26 October, 2020

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Ministerial Responsibility And Prime Minister’s Drug Scandal

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

The Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne may or may not be involved in any manner, directly or indirectly, in what appears to be the largest single haul of heroin smuggling in South Asia. We are not to determine the guilt or innocence of him, in any manner, as the JHU has been doing, and it is up to the judiciary to do so after a proper police investigation. But what was uncovered on 30 August in Colombo was a stunning 131 kilograms (288lb) of heroin, worth of several millions of dollars.

When the smugglers responsible for the shipment, sought a letter from the Prime Minister’s Office, it cannot merely be for the waver of demurrage or tax. The letter was issued on 23 August. The collection of the shipment was overdue over a month by then for some reason and a letter in any form going from the PM’s Office could have persuaded or convinced the Customs and/or Ports Authorities to release the consignment without much checking. That is the usual bureaucratic culture in Sri Lanka. However, that was not to be the case in this instance fortunately, as the Pakistani authorities apparently had tipped off the Police and the Customs.

Circumstances

It is now revealed that the PM have had lunch with one of the suspects of the smuggling racket and the heroine trade, most probably unknowingly of his exact business involvement, but it was apparently known that he was a businessman. The PM obviously do not dine with the ordinary folks; hardly if at all. It was during that lunch or on the sidelines, that sending a letter had been arranged. The two others involved in these interactions were a Pradeshiya Sabha member at Gampola and PM’s own son who is also a Provincial Council Member in the Central Province.

Unfortunately, Mangala Samaraweera from the opposition bench had come forward to give a ‘bona fide’ to the Prime Minister. Samaraweera’s intention may be sincere, since many of the SLFP Seniors like DM Jayaratne have come under attack from the top and the rightwing political formations, but the error or the Individual Ministerial Responsibility of the PM in this instance is crystal clear. What is most unfortunate is what Samaraweera has said in Parliament.

“Sending a letter seeking tax concessions for a container is not something illegal. When I was the Minister of Ports I too received letters daily seeking such duty concessions. Even the President as an MP then had made similar requests. I have received so many letters from a lot of other parliamentarians. Not that we give tax relief to all those requests. Only if the Minister of Ports permits and signs, the concessions can be given. The letter in question only says that if tax concessions could be granted the sender would be grateful on behalf of the Prime Minister.”       

A petition by a citizen for a tax concession on the basis financial difficulty or because of bureaucratic mishandling cannot be illegal. For example, there may be bona fide cases on the part of Middle East returnees or even small business people, but not from the heroin smugglers. There should be proper and transparent channels for these requests. But when these requests or petitions are channeled through Ministers, they are obviously subject to political abuse or even corruption. When the Prime Minister’s Office issues such a letter even without verifying the bona fides, it is the Prime Minister and not the issuing officer that should take the responsibility.

The Officer who had apparently sent the letter on behalf of the PM, Keerthi Sri Weerasinghe, resigned on 9 December. He was PM’s Coordinating Secretary. But who should have primarily resigned was the Prime Minister himself. That is how he should have preserved his claimed integrity and the dignity of the position. The age old dictum that ‘justice should not only be done; it must also be seen to be done’ also applies here. There is no point in appointing a Coordinating Secretary unless the PM cannot take responsibility for what he does on his behalf. All officers cannot obviously issue such letters, but only the assigned few.

The gravity of the involvement of the Prime Minister’s Office in this scandal is highlighted by the fact that Sri Lanka is fast becoming a ‘Hub of Heroin Smuggling’ in South Asia. As the information reveals, while a part of this consignment coming from Pakistan meant to be for Sri Lanka, the other half was supposed to be distributed in India.

According to the police, 53,000 persons had been arrested for drug offences in 2013 and over 70 per cent of those who are in jails at present are in for drug offenses. The PM should have been in the forefront of campaign against the drug trafficking and the drug abuse as the Minister in charge of Religious Affairs. He undoubtedly talked vehemently in the past against this vice in the country but should have continued to do so by gracefully resigning on the issue and revealing all the facts pertaining to the letter and persons involved behind.

