This title refers to those 117 government MP’s who submitted a petition to the Speaker demanding the impeachment of the Chief Justice. The word ‘valiant ‘is used deliberately; this is the first occasion when government MP’s have dared move even an inch, leave aside take such a drastic step as they’ve done, without as much [...]


The neo-vigilantes of Sri Lanka


This title refers to those 117 government MP’s who submitted a petition to the Speaker demanding the impeachment of the Chief Justice. The word ‘valiant ‘is used deliberately; this is the first occasion when government MP’s have dared move even an inch, leave aside take such a drastic step as they’ve done, without as much as a nod from the all-powerful Boss, leaving aside any encouragement or definite order from him to act, with such energetic immediacy, to correct wrong-doing particularly, financial wrongdoing, in the country. The President has said publicly that he knew nothing about this move of the ‘Valiant 117’.

The Mannar court complex under attack: Oh, vigilante, where art thou!

Bravo! A one man government, in other words, a Dictatorship, is a dangerous ‘Kaduwa’ and it is heartening to know, assuming that the President was not just joking, that there are at least 117 government MP’s with the guts to voice their views and actually take action accordingly. This  is most commendable and bodes well for this country,  since that 5 star democrat JRJ redefined the word democracy and introduced a home grown brand with which he ruled like a monarch,  called an Executive President, whose ‘right there was none to dispute’.  Cynically, the country was and still is, referred to as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

His successors  maintained the status quo till the incumbent president thickened and adorned the monarchical mantle enwrapping the Executive President by introducing the 18th amendment – which effectively made an already all powerful Head of State,  a true monarch. He, by subtle means, fair or foul, enticed opposition parliamentarians to cross over to the government benches ,to ensure at all times, that the ruling party (of which he was head) maintained at least a 2/3 rd majority  in the legislature.

In combination with the 18th amendment, the President was functionally crowned a ruling monarch. He had and has total control over all ministries. The Cabinet of ministers, though increased by leaps and bounds, to suit the needs of the hour, became a mere show-piece for a select elite to live ostentatiously, at public expense, yet powerlessly; provided they confined themselves to exercising  power in individual instances, with presidential assent, if not prompting. Ministers and Deputy Ministers became puppets on a taut string. .

The distinction between the executive and the legislature was so blurred that we could actually refer, for practical purposes, to the Executive-Legislative Combo. The Chief Executive exercised firm control of two of the three arms of governance. This amalgamation placed the 3rd arm, the Judiciary, in grave peril. The birth of this perilous combination was brushed aside both by the legal profession, the higher judiciary itself and a voiceless, apathetic public consisting of  average citizens, the so-called academics and intellectuals and even the clergy of all denominations. The mainstream press, for obvious reasons, was clearly exercising strict censorship. All accepted this draconian amendment with hardly a whimper.

The present move of the ‘Valiant 117’ is  the direct culmination of a recent deplorable state of affairs evidenced by a series of attacks against the judiciary; attacks leading to an unseemly, wholly avoidable, distressing and dangerous duel between the judiciary and the other two, now virtually fused, arms of governance, which could  be called the executive – legislative  combo. This Combo was determined, at any cost, to undermine and imperil the constitutionally guaranteed authority of the judiciary. This deplorable situation was engineered at a time when the crime rate was escalating and lawlessness was rampant; largely due to the emasculation of the forces of law and order by power-hungry government politicians, who together with their kith and kin were often the worst offenders, either directly or indirectly; the latter, by shielding law-breakers who were their henchmen.

The only possible positive feature of this move of the ‘Valiant 117’ was that it seemed to indicate that at least 117 government parliamentarians had awakened at last, from years of a deep Rip Van Winklish sleep, to realise that there was and is increasing corruption in high places; corruption and disrespect for the law, a sad deterioration, which must be stopped without further delay, if the country is to be saved from passing into extinction after being dubbed a ‘failed state’.

Unfortunately, the method of achieving this end was to train the ‘combo’ guns on the pinnacle of justice. The combo sought the impeachment of the Chief Justice on the accusation of misbehaviour and impropriety in matters financial. Particularly, in not declaring bank accounts and assets, here and abroad. I am not appearing as counsel for either the Chief Justice or the Government, since I am in no position to decide on the truth or otherwise of the charges made. Yet it would be interesting for the public to know how many politicians, at least of the 117 valiants, have made these required declarations!

What I am most concerned about is the disastrous fall-out of this breakdown in relations between the Judiciary and the other two powers of governance, each of which has its own sphere of power wielding. Power which had to be wielded in the name of a sovereign people for the benefit of all the people and the country as a whole. The extent and limits of these separate powers are clearly laid out in the Constitution which is the Supreme Law of the land  and does not tolerate any transgression of the power of one by another.

The Valiant 117, from the position of power of the Combo, claim that they, as representatives of the people, are acting in the interests of the people, and that they have the right to ignore the rulings of the higher courts, even in matters constitutional. The government believes that the legislature reigns supreme. This attitude can only lead to chaos and the destruction of the country, and is based on a forgetfulness of the fact, that it is the People who sit on the throne and bear the crown of  Sovereignity of this so-called, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri lanka.

