By Basil Fernando –
A strange experiment that has been taking place in Sri Lanka for several decades now has reached a peak as the present government is engaged in rapidly bringing out a series of extremely bad laws purportedly for the sake of rapidly becoming a better society. The plethora of such laws that is being discussed and even available in draft forms include a series of legal reforms relating to broadcasting named the ‘Broadcasting Regulatory Commission Bill’, also a draft of an anti terrorism bill and an open discussion on removing all the safeguards available within the labour law for the protection of employees, while the persons who are around the President seems to think that by such “laws” a new kind of utopia will be created which of course rest of the world would see only as a dystopia.
A strange philosophical notion seems to be the root of this new approach. That notion is that the laws arrived at with the consent of the people is bad for the people. It is the bad laws that have the potential of creating economic growth, social stability and what is strangely known as national security. This notion of national security implies that people should constantly live in fear of intense insecurity.
The idea of the rule of law is now dismissed as a set of words that has hardly any meaning. In fact, all the draft laws and proposed ideas mentioned above goes against the most fundamental notions of one’s foundational principle of the State of Sri Lanka which was the rule of law.
What is now happening in Sri Lanka, reminds us about the famous novel The Lord of the Flies of William Golding. It is about a group of public school children from the United Kingdom who have been brought up in the public school tradition of law and order who go through a complete transformation after a shipwreck. The boys were out on a trip in a boat which, due to bad weather conditions, drifted away from its course and finally they landed on an isolated island. At the beginning while hopefully waiting for some rescue, they tried to behave in a manner that they have learnt and to maintain orderly and a decent relationship amongst themselves. However, as time passes by, there is not seen to be any indication of a rescue mission arriving. Over a period of time, their discipline breaks down and little by little they get used to the chaos. The worst elements among them begin to emerge to the top and lawlessness and orderlessness becomes the new order. It is this experiment that seems to have attracted those who run the state machine as the nation has suffered its worst shipwreck ever in its history. Now a decisive turn has taken place to abandon the law and a social order based on any civilised norms but instead like fireflies gathering around a light just to meet with their own destruction.
In this indecent hurry, to turn away from the law and decent civilised norms, a new notion of Sri Lankan Lord of Flies have surfaced. The main crust of these disciples of the Lord of the Flies is the law itself and the judiciary. Undoing a legal structure that has developed over two centuries or so is no easy task. Even despite a constitutional onslaught on the legal infrastructure of Sri Lanka through the 1978 constitution the task of completely undoing the basic rule of law framework of the State has not proved easy. People of the country have absorbed some of the basic principles of legal entitlements and taking all that away and expressing agreement to newly proposed laws will not prove an easy task to be accomplished. However, strenuous efforts have been made to install the Lord of the Flies and the new philosophy of lawlessness. One of the key challenges is to create alternative authorities which cannot be brought under any legal controls. These new authorities will also have powers which will hinder the normal operations of the courts. Limiting the powers of courts and expanding on the powers of the authorities directly controlled by the executive is the essential policy lie.
To do this requires particularly, to limit the powers of the magistrates of granting bail as is required under the normal law. Through the exercise of the power of magistrates, the authorities are compelled to use their powers within the framework of law and also to stop them from using their discretion without any regard to the rule of law. This is a means by which citizens are deprived of protection and jail terms of various forms are used as a threat to compel obedience to even bad laws.
And the most important component that is to be silenced for this purpose is the free media. The purpose of the draft broadcasting law is to control the press and to deprive the people of the information they need in order to live fruitful and intelligent lives. After all, if the aim of changing the labour laws is to take people back to a period even before the 19th Century, and to create slave labour it is essential to keep them as ignorant as possible. In this global age of information, attempting to return to the stone age may seem ridiculous. But, those who pursue the new dystopia seem to feel that that is what they got to do.
Those boys on the Lord of The Flies realised at the end the pathetic conditions they got into. Perhaps, they learnt a lesson not to get into a situation of this sort again. Perhaps that learning is very much needed in Sri Lanka right now.