It was chance encounter with a sociology professor during a walk at the ‘Weli’ Park at Nugegoda that triggered the thoughts behind today’s column. Prof: Hi Feizal, How are things? Me (FS): Well, while there is freedom of expression which is a huge plus, there are still issues in governance. Prof: Absolutely. Things are moving [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Naming and shaming


It was chance encounter with a sociology professor during a walk at the ‘Weli’ Park at Nugegoda that triggered the thoughts behind today’s column.

Prof: Hi Feizal, How are things?

Me (FS): Well, while there is freedom of expression which is a huge plus, there are still issues in governance.

Prof: Absolutely. Things are moving too slow and corruption still persists apart from what happened in the past. Maybe the corrupt should be named and shamed.

Me: But will it work? Look at the procession of present and past politicians who are  hauled up before court. They proudly lift their cuffed hands to media cameras indicating political victimization. It has become a joke. Handcuffs have become a symbol of political oppression.

Prof: Ah, that’s a new theory, never realised it.

A few days later, he resigned as a board member of a state body because some recent overseas professional engagements meant he had limited time for this work apart from his regular academic career. However, my ‘gut’ says he was disappointed with the slow progress on corruption tackled  in the state.

Meanwhile I was brought down to earth on Monday while pondering what to write. “Meygollo okkama boru kiyanne, (they are lying)” says the cantankerous Kussi Amma Sera (KAS) as she prepares the morning tea, whistling an off-beat version of Sunil Perera’s ‘Piti kotapan nonay’.

“Mokkakde? (What?),” I ask and then she refers to a newspaper report where the SriLankan Airlines CEO has defended a controversial deal to wet least an A330 aircraft to Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). The media reported last week that Pakistani authorities were probing alleged corruption in the deal and had barred the PIA CEO, a German national, from leaving the country.

KAS was annoyed with the SriLankan CEO’s response. He was reported as saying that the deal was a “transparent process and that the tender strictly followed government procedures”.

“Transparency kiyyanne apey public ekata penna oney neda (being transparent means keeping the public fully informed),” she said.

Moving on, a telephone call thankfully disrupts the getting-nowhere conversation with KAS. It’s ‘friendly’ economist ‘Ahthayrole’ on the line.

Ahthayrole: Hey, did you see that page one advertisement in the Daily News on March 18?

Me: No. Why? What about it?

Ahthayrole: It’s a big ad titled ‘Public Notice of Apology’ with the word apology in huge letters. It has been placed by a proprietor of a pharmacy in Trincomalee who says he was found guilty by the Magistrate’s Court of “carrying on a business without a valid licence, issuing drugs without a prescription by a doctor and failure to engage the services of a qualified pharmacist”. The accused has duly noted in the advertisement that he paid a fine of Rs. 50,000 and wished “to extend a sincere apology to the general public of Sri Lanka for committing the above offences and pledge that I shall not commit any such offence in the future”.

Me: Whaaaat? Public apology? Unbelievable! Wait let me get the newspaper. (I run to the newspaper rack at home, rummage through old papers and find the March 18 edition of the Daily News, and yes there is a huge ad).This is serious stuff.

Ahthayrole: This is what naming and shaming of a guilty person should be.

Me: Totally agree.

Then I recall seeing earlier small newspaper advertisements on similar ‘public notices of apology’ on the payment of a fine in cases pertaining to selling drugs without a doctor’s prescription and the pharmacy not having a qualified pharmacist. That didn’t draw my attention until ‘Ahthayrole’ brought it to my notice.

This was interesting. To check the law pertaining to public confessions, I asked a criminal lawyer whether there is provision in any other Sri Lankan law for public confessions of this nature, and he wasn’t sure and was in fact surprised at the kind of public notice that prevails in offences pertaining to the sale of medicinal drugs.

While laws in most territories permit confession or admission of guilt in a crime, it’s unheard of that such confessions are published as notices for the whole world to see.

Defamation laws or regulations pertaining to the media contain provisions whereby newspapers are obliged to publish ‘a correction’ of an incorrect news item and apologize to the aggrieved parties in the same notice.

If the public confession of committing a crime and pledge to the public, through a compulsory newspaper advertisement, not to repeat the offence extends to other laws, then this is the naming and shaming culture that Sri Lanka desperately needs.

Imagine a politician atoning for his or her sins, on being found guilty of an offence including corruption or abuse of power, and publishing the compulsory ‘public apology’?

Imagine a corrupt businessman being found guilty by a court and issuing a public notice of apology?

Imagine a journalist being found guilty of ‘manufacturing news and falsely implicating some people’ and ordered to publish a ‘note of confession’?

Imagine civil society activists who have got activated with the advent of the Right to Information Act and demanding information on the assets of public figures, while hiding their own ‘assets’ from public scrutiny, being asked to publicly ‘confess’?

Imagine if judges, who are not above the law, also come under the ‘proposed’ laws of public confession?

Imagine the head of state and the head of government also agreeing to be covered by ‘public confession’ and publishing ‘notices of apology’?


Will that change the world, reduce crime, reduce corruption or give new life to the culture of naming and shaming the corrupt who act with impunity?

Maybe yes, maybe no. However, this is food for thought and if the law of equality is applied, then the ‘public notice of apology’ enshrined in the laws pertaining to the sale of medicinal drugs without a prescription or proper licence, should extend to other offences too.

Only then Kussi Amma Sera’s assertion that “transparency kiyyanne apey public ekata penna oney neda” (being transparent means keeping the public fully informed), will become a reality.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.