This throne rests on the three stout, strong and separate power sharing pillars,  the judiciary, legislature and executive.   Each has its clearly defined domain of power wielding. There is no question of superiority of one over the other, except, that the right of interpreting the various clauses of the constitution rests solely with the higher courts of justice.

The claim by ‘the 117’ that their action is in the name of the people is seriously doubted by many if not most of the people. This, because of the clearly demonstrated apathy and somnolence shown by these very same government politicians over the last few years; years during which the country kept fast declining into a state where lawlessness and a total disregard for the norms of democratic governance and accepted rules of procedure reigned supreme. Here are a few examples, known to the silent majority, which illustrate my point.

1.         A police force which was smart enough, to outsmart the very high quality intelligence outfit of the LTTE  , and thus effectively protect the nation in the fight against terrorism, are still looking for murderers who seem to elude our most efficient sleuths. For instance, those responsible for the assassination of Lasantha Wichrematunge have still not been traced and taken into custody. They roam around freely probably being responsible for further assassinations, having got away with a high profile daylight killing. I name just one known example.

This same police force has been unable to detect those responsible for abductions,  assaults, death threats etc, particularly aimed  at journalists. At the same time diligent police officers have been prevented from taking action against criminals either by ‘orders from above’ or often even by overnight transfers.

The latter actions have sent a clear message to the police force in general; that they must not interfere with the activities of certain ‘untouchables’ who are in close touch with power wielding politicians, and to the offending law-breakers, that they can break the laws of the land, because they are protected by ‘deities’ sitting comfortably above. Of course, in return, these corrupt politicians have an instantly conscriptable body of goons, at their command,, to deal with ‘inconvenient’ persons such as journalists who perform their expected duty of informing the public of any activities aimed against the people’s interest, as well as being used against  police officers and judicial officers  who are performing their public duties with diligence. Were the ‘valiant 117’in a deep slumber or on a jaunt abroad,  naturally at public expense, when all these nefarious activities occurred? Come, come, brave 117,  give us your answer for your inaction,  while the whole populace wonders. Perhaps you may excuse yourself, because, the leader of the effete opposition has, as expected, in his wisdom, preserved as ignoble a silence.

The apparent public spiritedness, sense of aliveness, enthusiasm, energy and alacrity  displayed by you, in bringing charges against the CJ, is in striking contrast to the apathy displayed by you in the above matters. What is more, when judges have been threatened, officials of the Bar Association subjected to death threats, with intimidating gun-fire heard in the vicinity of their residences, what have you, oh ‘valiant 117’ done? Are these actions not a threat to the security of the people of this country? People whom you claim to protect? Are you blind, deaf and dumb or just frankly afraid of those in the government more powerful than you?

2.For quite some time, too, once powerful authorities, namely COPE and the Auditor General, authorities, directly responsible to parliament have levelled serious charges against officers responsible for mismanagement, if not deliberate fraud in the misuse of public funds, with huge losses of revenue. The Greek Bonds issue for instance. Have these officers even been asked for their explanations? Why have you not ensured that your government take urgent action against these offenders? Are you reserving your fire solely for the apex of the judiciary, since that could easily demoralize and emasculate the judiciary as a whole, as has been done with the police? Was your action designed solely for the purpose of denigrating the judiciary and not for the high minded reasons put forward by you?

Recently, the Head of COPE, a highly respected, experienced politician and a senior minister in the government has asked his government to clamp down on political appointments to top managerial positions in government ventures and to appoint professionals devoid of political affiliations, to such ventures.

3.Two customs investigations by conscientious public officials, noted for their impartiality and integrity were stymied either by disbanding the investigating unit concerned or transferring the head of the customs department overnight without an explanation. Was it that the investigations were leading to powerful and affluent friends of the government? Did you urge your government to find out who was responsible for this interference with the customs department which in a time past no one dared interfere with? Had not the interference  been responsible for loss of government revenue apart from dissuading conscientious public officers from serving the public ? Did you urge your government to at least enquire into this matter? Surely you could have petitioned the President as you did the Speaker!

4. Again two highly responsible, industrious and patently honest officials, heads of an important institution dealing with large financial transactions, resigned from their posts on the grounds of ‘interference from above’. These officials had detected financial irregularities of a high order. Why were you looking the other way without raising questions, particularly when the person who replaced these highly respected officials was  one who was implicated in at least one of these irregularities? Instead he was actually asked to head the investigation into the alleged irregularities?  Have you asked for the results of this investigation? You, who are so concerned about  alleged financial malpractice of the CJ and keep hounding her!

5. Have you asked why a relatively recent allegation against the CJ’s husband has been suddenly given priority by the Bribery Commission over many long-standing cases against Ministers and others in high places?

