Denial of Impunity a Must
Our everyday conversation focuses on impunity for the soldiers who are responsible for massacres. I am absolutely convinced that for proven crimes, punishment is a must. It is a deterrent and gives safety and assurance to victims and others that there will be no recurrence. It makes victims’ families feel they are equal citizens and promotes reconciliation. However, to be sure, that principle that crime requires punishment needs wide application and not just to errant soldiers.
In Sri Lanka – Impunity for all in Authority
If we look around, we will see that offering impunity to our bigwigs is our style of operation and it must change. In the church, at the Deaf and Blind School in Jaffna, when the Principal was caught abusing girls, a few priests are said to have hired a van and gone to Colombo to plead with the Bishop to spare the man. Thankfully, the police moved and he ended up in Jail. In Batticaloa, a senior priest used funds for refugees and orphans to build his empire and take a different orphan girl to Colombo on each trip to Colombo. Even after the police took him into custody, the elders of the church including many so-called progressives wanted him as the next bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India. It only mattered that he had status. Thankfully, there is God above the princes and royal families of the church.
At the University of Jaffna, a senior lecturer in music and Department Head was harassing girls. He was protected by the VC for well over 4 years despite numerous complaints and a preliminary report by the Council wanting formal charges framed. The VC finally moved to charge him only when students tended to violence. And yet, at last week’s Saraswati Pooja festivities at a dance and music school on Navalar Road, this interdicted man was the Chief Guest. Status is all that counts. Your status guarantees immunity from prosecution.
Brazen Impunity at Peradeniya
As I have written before, in 2003 the Peradeniya VC-ship was vacant and three names from the applicant pool had to be sent to the President. By the closing date, only three applications were there – the incumbent VC Prof. K.G.A. Goonasekere, a Prof. P. Gopalakrishnakone (a Tamil settled abroad, with a D.Sc. and Ph.D.), and a cabinet secretary with strong administrative experience and perhaps the pull to get the president to appoint him. With only three candidates, all three had to be forwarded to the President. This was a problem. Gopalakrishnakone with his D.Sc. was more impressive with over one hundred international journal articles to the VC’s nil.
The Council then got two members, the Deans of Medicine and of Dental Science, to apply after applications had closed. They forwarded the names of Goonasekere, and the two Deans playing the dummy. The meeting where this was done was chaired by the Deputy VC who was the VC’s pick for DVC.
At this stage, as a matter of public good, I complained to the Ombudsman, Justice R. B. Ranaraja. In the meantime, the President reappointed Goonasekere as VC.
Immediately after this, the DVC who had arranged the successful nomination of his VC, was on the recommendation of the reappointed VC unanimously reappointed as DVC for a further 3 years (Council minute 318.12.1). However, a new problem was that the Universities Act requires the UGC’s prior approval for the DVC’s appointment, which had not been sought. Worse, the applicable ordinance required Peradeniya’s submitting 2 names to the UGC for its consideration prior to the appointment. Simply put, the DVC scratched the VC’s back, and the VC in turn scratched the DVC’s.
Justice Ranaraja, saying he did not have the power to revoke the President’s appointment, declared in his judgement dated 24 November 2003 that University of Peradeniya’s Council failed in its duty in the process of selecting three names to be forwarded to the President for appointment as VC and that the UGC should not have accepted the Council’s recommendations. He recommended that the UGC consider the weaknesses in the selection process of the VC and exercise the power granted to it to ensure an open and fair process by which the best possible candidate is appointed VC.
The UGC responded by issuing a new Circular, Circular 839, laying down a strict process for the selection of VCs that avoided all the illegalities identified by the Ombudsman. The UGC also pointed out to the Council the improprieties in the appointment of the DVC and suggested ways of rectifying the illegalities so as to not jeopardize decisions taken by him after his improper assumption of office.
Circular 839 was sent to the Ombudsman to show compliance. But when it went into effect, the first advertisement under it was by the Open University and it successfully attracted 15 applications whereas regularly just a few would apply because we all assume that only internal candidates would be considered like at Peradeniya. The CVCD (Committee of Vice Chancellors and Directors) panicked, I presume because they would find it difficult to engineer their reappointments. Under CVCD pressure, the UGC withdrew Circular 839 but the Ombudsman was never notified. I believe he still thinks it is in force.
There was no punishment for or even a nominal reprimand of anyone. The Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) under Elmore Perera filed several actions challenging illegal university decisions. One notable case, CA 1419/2004, followed the Ombudsman’s ruling, when Peradeniya filed charge after charge against me and refused to confirm or promote me to Senior Professor. I was the bad guy for exposing the crimes they committed.
Inquiring Officer Harendra Dunuwilla (previously Mayor of Kandy) threw out the charges and even congratulated me in his report on the charge of my teaching human rights to engineers. My promotion and confirmation were ordered by the Court of Appeal and the University fined Rs. 50,000 under the hand of the present Chief Justice K. Sripavan and Justice Eric Basnayake. Even after that, the VC had an arrogant sense of supreme impunity. The university did not comply with the orders. It was when we filed for contempt, that the Registrar was sent to me in Colombo with the letters of promotion and confirmation and a cheque for Rs. 50,000 in public money.
What happened to the VC who did all this brazenly? When his term ended, he was made VC of the University of Vocational Technology and put on the UPFA National List for Aug. 2015!
Much of this happened under a seemingly flawless Chandrika-appointed Council. It points to a deep flaw in our society when seemingly upstanding men and women can behave like this. In Jaffna, the VC and Deans from the old regime still run the show. As late as April 2015 the VC refused permission to academics for a discussion of the book Palmyra Fallen on these “University of the Premises.” It exposed both the arrogance and quality of Rajapakse VCs and the continued absence of good governance. Almost every month the Council approves professorial selections without marks, or by upping the failing marks given by experts to a pass without authority. They enjoy immunity because no one so far has been punished for fraud through appointing the unqualified to earn nearly Rs. 200,000 a month. Every Council meeting is a new nail in the coffin of our university system as the unqualified take permanent positions. So long as impunity prevails, good governance will evade us.
When priests, VCs, UGCs and the greatest in society are rewarded with impunity and honors after their most dastardly behavior, why go only after the soldiers? As for those who plead for the soldiers who murdered, are they not simply following our national tradition?
It is time to stop impunity wherever it reigns supreme among us – which is everywhere!