Colombo Telegraph

Sri Lanka Today: Whither Bound?

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

I am not about to open this piece with a synopsis of progress within the first one hundred days that the current government set as the time-frame within which it would achieve a set number of goals. The reason? I didn’t think then and have no reason whatsoever to change my mind now about the fact that those kinds of timelines make absolutely no sense given the quagmire of corruption out of which it was necessary to extract this country.

Those stupid timelines have proven to be what anyone with commonsense felt they would be: a useless suicidal snare in any attempt to attack the fundamental realities that the new dispensation faced. In hindsight, I’m less critical of those conspiracy-theorists who claimed at the outset that this was simply a smokescreen to cover a simple changing of the guard when one set of crooks would take the place of those who set new standards in the matter of how much of the public purse could be appropriated and how quickly!

Not to put a fine point on it, what anyone with half an ounce of political intelligence anticipated has come to pass: those I have on past occasions referred to as “insurance buyers” have had a field day. The Lakshman Kiriellas and John Amaratungas have been offered the opportunity, on gilded plateware, no less, to obfuscate and cover the immoral and unethical behinds of those to whom they were beholden for past favours.

The first priority of a government claiming to be reformist in any shape, form or fashion was to commence cleaning the Augean Stable with the utmost dispatch. While some valuable and necessary steps have been taken by Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe who were faced with a mountain of criminality and corruption built by the previous regime, progress has been unacceptably slow.

I will advance no argument for the arbitrary arrest and incarceration of those against whom there is only hearsay or vague circumstantial evidence of theft and criminality. This government was elected to restore the rule of law and chucking people in jail or “disappearing” them (as did the Rajapaksa dispensation) doesn’t fix the primary problem it only makes it worse. And in terms of “moving in the right direction,” the general direction the government has taken cannot be faulted.

That said, the pace at which the government has moved has been totally unacceptable. My conversations with some in significant decision-making positions has been frustrating, to say the least. Suffice it to say that I do not buy the argument that advancing the rule of law must have, as a concomitant, the snail’s pace at which this process has proceeded, if it has moved at all. “Connections,” “past obligations” and even blood relationships appear to have intruded. Not even the application of some distorted “realpolitik” could have explained the inclusion of Rajiva Wijesinha in the very first list of Ministers. How many members of his “party” did he bring onside? How many members does that joke of a political entity even have?

That is the ludicrous end of what is happening. The more serious is exemplified by the total lack of progress in the matter of a coup allegation, made to the Criminal Investigation Department by Mangala Samaraweera, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs. NO PROGRESS OF ANY DESCRIPTION appears to have been made in that connection. If there isn’t a case to be made, the charges should be dropped and a public statement issued to that effect. If there is, it is obvious that the unthinkable (to John Amaratunge and company at least) should happen and Mahinda Rajapaksa and the rest of his co-conspirators should be taken into custody and charged. How long did it take Mrs. Bandaranaike’s government to apprehend and remand the large number of those accused in the first attempted coup? Yes, they were, ultimately, found not guilty but their being discharged had nothing to do with the manner of their arrest and remanding, if memory strikes me right. There is a crude but appropriate expression to deal with this kind of situation and it goes, “S..t or get off the pot.” While I am not given to using language of that quality (or lack thereof) as a general rule, I do believe that this is one of those occasions on which it is warranted. When I view all of this more-than-kid-glove treatment of miscreants, I cannot but recall, very vividly, the “sucking up” that I personally witnessed by one of the leading lights of the current dispensation whenever he was in the company of Mr. Rajapaksa or any of his entourage, progeny included. Good manners on the part of a host is one thing: genuflectory conduct is another! More recently, when I made reference to one of Mr. Kiriella’s “insurance purchases” in a piece I had written to Colombo Telegraph, I had (the first ever) telephone call from a member of the family that was allegedly soon to be linked to the Royal Rajapaksas questioning what I had written! While I was previously acquainted with that gentlemen, he obviously didn’t comprehend that there are some people, even in this country, who don’t operate as “journalists” in a manner that keeping your head below the fire from the “powerful” is the primary and, perhaps, only consideration. As a side bar, I do hope, that in the interest of civil discourse, he will never consider the prospect of a similar phone call in the future!

THERE IS NO PLACE FOR THE KIND OF CONTINUING EQUIVOCATION WE ARE SEEING AT A TIME SUCH AS THIS IN SRI LANKA’S HISTORY. IT IS ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE THAT CONSIDERATIONS OF MORALITY, ETHICS AND PRINCIPLE should be driving the process. If this sounds like the voicing of “absolutes,” so be it. I’d challenge any reader to suggest how else the Sri Lankan version of a giant Augean Stable can be cleansed and this country returned to the rule of law and for the restoration of a semblance of decency and self-respect to its people.

You have a very large number of lawyers, judges and support staff in this country. You have a positively enormous police force, not to mention army, navy, air force and Special Task Force, the totality of which rivals the entire Russian Army in numbers. Apply those resources, set up additional courts if such are required, employ more judges and prosecutors and support staff, if you have to, and use those in uniform to assist them in carrying out their legal duties. It is a matter of record that we had “the forces of law and order” being applied to suppress anything resembling peaceful, unarmed opposition to the government long after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were completely defeated. Remember the killings at Rathupaswala, the Free Trade Zone and at the fishermen’s protest? Why cannot those very resources be applied in a legal manner against those who have brought this country to the brink of total destruction? “If there is a will, there is a way” it used to be said. The irony of the current situation is that “the way” exists but “the will” appears to be conspicuous by its absence.

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