Supreme Courts around the world face daunting challenges unlike in old times when they were looked upon with awe and fear. These days it is ‘the supremacy of the people’ that is supreme, and not the so-called Supreme Courts. Nonetheless, the US Supreme Court covered itself with glory last month at a time when the [...]

Sunday Times 2

Fourth constitution in the same abyss as before?


Supreme Courts around the world face daunting challenges unlike in old times when they were looked upon with awe and fear. These days it is ‘the supremacy of the people’ that is supreme, and not the so-called Supreme Courts.

Nonetheless, the US Supreme Court covered itself with glory last month at a time when the entire American system of justice was being pulverised , the American Supreme Court included. The last two justices appointed by Donald Trump were identified with his line of thinking and politics, while appointing them grazed some judicial conventions. The Supreme Court, it was claimed, was ‘packed with pro-Trump judges’ who constituted the majority.

The thinking of most who opposed Trump and those beyond the borders of America was that a pliant Supreme Court would rubber stamp crucial decisions favourable to Trump and make way for his second term in the White House. Trump’s histrionic election strategy too appeared to be linked to decisions of the Supreme Court because even before polling, he declared that the polling would be rigged through postal balloting even though this system had worked satisfactorily in many states before. As the day for voting drew close, he went on accusing the postal service, officials of the states conducting the polling and Democrats of fraudulent practices.

Trump’s lawyers took all these allegations that were rejected by counting centres of the states to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court unanimously rejected all appeals on the same grounds that they were rejected by the States: Lack of evidence.

The Supreme Court justices, whatever their political convictions and commitments to Trump may have been, stood by the Oath of office they had taken: To abide by the provisions of the Constitution of the United States of America.

The nine American justices by their demonstration of this simple task of abiding by the oath they were sworn in — be faithful to the constitution — stand as a beacon of light to all democracies around the world whose democratic systems are dependent on the loyalty of legislators, officials and certainly the judiciary to the constitution. This is particularly relevant in our country and region where the Oath of Allegiance to the constitution taken by politicians is merely a mantra to be repeated to gain entry to office and their real loyalty is to some politician for favours gained or to be gained.

Sri Lanka has had few judges who stood by, for the law and principles such as former Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon and former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake who was impeached by the Sri Lanka Parliament following the Supreme Court holding two government bills as being ultra vires to the constitution.

There were others like the unsung heroes — the Supreme Court Bench — that held the sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe by President Sirisena and the replacement of Wickremesinghe by the then Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa as being against the provisions of the constitution.

All this constitutional jugglery can be presumed to be a search for true justice to be provided for the people of Lanka. Last year we had the 20th Amendment to the Constitution giving full executive powers to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa; meanwhile, we have the country’s reputed lawyers hard at work on the Fourth Constitution of Sri Lanka with the objective of making real ‘Rajapaksa’s Visions of Prosperity and Splendour’.

Last month the new president appointed a new Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate and report or take necessary action on commissions or committees appointed by the last government, viz: CIABOC, FCID and the SIU (Special Investigating Unit of the police).The state owned Daily News expressed the objectives clearly: “In the wake of a flood of revelations of interference in police and legal matters and other areas of abuse of power during the period of the previous government… a high-powered presidential Commission to investigate allegations of political victimisation as well as undue influence on the judiciary and police during the past regime…”

One Presidential Commission has already completed its sessions and the Opposition in parliament are demanding its release to the public.

As time passes, governments, commissions of inquiry, issues material and spiritual, all of which are transient will change. The majority calls this a Theravada Buddhist country that believes in aniccha — change with time. So, will successive commissions and their findings also undergo change?

Some kind of political stability is brought about by the constitution that is called the principal law of the land but that stability depends on politicians who are at the levers of power in implementing a constitution. We had three constitutions in 73 years and all three were workable constitutions provided our politicians owed allegiance to the constitution and its provisions and not to their questionable leaders.

The basic flaw in all three constitutions is that there were no absolute and binding provisions protecting the rights of minorities and what their obligations should be. Naming the rights of all citizens in a constitution as stated in the UN charter on Human Rights is well and good but not making them entrenched provisions could in moments of crises, make the majority to ride roughshod over minority rights and the minority to break out into an insurrection, reducing a well-meaning constitution to a shambles.

That is the story, or rather the history of Lanka since 1956.

Can writers of the fourth Constitution avoid walking into this abyss with their eyes open? It all depends on those who have commissioned the new constitution.

(The writer is a former editor of The Sunday Island, The Island and former consultant editor of the Sunday Leader)

Royal-Thomian: Why at Ham-ban-tot?

The Royal-Thomian has been a red- letter day in our calendar since 1948 when as a tiny tot we saw it. To tens of thousands who have been through the two institutions it marks days of joy and entertainment with cronies going back to their whims and fancies in the best days of their lives.

This year we hear disturbing news. The match is to be shifted to the back of beyond in this country, the reason being the Covid virus.

Royal-Thomian annual cricket encounter: There is more to it than cricket

Being an Octogenarian but still trying to make it to the encounter, we are attempting to find logical reasons for this attempt to take this match played in Colombo for 141 years to this outlandish place.

It is by no means a place of peace and tranquility. Elephants have been displaced from their traditional habitats and are roaming the countryside in search of food and water, destroying crops and village homes.  Poor farmers are staging hunger strikes (seen on TV) appealing to the government for protection which does not appear to be forthcoming.

This is clearly not the environment for a 141-year-old cricketing fest, the Battle of the Blues, to be held.

If the Covid 19 Virus is the reason, has this place Hambantota been declared Covid free region by the health authorities?

If not, is the match to be played in a so-called stadium in Sooriyawewa sans spectators for the pleasure and profit of TV companies?

Any one acquainted with Royal-Thomians know very well that while the cricketing prowess of the two teams do matter, a Royal-Thomian is much more than that. Old boys from all corners of the globe come to rally round their college flags, parents, teachers and the boys young and old meet and greet and go back to those happy days once again.

Have health authorities not considered that even a limited number journeying from all parts of the island to Ham-ban-tot could result in the disease spreading far and wide after the match?

If the match cannot be played in Colombo, why not postpone it and be played on a later date in the year when the virus retreats?

What about other ‘big matches’ usually played in Colombo?

Will these encounters be shifted to Sooriyawewa and make the former playgrounds of the Lords of the Jungle, the Lords of Cricket in Lanka?

There appears to be a conspiracy of silence in the media, the organising committees of the RTM of the two schools and school authorities.  Is it now a fait accompli?

They will be answerable — if the shift of venue brings in developments to the detriment of the Second Oldest Cricket Encounter in the World — to generations of old Royalists and Thomians.  The billion dollar question is: Why Hambantota and not any other Thota (port)?

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