25th February 2001
JVP bashing goes on unabated
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Correspondent
In a representative democracy, the legislature is the supreme instrument giving expression to public thinking. If this concept is true, it is obviously confined to the books on accepted parliamentary practice alone. Over the years, our Parliament has plummeted from the sublime to the ridiculous, earning nothing but public wrath for the members who enjoy a host of privileges but perform poorly the heavy public duty reposed in them.
If the country happens to face many ills, this House is a poor reflection of that. Plagued by a protracted war and an economic battle, the House should be ideally a threshing ground. Despite the President advocating austerity to ministers, the word is rarely mentioned inside the chambers. Instead, what is mentioned is the JVP- the PA's pet aversion. And that too, of recent origin, with the government commemorating the late SLMP leader Vijaya Kumaratunga with a photographic exhibition depicting JVP violence supplemented by JVP bashing at every given opportunity inside the House.
The JVP, now compelled by the government to bear the cross of disrupting the functioning of the universities, strived to clear its name by taking up an adjournment motion on Thursday afternoon in this regard, which eventually turned out to be an exercise by vociferous government legislators to highlight the JVP's sins and digress from the issue.
The JVP's Bimal Ratnayake was in an aggressive and uncompromising mood as he moved the motion. On the warpath from the very outset, young Ratnayake saw government attempts to heap blame on the JVP for unrest and destruction in universities as an organized attempt to discredit them.
'The government seems to be now on the lookout for the minister who can cause mayhem better. The explosive situation at Kelaniya and the unrest at Ruhuna were created by a Southern minister's goons. They provoke students, bring gangsters from outside to terrorize the portals of education, all because they wish to rig the student elections. The minister's wish is to disrupt the education of thousands to score petty political points' he sniped.
Reading from a letter allegedly sent by the minister to an SLFP student union, he accused the union of being instructed to silence JVP students by intimidation and disrupt student activities using even minor incidents to whip up violence and close universities for which financial and logistical support were promised.
Ratnayake found it amusing that the relevant minister in a newspaper interview charged fellow ministers of conspiring to keep 'his students' out of the student union elections.
'It's now a home and home battle for supremacy. He treats this like his own election, which was stained by violence. That's all he knows' noted he, and to defend the minister, there stood Deputy Minister Mervyn Silva, in shimmering pink satin, wailing in protest.
'Tell him not to name absent ministers' he urged, adding a string of accusations to his request, arms flaying theatrically.
'I am reading from a newspaper' replied Ratnayake, but de Silva would not have it.
'Newspapers don't say the gospel truth. They claimed that I paid Rs. 300 per youth to enlist. They themselves are biased lunatics' he accused in an incoherent voice.
Ratnayake was obviously familiar with de Silva antics as he questioned the role of the government. Was it to disrupt education and sow seeds of dissension, setting fire to university property and blaming others, or to have performers like this?
This was replied by a barrage of accusations from the pole-vaulted deputy, screaming amidst the din that those who made killing a vocation, destruction of property an art and governance impossible, should be debarred from speaking-a claim which received unmitigated approval from deputy minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage who made some of his trademark screeching in support.
If Ratnayake drew blood, the UNP's Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena managed to second the motion with relative peace, despite the digs.
'Here's a government which made pledges to reinforce freedom, now politicizing institutions of learning causing their closure. Is this the way you protect free education? Why should students enter these places with death warrants in hand' he queried.
'Some matters are before courts' quipped an unruffled Higher Education Minister Indika Gunawardena, earning the wrathful remark that if government policy had to be determined by court, there was no need for a government at all.
What became obvious was the government relishing the idea of releasing fiery Mahindananda Aluthgamage on JVP demolition courses. The Nawalapitiya member with a penchant for JVP-slamming began a high-pitched delivery, by harping on alleged JVP atrocities, judiciously declaring with strange logic that they had no moral right to speak at all with their burdensome past.
'Here are the young saints- of course with their bloodstained hands. These are the men, who still don't allow SLFP students to get elected to student unions, who pose off as democrats with their gruesome records' he slammed.
If relevancy is expected from a member's speech, this had no semblance of it as he lambasted the ten-member group, getting both the JVP and UNP excited in one go. When the UNP's cub legislator Sagala Ratnayake stood up in protest, the vociferous deputy shouted him down saying 'Why are you getting excited when I slam the JVP? Is it one of your nayakathuma's orders?'
So he argued that the JVP today was actually an extension of the brutal UNP which rewarded the JVPers with tyre pyre tactics.
'Today they are hand-in-glove to attack us. Bimal Ratnayake has a right to speak about the many people he abducted and killed during his gonibilla days, but not about university administration. These are the guys who killed vice chancellors, lecturers and students in a series- disallowed decent burials and crippled the system with their chits' he breathed, piling scorn with gusto.
In contrast to the afternoon, the morning was quiet with an amendment to the Widows and Orphans' Pension (Amendment) Bill not drawing blood. What was unexpected though quite in keeping with the constant practice of legislators, was the cheeky advocating of more perks and privileges by deputy minister Harindra Corea.