Something Rotten

While the whole episode reveals something fundamentally rotten behind the present state of governance in the country, it is unfortunately not the main opposition which has utilized this issue and the opportunity, but the JHU and the JVP. Perhaps Sri Lanka needs a new political culture both from the government and the opposition. The motive of the JHU is undoubtedly suspicious on religious and other grounds as the PM has been critical of their activities and even suggested once that a special court should be set up to try the criminal charges against the culpable Buddhist monks, as the misdeeds were exorbitant. However, the JHU opposition to the PM is not a reason to defend the PM, and it completely ignores the fundamental issues involved.

The JVP on the other hand has conducted a principled opposition on the matter highlighting that the Prime Minister is primarily responsible for what has happened in the Ministry under his supervision. The Coordinating Secretary undoubtedly is PM’s protégé and has acted according to his wishes and interests.

Ministerial Responsibility

The principle violated in this instance is the Individual Ministerial Responsibility or IMR. This principle is slightly different to the Collective Ministerial Responsibility (CMR) of a Cabinet or a Board of Ministers. Both derives from the principles of responsible government and rule of law which are increasingly becoming rare species in the Sri Lankan context. The collective responsibility means that if a minister cannot take responsibility for a collective decision of a cabinet he should resign. There is a classic definition about CMR by Lord Salisbury as far as in 1878.

While the collective responsibility principle does not directly apply in this instance, what is intriguing is the manner in which Minister Patali Champika of the JHU behaves on this subject while in the same Cabinet of the Prime Minister without resolving the matter within it, in a Cabinet meeting. The President may be more responsible as the Head of the Cabinet, without asking the Prime Minister to resign or making a statement on the subject openly. It is possible that there are many ‘skeletons’ in the Cabinet.

Although D. M. Jayaratne is the Prime Minister, he is more like just a Minister, or even worse, than a Prime Minister. This is one debacle of the presidential system which has largely distorted parliamentary democracy or democracy at large. It is also possible that the frustration resulting from this situation must have developed into lapses on the part of the Prime Minister to allow the others to run the affairs without much of his supervision. However, Individual Ministerial Responsibility applies to him without any excuse. The following is how one expert, Joanne Sellick (Constitutional and Administrative Law, 2010), explained the concept.

“This convention places Ministers in a position of having to answer for the works of their departments. The doctrine is identified with the Carltona principle (1943), which provides that a decision taken by a junior/subordinate official is regarded as being the decision of the Minister in charge of the Department and they must answer for it in Parliament.”

Sellick also explains how the responsibility evolved into the principle of resignation in Britain starting with Lord Carrington and other two Ministers resigning in 1982 on the allegations that the British forces were not prepared when Argentina invaded the Falklands. The last instance that she has reported is when Beverley Hughes, Minister for Immigration, resigned in 2004 when a scandal regarding bogus visa cases became known although she was not directly involved, but responsible. A resignation in such an instance does not necessarily mean an end of a political career either. For example, she was appointed as Minister for Children in 2005 after the election.

In the case of Sri Lanka, the ongoing drug scandal undoubtedly is big enough for the responsibility/resignation principle to apply. A resignation is a dignified way to assure the people that the Ministers take the mistakes, wrong doings or misbehavior under their supervision seriously and ready to account for. This is largely a Commonwealth practice and as the Chair of CHOGM, Sri Lanka has an abiding duty to follow such traditions and conventions. The presidential system is not an immunity to nullify such good conventions. Such resignations in the case of the Commonwealth countries are usually prompted by the Prime Minister or the Head of the Cabinet and in the case of Sri Lanka it means the President.

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    Hero (still) in.

