By Kusal Perera –
There is little or no purpose now in discussing and arguing about the legality and constitutionality or otherwise of the impeachment motion. There is little purpose now in discussing and agitating, asking this government to withdraw the impeachment motion and the Speaker to respect the Constitution. Everything has been already decided to show Chief Justice Bandaranayake the exit door. Today, Friday 11th January, 2013, while this is written, Ranil Wickramasinghe‘s unconditionally argued supremacy of this parliament would decide on a majority vote at 06.30 pm to remove the incumbent CJ and request President Rajapaksa to appoint another. Tomorrow, Ranil would be left without his “supreme” parliament and the people, without an independent judiciary.
I remain a hard critic of Wickramasinghe in how he played and still plays with the Rajapaksa regime in legitimising all things unconstitutional. He did it with the Budget 2013 and does the same with this impeachment motion right now. His super ego on a self acclaimed status as the most knowledgeable in parliamentary procedures and traditions was simply trashed with all his preliminary objections thrown out and the debate on the impeachment motion report begun at 01.10 pm on Thursday 10 January, as decided by the Rajapaksa regime. His political bankruptcy does not allow him to accept that 144 MPs from the UPFA, plus his own UNP Members who crossed over to the government, will have no choice but to vote on the impeachment motion report as required by the Executive Presidency. He does not want to accept that would seal the fate of CJ Bandaranayake and drop the curtain down on this tragi-comedy. He also does not want to accept, he too “ordered” his party MPs to participate in a debate and vote on the impeachment determined as illegal by the SC and quashed by the Appeal Court. A parliament that has a collection of about 200 MPs out of the 225, who have been simply “ordered” to obey the Executive President and the UNP leader, two big and small dictators in their own terms, can not represent the sovereignty of the people. Can not be supreme in any way. It is that parliament that would end up today on 11th January, as one that leaves the Constitution violated and the judiciary made invalid. A country with no valid Constitution, with no legitimate parliament and a judiciary tamed to suit the regime.
Today the judiciary stands abstained, not willing to accept the decision of the parliament. The Bar Association of SL, with 78 branch associations all island and well over 7,000 practising members, made a public call to its members to keep away from professional work as a protest against the parliamentary debate on the impeachment motion they called illegal and unconstitutional. For the first time in Sri Lanka almost all Courts went defunct in a protest campaign with most Magistrates and Judges too not getting on the bench. But that would not be the same situation from next Tuesday, when life begins after a 03 day long weekend. When life begins in a country where the Constitution has no validity and the judiciary remains in chaos.
The controversy over the appointment of a new Chief Justice would bring another double barrelled conflict next week. Most probable appointee for now seems Justice Shiranee Thilakawardane. She would have been most probably the first woman CJ, if Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake was not parachuted to the Supreme Court bench by President Kumaratunge on the request of Minister Pieris. With CJ Bandaranayake removed on a majority vote in parliament, Justice Thilakawardne becomes the most senior judge to be appointed CJ and that in a way could pacify certain quarters within the judicial system than having one from the private bar. Yet, the Rajapaksa regime don’t seem to be comfortable appointing Justice Thilakawardne. She is thought of as an unpredictable judge and more independent than even the incumbent CJ when tasked to do a job. Those who raise doubts about her from the side of the regime cite the assignment given to her by President Rajapaksa himself, to investigate military procurements during the war period. President has shelved her report on military procurements permanently on that flat phrase “security reasons” as told in parliament by Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.
What this regime wants is a permanent answer with a totally subservient CJ. Not one who takes the responsibility in doing a straight job. Due to lack of acceptable names, the regime may settle with Justice Thilakawardane as a stop gap. But for how long ? Can the President appoint an Acting CJ ? And will she accept an Acting posting ? If not what ? All riddles the Rajapaksa regime would have to finda answers for, during the next few days and would make more contradictions and conflicts in the process.
