By Emil van der Poorten –
The pictures of Chanuka Ratwatte being escorted into custody as a result of being charged with what some publications claim is the biggest single financial fraud in Sri Lankan history brought a smile to my wrinkled old visage, if not an outright guffaw.
Why? Because this kind of humour is not easily come by in Sri Lanka, despite it being the capital of such as ambulatory, human tents parading as cabinet ministers. Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner certainly get pushed into the farther reaches of comedic history by something like this.
Let me explain.
Not so long ago, a small group of superannuated Kandy Sports Club supporters decided to hire a van and go down to Colombo to support their club rugby team in their fixture against the team that represents the service that is designated to “serve and protect” all of us ordinary (unarmed) citizens.
Typically, being there well ahead of the regular spectators, we had a good view of, not only the grounds, but the seats as well, particularly those adjacent to ours that were designated as being for special guests, to which category we belonged for that afternoon at least by virtue of our “superannuated visitor” status.
Anyway, there not being too much excitement in watching the grass grow on the police grounds, we looked around as we chatted among ourselves. There was a younger couple (90%+ of all those present, apart from ourselves, would have belonged in that category!) some seats away from us, temporarily, at least, somewhat isolated from whoever else were (very) early birds in the stands.
I thought I recognized the male, having been a classmate of his father in what was once known as “the best school of all,” Trinity College. I had also been introduced to his eldest brother first by that individual’s mother-in-law and then meeting him at least once more at his father’s funeral. I regretted that the brother with whom I had spent most time in pleasant and civil conversation – now the ex-Mayor of Kandy – was, unfortunately, not there.
Any reader who has followed this narrative so far is probably going to be wondering where all of this is going. Well, let me start nibbling at the pith of the anecdote.
First, I verified the identity of the youngest son of Anuruddha Ratwatte and was then told that his finance (?) company was the sponsor of the police rugby team which, typical of any such entity seeking success had lured several established players from other clubs (who weren’t serving members of the police service) and most of whom must have had post-graduate qualifications in thuggery, rather than rugby, if the rate at which they qualified for penalties was anything to go by.
However, before talking about the quality (or lack thereof) of the rugby on the field, let me describe some of the pre-game niceties we were spectators to.
As is typical on such occasions, before the game began, the “distinguished guests” trooped in. Among the many-pipped and be-ribboned police hierarchy which, I was told, included the Inspector General of Police was a coterie of politicians, inclusive of at least one of senior Cabinet rank.
What I found most amusing was the fact that the so-called “dignitaries” all appeared to greet Mr. Ratwatte with a significant degree of deference (I suppose, as befits the financial sponsor of the rugby team representing Sri Lanka’s primary law-enforcement agency.)
It might well be that those who saw nothing wrong with this protocol could trot out the usual, “no one is guilty until proven so in a court of law.”
However, appearances do matter and this particular scenario needs to be placed against the backdrop of the fact that this sponsor of the police rugby team was one of those primarily involved in the Uda Talawinna Massacre where about a dozen and a half people, all Muslims, were executed for the crime of being opposed to Anuruddha Ratwatte, his father, during a parliamentary election. And please don’t give me that “innocent until/unless proven guilty” bushwah because this was in the time that the enforcement of criminal law was in the hands of the Rajapaksa Horde which distinguished itself by a deliberate and complete abandonment of the rule of law and the administration of justice.
This is in such contrast to what prevailed at another time when there was a danger of being found guilty when one was innocent. Then, a lawyer who I’d retained to defend me against a criminal frame-up, something just beginning to be established under Mrs. B’s watch, told me where I could put my sangfroid because, according to his sterling advice, “Don’t think you are going to be found not guilty in a court of law just because you are innocent!”
Things sure changed under the Rajapaksa Watch!
Appearances do matter and let’s face it, after the dam containing the huge accumulation of Rajapaksa Regime criminality had sprung its first leaks, what the hell was the police doing accepting sponsorship of its primary sports team from Chanuka Ratwatte?
To add insult to injury, the slogan emblazoned on the jersey of every member of the team representing the service dedicated “to serve and protect” the citizenry of Sri Lanka had a huge spelling error that only a kindergarten student of the English language might have made! The divide between the criminal and the ludicrous is not, obviously too wide.
Perhaps, the police service which has its own media spokesman who spends an inordinate amount of his (and our) time on television spouting “bulletins” and “explanations” can be briefed to explain the circumstances in which the man accused of the largest fraud in Sri Lankan history could, while he was allegedly doing so, be sponsoring the Sri Lanka Police rugby team.
As for the Inspector General of Police and political dignitaries of cabinet rank paying “pooja” to this man before they took their seats, I’ll leave the readers of this column to judge them!