  • 2
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    The problem is these drug dealers try to frame innocent Pakistani Muslims. :(

    • 0
      1

      One of the drug dealer is a muslim, but not pakistani.

  • 1
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    CT has once again been blocked on their https address too. Is there any new solution to access CT, or do we continue to access the site hiding behind a proxy,

  • 1
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    rotten to the core….

    • 0
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      sorry let me rephrase …rotten with the core…to include the Sinhala Modaya voters….

  • 3
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    Three important issues are involved here:

    1. Ministerial and Government responsibility.

    2. Rule of Law.

    3. The drug deal factor in Asia.
    One cannot give Tax exemption request without specifying the contents in the container.
    Naturally somebody has been asked to overlook this important aspect.
    Obviously some important instructions have gone into this issue.

    Now where are the Law enforcement authorities in this case?
    What are they doing about it.
    Or is this also going to be like the other where somebody ended up with loss of memory in Singapore.
    Some stories are good for the Chinese who have not taken a haircut.

    • 0
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      Resolution is not that complex. If police or CID investigate rich sons of politicians or military who are driving cars worth of US$300K or above, all drug kingpins, cheap&illegal petrol/coal, medicine importers can be easily found…
      Is PM’s son driving $300K car? As I heard, all MR’s sons, Mervyn Son, GR”s son-in-low drives very expensive sport cars…..

  • 3
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    A part of the cocaine seized,is reported to have ‘vanished’!
    Will there be an inquiry into this.

  • 1
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    Another Ethanol container discovered and still no information being revealed as to the masterminds. Customs say they detected 10 containers so far. To our knowledge two heroin containers discovered, and here too no information revealed. It is left to our imagination as to how many containers have got through in the past.

  • 5
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    Prime minister in drug scandal, President is accused of genocide, Defense secretary is running a mafia, army grabbing peoples’ lands, police looking the other way in crime scenes – the whole lot is in some scandal or the other. The country has gone to the dogs.

    Enough is enough,dismantling of the rotten Sri Lankan State is in order

    • 0
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      hahaha
      Tamil liberation is run by drug smugglers and criminals. Tamils have no moral rights to bark on this matter because Prabhakaran gang was doing the same for decades.

      VVT opium smugglers are your leaders. Dismantle your EELAM ideology forever!

      • 0
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        sivananthan
        have you located your father? your mother is doing a great service to the army personal in kopai, and your sisters are giving her a helping hand.

        • 0
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          Dont tell your own problems here.

      • 0
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        you Sinhalease always learn from the Tamils ….

  • 3
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    it seems heroin mainly comes from Pakistan and Afganistan. 48% of those who have been arrested here in SL for importing drugs are Pakistanis.Here in Sri Lanka too a large number of Muslims have been arrested with heroin.
    I understand Islam is against alcohol and drugs .This shows these people are fake Islamists.They grow beard, they pray to Allah five times a day,they insist women to cover their heads while some force their women to cover from head to toe,and they eat only halal food. Yet they import and sell heroin.They are insulting their religion.They are similar to some of our Buddhists who observe’Pan Sil’ and break them soon after.

    • 0
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      Muslims smuggle drugs from Kerala to Colombo as well. The old Cochin-Colombo route.

      Pakistan connection to the drugs is horrible.

    • 0
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      I think above all, we need to set stricts regulations in terms of custom dept. No about today, earlier, it was the one of most corrupted places I have ever noticed in the country. Today, if you make genuine efforts, authorities can control these issues easily by setting a database putting all the accused in, so that no excuses can be valid in the next step. That is how developed world find solutions to this kind of issues. Custom dept should work with the counterparts in defence. Why the so called, highly intelligent, highly regard Gotabaya fails to take stern actions is more than quesitonable to me.

  • 0
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    The amount reported in this article is incorrect since you have reported as 131kg but it was 262kg according to the reports. And also reported that half of the Heroin that is 131kg was missing at the hands of Police Narcotics Bureau. If you can correct your article it is well and good!

