One of the most conspicuous features of the deterioration of the political culture in the country is the increasing lack of trust in the institutions of governance. The entry of the word ‘deal’ into the political vocabulary reflects in more ways than one the cynicism with which the public views the actions of politicians, public [...]


Recent events demonstrate need to build on 19A to protect public servants


One of the most conspicuous features of the deterioration of the political culture in the country is the increasing lack of trust in the institutions of governance. The entry of the word ‘deal’ into the political vocabulary reflects in more ways than one the cynicism with which the public views the actions of politicians, public officials and the police. The events of the past two weeks highlight the manner in which the ordinary public as well as more discerning observers perceive the motives of those who are in places of authority.

The first incident of the ‘eventful’ two weeks was the release from detention of Riyaj Bathiudeen, brother of former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen. He had been arrested five months ago and kept in detention in accordance with the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act on suspicion of having dealings with some of the Easter Sunday suicide bombers.

Then suddenly last week Police spokesman SSP Jaliya Senaratne announced Riyaj Bathiudeen’s release. Explaining the reason for his release the Police spokesman said that at the time of the arrest “ the CID believed they had reasonable suspicion to arrest him. However following investigations the suspicion against Bathiudeen was allayed,” he said adding that Bathiudeen provided a satisfactory explanation to the law enforcement agency. According to Senaratne, as a result, Bathiudeen was released as the CID could not find any evidence to file a case against him.

The announcement and timing of Riyaj Bathiudeen’s release caused several eyebrows to be raised. Given the growing opposition in the country to the 20th Amendment and the dissenting voices emerging from within the ranks of the Government itself the thought that crossed the minds of most observers was that it was a deal done to secure the support of Rishard Bathiudeen’s political party, the ACMC, for the 20th Amendment.

The release of Riyaj Bathiudeen drew a reaction from Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith who echoed the suspicions in the minds of the public. At a press conference the Cardinal said that the actions “are completely contrary to the assurances given to us by the rulers and also smack of a political deal.” The Cardinal went on to express his “sorrow, sadness and complete refusal to accept” the conduct of the CID regarding the investigation into the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Cardinal who has consistently called for the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday attacks to be brought to book cannot be faulted for reflecting the public belief that demands for justice are often sacrificed at the altar of political intrigue and partisan goals. The lack of trust in the integrity of the police and its inability to withstand political pressure is often the cause of accusations that decisions are made on the basis of deals made for political considerations.

The Cardinal’s outrage prompted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to move into damage control mode. In a post on his Face book page, President Rajapaksa said that the government had not entered into any political deal with pParliamentarian Rishard Bathiudeen

He added, “I am not prepared to hand over the power of arresting or arbitrarily releasing people to politicians, as happened in the past. I will also take actions to rectify any omissions or mistakes made by the relevant authorities or officials,” he said.

The action taken to remove DIG of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Nuwan Wedasinghe and replace him with DIG S. P. Ranasiinghe was probably taken in furtherance of the presidential pledge in the Facebook post to rectify “any omissions or mistakes made by the relevant authorities”.

The hapless Police spokesman SSP Jaliya Senaratne too was given a transfer to Kankesanturai.

The whole incident lays bare the vulnerability of public servants notwithstanding the safeguards given to them by the provisions of the 19th Amendment. In the current political climate it is unlikely that a senior official of the rank of DIG would take a decision with regard to a high profile politically-connected person like Riyaj Bathiudeen lightly unless he received a wink and a nod from some influential person to go ahead. And why should the Police Spokesman who was only announcing a decision taken elsewhere be asked to pay such a price?

Yet another example of the plight of the public servant is the case of Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara. Having carried out his duties effectively during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the capacity of Director, Medical Research Institute he suddenly found himself removed from that office in the middle of the second wave of the pandemic when his services would have been most needed.

Unlike in the case of DIG Nuwan Wedasinghe and SSP Jaliya Senaratne the reason for the removal of Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara remains a mystery although it is obvious that he has riled some big feathers. Once again the vulnerability of a public servant is highlighted by the fact that the Minister of Health under whom the MRI comes as well as the Prime Minister were unaware of the fact of the transfer as well as the reasons for same. In another case of damage control, Dr. Bandara has now been made the Media Spokesman for the Health Ministry.

In previous months top police officers like Shanie Abayesekera and Nishantha Silva have faced similar situations with their reputations being tarnished and justice not being meted out to them.

Despite the 19th Amendment having put in place a framework that enables the police and the public service to function independently and without political influence the experience of the recent past shows that old habbits die hard among those in political authority and the 19th Amendment needs to be further strengthened to empower the police and public service to carry out their functions without fear or favour.

The passage in Parliament of the 20th Amendment will sound the death knell of such hopes and aspirations and one hopes that this ill advised Amendment will be defeated in Parliament this week.


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