By Tassie Seneviratne –
A jingle is now sung for Law and order in our once Paradise Isle: Nidos, Nidahas – Dos, Sados – Acquittal and discharge alongside Charge and high charge – is the rough English translation. The Sinhala version is more expressive and effective, more vivid than the term in English. The Sinhala phrase sounds like a chant or mantra, as recited by a kattadiya (conjuror). The local term rings the right rhythm in our ears. There is, however, no law involved in this Rule of Law jingle, sung by the conjurer.
Since of late, however, there is disquiet expressed in regard to a breakdown of Rule of Law. This breakdown, a Prof says, is due to political and social developments. This was stated by Prof Eric Jensen of Stanford University at a memorial oration at our Open University on 4th January 2019. The regress in the Rule of Law is thus due to political and social developments, Prof Jensen clearly asserted.
The Minister of Justice Ali Sabry (MAS) appears to have a unique perception of this, as appears to a keen observer of these happenings. MAS is portrayed as following the lines of thought of Cardinal Richelieu of France and Louis X111.
Cardinal Richelieu is known to have practiced deceit, intrigue and treachery, with finesse as a means to an end in diplomacy, and ‘disappeared’ his contenders for power. Mixing religion with politics, and churning out concoctions, he achieved two difficult goals in his career: establishing absolute monarchy in France and demolishing other political powers. He then had Louis X111 eating out of his hand.
It would be appropriate to discuss our own political and the social aspects separately. Discussion here is very brief due to constraints of space.
The local kattadiya (conjuror) is the local equivalent of Cardinal Richelieu of France and Louis X111 in world history as related above. The latter’s role was to consolidate power and crush domestic factions. The urge of both was then the same though varied in the topical context. In that vein, the idea grew, that the law process was insufficient for Law and order. Disillusion has set in, such that, very recently, throwing all caution to the winds the Nidos nidahas bell was peremptorily rung to clear the decks of the debris of court cases. Only a few weak voices were heard in opposition to the practice.
The Nidos, nidahas – Dos, Sados chant is thereby sung in a political tone. True the Temple of Justice has not been burnt outright with incense. And this was for a particular purpose – political. Only MAS understands this. Surely the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) perceives this, but in blissful silence. In the meanwhile, much has happened, including the appointment of more and more judges and the courts with it. An old story related by late Dr. W Dahanayake comes to mind. He said then: ‘More judges; more courts; more police; more crime’. The Parkinson’s and Boyle’s laws have their effect alright, but such law is not included in the legal jurisprudence of law courts.
Today, the unraveling political developments in this country have reduced the Rule of Law to just about nothing, in political terms. The basis of Rule of Law itself is badly undermined, and not even considered relevant. Ceremonial orations of new SC Judges do not now refer to Rule of law. Instead, there is much said on non-law and non-rule today that demurs such judicial statements. The ground is then ripe and ready for a kattadiya (conjuror) to avail of the situation. He has now only to burn the incense and take the offerings.
Religion and its values are unfortunately political and increasingly relegated to near irrelevance. Religious leaders are much politicized. Their pious eyes are, perhaps, trained only to the skies. Is this not what Karl Marx said, that their religion is money? Money rules over all, even religion. Oaths of office intoned with religious overtones have likewise meant nothing for law and order. Benevolent exceptions are surely there; they are yet only of little practical effect.
Writers and speakers, at least some we hear of, are of a different mold, not given to politics. They are active. More than others they are the committed ones, whose expertise, whose erudition, whose concern and whose commitments are exemplary. They are extraordinary. Nonetheless, they too have little effect on the unraveling scene. Their impassioned arguments do not ring a bell, nor echo anything more than the ordinary.
Can the experts, already empaneled by the government, help? They are barely heard. People only know they are empaneled.
To the kattadiya (conjuror) phenomenon, all the high-sounding panels, therefore, is a waste of time. Action is the immediate need. Therefore, when enough and more pending cases in courts are to be dispensed with, the Nidos nidahas mantra can be invoked.
Yet others who have likewise been wasting the time of the law and distorted the law are now to be dealt with under the Dos, Sadhos (Charge and high charge) tune, where persons who wasted time to make complaints are now to be dealt with criminally under a Commission extraordinaire!
And other matters hanging fire in like manner is in the Prisons, where 1000/2000 of remand prisoners are to be released, out and out, with no questions asked. Is this action somewhat like garbage disposal? And where is Law and order?
In the present political set-up, the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary are in shambles in regard to Law and order. The Legislature has betrayed the law of the people, of the criminal law due to them, substituting instead the law of the lawyers in criminal adjudication. The Executive exerts only for interference not for any improvement in the due administration of law and order in the country. Instead there was intrusion in the form of a Trojan horse attempt to recruit lawyers to the Police. This idea has now made a ‘tactical retreat’. The idea is symptomatic of a conjuror’s attempt to push it through an unsuspecting and immature Minister of Police. The Judiciary contributes its share through laws delay which is the very antithesis of law and order. It is only in such situation that shameful extremes by the authorities are resorted to. Minister of Justice Ali Sabry (MAS) understands this only too well. The Ministry of Justice watches the decline in blissful silence. It is only MAS who can manouevre through this morass.
The social wear and tear of the legal system that has weakened Rule of Law is due to money. This means that the market system has overrun the legal system. More specifically, the fact is that much of the law process is financially induced, at every turn of the practice, at every movement of a file. Can this be denied? Details are a multitude and the practice unrestrained. Perhaps such bribery and corruption has so enveloped the Bribery Commission that it is expedient for this Commission to look the other way explaining in some spurious language the reasons for their inaction.
Transformation or Constitutional reform?
All that has been discussed above do not auger well for any worthwhile prospects for Law and order. The problem is political and social. The difficulty Constitutional reformers would face is congenital; their own standing does hardly allow the meaningful reinstitution of the Sovereignty of the People. Even otherwise, the occupational disposition of would be reformers is much more hazardous to accommodate the Sovereignty of the people against their own personal interests. The reason is that such accommodation and adjustment of the provisions would be inimical to the very elite interests of the Constitutional reformers. This has been all along a self-serving game in Constitutional reform, since independence. If we are to get anywhere, the reformers will first have to be reformed.
The ramble, as it seems above, is to stress the point that although the purpose of Law and order is to serve the Sovereign people, in reality, that is just not happening and the people are being duped.
Cardinal Richelieu and Louis X111 distracted the citizens of France from demanding Democracy, by sending its army to wage wars in foreign lands and bringing back the loot. Our rulers over here are looting the Sovereign people and utilizing the loot to remain in power, leaving the people in dire straits.
The President rose to power riding the crest of a popular wave. Widespread disillusionment has since set in and that wave is now a spent force. It is, make it or break it, for the President.
Until one or the other happens, the Nidos: nidahas – Dos: Sados, mantra will toll the knell.
*The writer is a Retired Senior Superintendent of Police