  • 1
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    If Sri Lanka is keen to get over this Drug Business, first it should stockpile a sufficient quantity, like from this bust, then get an enumeration of the users and issue through legal outlets to the Registered users, under strict supervision as done in developed countries. The moment this is done, the drug market is killed, as there is no value for the drugs, since the users get it free. This will also reduce the present habit of cultivating new users, targeting generally school kids. Since there is no need to cultivate new users, the drug user population too will decrease. Further 40% of crime will stop that are drug related and the Police will have more time and resources to devote for other areas. Proportionately Court cases will reduce. The only losers will be the Drug Pedlars, the Drug Barons and the Lawyers as Drug related cases will disappear.

    • 0
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      I recall reading in a book titled “Un-Dutchabales” that in The Netherlands it was legal for taxis to transport drugs after 8.00 pm. This ploy, accoerding to the author, had been used to nab drug pedlars and drug barons. When I mentioned this to a SLankan who had studied at a Dutch PG Institute, he told that there were Coffee Shops with a red neon light lit panel “Relax”, and in those anybody could buy and use any drug within the premises.

    • 0
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      Agree with you with every word. But for these issues too, you will need an environment where rule of law works to the core. So long we dont have it, we cant make hopes on drug control or any other graves issues to be disspeared soon. Instead of control, their motto has been promotions those who deal with all kind of abuses. So it is not even worth wasting to discuss these issues, Gamini, I am fan of you, and mostly respect the comments added by you and the few others on this platform.

      • 0
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        Birds of a kind. Pardon me, I am only Thinking aloud. Take care!

  • 1
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    So, the controversy about the missing Heroin has been addressed by this article. Its the conversion of Kilos to Pounds. Why did Pounds ever enter the equation when Sri Lanka follows the Metric system? More fodder for the doubters.

    The import of many items by the well-connected is done without Customs duties being paid. Be they be reduced by instruction, oversight or simply bribes.

    People I know import Cosmetics on a large scale every month and avoid taxes by bribing officers. And the best part is the officers involved tell them how the packaging should be constituted, so it looks right to the security cameras when opened!!! At one time he was stacking newspapers on top, so it would be categorized as old newsprint!! So, whenever Customs catch something I know it is a bait catch, or they did not like the bribe on offer. What is a bait catch you ask? With 10 shipments, one is set up to be caught with the least loss to everyone concerned, so the Customs look good. They have to keep their statistics looking good!

    Go into the recently opened House of Fashions and look at the amount of imported items shown in their shelves. You can rest assured the proper duty WAS NEVER paid on most of them. Hilariously I found many counterfeit branded items at a cheaper price than one can buy in the usual duplicate hubs of South East Asia. That is political influence at work.

    Talking of influence – Who were the engineers who designed and approved the parking structure of that building ?? Access is almost on a PERMANENT STEEP INCLINE and many vehicles were burning up their clutch plates waiting for spaces. Try doing that for 5 floors up!!!

  • 0
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    In the West, drug abuse is not a big deal. Toronto mayor openly agreed that he used cocaine. He had photo ops with drug dealers too. But he did not resigned. Police took no action against him.

    PM DMJ is morally responsible for the letter because it was originated from his office.

    This drug deals/imports started during the UNP rule. many drug dealers jumped to UPFA to save their ass. When LTTE was active, the drugs were simply reached Colombo without any discovery. Drug smuggling was part of the LTTE’s Tamil liberation. Premadasa government gave millions to LTTE.

    But some people ask the head of the PM. It is not feasible because it is a matter of a letter and nothing else. The person issued the letter resigned but PM must issue a statement to the public.

    • 0
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      a drug addict like you who earn the money by hiring your arse to gay visitors should know all about drug use/misuse.

      • 0
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        haha
        I think you talk about your way of living. Dont expect others to do your job!

