By Emil van der Poorten –
I have chosen to use the vernacular, followed by the English equivalent because, to anyone with a familiarity with both languages, the former is, by far, the pithier and conveys what the thinking Sri Lankan is faced with in the matter of making choices between the main political conglomerations in Sri Lanka today. One is almost tempted to exhort readers, “Don’t vote, it only encourages the b……ds,” except that such action will only lead to the (endless) perpetration of what Sri Lankans have had to put up with for far too long already: lies, duplicity, game-playing and more of the “same old, same old” performed in the sole interests of the performers (I was going to say “clowns” but changed my mind because this is allegedly the season of goodwill to all human kind and I wouldn’t want to deride that decent, honourable, honest occupation in any way).
What provoked this particular bit of bile was the fact that I was told that Sir Desmond de Silva, P.C. was being kept on in one of the caricatures of investigative/reconciliation/peace-making committees appointed by Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR1) prior to his being consigned to the dustbin of Sri Lankan history (we hope!). Information in the public domain specifies that the retainer that Mr. De Silva was being paid was of some consequence, even by the standards of the upper echelons of the British bar, £60,000 per month.
I am also aware that several responsible journalists such as D. B. S. Jeyaraj (I know, I know, he’s a Tamil!) raised very serious concerns about this appointment at the time it was made. Sir Desmond, it was alleged, had made statements at a major forum in Britain preceding his appointment by MR1 that indicated that he already had strong (if not biased) views about the matters into which he was now going, by the grace of God and MR1 (there IS a difference, you know!), to inquire and on which he was, presumably going to deliver judgement, particularly in the matter of “collateral damage.”
There have also been other rather serious allegations made against Sir Desmond to which quite wide publicity has been given in the foreign media that would suggest that his appointment to deliver judgement on the recent conflict in Sri Lanka could be considered less than an ideal one.
Before I wrote this piece I checked from a responsible Cabinet Minister known to be close to the Prime Minister whether the information I had was accurate, quoting my source. He had the courtesy to respond quite quickly in the affirmative.
There is a time-honoured phrase that says that “Justice must not only be done but be seen to be done.” I would submit here and now that any appointment made by the previous regime connected to matters such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, the destruction of human rights etc. is, plain as the light of day, tainted and unacceptable.
You tell me how any government sworn to bring in good governance and bring out all that is noble in the human condition can countenance such an appointment by MR1, leave alone confirm it!
In this context, I would take readers back to the one committee that the late-unlamented regime appointed which had more than an air of respectability about it. It was called the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons and was comprised of people of true eminence in the legal field, drawn from all over the world.
What happened to it?
Let me quote Wikipedia on the subject: “The members of IIGEP at their November 2007 plenary concluded that they would terminate the IIGEP observation role with effect from April 1, 2008 and informed President Mahinda Rajapakse of their decision. In their concluding public statement, they outlined that they did not see that continued observation would change the situation, and that despite IIGEP drawing attention to defects in the workings of the Commission, their recommendations have been largely disregarded.”
In case, I forget, let me remind readers that the man leading the charge of disruption of those hearings and making it intolerable for the eminent jurists who were there on MR1’s invitation, was the late C. R. “Bulla” de Silva who was suitably rewarded by the MR1 and lionized by sections of the so-called “independent media” of this country at his demise subsequently!
Rather than fill this column with quotes from a variety of other sources, I would strongly urge readers interested in this particular matter to surf the web and arrive at their own conclusions.
However, I do not wish to equivocate, the MR2 government re-appointing a person picked by the MR1gang to sit in judgement on matters of human rights and the like is simply an obscenity.
I have been reminded that Sir Desmond de Silva Q.C.’s eminence has been recognized by the honours heaped on him by British governments and their leaders. In this connection, let me say that such accolades, by themselves, mean little when viewed against a British government’s elevation of Conrad Black to a peerage, as Lord Black of Crossharbour. Details of “Tubby” Black’s history are readily available on the internet for any interested reader.
There have been far too many of these strange “exceptions” to the very “rules” that the Maithripala/Ranil (MR2) regime proclaimed at the time of their accession to power on January 8th and after the General Election which it subsequently won.
I would suggest that what was supposed to be the exception, in the MR2 book, has now become the rule.
Previously, I wrote of how a septuagenarian, who, thanks to an impending Royal Betrothal, was soon to achieve a relationship with the Rajapaksas, was re-appointed by that paragon of UNP virtue, Lakshman Kiriella, after he had submitted his resignation as had been requested when the government changed. That particular episode resulted in my being phoned by a kinsman of the man who was the subject of my column with the intention of giving me a “dressing down” because he thought I was referring to yet another of the clan. That particular little conversation has yet to be concluded because I have had neither the time nor the inclination to have a little “wrap-up” chat with someone who, obviously, thinks what I write should reflect his opinion!
There has already been the case of another septuagenarian, a close associate of a Minister’s father, who has been appointed by that Minister to head up an agricultural research board dealing with a crop of which his own expertise probably doesn’t extend beyond the consumption of the sambol made with the grated kernel of the nut! Of course, that individual’s demonstrated allegiance to MR1 could not but have helped in his quest for yet another (unearned) position of influence!
Leave alone terra firma, not even the skies have been spared appointments based, primarily, on kinship and friendship of one description or another. Check out who heads Sri Lankan Airlines since the new dispensation and check immediate familial relationships if you doubt what I have to say.
Of course, the current coalition could well claim that it is not breaking new ground in that regard because its primary constituent, the United National Party, used to be known as the “Uncle Nephew Party” and, in the vernacular as the “Unge Nayange Pakshaya.” My personal preference is, in fact, for the Sinhala version because it has an appropriately pejorative ring to it!
And we honestly believed we had opted for change on January 8th 2015!
I had been in error in referring to Gordon Burrows as the Choir Master of St. Paul’s in my last column. While he had been of help to that choir from time to time, it was the late Harry Goonetilleke who had a 40-plus year tenure in that position during which that choir reached unprecedented heights. My apologies for the any unhappiness this unwitting error might have caused the friends and family of that most genial of gentlemen, Harry Goonetilleke.