Serious questions have been raised about the manner in which the Commissioners who constituted the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on political victimization (PCoI) have compromised the independence with which they were expected to discharge their quasi-judicial role. The Commission was appointed by President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa to inquire into and report on acts of political victimization of public officials, corporation employees, police officers and members of the armed services.
According to opposition sources, it is clear that the PCI, chaired by Upali Abeyratne, former Supreme Court Judge who has been a controversial figure had acted on the dictates of the Rajapaksa regime. The other members were Chandra Jayatilleke, a former Judge of the Court of Appeal, who himself courted controversy during his period as Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission and Chandra Fernando, a former Inspector General of Police who was actively involved in the last Presidential and Parliamentary elections on behalf of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. Abeyratne was sacked as a District Judge by the Judicial Service Commission after a panel chaired by Justice Mark Fernando found him guilty of several serious charges. Allegations included improper conduct when handling a divorce case in which Sarath N. Silva, who was then a Court of Appeal judge was a co-respondent. However, after Sarath N. Silva became Chief Justice, Abeyratne ‘appealed’ to the Judicial Service Commission and was re-instated.
The Commissioners have recommended that a large number of persons who are accused in pending criminal cases be acquitted and discharged from such cases. Most of such persons are not public officials, corporation employees, police officers and members of the armed services, the best example being Udaya Gammanpila who is indicted before the High Court for alleged fraud in a purely civil transaction. The worst case is that of Duminda Silva, known to be very close to President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was convicted for murder by a High Court at Bar and whose conviction was unanimously upheld by a five-member bench of the Supreme Court comprising the Chief Justice, a judge of the Supreme Court who later succeeded him as Chief Justice and three present judges of the Supreme Court. The case arose out of a shooting related to local government elections. Ironically, Justice Priyantha Jayawardena, who was a member of the bench has now been appointed to chair the Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry.
Several senior lawyers who spoke to Colombo Telegraph were of the view that the PCI report interferes with the process of justice and is a classic example of contempt of court.
The PCI went into the legality of the Anti-Corruption Committee appointed under the Yahapalanaya Government and of the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) of the Police set up by the Inspector-General of Police. It found that both were illegal and recommended that the members of the Anti-Corruption Committee be investigated by a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry which can recommend that Parliament take away the civic rights of those found guilty of abuse of power, The list is a virtual who’s who of the present Opposition. It includes pollical personalities such as Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sarath Fonseka, R. Sambandan, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, M.A. Sumanthiran, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Rauf Hakeem, Mangala Samaraweera, Malik Samarawickrama and Jayampathy Wickramaratne, lawyer J.C. Weliamuna, Saman Ekanayake who was the Secretary to the Prime Minister, several Police officers and Deputy Solicitor General Thusith Mudalige who was the Attorney General’s nominee in the committee.
The last person whose civic rights were taken away in this manner was Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the world’s first woman Prime Minister. It is ironical that the Rajapaksas who claim to be carrying on the mantle of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party is using the same draconian law that was brought and used by President J.R. Jayewardene to remove Mrs. Bandaranaike from the political scene so that he could be elected for another term as President without difficulty. It is equally ironical that Ranil Wickremesinghe, J.R.’s nephew and protégé, who voted for the law and for the imposition of civic disabilities on Mrs. Bandaranaike and who defended and bragged about it as a young politician now finds himself at the receiving end of the same law.
Let us go back to the PCoI report itself. The Commissioners hold that the Anti-Corruption Committee and the FCID were illegal. Who appointed the Committee? It was upon a Cabinet decision. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse was the person who complained to the PCoI about the Committee but he was a member of the Cabinet that appointed it! Why has the PCoI not recommended that the entire Cabinet be hauled up before a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry? That would have included President Maithripala Sirisena who was the head of the Cabinet and the likes of Duminda Dissanayake who is now a Minister of State.
At page 401 of the report that is now in the public domain (it has still not been officially published), the Commissioners say that on 05 February 2015, the Anti-Corruption Committee met under the auspices of President Sirisena. A member of the Anti-Corruption Committee confirmed to Colombo Telegraph that although meetings presided over by the President are normally held at the Presidential Secretariat, on that date President Sirisena came over to ‘Temple Trees’, the official residence of the Prime Minister, to chair the meeting. The meeting was on when Sirisena arrived. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe moved out of his chair and Sirisena conducted the meeting, giving instructions to the committee on what should be done. While members of the committee are to be dealt with, the PCoI does not say a word about Sirisena who endorsed the committee, first as the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers that appointed it and then went over to Temple Trees to preside over it.
Colombo Telegraph also understands that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe advised the Inspector General of Police, N.K. Illangakoon to let the Legal Division of the Police to handle the setting up of the FCID. The Legal Division had accordingly taken the necessary steps having obtained legal advice from the Attorney General. In fact, when the FCID was challenged in a number of applications filed in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, senior officials of the Attorney General’s Department had defended the appointment of the FCID in court. At page 474 of the report, the PCoI has found fault with the Inspector General of Police for falsely stating in the relevant Gazette notification that the FCID has been set up by a Cabinet sub-committee when in fact it has been set up by the Anti-Corruption Committee. The IGP who set up the FCID as a division of the Police under section 55 of the Police Ordinance and who, according to the PCoI has made a false statement, has not been named by the PCoI as a person to be dealt with. Neither has Yuvanjan Wijetilleke, Attorney-General at the time who advised the Police Department on the setting up of the FCID been named.
Colombo Telegraph further understands that R. Sambandan and M.A. Sumanthiran had not attended any meetings of the Anti-Corruption Committee.
Also, the PCoI had not even a sent a notice to Saman Ekanayake, Secretary to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to appear before the Commission. However, Ekanayake has been named as a person to be dealt with. Further, although the Commissions of Inquiry Act requires summons to be served personally through the Fiscal, the PCI has not done so, instead sending notices by ordinary post and registered post.
Officials of the Attorney-General’s Department are perturbed at the silence of Attorney General Dappula de Livera when Thusith Mudalige, a senior official of the Department who had been nominated by the former Attorney General Yuvanjan Wijetilleke to serve on the committee, has been named by the PCoI as an ‘offender’.
Colombo Telegraph has learnt that several persons named by the PCoI are contemplating legal action against the PCoI report. (By Sirimevan Dissanayake)