19 May, 2022


The Disconnect Between Principle And Practice In Sri Lankan Governance

By Emil van der Poorten –

Emil van der Poorten

The fooforaw about the 13th Amendment to the constitution has effectively camouflaged the fact that all the indulgence in debating skills, real and pretended, conceals the fact that NOTHING in the matter of legislation or law is sacred in this country and that what passes for these two elements of governance is not, literally, worth the paper on which it is written!

The term “mind-boggling” is one of those that I have problems dealing with when used by others and one that I try to eschew when at the keyboard of my laptop.  However, that is probably the most appropriate term with which to describe what amounts to the ignorance of or refusal to accept the “Sri Lankan reality” which goes beyond the farthest reaches of impunity in the matter of a select few exercising that which they assume is their God-given right to impose upon their fellow citizens: the kind of violence and intimidation that will never be tolerated in more civilized circumstances (read as “the western world”).

I know that invidious comparison or, rather contrast, is going to bring out the usual  howling mobs of defenders of Sri Lanka’s current regime, but that is what is plain as a palm held in front of one’s face at high noon.  Notwithstanding all the sleaze and deception of many of the governments in the so-called “western democracies,” there is at least an acceptance of what passes for “the eternal verities” – even if hypocritically – in the matter of how people live their day-to-day existences.

We, in the Pearl of the Orient/Land Like No Other/Miracle of Asia (take your pick) do not even make the claim of such hypocritical adherence to anything resembling non-criminal behaviour, consistently trotting out the eternal “they did it first” response to every atrocity of which those who run our lives are guilty.  That “they” keeps ranging from Atilla the Hun, through Adolf Hitler to Pol Pot and goodness knows who else.  Totally out of context though all of those comparisons might be, they are believed to provide something resembling “wriggle-room” to behavior without a smidgen of acceptability, leave alone respectability.

The entire discourse about the 13th Amendment to the Constitution seems to be centred around the devolution of police powers and the right of two or more Provincial Councils to amalgamate.  The fact that these two elements have ONLY existed on the Statute Books and have been COMPLETELY IGNORED ever since the particular piece of legislation was enacted appears to escape the attention of all those either “Pro” or “Con” this J.R.Jayewardene-Indian Government generated piece of our Constitution.

We are expending enough hot air to enable a Hindenberg to circumnavigate the globe about something that has never been operational.  I recall an old and very catchy commercial for a brand of tea sold in Canada many years ago which went, “Only in Canada? Pity!” from an obviously English participant in the scenario who’d inquired whether she could buy the brand in her home country.

Is the ability to tear each other limb from limb over a law that only exists on paper a part of our particular Sri Lankan genius?

What takes all of this into the realm of the ludicrous is the fact that the laws, rules and regulations that are even allegedly, “practiced” are “practiced” in a manner that can only be considered as ludicrous if not downright obscene.

You have the spectacle of a case of murder and gang rape involving totally inoffensive tourists, engaged in admirable humanitarian pursuits in their day-to-day lives, being transferred from a southern jurisdiction to the capital city, allegedly, because witnesses are being threatened in that southern community.  Pray tell how moving a trial from one place to another is going to provide a solution to the problem of witness intimidation when all concerned continue to live in the original location?  All this more than a year and half after the murder/rape occurred.  Alice in Wonderland ceases to be an allegorical look at the universe when one views this kind of “logic.”

The current government maintains its majority by the provision of the most extravagant of blandishments to any who choose to join them while, literally, blackmailing those who show any resistance to the “goodies” on offer.  It is a simple carrot-and-stick tactic that, given a political culture of simple greed and cupidity, cannot but succeed.

I recall the wide publicity afforded a so-called “stalwart UNPer” who was supposedly conspiring to assassinate the President, while, in the meantime, attacking his own leader for not being militant enough in his opposition to Mahinda Rajapaksa.  Where is he now?  Check the (long) list of Cabinet members of the self-same United People’s Freedom Alliance government for the culprit’s name!  I daresay that, in addition, you will be hard put to find anyone in those circles whose performance is louder in that Rajapaksa Hallelujah Chorus!

I could reel off quite a few others who have been, very successfully, subjected to the inducement/threat approach of our Sri Lankan Machiavelli, but space really does not permit of that kind of extended entertainment.

Even when the Dead Left were, in the words of the Bard of Avon, “mewling and puking” about the 13th Amendment’s seemingly imminent demise, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s simple response was that he knew how to muster the required 2/3 majority in a flash, if such were needed.  I have no doubt whatsoever that his was no idle boast, particularly given his demonstrated skill in this particular field (Not to mention the monumental greed of Sri Lanka’s political class)

At this point you might well ask, “But what has all this got to do with the price of tea in China” or, in this case, the matter of reality being totally divorced from desultory discourse in Sri Lanka?