    • 0
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      that expalains your crap posting here on CT ..always done under the influence of drugs

      • 0
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        You are an Indian shit. You support LTTE smugglers. Then what is your problem over smuggling?

  • 0
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    The important factors in this case, as I see are:

    1. Why at all letters be issued from any Ministry to Custom Authorities requesting that containers be released. If cargo is consigned and received at the end call of port, why on earth any Ministry or other Powers Be issue letters and bring undue influence on the Customs. If the consignee calls and claims the consignment, let the officials do their duty and release or withhold according to the rules and regulations. Isn’t it time this type of undue interference be stopped.

    2. The Prime Minister with or without knowledge had met the alleged consignor and even gone to the extent of having lunch, because he was accompanied by a Provincial Councilor known to him. It is here that PM had acted irresponsibly and given rise to certain doubts of his innocence.

    3. If it was found that this consignment had 250 kg. heroin, the parties who issued the letter and those who were instrumental in obtaining a letter from PM’s office, and the people to whom that was to have been handed over, must now be taken to custody and produced in courts and kept in remand until the investigations are over. Why that is not done still?

    4. As this whole episode evolves around the PM’s court, it is ethical and he is morally bound to step aside until the investigations are over. After all he is also the PM and the Minister of Buddhist Affairs. Why the delay?

    5. In an earlier occasion the PM said that he receives very many letters to sign and he has no time to read them. It is understandable, but if things go wrong, he must take responsibility for the negligence because it is his election not to read the contents.

    6. This incident points to the fact that all “HUGE DRUG DEALS AND TRAFFICKING” do invariably without a doubt center round the BIG WIGS in politics and public offices.

    7. Where are the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS): Ravana Balakaya etc. and other civil society leaders?

    • 0
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      I think it is also important to investigate how many times this particular dealer has imported container loads of whatever in the past, what was imported, customs officers responsible,and also whether similar letters were issued by the PM’s office.

  • 0
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    Dr LF,

    What you say should happen, such as PM resigning his post is true for a robust democracy.

    Sri Lanka today is anything but a robust democracy, more a caricature of a democracy, if you ask me.

  • 0
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    Laksiri must have seen my comment to Malinda’s piece ” No takers for Drugs” on the 5th Jan…..

  • 0
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    Would Mangala Samaraweera’s next speech in our Parliament be to white wash the Wellampitiys OIC ?..

    After all he was only selling Glucose at inflated prices to the stupid drug dealers..

    BTW , The Whiskey burgler who nicked Mangala’s 8 bottles of Foreign Bottles is only a 21 year old male who evidently was familiar with the premises.

    There was no sign of forced entry or exit….

    Funny,,, Isn’t it?..

  • 0
    0

    It is quite interesting to watch the pundits come and talk about rule of law, collective responsibility, Individual responsibility, British Ministers resignation….etc.
    Is it true they think these all relevant to what really happened here?

    There are so many kilos and so many cartoons of that stuff are coming into the country . This single one was used trap the little-baby to tell “fix your son or the king’s family going to fix you”. This is not Managala’s times. This is not Mangala’s Ministry. If king’s family asks to give the letter little-baby who had tried to resign three times already(but could not because his involvements on others too) has to tell his assistants to issue the letter. I think this is the real explanation. Leaving this aside and trying to show that the little baby yet to be instructed of ministerial responsibility are all ostensible. They all sound like fake talk.

  • 0
    0

    The British tradition of members of Parliament tendering their resignation on a matter of principle that obtains in the UK and Indian Parliament was witnessed here many years ago.
    It seems the only tradition that is now followed is to thump on the table.

  • 0
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    Of course, the PM should have resigned. But will he? Not likely. I recall once when they were calling on a minister in Mrs B’s government to resign and he was showing no inclination to do so, the late Dr Colvin R de Silva saying something on the lines of ‘In this country ministers don’t resign. They simply resign themselves to the situation’. How true; how very true!

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