By Somapala Gunadheera –
Remanding VIPs on reports from the FCID is the hottest topic today. In April, last year, Mr. Basil Rajapaksa (BR) was arrested at the airport on his return from a sojourn abroad and remanded on some charges little known to the people who witnessed the ailing ex-minister carried between hospital and Court in an ambulance, creating deep sympathy in the public mind. A judicial hearing into BR’s alleged crimes has not begun in earnest so far while the sympathy created for the fallen strong man grows day by day.
Even if a Court comes to hold against BR in due course, the emotions created by the unnecessary exposition of his humiliation under arrest and remand may counterbalance the effect of the verdict in the public eye. I say ‘unnecessary’ because a man who was abroad when action was threatened against him, would not certainly have returned on his own, if he had an escapist disposition. That mentality would apply to any VIP under investigation because he should know that running away impliedly amounts to a conviction without trial and that stigma would blast his future for all time.
BR’s case is in direct contrast to a similar case filed against the Secretary to the former President, directly in the High Court where the Learned Judge bailed out the accused soon after the case was filed, despite insinuations made in the unconventional media with a view to getting the accused remanded. The prime purpose of remand is not punishment but ensuring that an accused does not run away from justice. No accused in the FCID cases is likely to run away for the reasons given above and they are too well known to hide themselves in any other part of the civilized world. Even if they did, it would not be a problem to get them back. Why then create a forum for them to secure themselves within a fortress of public sympathy with queues lining up at Welikada to visit them and rallies all over the country for their release? By the time the FCID gets its act together, the accused can build up a fund of public compassion that can make a final verdict against them a dead letter. The negative effect created by this scenario can even lead to public unrest on the ground that the cases are fabricated for vindictive reasons.
The Government has been talking about frauds and other crimes committed in the FCID cases for too long. It may be that proving them involves special difficulty. But why not file action on cases that are reported to be completed? This delay appears to be a creature of lopsided management, arising from failure to plan ahead. First, a decision has to be made in what Courts the cases should be filed. There were occasions when cases were filed in Magistrates’ Courts and then taken up in the High Court. The accused had to languish in the remand jail until cases were moved up because the lower Courts did not have the power to grant them bail on the charges involved or they had to go in appeal to the higher Court to get themselves released. This would not have happened if the administration had made a policy decision up front to file the cases directly in the High Court, considering the level of charges involved. The delay was unfair by the accused involved.
Another overdue decision pertains to Courts that will hear these cases and their composition. Will the cases be heard by the High Courts under their normal mandates? That would take a month of Sundays to exhaust the list, thereby dissolving the cases in the endless waters of time. May be roles would be reversed by the time the cases are finally disposed of.
The obvious solution to this challenge would be to constitute one or more special Courts to hear these cases. Then arises the question of the composition of the courts. The weight of charges and of those charged is so heavy that they call for more than a single bench. It is best that they are composed of two or three Judges, as the resources permit. This is a decision that has to be made ab initio. Under the circumstances it is best that the Judges of these Courts are handpicked, preferably by the Chief Justice himself, in view of political ramifications involved. Speedy disposal of these cases calls for hearing continuously from beginning to end, thus avoiding normal lengthy postponements.
The question arises why these problems have not been thought of in advance and suitable arrangements made to meet them. This phenomenon does not appear to be unusual in a dispensation that waits until its Attorney General retires to start looking for a successor. Such failures of strategic management appears to be at the bottom of the present Government’s inability to keep to its promised targets. A new Head of State would do well to seek guidance from of an outstanding expert on strategic management in organizing his onerous input. Such an expert at the top of the new Government’s galaxy of advisors (without portfolio), should help to quicken its pace and to regain the seemingly diminishing confidence of the electorate. An astute administration will not fail to see the relevance of its dilly dallying with the FCID cases to the oncoming local bodies’ elections.