National security bogey raised to skirt issues

By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent

Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunawardena on Wednesday refused to divulge the findings of a commission set up to look into alleged irregularities committed in the procurement of arms and ammunition for the military, citing “threats to national security.”

In response to a question raised by UNP Kalutara district MP Ajith P. Perera during question time in Parliament, the Minister admitted that the Commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Shiranee Thilakawardena had handed over its report, but that was all the Government was willing to divulge, he said.

As to how making public, such details, as the date of the establishment of the commission, the names of its members, its mandate etc., would affect national security, the Chief Government Whip did not say. Somewhat understandable however is the reluctance on the part of the Government to release details of the persons who have been identified as having committed irregularities and what action has been taken against them, if any.

“The President and relevant officials will take the necessary action based on the findings of the report,” Minister Gunawardena said. In the absence of the public not knowing the contents of the report, it may never be known who the wrong doers are or what action has been taken against them. As all government-appointed fact-finding commissions are paid for with the tax payers’ money, there is good reason to allow them to be published.

The Government’s tight-lipped policy is true of other sensitive issues too that have been raised by opposition MPs from time to time--such as the question of the amounts of gold or money recovered from the LTTE after the end of the war, details of the assets of the detained one time international arms procurer of the LTTE, Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP.

It seems the purported threats to national security are being used as an excuse to cover up information that the government fears would be damaging or embarrassing to it, whereas divulging this kind of information can only help the Government to shore up its credibility and demonstrate it is not afraid of transparency in the business of public affairs.

Withholding commission reports from the public is not new to this government as the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga who appointed many a commission too kept them under lock and key. It’s not too late to release them even now.

The Government has already twice scuttled attempts by UNP Deputy Leader MP Karu Jayasuriya to introduce the Right to Information Bill, with promises that it is drafting a similar Bill on its own. But this also seems confined to words.

Meanwhile, the Government also has to defend itself on why it thinks the emergency regulations should continue to be promulgated further despite the end of hostilities more than two years ago. Prime Minister D.M.Jayaratne who customarily opens the emergency debate, on Wednesday, repeated what he says every month, that there are still agents of the LTTE active here and abroad but did not give any reason why the emergency regulations are needed to address that issue.

Several Government members who spoke agreed that the emergency regulations should be scaled down with Minister Dulles Allahaperuma being among them.

Much of the debate was overshadowed by the incidents that took place in the Katunayaka Free Trade Zone during the protests against the private sector pension bill. Minister Allahaperuma used strange logic to explain the people’s outcry at the death of the young man who was killed in Police firing during the demonstration.

“The people were immune to death and human suffering for more than 30 years and they did not react when hundreds died on one day. We have restored humanity to the people of this country by ending the war which is why today they react so passionately to the death of one person,” he said. Sadly, that humanity still seems lacking in the Police.

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