Now where have we heard such soothing words before? Never mind. Just turn over the pages of our history and they will recur with such regularity that they have lost all sense and sensibility. It did not take long after the police shooting at Rambukkana that killed one protester and injured several others and some [...]


Rambukkana shooting probe: Another farce in the making


Now where have we heard such soothing words before? Never mind. Just turn over the pages of our history and they will recur with such regularity that they have lost all sense and sensibility.

It did not take long after the police shooting at Rambukkana that killed one protester and injured several others and some policemen, for the ruling Rajapaksa government and officials serving it, to utter those words that the people have heard so often they are now cliches and of little consequence.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who is under siege from all sides and, increasingly so, pledged an impartial and transparent inquiry into the tragic event. If anything is transparent it will be their platitudinous emptiness.

Not to be outdone in earnestness Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa hoped there would be “a strict and impartial investigation by the police.”

To hand over to the police an investigation into their dubious doings is like that old Sinhala saying about “Horage ammagen pena ahanawa wage” (like asking the robber’s mother, a fortune teller, to reveal the identity of the robber.)

But both the President and the Prime Minister were beaten to the draw by the international community that reacted much faster condemning the shooting and calling for an independent inquiry. Reactions came from the United Nations, Britain, the United States and others.

The new Public Security Minister, Prasanna Ranatunga, replacing a retired admiral who appears to have been lost at sea, had the misfortune to begin his new job defending the police in parliament over the shooting while the country was burning in anger at guns being turned on unarmed civilian protestors.

Meanwhile, the Police appointed a 20-member team to investigate the shooting while the IGP handed over the whole mess to the CID to play Sherlock Holmes.

Meanwhile–everything happens in the meanwhile such is the rush to solve this tragic killing–the Public Security Ministry Secretary, Retired Maj. Gen Jagath Alwis, said an investigation would be conducted by a three-member team.

Now don’t choke yourself laughing when you hear who is in this team. They are all public officials from the Public Security Ministry and the Defence Ministry.

These officials are from the ministries under the President and the new Public Security Minister who has already come to the defence of the police action in a statement to parliament.

If you believe that three officials under the President and their own minister will come up with a report that contradicts what Minister Ranatunga has already told parliament then you appear to have an undying faith in the integrity and independence of a politicised public service.

Does the Government and its official underlings really believe they could continue to hoodwink a much more alert public today as politicians have done over the years using and abusing state assets?

In defence of the police action, it has been said by government politicians and officials alike that the police were attempting to save public property from being destroyed by protestors.

Without spreading such baloney would it not have been more meaningful if the authorities turned the eyes to the stealing of state land, encroaching into forest reserves and reservoirs and constructing hotels and other buildings on reservations than safeguarding property from a struggling public on the verge of penury?

While the Security Minister was blabbing away in parliament amid boos and whatever from the other side, his new State Minister G.L. Peiris, besides playing Foreign Minister, was quoted as saying “We have requested the Human Rights Commission to conduct an impartial inquiry (there they go again!)”.

Prof Peiris is hardly a person of a few words. So he added, “We want to be honest” (now that’s a new one that should even waken the dead) “and do not want to sweep anything under the carpet.”

For sheer honesty that should surely take the kavun, kokis and kiributh. It seems he is no longer concerned with a reputation he once enjoyed.

If the minister does not wish to sweep “anything” under the carpet it could be one of two things. The Government has already sold the carpet as it is quickly selling other assets.

Or there is so much dirt under it there is no more room to accommodate any more, such is the political refuse that needs to be swept under. Whether he has a clean broom for the job is better left unexplored.

Let us get back to this call by the President, the Prime Minister and others for an independent, impartial and transparent investigation.

Perhaps the Public Security minister and his state minister could enlighten the public on the results of just a couple of such inquiries as to bring some solace to a trouble public.

It was not too long ago that State Minister for Prisons or whatever, Lohan Ratwatte, reportedly barged into the Anuradhapura Prison, demanded that some LTTE prisoners be brought before him. Brandish his handgun like Clint Eastwood playing “Dirty Harry” he threatened to shoot a couple of them. So the story went.

Now Justice Minister Ali Sabry in his previous ‘avatar’ told parliament that an inquiry would be held into this high-handed action.

Whatever happened to this inquiry? Was it held at all? If so what was the outcome? If not, why not?

Bad enough we have had only a deafening silence. Imagine the public ire that would have followed the appointment of the State Ministers the other day when Lohan Ratwatte was given a new portfolio.

Could the public have any faith in a government that continues to appoint persons of such repute into state office instead of dropping them from office and clean up the mess.

Take the case of the Pandora Papers which mentioned two Sri Lankans- Nirupama Rajapaksa, a former deputy minister and her husband Thiru Nadesan in connection with properties owned in London and Sydney and connections with some tax havens.

When the news broke of
Sri Lankans’ involvement President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised an inquiry and ordered the investigating authority to submit a report to him within one month.

So what on earth happened to that investigation? If a report was handed over why has it not been made public?

Instead of being swept it under the carpet may be the government chewed it up relishing the taste of its contents.

If the Government was so anxious to initiate an impartial inquiry why did it not invite the Human Rights Commission to do so at the very beginning without hordes of policemen running around disturbing not just the crime scene but perhaps tampering with evidence and witnesses.

The fact that the Kegalle magistrate who visited the scene had reportedly to order the police not to intimidate witnesses is a pointer to what has happened or is happening or fears what would happen in an attempt to cover up the story.

The police are already attempting to discredit the dead protestor and another in the eyes of the public. The Police spokesman was quoted as telling the media that the protestor who was killed by the police was on bail in a murder case and one of the wounded was also an accused in the same case.

What relevance is that information to the present investigation except that the police are already trying to tarnish the dead and wounded.

If this is the kind of “impartial” and “transparent” investigation that can be expected of the police then State Minister Peiris needs more than a carpet to sweep the dirt under.

It would be more appropriate to order a large enough mask to hide the collective face of today’s cabinet that includes new minister Dilum Amunugama who last year urged President Rajapaksa to turn himself into a Hitler. Such are the great thinkers of the refreshed cabinet selected to run this country when they can hardly run some road buses.

Scant wonder the nation has turned against them.

(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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