The majority of the people in this country are outraged. For once they have been shaken out of the hypnotic sleep into which, by the continued hype of the government and its supporters, they had fallen into, in the post-terrorist defeat period, now stretching over years. It would be advisable for this government to remember that popularity is evanescent, ephemeral and easily swept away by a strong wind that affects the daily lives of people who had been cowed into silence. Cowed by the fear of reprisals ranging from accusations of unpatriotism and being supporters of the LTTE ,to abductions, assaults and actual death, meted out by government sponsored and favoured goons.

Some of your more vociferous ministers keep harping on  conspiracies engineered by traitors within this country and external enemies, being responsible for the allegations referred to above. One such hoarse minister actually said that all the protests about the impeachment proceedings were engineered from enemies abroad with a view to bringing the Judiciary of this country into disrepute! This is a really sick joke emanating from a truly sick member of your own sick government. Why have you not asked this minister to name these conspirators? Have you not yet realized that your government has been brought into disrepute by its own actions against a sovereign people of all races and religions? Don’t even you; oh ‘valiant 117’ have the valour to examine your own conduct over the years, the misgovernance of your own government? Or are you truly afraid of self-examination and self-criticism?

The outrage, referred to above, has been at last expressed by a wide spectrum of the people, a spectrum that ranges from the majority of the legal profession, some retired judges of the supreme court, through true conscientious and patriotic professionals and academics, to highly respected religious leaders of all denominations.

I refer to the religious leaders of the Congress of Religions, among whom are the Ven Dr.Ittapana Dhammalankara Anunayake Thera, the Ven Prof.Bellanvila Wimalarathana Thera, the Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayake Thera, Colombo’s Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Colombo’s former Anglican Bishop Duleep De Chikera and National Christian Council President Rev.Ebenezer Joseph.  While endorsing the appeal made by the four Mahanayake Theras to the President to withdraw the impeachment motion against the CJ, the Congress of Religions has observed that the Government appeared to have been motivated more by recent Supreme Court decisions, which went contrary to its expectations than by a prima facie case for impeachment. If that be the case, the independence of the Judiciary – a cornerstone of democracy and the last bastion of justice for the people- would be in grave jeopardy.

These religious leaders further went on to say that the speed with which the Government had proceeded to impeach the Chief Justice gave rise to a justifiable suspicion about the motivation of the Government. They were concerned by the rejection by the Government of the recommendation of the Supreme Court to postpone impeachment proceeding, until the Court gave a ruling on the constitutional competence of the PSC to make a judgment on the charges against the CJ.

The Congress emphasised that this move to impeach the Chief Justice was another instance of the breakdown of law and order in the country. Sri Lanka’s civilisation was at stake, because of the assault on the independent Judiciary, and the Congress urged the Government to act according to  time-tested spiritual values of all four major  religions.

The underlying, overarching and paramount  tenor of the outrage expressed island wide  is succinctly expressed in an editorial in the Daily Mirror of 26/12/12.

“It is not about whether Dr.Bandaranayake is innocent or not. It is about whether or not she receives a fair hearing…If the head of the highest institution that metes out justice is denied the fundamentals of natural justice, the regime will care less to see that those of the public are safeguarded. In contemporary Sri Lanka, when all the other fundamentals of democracy have long died a silent death, it is only the independence of the judiciary that has been breathing through the troubled times. The death of it would be the death of the people’s freedom to be equal before the law and their ultimate right to be right”

I wish to conclude with an extract from a wide-ranging, startlingly eye-opening address, ‘Independence of the Judiciary’ by the internationally highly respected and recognized former Supreme Court judge, Justice  C.V. Wigneswaran, at the Annual Judges  Conference on December 21. (This address reported in full in the Daily Mirror of Dec 24 should be read and digested by every civic minded person and should be compulsory reading for all judicial officers, politicians, public officers holding high office, lawyers and law students.)

“I know these days there is much stress in carrying out your ( a  judge’s) duties. Your personal security is at stake. Interference extends not just to your duties, but to other stress as well. Even this Conference was sabotaged…

I, however, see a silver lining at the end of all this. If the powers that be feel threatened by the Annual Conference of judges, surely that is a sign of fear. That is a sign of weakness. That is a sign that what you do and say matters. That is a sign that the tide has turned, that a battle has been won and that intrinsic independence shines strong amongst you, the younger members of  the Judiciary.

You must continue performing your duties however challenging they are, bearing in mind the need to be balanced. You must continue to remain together, for you can be certain that there will be moves to split asunder the unity. You must continue this historic struggle for extrinsic independence. Not just for the judiciary but for democracy”

I have expressed my opinion, the opinion of an ordinary, average citizen. It is my inalienable right. Now, I present for reflection, particularly by those in high places, words of wisdom that have come over the ages from the ‘Meditations of Marcus Aurelius’- one of Romes most beloved and venerated emperors; admired not only by the Romans but the world over; a most successful military campaigner, a philosopher and a man in the truest sense of the word.

‘Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten-thousand years. Death hangs over thee. While thou live, while it is in thy power, be good.’

‘Short-lived are both praiser and the praised, the rememberer and the remembered’

‘What then is worth being valued? To be received with the clapping of hands?

No! Neither must you value the clapping of tongues, for the praise of the many is a clapping of tongues’


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