By Tassie Seneviratne –
The People have lost. Or, it is the People who are continually losing their right to, and their property/ownership of, law and order. This is the muted temper of the grievance now being continually expressed in the many writings and articles that we read in the media. The problem has now reached a point where grievance is reduced to a grumble from high pitch screams earlier; the moaning is now even barely heard. To take this lamentation further, even the term ‘law and order’ is today losing its meaning. The turn of events that we now speak of is perhaps from just about year back. Within the very recent past, therefore, the term, ‘law and order,’ has been fast losing its effect or any meaning it was intended to convey. Disorder, rather than order, rules over all. And the law, or whatever is left of it, is no longer expected to stem the tide of disorder. The facile term ‘law and order’ that long ruled over the topic for over 70 years since independence, is currently in bits and pieces.
It is disorder that now rules over the People. The plague of disorder is currently pervasive. Just a few examples will give the picture. Disappearances and escape of suspects in police custody are now the order of the day. There is no check or restraint on these practices, not from within the Police, not from the Ministry of Police, not from the Parliament, not from the Executive including the AG, not from the Judiciary, not even from the Police Commission, not from the BASL, and not even from the media. Is this an overstatement, or is it the plain truth? And even more significantly, these authorities have their various lame excuses to avoid any responsibility for this breakdown of law and order. Just another instance of failure of order was an assault by police of a third-year law student at a police station in the near vicinity of Colombo, a few days back. This case of misdemeanor is plainly none other than a breakdown of order. These instances are simply not just a breach of discipline. They are as much a total collapse of the system.
The system for order itself is in disarray. The system that is now, or whatever is left of it, is dismantled. This is the reality, in the Parliament, in the Executive, in the Judiciary, in the Police Commission, in the Media and in the BASL. In all of them there is a grave breakdown in their expectations. Very limited allusion is made here due to limits of space. This includes crumbling of the system and in the inter-relationship of the agencies in the Criminal Justice System (CJS). In Parliament there is little issue with this misconduct; their money and power are safe, as it is. To the Executive, their vested interests are not jeopardized by this bad behavior. Interference with the Executive is, on the contrary, for the gain of those who can influence. With the Judiciary, their stake is yet much less when their own power and independence is minus what it should be in their need to dispense justice. Power over the judiciary is now elsewhere. Therefore, contrivances as Nidhas nidhos and Dhos sadhos, have surely drained away the last dregs of justice and so of law for order. Police Commissions have been a continuing failure to serve the people. They have been little more than a bureaucratic overlay. The BASL and the Media have little contribution to make even in the face of blatant violation of rights, in instances as noted above.
The breakdown is therefore to the point that there is now a crisis in the instituted system for law and order. The long-heard call for reform has been but a feeble response to problems coming on since independence. But the predicament experienced within this last year or so is, however, nearly catastrophic in the intensification of the problem for law and order.
The events recounted just above are more than the ordinary. They are extraordinary because of the magnitude of the problems that have been induced, this time round, by a process of intrusion into the workings of all these agencies to undermine their order to crisis proportions. The intent is sinister, the means conceived for which is subversive.
Transformation very recently proposed by Minister of Justice Ali Sabry (MAS) is a dodge if it were not eyewash. For ‘transformation’ in the best sense involves a change in disposition on the part of the relevant parties in the process of law and order. That change is of a moderate vision, whereas the purposes of the measures described above are in fact iconoclastic, extremist and destructive. This is apparently the same urge that drove the ISIS to destruction of the Banyan statues in Afghanistan. In this case, to destroy and overturn the revered and cherished traditional arrangements for law and order.
The crisis is cleverly man-made, for the benefit of some, and possibly by one in the form of a hatchet man. These types are very few and so need to be carefully chosen. These run beneath their ultimate dress of Saville Row cut suits. The threats uttered by him in Parliament to others who may defy, directed with sharp pointed fingers to silence them, and to impress the ‘king’, are aspects of what portends.
Unrestricted power runs through this adversity in the system which is the cause, and is the result, of all that is simply witnessed today. It is idle, then, for the likes of good lawyers and other experts to express their anxious concerns over the media. Unfortunately, their good voice is wasted in the cacophony, drowned out by power and money over all else, throwing aside all, including Rule of Law. These worthy niceties and words are lost to the axe. The moderate Rule of law is in fact now lost to immoderate and precipitate action as at Rathupaswala, with the Thajudeen instance and the regular disappearances and escapes from police custody etc. etc. Power and money will then continue to rule. The projected constitutional reform taunted for 2022 cannot, therefore, do much when the forces such as these are arraigned against law and order.
Law and order for good governance, that may serve the public good, will for long years more have to wade through the mud. The Saville Row cut cannot cover the sarong half tucked up trademark. Power and money will strain the exercise undertaken by prospective reformers in the name for future Constitutional reform.
Forebodings that appear in the horizon with Myanmar musings trumpeting in the air, and, mark my words, will surely march through; unless there be people adequately prepared to resist.