and the Chief Justice misled ?? How was it that all those witnesses attended the Select Committee and gave evidence at such short notice? There clearly having been no time to secure their attendance by due service of summons, it must follow that they were standing by to give evidence when called and were hence part and parcel of a contemptible plan to victimize the Chief Justice.
That all this was wholly unnecessary is a fact so manifest that it needs no repetition. Nobody would disagree with the proposition that if the Chief Justice had been corrupt, she had to go. This same proposition would be equally applicable to the President and other political appointees including ministers. There is clearly no gainsaying the fact that had the Chief Justice been subjected to a fair inquiry or trial, nobody could possibly have objected to her removal from office if she was found guilty of corruption. Yet she was not subjected to such an inquiry or trial and the entire impeachment process was converted into a political circus. Why ????
There are several unanswered questions surrounding the impeachment. One of the chief among them is why the President appointed the Chief Justice’s husband Chairman of the Insurance Corporation and then of the National Savings Bank. What was the aptitude displayed by Kariyawasam to hold such a position when, to the best of my knowledge and belief he had only displayed some aptitude in the field of marketing motor vehicles !! Thus his appointment to those posts gives rise to the inference that such appointments were given so as to win over the Chief Justice to the Government camp and secure judgments from her whether as Chief Justice or as a Judge of the Supreme Court, that were favourable to the Government. Those appointments were, in short `bribes’ and both the giver and the taker are equally culpable so that it is not possible for one wrongdoer to ride the high horse and point an accusing finger at the other.Yet, this, precisely is what, happened.
That the filth called “politics” would pollute the impeachment process was a foregone conclusion. Thus, there were, on the Government side, a number of sycophants who sought to portray the impeachment drama as a contest between the President who gave leadership to the Country to defeat the LTTE on the one hand and the Chief Justice on the other!! There were other sycophants of the Government who purport to see an international “conspiracy” in any dissent offered to anything the Government proposed doing who saw in the Chief Justice’s spirited defence of herself, a part of such a “conspiracy”. What these addicts to “conspiracy” theories would have to say about the appointment of Mohan Peiris to succeed the Chief Justice is left to be seen !!!.
It is indeed tragic that even members of the Bar and the Chief Justice herself succumbed to the temptation of bringing politics into this process. Thus, we experienced the tragic spectacle of members of the Bar engaging in the silly exercise of smashing coconuts on the road to ‘save” the Chief Justice while some other exhibitionists flocked round the Chief Justice’s car, making sure that they are photographed when the Chief Justice first went to parliament and returned therefrom. They even engaged in `strikes’, an exercise which, to my mind, is wholly unbecoming of the dignity of a member of the Bar.
Not to be outdone even the Chief Justice got the Ven Maduluwawe Sobhitha to chant Pirith prior to her setting out for her “inquisition”. Religion being something that is essentially personal, nobody could have faulted the Chief Justice if she got such ceremonies performed at her residence – however, when they are performed in the Court premises, they cry out for the conclusion that it was a part of a political exercise.
It was not only such amateurs who sought to infect this process with politics. Both the UNP and the JVP lost no time in “jumping the bandwagon” and seeking to gain some political capital out of these tragic events by posing dishonestly as champions of the independence of the judiciary while maintaining a deafening silence about their own efforts to undermine that noble principle. Not to be out-done Sarath Fonseka made one of his usual stupid statements by inviting the Chief Justice to take to politics.
As is usually the case the foreigner [both foreign Governments as well as their NGOs] who just cannot tolerate the idea of Sri Lanka being an independent Country which does not require his tutelage to manage its own affairs, was quick to put in his two cents worth condemning the impeachment. Apart from adding fuel to the flames lit by the “international conspiracy theorists”, there are hardly any results that followed from their presumptuous prognostications. Of these foreign effusions it need only be said that one of the most vociferous among them is the international thug which once bathed Vietnamese babies in Napalm and presently runs a torture chamber at Guantanamo Bay !!!.
Sri Lanka has been through a trial by fire. The country was rent in two by the impeachment. Today the dust seems to be settling over the impeachment drama. However, it would be a mistake of monumental proportions for us, now, to say “lets put the past behind us” and proceed with “business as usual”. One important aspect of the impeachment drama is that it brought into focus and the public eye, the independence of the judiciary and its vital importance to the life of our Country as a civilized Nation. It also brought into focus as never before, the corrupting influence of power and the self serving machinations of the sycophant resulting in otherwise decent People of whom much more was expected being wholly incapable or unwilling to accept or admit their own mistakes and most of all the monumental dangers presented to the Country by thuggery being used as an instrument of state power.
If the tragic drama of the impeachment results in National attention being focused on these evils and the dangers that face our Country, and we have the strength and the fortitude to overcome them, the anguish of the impeachment would not have been in vain but will result in this Country becoming a better place in which to live.