Well, my friends, is it worth spending time and energy seeking to influence the course of events – in this case, Sri Lanka’s history – applying methods that can (and will) be crushed in the twinkling of an eye?  Does one talk about “principles” with those who have provided ample evidence of the fact that the very term means absolutely nothing to them? What on earth are we doing debating the “repeal” of something on the statute book when, for something like the thirty years it has been there it has NEVER been put into practice?  In any event, I would suggest that conducting an argument about “principle” with an all-powerful deity that has not merely displayed difficulty to so much as comprehend  the term but has deliberately excluded such concepts from its practice of governance, is akin to “(Insert the vernacular for evacuating bodily gases) against thunder!”

This is not simply the opinion of some transplanted pseudo-intellectual urban denizen but the wisdom I continuously receive from my friends and acquaintances in the villages that surround me.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Average Sri Lankan does not grasp the need for 13A or the constitution as such. As long as the goodly monarch Mahinda, liberator of the jathiya and agama is in charge, they dont really care what happens in the wonder of asia. So the nation marches down the pallama towards its ultimate hell hole accompanied to the bleats of the minorities and cheers of the janathawa. No realisation will dawn untill hell is achieved.

  • 0

    Emil van der Poorten,

    The cancer of impunity and non-implementation of laws started from the very beginning in 1948. Now it has reached the terminal stage, and the patient needs to be in palliative care in a hospice!

    Tamils, Sinhalese, Christians and Muslims know it in different intensities.

    Tamils realized it through continual anti-Tamil pogroms from 1956 on wards culminating in the massacre in Mullivaikkal.

    Sinhalese know it through mass killing during JVP insurrections.

    Attacks against Christian and Muslim interests are now in vogue.

    How many of the perpetrators of these crimes have been punished?
    Have the victims found justice and compensation?

    Sri Lanka, truly is a land like no other – a paradise on earth, wouldn’t you believe it? Then you may be a terrorist or LTTE rump!

  • 0

    Safa & Thiru:
    What you say is so convincing that I wince!

    However, I’ve learned that political crystal-ball-gazing is a mug’s game! Nobody anticipated the “Spring” in the Maghreb and remember that the USSR, even by Karl Marx’s reckoning, was the last place in which a Communist revolution was likely to take place!
    I was born and raised in this country and do remember D.S. Senanayake’s disenfranchisement of the “Tamils of Indian Origin” Even then, we did not anticipate the anti-Tamil pogrom that was Emergency ’58. However, the security services were fair and even-handed and stopped such as the Padaviya Panzers (see Tarzie Vittachchi’s book, “Emergency 58” for details)
    I had a mother, long past middle-age, living alone on a small estate, who gave a few Tamils shelter within her home, with a shotgun propped up in a corner of her bedroom, and telling any who cared to listen what awaited them if they tried to harm those poor workers! She and others like her never thought twice about that kind of behaviour: they believed it came as part of belonging to the human race.
    The evil that bestrides this land cannot last forever. If nothing else, the law of averages dictates otherwise and no army of soothsayers, even if ensconced as Directors of the National Savings Bank, can change the tide of history once it begins to flow.
    Have hope, my friends!

  • 0

    Emil van der Poorten,

    I notice nowadays that more and more Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Christians are openly expressing their views against the madness going on for several decades. If this trend continues to grow that would be a hopeful sign.

    If Sri Lankans can learn to live respecting every community and the history behind the sorry state of affairs today, then it can become the Switzerland of the East.

    I, like you, hope so too.


  • 0

    13A died and was buried in Nandikadal lagoon. In the new Sri Lanka, the SL where all are one and there are no minorities, there is no need for a 13A or for that matter any other tinkering with the constitution. The last tweak to ensure this (and future) presidents can present themselves for re-election ad infinitum is sufficient to ensure that the undying gratitude of the (sinhala-buddhist) electorate can be harvested by you-know-who till thy kingdom come.

    From my perch, high above the southern littoral, all I see is a once-golden island now inhabited by a network of sycophants who pay homage to no one but the King of Medamulana. Their native instincts tell these parasites the line they must not cross, everything else is theirs for the taking.

    As for the other ‘law’ abiding citizens, they will live their lives doing their best to avoid the sycophantic gangs and thugs that blight the land. The sinhala-buddhists among them go to sleep happy that there is peace from tamil terror in this thrice blessed island and that the dhamma is safe. Not much to ask for, really.

    To foreigners who do not like what the GOSL do; tough titty. To our friends a guaranteed vote, right or wrong, at the UN and similar fora.

    Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim et al; if you cannot live in this framework, leave. It is a sign of the times that our SL diaspora minus the tamils now far out-number the total numbers of colonisers that came to SL in all our 450 years under the yoke.

    Emil, you offer us hope; more like ‘live in hope, die in despair’.
    You take care now in that bucolic hideaway of yours!

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