As students many decades ago, we were enthralled by the stories, if one might call them that, of Robert Ripley called “Believe it or not.” If at times it was difficult to believe them it was because some were so far-fetched and contrived and others so bizarre that they appeared to come from an imaginative [...]


One, country, one law: The case of task farce


As students many decades ago, we were enthralled by the stories, if one might call them that, of Robert Ripley called “Believe it or not.”

If at times it was difficult to believe them it was because some were so far-fetched and contrived and others so bizarre that they appeared to come from an imaginative mind rather than statements of fact.

But over the years, the memories of Ripley’s continuing series that evoked so much interest, wonderment and even maybe soul-searching, were ripped away layer by layer as an expanding world of political corruption, crookedness and malfeasance took hold replacing Ripley’s “Believe it or not” with something more appropriate and salient by simply deleting “or not”.

The “Panama Papers” and “Pandora Papers” might expose large scale sleaze and fleece by politicians, public officials and businessmen. But there is more to the political world than swindling public assets and pocketing commissions to enrich themselves and their families and to steal from Peter to fatten Paul.

Technological developments and the proliferation of social media made it possible to capture on video and disseminate globally within minutes or less, the abuse and misuse of power by politicians and law enforcement officers and agencies that make a mockery of a country’s laws and the system of justice.

How often have we seen, wherever we are, video clips of police officers manhandling and even assaulting members of the public, sometimes for no valid or even an invalid reason. Ripley gave readers the choice to believe him or not.

But today the public is quite prepared to believe what they see or hear because nothing is seen to be beyond the minds and manouvres of politicians. So even doctored ‘evidence’ edited to serve some nefarious purpose becomes believable because such is the reputation today of political figures and their acolytes.

Equally the proliferation of television channels, websites and print media has led to policies and decisions of governments and systems of governance being challenged, questioned and even satirized providing the public with a wider spread of opinion and commentary and something to laugh at these days when finding food to feed the family is trying enough — that is if one has the money to so.

What is increasingly worrying people round the globe who uphold the fundamentals of democracy and its intrinsic values that underpin a free society. Today the right to hold opinions and express dissent is threatened by creeping authoritarianism and oligarchic rule that undermine the institutions that safeguard the people’s rights and freedoms.

One can point one’s finger at countries in the Asian region such as Burma, now Myanmar, that gained its independence at the same time as Ceylon did, where military jackboots have trampled the country’s nascent democracy or to Thailand that has vacillated between democracy and military rule. So today the forces are out of their barracks but good has it done?

Further afield lies the classic illustration of China which has continued to clamp down on dissent as it did in Tiananmen over three decades ago and is now crushing not only critics but lawyers who appear to defend dissenting voices, as leaders with Xi Jinping at its helm tighten the screws of power further.

Sri Lanka is not free of such a malaise where truth has lost its purchase in an environment that is turning more and more dark and murky. The latest development that has aroused the news media and concerns of opinion-makers around the world is the appointment of a Task Force to examine and recommend relevant laws for the implementation of the “one country, one Law” concept promised by Gotabaya Rajapaksa during the presidential election campaign and later.

If the slogan sounds somewhat like what China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping promised  Hong Kong— “one country, two systems”— that has now been nullified by Xi Jinping who has turned it into one country, one system like Sri Lanka’s own “one country, one law”.

Even if such sloganising could be justified what had roused the ire of the public as seen by the wide variety of voices raised in opposition is the recent appointment of a Task Force to carry forward the one country, one law idea.

That too might have escaped the castigation that greeted the news of the Task Force had it not been for the selection of its chairman whose image is not limited to Sri Lanka’s shores. Galagoda-aththe Gnanasara Thera is better known for his outbursts of anti-Muslim rhetoric and hurling of threats than for his exposition of the Buddha’s teachings.

“To him (as per his own utterances) it means, among other things, the repealing of the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA), including the Quazi system, the closing down of madrasas, reinterpreting of the religious teachings of Islam, including the Quran, and compelling Muslims to practise their religion according to his understanding of Islam”, wrote Javid Yusuf, a regular columnist to the Sunday Times, last week.

A person whose conduct shows he has no respect for the law and is ready to challenge it should be heading a group of nondescript individuals mandated to prepare one law for the country and evaluate the laws prepared by the Justice Ministry whose task it should be, makes a mockery of the whole process and the Task Force a farce like no other in a country like no other.

The reaction of the country, expect perhaps for hangers-on and the gullible, and the derision which has been greeted even by some in the ruling coalition should be sufficient cause for Justice Minister Mohamed Uvais Mohamed Ali Sabry to resign his portfolio. But will he even though Gnanasara’s presence in the Task Farce is an insult to the Muslim community?

Or will the minister cling to his ministry and live up to his initials and remain MUM.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London)


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