Colombo Telegraph

Ignorance Of The Law

By Niresh Eliatamby

Niresh Eliatamby

The President has insisted that the Cabinet halt the proceedings of the Parliamentary Select Committee that is inquiring into the Easter Sunday bombings, at an Emergency Cabinet Meeting on Friday night, according to media reports.

Once again, the President appears to have demonstrated his inability to grasp the very fundamentals upon which our democratic system is built upon.

In the system that is called democracy, which Sri Lanka pretends to have, there is a widely accepted principle called ‘Separation of Powers’. What that means is that there is separation of the powers of the Executive (President, PM, Cabinet); the Legislature (Parliament); and the Judiciary (courts). The reason is simple. None of the three branches are deemed to be completely supreme over the others. But the areas that they operate in are different, and therefore depending on the relevant topic, one would be more powerful than the other in that particular area.

The legislature’s duty is to make laws and control the way public money is spent by approving national budgets for each ministry. The Executive’s job is to oversee the day to day activities of government institutions (other than Parliament of course), and to come up with long term policies and strategies to develop the country, including the development of infrastructure, education, health sector, etc. The Judiciary interprets and applies the law with regard to cases brought before it, either by the state or by private individuals and institutions.

For example, if a man is being tried in court for murder, the judiciary is supreme. Parliament cannot jump in and stop the courts from acting. Neither can the President decide that the man is guilty. However, once the man is convicted, the judiciary’s role in the process is completed, and the matter comes under the authority of the Executive, and therefore the President could pardon him or commute his sentence.

However, in extreme cases, such as the Easter Sunday attacks or the Bond Scam, Parliament has the power to investigate through the setting up of a Parliamentary Committee, which is what is going on now.

The President’s reported insistence that Parliament stop investigating the bombings is apparently due to his personal dislike of the evidence that is being revealed at the PSC. However, the fact is that this does not come under his authority. Neither does it come under the authority of the Prime Minister or Cabinet. It is a matter for Parliament, which has acted in this instance upon the national outcry and general dissatisfaction with the way the matter of the Easter Sunday bombings has been mishandled by government institutions such as the Police, Armed Forces, Ministry of Defense, etc.

The President’s reported statement that he would not allow certain security and intelligence related officials to give evidence is also a clear abuse of power. Parliament and its Committees have the power to summon anybody. If that person refuses to go before Parliament or a Parliamentary Committee, then he or she would be guilty of contempt of Parliament, and could be dealt with under the law. Thus, any official who heeds the President’s order not to attend, if the President were to make such an order, would be answerable. The President’s order, if such an order were to be issued, would in fact be an illegal order.

The President’s ignorance of the law is sadly a continuation of politicians and public officials simply ignoring the fact that laws do exist in any civilized society, which Sri Lanka is struggling to become. The Prime Minister’s assertion on global media shortly after the Easter Sunday attacks that Sri Lanka had no laws to deal with Sri Lankans joining ISIS and returning home was another glaring example. So was the Army Commander’s statement the day after the bombings that the armed forces needed a State of Emergency before they could act. Then there was the Secretary of the Ministry of Policy Planning & Disaster Management, who made a disaster out of policy by telling the entire population of Sri Lanka, more than 20 million people, how to dress when they enter a government institution, only to be pulled up by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka!

The latest howler was the came when the President demonstrated a strange dislike for chainsaws and proclaimed that he would ban all saw mills and carpentry sheds in the country! The fact that such a ban could easily be challenger by every simple carpenter in the country appealing to court that they have a fundamental right to work in their chosen profession which is carpentry, does not seem to have occurred to him.

Sri Lanka has laws, enough and more of them, to deal with almost every requirement (a notable exception being in areas where advanced technology such as the Internet has expanded the frontiers of human civilization). It is simply a matter of officials and politicians being ignorant of the law, abusing their authority, or abusing the law by applying it only on certain people, gender, religions or races, that is the problem.

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