20 July, 2017

Government Strategy To Bring About Promised Change Is Needed

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The two main factors that caused a change of government in 2015 are reappearing at the present time. The first is the feeling amongst the religious and ethnic minorities that the government is not doing enough to protect them. During the period of the former government the minorities even felt that the government was opposed to them. This was on account of its inadequate efforts at post-war normalization and the growth of religious intolerance. The election of the new government came as a great relief to the minorities. Their sense of fear and jeopardy lifted in large measure. Even though the military presence in the North and East did not significantly diminish there was a revival of civilian institutions. The government no longer came across as being a hostile entity.

Unfortunately at the present time, instead of consolidating this trust the inaction and negative posturing by some leaders in the government is eroding trust. Today, there is a growing sense of disappointment about the government amongst the ethnic and religious minorities and also amongst large sections of the ethnic and religious majority population. This is on account of failure to honour promises made. During the 2015 election campaign the two main themes of the opposition leaders who now head the country were the eradication of corruption and the restoration of the Rule of Law. There was widespread recognition that the previous government had breached the bounds of corruption. There was also widespread fear of the impunity with which the former government leaders wielded their powers of life and death.

The first sign of governmental backtracking on the two main issues that determined the course of the 2015 elections was the issue of corruption. The promise that the 19th Amendment to the constitution brought, and the independent commissions that it set up, have been virtually negated. At the initial stages the appointment of an empowered Bribery and Corruption Commissioner gave confidence that those great social ills would no longer reign as number one in public life. However, the delays to take forward the corruption cases against those of the former government who had already been convicted in the court of public opinion dented the mood of optimism. The belief in the anti corruption mission of the government took another body blow at the resistance to investigate the Central Bank bond scam.

Untenable Justifications 

The common justifications given by government for the slow progress of the cases involving past corruption is that gathering evidence takes time. The legal cases have to be prepared carefully to prevent them from failing in the court of law. This is also the justification given by state officials when they are asked why the murder cases involving top journalists and sports personalities are not being pursued with the determination that they ought to be. However, the government was elected with a mandate to ensure the Rule of Law. It needs to give priority to delivering on the mandate which they sought from the people. Instead the government leaders who promised to make a change for the better for the country appear to be politically paralysed.

The whole point of leadership is to make a difference and carry one’s own support base. The government leaders promised to make a difference once they were elected. They need to deliver on their promises.  But now they appear to be giving priority to preparing for the next round of elections when the two parties who form the government coalition may end up as rivals again as they were before the formation of the National Unity Government. The same attitude of giving priority to prevailing at the next election can be seen in the government’s hands off attitude towards the problem of inter religious violence. Particularly concerning to the ethnic and religious minorities have been the insidious attacks against their places of worship and business.

There are incidents of violence against the religious and ethnic minorities being reported on an increasing basis from different parts of the country. Sometimes these incidents are not even reported in the mainstream media which leaves the majority of people knowing little of the problems that their fellow citizens in another part of the country are experiencing. Muslim places of worship and commercial establishments have been the special targets for attacks. Similar incidents of violence are taking place against Christians from small evangelical churches, which are most vulnerable to attack, as their places of worship are not frequented by a large population.  Some of them are engaged in missionary activities which are provoking to sections of the larger population.  But the practice of violence against them cannot be permitted.

Unacceptable Gap 

The government’s failure is to take concrete action to stop these acts of violence. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that the government will pass new laws to deal with the problem. But there are existing laws that permit the police to take necessary action. The Bar Association has called on the police “to take all security measures to ensure that these attacks against racial and religious communities do not occur and the Attorney General to expedite the prosecution of all suspects in appropriate circumstances for offences under Chapter XV of the Penal Code and the provisions of the ICCPR Act, irrespective of their social status.” The government needs to muster up the political will to appoint the correct people who will command the confidence of the law enforcement agencies to ensure that the Rule of Law prevails.

The government also needs to deliver on its other commitments. It promised constitutional reform and it promised to implement transitional justice. Where constitutional reform is concerned the government promised to change the executive presidential system, the electoral system and the devolution of powers. There are news stories of discussions taking place and reports being submitted but without concrete progress in evidence. Where transitional justice is concerned the government promised to establish a Truth Commission, An Office of Missing Persons, an Office of Reparations and a Special Court for war crimes. The government asked the UN for two more years and got it, but since then nothing more seems to be happening.

There is today an unacceptable gap between what the government has promised and what it is delivering. This inaction is sought to be justified on the grounds of politics. One is to say that with two parties that are traditional rivals at the helm, there is no consensus on which way to move. Another is to say that the government cannot afford to antagonize the Sinhalese majority. The problem is that the government is being strategic about remaining in power and viewing future elections. On the contrary it needs to be strategic about delivering on its promises. If it fails to bring about the changes that it promised the coalition for change that contributed to bring it to power may not survive till the next election.

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    South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders has condemned the remarks made by Justice and Buddhasasana Minister Wijeydasa Rajapakshe on human rights lawyer Lakshan Dias, in which he had called for a public apology from Dias for making ‘misleading’ comments regarding attacks on Christian places of worship.

    On a talk show on Derana TV on 14 June 2017, Dias stated that since 8 January 2015 (when the current government came into power) 195 Christian religious places have been attacked. He said further the attacks were documented and publicized by the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL).

    At the opening ceremony of the new court complex in Maankulam, Killinochchi on 17 June 2017 Minister Wijeydasa Rajapakshe refuted the claims made by Lakshan Dias, quoting a response by Cardinal Malcom Ranjith the Archbishop of Colombo that there no attacks on Catholic places of worship.

    Minister Wijeydasa Rajapakshe had further threatened to remove Lakshan Dias as a lawyer if an apology was not tendered within 24 hours.

    ‘In his remarks, the Minister has denied the attacks on Christian religious places based on the response received from Cardinal Malcom Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo. SAHR believes that his response conforms solely to the Catholic religious places and does not to take into account the other Christian denominations,’ the statement by SAHR said.

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    I doubt very much whether this Government headed by MS & MR duo will or can make any change to the style of Governance that the people are expecting within the next two and half years remaining before a General Election is to be held. In matters of corruption, mismanagement and waste that the present leaders promised to clear have got worsened and in certain areas those have even multiplied in comparison to the previous regime. At the beginning the people complained of “Lethargy” or “Inaction”, but now it has been abundantly made clear that the present “Mess Up” has been CREATED , knowingly and with a purpose. A good example is the so called “Bond Scam”. For how long this matter has been hanging on with so many “Investigations” going on even to present day. Next event the PEOPLE felt very much was the issue of “Duty Free” vehicle permits to MPs and sale of such permits and “pocketing” the huge amount of money that was to be Government revenue. The members of the Cabinet and Deputies and some of the MPs are allowed to go free whenever found wanting in discipline and corruption. The Judiciary is moving alarmingly at snail speed and no change or any recognition of that fact has received the attention of the Minister or the Government. If an OVERALL assessment is made into the affairs of Government and Governing, all and sundry have fallen into a very CHAOTIC state and looks beyond correction, excepting to making “Patch Work Repairs”. That is not going to help at all. The encouraging factor is the PEOPLE are AWARE and WATCHFUL.; but the Leaders of Governing too know it, yet have chosen to IGNORE as they have no any other alternative.

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    Hah hah haa hee hee hee hoo hoo hoo laughing is also coming. Wait for the messiah .. Gota the great.

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