By Emil van der Poorten –
Among the web comments on a piece I did for Colombo Telegraph titled, “Joining the stampede“ was one from “Don Quixote” calling for listing, pursuit and prosecution of those guilty of crimes against the nation, with the lists being compiled from now.
I was intrigued by the suggestion for the primary reason that it brought to mind the work that Simon Wiesenthal did after the end of World War II and until his death in 2005 at the ripe old age of 97. That crusade had, as probably its most publicized success, the spiriting out of South America, trial and execution of Adolf Eichmann who was guilty of crimes against humanity that were without precedent.
The closest and probably most unfortunate exercise in Sri Lanka similar to what is being suggested was the law and the tribunal created specifically to punish those accused in the abortive coup of the nineteen-sixties by Felix Dias Bandaranaike. The fact that, ultimately, all the accused were released had less to do with justice being served than the rejection of Felix’s attempt to wreak vengeance on the conspirators whom he saw as the enemies of the Sirimavo Dias Bandaranaike government in which he was one of the leading lights. It was one of those rare instances where the malice that drives legislation proposed by an eminence grise, such as Felix was, came unstuck.
What is appealing about Don Quixote’s suggestion on the Colombo Telegraph is the fact that it is commonsensical, to say the least, and will certainly serve the justice that needs to return to Sri Lanka.
Why? Because we have, particularly during the Rajapaksa Regime, an unbelievable level of theft from the public purse and, not only the removal of the civic and human rights of Sri Lankans but their very right to life.
What is proposed is not a matter of (justifiable) vengeance being wreaked on people who have behaved in what can, without exaggeration, be described as a bestial manner, exercising their “right” to deprive the ordinary citizenry of Sri Lanka of the rights and freedoms that no government of any description has the right to remove. It is a national cleansing that is a sine qua non for our return to a place in the ranks of the civilized nations of this world, reclaiming the Buddhist philosophical base of this country which has been abused and deliberately observed in the breach in recent times.
Will it happen when the present Family Rule ends? Possibly, if the broad mass of the people of Sri Lanka decide that enough is enough and dump the current regime in the garbage bin of history where it belongs and have the energy to take the essential step to return to civility and civilized conduct.
However, some of the current signs in the day-to-day politics of Sri Lanka provide grounds for some pessimism in that regard.
One of the principal road-blocks to the prosecution and punishment of those who have been predators on the body politic is the manner in which the largest single party in opposition to the Rajapaksa hegemony – the United National Party – has been extending invitations to those previously in its ranks to return to its bosom. These characters have, simply to enhance their local and foreign exchange accumulations, joined the Rajapaksa horde where they have done very nicely for themselves, thank you very much. These commission-kaakkas, to apply a very gentle description to what they do, contributed to the erosion of the national treasury and have been active participants in the destruction of the very foundation of democracy in this country. I would not, as used to be the case in some or all of the old Iron Curtain countries, suggest that such behavior be treated as a capital crime. I do believe however, that it is essential that deterrent punishment – short of the death penalty – be meted out to those responsible for such crimes.
Apart from investigating and prosecuting financial malfeasance, the matter of punishment for the violence visited upon anyone standing in the way of their conducting this robbery must be paid particular attention. Their behavior has gone beyond simply removing any impediments to their theft. It has extended into a wholesale denial of civic and human rights up to and including murder. In fact, it would be redundant to say that legal action can and must be taken against those guilty of such conduct. Every single charge for serious crimes of violence that has been dropped for reasons such as “a lack of evidence” needs to be thoroughly reviewed and reinstated if the facts require that such be done. While these crimes of violence often overlap those of embezzlement from the public purse, it would make practical sense to establish two separate streams of investigation without compartmentalizing one to the exclusion of the other.
The United National Party or any party claiming the right to govern this country has to give the citizens of this country a solemn pledge that they will pursue those who up to now, had a free ride in the matter of criminal behavior and subject them to the full weight of the law. Nothing less will suffice.
This business of the UNP establishing an open-door policy of some kind to attract the Prodigal Sons of Sri Lankan politics back into its ranks will not wash. If it wishes to pursue its “forgive and forget” policy, its leadership deserves a sharp boot up its collective rear end. And it is up to those within that party (and all the opposition parties) to make a clear and unequivocal commitment to removing corruption, root and branch, from Sri Lankan politics. Nothing less will do. I believe there are still a few people of conscience in all of the political entities in this country, though finding one in the ruling coalition might well be akin to looking for the proverbial needle in a rather decayed and foetid haystack!
About the only politician who, in his loose-cannon fashion, referred to the need for retribution for the thieves and murderers passing as our rulers was Sarath Fonseka when he ran against his erstwhile boss for the Presidency. The fact that he paid a terrible price for that piece of lese majeste is a matter of historical record now. However, it should not, in any way, detract from the absolute necessity of identifying, locating and punishing to the fullest extent possible, those who have destroyed all that is decent and honourable in our nation.
Goodness knows we’ve had Commissions without number whose reports disappear into a Presidential Maw never to be seen again and what is being suggested might sound like more of the same. However, if a group of committed citizens is prepared to embark on the development of law and the selection of a tribunal or tribunals from now, I see no reason why such an exercise cannot become a reality.
The obvious place to look to start such an initiative would be one of the “Forums,” which, even if they seem to lack motivation and backbone, are composed of those who have the financial wherewithal and basic protection from blatant intimidation to embark on such a task. Why don’t one of these “tut-tut brigades” who have made it part of their endless pursuit of self-righteousness in pronouncing on all kinds of moral and ethical issues and matters related to good governance do something useful and genuinely valuable for a change? Why don’t they gird up their (very respectable) middle-class loins, perhaps forego some of the financial benefits of being good little (superannuated) boys and girls and set about this valuable task? After all, they don’t even have to name their targets at this point. Just develop law and the means of imposing it on those guilty of criminal conduct, when the time arrives. Am I dreaming in technicolour in hoping that some of these ivory-tower occupants could be enticed out of the rarefied elevations at which they dwell to begin this task? Or is it the hoi polloi of Sri Lanka, already straining every sinew to survive, which is going to have to embark on this journey, risking their very lives to do so?