The son of a politician who zealously called for broad reforms in social welfare, Mr. Corea thought it fit for legislators to clamour for more perks, releasing verbal arrows at a UNP member who in contrast has proposed the abolition of the MP's pension scheme. He was rich and a pension was unnecessary to him, so he urged everyone to forego it. Amidst growing unrest, with the UNP's A.H. M. Azwer giving the Chair his customary hard time, Speaker Anura Bandaranaike cautioned the member to refrain from discussing the conduct of a member.
'You are experienced and educated enough to make a better contribution' said the Speaker kindly, and Azwer wished to know, as there were two members proposing the abolition of the pension, whether Mr. Corea referred to Bharatha Premachandra, co-proposer from the PA.
'Do not mislead. This rich guy is a sitting UNPer. He may be rich, but he should not propose all to forego the benefit. The JVPers don't draw salaries. Will they someday propose legislation banning the receiving of salaries? There are those who travel from far, and those without sufficient assets who need these perks' he opined.
While some may agree with Corea's contention that 'as members cannot exist in a vacuum, they should ask for more without the usual humbug', the masses might not take too kindly to his suggestion.
Yet he also said that there should be proper evaluation of a member and his allowances should be increased depending on various factors.
'If he is a rural MP, he needs a bigger fuel allowance' he noted.
To a government urging expenditure curbing during difficult times, many would find a streak of Mary Antoinette thinking in the untimely suggestion that members should clamour for more money and increased allowances.
If Harindra Corea drew little support, perhaps it was sole Sihala Urumaya member Tilak Karunaratne who gave the House a different political taste.
Following the PA's Rizwie Sinnalebbe who spoke with anguish about the suffering of minorities and the thrust of war, Mr. Karunaratne militantly shot back that those who had no conception of what the country's biggest problem was, should not hurry with their diatribe.
'There is a terrorist problem plaguing this country, but not an ethnic one. It is true that we all have aspirations, but all aspirations cannot be achieved. The truth is that there is no discrimination. Even the late Kumar Ponnambalam agreed with me once that they would stick to talking about aspirations but not discrimination' he noted.
The silver-haired Kalutara legislator explained that when a terrorist group rose up in rebellion against the government, the only choice was to wage war. There is ethnic cleansing in the North and East. The demographic patterns in the country are rapidly changing with Sinhalese and Muslims being chased away, he observed with pain.
'Why not talk about it? Why not admit that those driven from their homes don't go to uncleared areas but come to Sinhala-dominated areas for security? It is with the Sinhalese that you survive. Though the minority migration is so high, the Sinhalese gladly welcomed other communities and live harmoniously.'
And the LTTE's extended ceasefire drew sarcastic remarks from the former SLFP and then UNP member who quit the main parties to advocate the Sinhala cause.
'Those are fools who believe that they did it out of goodwill. They are currently playing to the international community.
Weakened by military defeats, they are worried about Britain's possible banning of the LTTE in the near future, hence the extended cease-fire' he noted.
Mr. Karunaratne, at least left the House thinking as he concluded 'We have been fooled many times. These peace processes are appeasements of the LTTE more than anything else. The way to go is to militarily suppress the LTTE. Let's not be fooled over and over again'.
Recalling events of Vijaya Kumaratunga assassination
By: Kishali Pinto Jayawardene
It is almost a pathologically interesting fact that this week should see the arrests of three persons, (the Daily News of this Wednesday going so far as to describe one of them very tellingly as being a "former JVP member"), in connection with the Vijaya Kumaratunga assassination. The arrests follow hard on the heels of the now famed government organised 'JVP terror' exhibition where for the first time since coming into power in 1994, the Kumaratunga administration has seen it fit to embark on a comprehensive albeit necessarily subjective explanation as to the nature of the creature that the State confronted during 1988-1989. The coincidence, if that is what it is, is fascinating, to say the least.
As has been reported, an Assistant Superintendent of Police C. N. Wakista has been remanded in connection with the disappearance of Tarzan Weerasinghe alias Herath, identified as being one of the two main suspects in the assassination. The other two arrested are identified merely as a leading motor spares dealer and an employee of a private firm. The arrests are apparently linked to the concealment of valuable information on the assassination as well as aiding and abetting the main suspects in the killing. Incredibly, it is also reported that at the time of being arrested, (and this is some thirteen years after the event), one had in his possession, the bag which carried the weapon used in the Kumaratunga assassination.
Be that as it may, the arrests are noteworthy for more reasons than one. For this, one needs to take a refresher look back in time. Mr. Kumaratunga was assassinated on February 16, 1988 shortly after 12 noon. He was shot at close range by an assassin who came on a motor cycle ridden by an accomplice. The shooting took place during the waning months of the Jayewardene administration when the country was gripped by subversive terror and a countering state terror and investigations into the shooting of the SLMP leader commenced in a haphazard manner with the arrest of several persons accused of aiding and abetting the assassin. Eight months later, President Ranasinghe Premadasa assumed executive power following the retirement of Jayewardene and selected Ranjan Wijeratne as his Minister of Defence. On March 14, 1989 the alleged assassin Lionel Ranasinghe alias Gamini was arrested on a chance identification by the police. There was no official evidence on record that the principal accomplice identified as one Tarzan Weerasinghe had also been arrested. However, evidence led before the Vijaya Kumaratunga Commission by other members of the JVP imprisoned at the CID during the relevant time indicated that Tarzan had indeed been detained during early 1991.