On the flip side, any appointment as CJ will not be accepted by the Lawyers’ Collective leading the protests. Not even by moderate Sinhala campaigners who stood by this Rajapaksa regime. The whole parliamentary process of impeaching and removing CJ Bandaranayake is considered illegal and unconstitutional by them and they would not compromise on that for sure. Thus the probable conclusion would be, the Courts will not settle to normal day to day responsibilities during the week ahead. Nor would the lawyers, during next week.
Yet the issue is not just that. The issue is what that would be for this Sinhala society. To begin with, this regime now proves it would no more respect the Constitution and the Judiciary the way the Sinhala middle class expected it should, after the elimination of the LTTE. This regime decides on its own selfish agenda and not on how this country could benefit. Such an agenda that stands on unprecedented mega corruption with political patronage, can not be so easily pursued by any regime any where in the world, giving the people an opportunity to challenge the regime on democratic rights. NO, that can never happen anywhere and NOT HERE either !
This is the political context that makes the presence of the military and the defence establishment quite important to this regime after the judiciary is tamed. Lets not forget, this Rajapaksa regime has a gazette notification dated 29 August 2011 in its hands to establish STF camps in every district. It has brought all regulatory bodies required for control of land, the UDA, the Coast Conservation Department and the Land Development and Reclamation Corporation under the defence and urban development ministry. It also has the Department of Registration of Persons and the NGO Secretariat under it. So is the Police Department that for decades have been used more as an auxiliary agency in security, than as a civil department for law and order.
Four years after the war this ministry, lately tagged as “Ministry of Defence and Urban Development”, is allocated 290 billion rupees for 2013, an increase of 60 billion over 2012 and 75 billion over 2011. This year, the projection is only 05 per cent of the allocated budget for “urban development” with everything else set aside for defence. Lets keep this in mind. Every year there had been supplementary budget estimates too brought to parliament, asking for extra money.
This is quite an important issue when taken together in a Sinhala society that accepts militarisation of society as a Sinhala patriotic need. This Sinhala society has never opposed the appointment of security personnel to any civil administrative position. From Provincial Governors to Ministry Secretaries to District Secretaries, Board Chairmen, Commissioners of Departments and worst, even as teachers now in Northern schools where in the South, Principals have been trained and inducted as Brevet Colonels of the volunteer force, but within the preserve of the military Commandant. Where university entrants are given a supposed “leadership training” under the military in military camps. Where universities are provided with security guards from a public firm, run by the defence establishment.
This may not be where the whole story would end. The defence establishment is now into big and small business with their own investments, raised from where and how, not queried about. The “Eagle’s Golf Link” claimed as one of Asia’s best once its 18 holes are completed, is owned by the SL Air force. So is “Helitours” back again in business. “The Air Travel Services (Pvt) Ltd” sells air-tickets and foreign package holidays. The military owns the controversial “Lake’s Edge” hotel in Mullaitivu. 02 holiday resorts one in Kukulegama and the other in Wadduwa for a long time. It was into local vegetable business too and now operates a fair priced “Kottu cafe” in Diyawannawa. Most restaurants and cafes along the A-9 road beyond Omanthai have military affiliations and the “Thal Sevana” guest house in KKS as well. There is serious discussions and plans afoot to build a 5 Star hotel in Colombo and also establish a separate directorate within the military to invest in businesses as emphasised by the army Commander himself (check link – http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/14575-army-to-build-a-five-star-hotel-in-colombo.html) Taking off from there, Navy is operating its “JetLiner” cruiser ship as a profit earning utility, renting it for weddings. There are also boat rides in Colombo and suburban waterways. There could be more businesses that could be added, if one does some nosing into seemingly innocent looking projects that has State patronage.
What makes all these extremely important in the period to come after the impeachment concludes with a replacement of the CJ is, we would be heading into the future with this growing defence establishment, minus a judiciary with any potency and parliamentarians running behind two Pied Pipers going the same way. Any chance of creating checks and balances to such dangerous political evolution would be on the strength of the working class and the urban middle class. Again, they lack political leadership and a programme for the future. This leaves us to discuss what our options could be, for a “Left democratic” future.