Come February 4 each year, it is always a useful and appropriate time for an annual stock taking on the state of the nation. Next week, Sri Lanka celebrates the 67th anniversary of her Independence – from 400 years of foreign rule. Now, we are the masters of our land, captains of our destinity. This is [...]


Breath of fresh air: Don’t let it be blown away


Come February 4 each year, it is always a useful and appropriate time for an annual stock taking on the state of the nation. Next week, Sri Lanka celebrates the 67th anniversary of her Independence – from 400 years of foreign rule. Now, we are the masters of our land, captains of our destinity.

This is also the 100th year, the centenary of the defining 1915 riots in Sri Lanka. It was the watershed moment, the turning point in the history of modern Lanka; a simple skirmish that blew up into a major conflagration. The British Colonial Government imposed martial law. A young patriot was shot by firing squad, scores incarcerated on charges of treason and newspapers were banned, yet it galvanised the people, Buddhist revivalists, Christians, Muslims, Tamils and Burghers, to rally round one banner, one slogan; “Freedom”.

On February 4, 1948, that Freedom was obtained. In 1972 whatever remaining ties with Britain were severed and Sri Lanka became a Republic. Alas, the way we managed our affairs made some yearn for the “good ole days” of the British Raj. Such was the mess we made of things, the art of good governance was lost as institutions were allowed to disintegrate. It soon became not the Rule of Law but the Rule of Men or Women.

Today, we have a Government of national unity. It was in the 1960-65 period that this country had a National Government with parties from the North and South sitting together as Cabinet colleagues. This current Government, however, goes even beyond that with parties not just from the North and South, but with divergent political ideologies and from different ethnic and religious groups working together towards a common national objective.

To expect a Utopia — an imaginary perfect state — is not what is expected. What is expected is to narrow the widening gap from the near failed state status this country finds itself in several aspects of governance. It is if, and only if, such an experience, as has been bestowed upon this nation, works and that the divisive, parochial party politics that this country has witnessed for too long can be overcome that the leaders of today would have ensured the efforts of their forefathers in winning that Freedom in 1948 were not in vain.

North-South reconciliation is high priority in addition to the economic upliftment of the people and getting back on track on democratic deficiency. Tension with the elected representatives of the North has now been defused with the appointment of an eminently suitable Governor who is well versed with the needs and aspirations of the people of the area. Having served as a member of the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) he might want to see some of its recommendations that were ignored by the previous dispensations implemented, no doubt with the concurrence of the Chief Minister.

Meanwhile, elements who want to ferment trouble and trigger another uprising in the North are omnipresent. Many of these advocates of hatred do not even live here. The people in the North have faced the agony of the war years and yearn for peace. There are challenges to this national unity that has been forged after many years.

There is a breath of fresh air in the country today as we celebrate 67 years of Independence next week; but that is always the case after an election. It must not be easily blown away with the games national leaders play jostling for power and place.

O! Justice, what a shame
The Independence of the judiciary is one of the fundamental elements in an independent country. The country’s Constitution refers to this independence and says that superior court judges who dispense justice are protected by the Constitution and can be removed only by “proven misconduct”; but it also says they must be of “good behaviour”.

What we witnessed this week on Hulftsdorp Hill, the citadel of the legal fraternity and epicentre of the Rule of Law, was something quite out of the ordinary, to put it mildly. Exasperated as it was with the incumbent Chief Justice — widely referred to as CJ 44 because it was the view of many that though he was CJ de facto, CJ 43, his predecessor remained CJ de jure — digging his heels in and refusing to resign amidst overwhelming accusations of ‘bad behaviour’ , the Government eventually moved in to resolve the gridlock. The move seemed ham-handed but was nothing in comparison to the way CJ 43 was removed from her perch through a botched impeachment motion. The new Government argues that it is only rectifying a wrong and bringing the status quo ante into play.

In a shocking move to resolve the issue, the new Government consented to weaning CJ 44 out of office with a diplomatic bribe – at his request. The letter of appointment had been typed and was with the Justice Minister – to send him to Rome as an ambassador.  His eventual dismissal is a dangerous precedent that the Government has created; but the blame must rest with CJ 44 for not quitting when he knew that his conduct was unbecoming of a Chief Justice. His canvassing for the post when his predecessor was unceremoniously evicted by the then Government; his trekking to the President’s country residence to partake of milk rice and pay homage to him during the traditional New Year, his links in the corporate world and his general cosiness with the leaders of the previous Government was an open secret among the legal community.

What broke the camel’s back, so to say, was his presence at ‘Temple Trees’ in the company of the sitting President on the night when election results were coming, and in offering legal counsel when he knew that , in the event of an election petition, he would have to sit on that Bench. His statement to the CID seems to say that he went merely to console the President. He might as well have told that to the marines.

He brought the entire judiciary to a new low in the eyes of the public. And, by his ultimate dethronement in the manner it occurred, he brought disgrace upon himself more than anyone else. There was overwhelming evidence for CJ 44 to be thrown out of office. But let this not be a precedent for all new governments to sack a Chief Justice with every election like they do with corporation directors.

The end result is that there will be no CJ 44 as we knew him on the records. The CJ 44 as we knew him will go into history as an imposter. Article 119 (2) has been invoked to legitimise whatever judicial decisions he gave from the Bench. There is a new CJ 44 now. What a mockery the once respected judiciary, where the Chief Justice was known as Nadukara Hamuduruwo (the High Priest of Justice) has been reduced to.

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