By Ravi Perera –
To a thinking Sri Lankan these are universally distressing times. We can accept economic denials and hardships as part and parcel of life in a poor third world country. Given the tone of the general interaction between man and man in this land, Political corruption as a social phenomenon seems an inevitability. The expectation that the wielders of power will abuse it and the ruled will make an appropriate accommodation with that reality is as old as the days of the kings, as the saying goes. But more recent institutions such as the judiciary and the constabulary , fashioned very much on British models as it were , remained , although much abused by the politicians, as foreign concepts, and maybe due to that fact , somewhat insulated from the darkness without.
By that we do not mean that our Police force is a shining example to the world. Its reputation is marred with brutality, corruption, favoritism and politicization. But the fact that it still provides an acceptable standard of civil policing speaks volumes for the basic soundness of its structures. The constabulary, uniformed, disciplined, trained in the objective enforcement of the law is very much an essential feature of a modern State. Except the President, every other citizen if in violation of the law is in the reach of the long arm of the law, enforced by the constabulary independently and objectively. Likewise, the judiciary, decked in very British wigs and gowns, their independence secured by tradition and supporting laws, are to judge according to the law and evidence before them. There is little room for emotion, bias or malice in the process.
At least this is how these institutions are expected function.
Two recent events, one where a very senior Police officer is said to be a suspect in a diabolically planned murder and the other, a judicial officer a suspect in a bribery case, are bound to shake to the core whatever public confidence they may have had in these institutions until now.
We do not know whether these two law/judicial officers are guilty of the offences alleged to have been committed by them. Both allegations are in the investigative stage and of course they are entitled to the protection of the common law principle of the presumption of innocence. We will refer to the guilt of a person only upon conviction in a court of law.
But on the other hand, if the standards in the country today are such that the Police officers are indulging in criminal activity while judicial officers are open to bribery, of what worth is a judgment of a court of law? A police officer who can commit murder will surely have no compunction in fabricating evidence against a suspect. Likewise, there cannot be a credible judicial system if the judges are accepting various inducements. Any serious citing of a case must assume that the investigating officers play by the rules and that the integrity of the judge is not subject to speculation.
In that context do we now have a system worth talking about in the area of law enforcement?
Although the public perception may be different, it may well be that these kind of activities are the exception yet. Perhaps a few rotten apples are damaging the reputation of these vital institutions. But even then it begs the question how such wrong doing could have thrived for such a length of time at a senior level in a service. A Deputy Inspector General is only one step away from becoming the Chief Policeman of the country. To get to that position an officer has to climb the hierarchy and presumably is subject to close scrutiny all the way by his seniors, beside his peers. Similarly, how could one reconcile the absurdity of a judge whose very function is the administration of justice is also besmirched with allegations of corruption?
The answer perhaps lies far away from the scenes of the alleged offences of these two persons. From a remote area in the North Western Province we read about an incident where a politician humiliated a female school teacher by forcing her to kneel in the presence of her students. Apparently the teacher had enraged the politician by pulling up his daughter for turning up in school in a dress deemed inappropriate by her.
Figuratively, the teacher, the policeman and perhaps even the judge have been all made to kneel before the politician. From that lowly perception, murder and corruption will look altogether different to the perception of a person who is standing up right.
It is strange how with time all politicians come to resemble one another in this country; corpulent, faces shinny with good health, perpetual smirk on their faces, deliberate manner of talk, taste in dress the uniform national – immaculate and expensive white and mode of travel- in convoys. And of course everybody on the road must make room for their convoys. Similarities even extend to their families. Almost every politician will have their boys study in a European university before taking to politics like their fathers! Even the junior is provided with State security and one of the rites of his entry to manhood will be to beat up some unfortunate at a nightclub! It does not matter at what level and where a person is doing politics. Seemingly the machinery of our politics is capable of producing only one stereotype.
The results of their feckless activities are evident all around. Once proud and fruitful institutions have been demeaned and destroyed. We are told that even the case concerning the DIG is being investigated only because the President himself ordered it. If the President does not order such an inquiry an affected family can only bury their dead! Corruption is rampant and the State machinery has become a private asset of the rulers. In terms of economics and social development almost every other nation in Asia has overtaken us. Occasionally the fast moving convoys stop on the way and the politician puts his sandaled feet down, waving to the gathering crowd. The armed bodyguards form a protective ring around him. It is the time for a grateful nation to kneel down in homage.