If the Police want to deploy the long arm of the law, their Chief and one of their agencies — the CID, must surely not only know what laws exist, but what don’t.  Its foray into newspaper offices this week to record statements from editors of mainstream newspapers, reminiscent of the bad old days of [...]


Minister diverts criticism by putting CID on wrong scent


If the Police want to deploy the long arm of the law, their Chief and one of their agencies — the CID, must surely not only know what laws exist, but what don’t.  Its foray into newspaper offices this week to record statements from editors of mainstream newspapers, reminiscent of the bad old days of not so long ago, was halted in the nick of time.

The Trade Minister who set the process in motion over a garlic scam in a state institution under his supervision also seems to be suffering from a bout of amnesia as the laws of criminal defamation were repealed nearly two decades ago by a unanimous vote in Parliament where the Minister himself raised his hand. Power corrupts and the Minister ought to have known he just cannot let loose the Police to harass editors and journalists on a criminal investigation.

If not for the timely intervention of the Prime Minister reminding the clumsy cops of the laws of the land, the Government would have ended up with one big embarrassment.

It was only a fortnight ago that the UN Human Rights chief referred to the “harassment of journalists” in Sri Lanka. And the cops barging into the newsrooms happened while a European Union delegation was in town assessing the democratic scorecard of the Government in order to extend the GSP tax facility for the country. To cap it all, it was the day the world commemorated the UN’s International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI).

Ironically, the theme for IDUAI 2021 is to build back strong institutions for the public good and sustainable development as well as to strengthen the right to information and international cooperation in the field of implementing human rights. The CID could not have picked a worse day for its adventurism.

As The Editors Guild statement condemning this high-handed Police-state-like action says, the entire incident revolves around a humongous garlic scam that took place under the nose of the Trade Minister and it is the duty of the Minister and the CID to bring to book the culprits of this stinking scam rather than pursue the messengers exposing it. The CID not only misdirected itself on the law, but look like a joker following the wrong trail.

A related coincidence this week has been the coming to an end of the historic first Right to Information Commission (RTIC) established in 2016 after a media and civil society-led struggle for an RTI Law for over a decade and a half. The impressive record of the RTIC’s work is reported on page 2 today. It opened new vistas for the ordinary citizen in accessing public information and changed the secretive culture of government.

The RTIC ceases to exist right now as only two members remain. The President must appoint the second Commission ASAP, if not immediately. Open government is bad for corrupt Ministers and officials but good for the country.

Garlic scam’s pungent qualities

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has a major issue to handle on his return to the country. That is to go into the mind-blowing details revealed by a whistleblower insider in the Consumer Affairs Authority involving billions of rupees reportedly siphoned off from the state’s essential foodstuffs distributing arm, Sathosa. It started off with the exposure of a staggering racket in the sale of imported garlic, but has extended to what have been cases of organised crime involving foodstuffs meant for the ordinary citizen.

Sathosa has long been touted as the safety net consumer store of the state that protects the poor householder from the ‘ravenous wolves’ that are the private traders. It has also long been associated with human ‘rats’ that feed off it to the tune of not thousands, not millions, but billions at the expense of the ultimate victim, the very people whom the state is supposed to protect.

With the cost of living soaring by the week to astronomical heights and the ordinary people asked to pay more and more for their daily dhal, sugar, milk powder, wheat products, gas and other essentials, those in charge of their import and distribution are laughing all the way to the bank. Ministers, chairmen and officials seem to be doing everything to say there is no hanky panky taking place. But the whistleblower’s allegations are damning. Files given to the CID some time ago, of rackets during previous Governments have been gathering dust because of the absence of ‘political will’ to prosecute the culprits. The whistleblower says most of them are together in the game and there is no way these daylight robberies can take place without collusion among them.

The President rode to the high office he holds on a solemn pledge that he would change the corrupt system within government. The people are waiting to see this pledge fulfilled. And it has been a long time coming. Thundering statements by Government Ministers that the rice mafia will be controlled have backfired and instead it is this very same mafia that is rubbing the nose of those big-talking Ministers in the nation’s plate of rice. The sugar scam of a few months ago has been deftly covered up without a proper investigation.

In the USA, former President Bill Clinton had a big-time sugar baron and financier of the Democratic Party, Alfonso Fanjuls and his brother Jose ‘Pepe’ of Palm Beach, Florida benefit from government restrictions on imports giving the Fanjuls who were also co-chairmen of Clinton’s Florida campaign in 1992, windfall profits in a captive market obliging American shoppers to pay twice as much for their sugar. The sordid details emerged in the public domain and the long suffering American taxpayer had to clean up the Fanjuls-Clinton mess. The political-business links between a powerful sugar baron and the government are not dissimilar in Sri Lanka.

It is not the culprits in this sordid racket who need the protection of the state, but the whistleblower who is now concerned for his safety. These are not matters that will go to Geneva’s Human Rights Council, but they are ‘crimes against humanity’ nevertheless.

Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
Comments should be within 80 words. *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

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