On October 3, 1989 the chief suspect Gamini allegedly escaped from police custody. Cellmates of the prime accomplice Tarzan alleged that he had been taken away from the CID at some point in early 1991. The fate of both remained unclear. Meanwhile, others accused of aiding and abetting these two were released due to what the police claimed to be an 'administrative error' while two suspects produced in court were discharged. Investigations into the matter were then dropped.
Seven years later, President Chandrika Kumaratunga proceeded to appoint a Presidential Commission of Inquiry headed by the then Supreme Court justice Sarath N. Silva to inquire into and obtain information in respect of the circumstances relating to the assassination of Mr. Kumaratunga and the persons directly or indirectly responsible for such assassination and to make such recommendations with reference to any of the matters inquired into. After the appointment of the commission, its mandate was extended to cover the manner in which such investigations were conducted by the relevant public officers, whether or not such investigations were properly and impartially conducted, whether there was any lapse of any public officer in or in relation to the conduct of such investigation and whether there was any interference in any manner by any person in the conduct of such investigation.
The findings of the commission are now well known as are critiques into the nature of its conclusions. The evidence led before the commission was found to establish a prima facie case against President Premadasa and Minister Ranjan Wijeratne of indirect involvement in the assassination. Mr. Premadasa and Mr. Wijeratne had themselves been assassinated by that time. President Premadasa was said to be implicated firstly by evidence of a motive for the assassination and secondly by circumstantial evidence of the suppression of the investigation. In the main, the first ground was based on the fact that Kumaratunga was said to have become a formidable rival of the Prime Minister at the Presidential Elections scheduled for later that year while the second ground was in view of the fact that investigations into the offence was not carried out with any measure of diligence.
Mr. Wijeratne was implicated on the basis that he illegally and improperly interfered in the conduct of the investigation, the transferring of the investigation from the CDB to the CID where the investigation was reportedly stifled. Severe strictures were passed on the two highest men in the CID at that time, Chandra Jayawardene and Amarasena Rajapakse who replaced Frank de Silva and Bennet Perera. The former, described as "Premadasa's handpicked man", was found responsible for allowing the suspects to disappear and for not conducting a proper investigation into the assassination. The commission comes to the conclusion that this could not have taken place without the acquiescence of very powerful higher ups. Mr. Wakista was, in fact, the officer from whose custody Lionel, the principal assassin, had escaped when being brought from Homagama police station to Colombo.
Criticisms of the findings of the commission particularly against Mr. Premadasa and Mr. Wijeratne were strong and justifiably so. Writing to the newspapers at that time, former justice A. C. Alles, among others, pointed out that the reasoning of the commission appears to be that since Mr. Premadasa succeeded in being elected as President, he must have had a hand in the liquidation of a political rival and in this respect, …it is a concept completely alien to established principles of criminal law." The problem was essentially in the manner in which the commission preferred not to consider the other point of view, that Vijaya Kumaratunga was, in fact, killed by the JVP. Evidence led before the commission inclined towards this fact, for example, Mr. Lionel, the prime suspect had admitted in his statement that he had been contracted to kill Kumaratunga by the JVP. The commission, however, rejected his evidence on the basis that police officer Chandra Jayawardene who took down the statement was an unreliable witness. Similarly, it bypassed evidence of JVP death threats against Mr. Kumaratunga both verbally and in their leaflets. Mr. Kumaratunga, a hero figure for the youth in the country, was perceived by the JVP as a traitor to the cause due to his support of President Jayewardene and the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord. While the investigation into his assassination was admittedly lacklustre, it was however during a period of paralysis of the country's normal life where assassinations both by the subversives and the state were common. The disappearance of the two main suspects were therefore naturally attributed not so much to attempts by the government to cover up their involvement in the assassination but rather to be a brutal manner of disposing of known JVP subversives is much the same manner that Wijeweera himself was disposed of.
It is in this context that the official gymnastics indulged in following this month's arrests would be quite interesting to observe. First, it was the UNP. Now, it is, to all intents and purposes, the JVP. The nature of the suspect differs, it appears, according to the political mood of the moment. This is, of course, a truth of no great significance. The sadness of this continuing exercise, however, remains in the fact that institutional reforms suggested by the commission which would have been a healthier corrective rather than selective witch hunts, still remain idle.
Among other reforms in the Police Department, the commission recommended the appointment of a permanent quasi judicial independent body empowered to inquire into complaints relating to inaction, abuse of authority, suppression of material and partiality on the part of the police. These recommendations were ignored for a number of years after the report was released. Instead, the report was only utilised to sling mud at the then heads of government in the best traditions of the past. Now, we have implementation of similar reforms caught up in seemingly endless wrangling over the proposed constitutional reforms. And so, the process continues, not only oppressively but indeed quite palpably ridiculously.
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