Let justice be done though the heavens fallView(s):
The stinging judgment last week by the country’s apex court against former President Maithripala Sirisena and others is the second against a former President after Chandrika Kumaratunga was fined in the ‘Waters Edge’ case where she abused her position as Finance Minister to help a friend living in England make a ‘packet’.
Both were the results of initiatives by ordinary citizens through a progressive provision in the 1978 Constitution that made Fundamental Rights justiciable and not by official law enforcement agencies. Both judgments were telling messages to the powerful Executive Presidency that though the holder of that office may enjoy immunity while in office, actions of theirs during that period are accountable at some stage.
In Mr. Sirisena’s case, ironically, the powers and duties of the Minister of Defence had already been spelled out by the Supreme Court earlier when President Kumaratunga had sought a reference from the Court which opined; “The President must be in a position to monitor or to give directions to others who derive authority from the President in relation to the exercise of his executive power. Failure to do so would lead to a prejudicial impact on the sovereignty of the people”. In the Easter Sunday bombings judgment of last week, the Court outlined the very cavalier attitude to national security by the holder of that office, viz., then President Sirisena.
Much of this, including keeping away his Prime Minister and his own State (Deputy) Minister from the all-important National Security Council meetings stemmed from the political climate at the time of the bombings. It was not even a cohabitation government; it was two parties coming together to form an administration in a marriage of convenience. The honeymoon didn’t last long as parochial party politics came to roost at the expense of the citizens.
In a separate case also recently, the Supreme Court upheld an order of the High Court convicting the same ex-President Sirisena’s chief of staff I.H.K. Mahanama for soliciting a bribe of as much as Rs. one billion from an Indian investor when he was secretary of the Lands Ministry. He was condemned to 20 years in jail. His accomplice, the then chairman of the Timber Corporation, was also sent to jail. The judgment exposed them as examples of the type of officials we have today in high places who have been a hindrance to the economic progress of the country due to their corrupt conduct. It was held that it was necessary to punish them as a deterrent to others in the public service acting in like manner.
In recent years, the image and respect of the courts have been subjected to discussion by the general public, particularly in the aftermath of a series of cases involving high-profile politicians and public servants that were thrown out with acquittals. While those accused protested they were politically victimised, others argued that telephone lines were burning and political pressure applied to seek those acquittals, and yet others blamed poor investigations for weak indictments.
The Judiciary being the last bastion of the law of the land, these two recent judgments have given a rainbow of hope to a thoroughly demoralised citizenry and the country, that the long arm of the law can finally enter the corridors of power and punish the errant and the corrupt in public positions.
The Jaishankar visit
Behind the smokescreen, however, was probably more unsaid officially, than said. The Indian side’s version of the visit referred to an “in-principle agreement” on renewable energy projects, a euphemism whereby India will gain a further strategic foothold in Sri Lanka if preliminary discussions on this ‘agreement’ are to proceed. The Indian side also refers to redoubling efforts for Indian investments inter-alia, in Sri Lanka’s ports and renewable energy — projects eyed by India’s favourite businessman Gautam Adani.
The Adani Group is known not only as the Indian Prime Minister’s best financier, but is now very much an adjunct of Indian foreign policy. Recently, the Group purchased the Israeli port of Haifa for USD 1.5 billion, outbidding all others hands-down, and in the process checkmating the Chinese who already are in-situ across the bay at the Haifa container terminal. It is almost a replay of the recent Colombo Port saga.
If the pitch made from both sides in connection with the Indian Minister’s flying visit, was that he was coming with a ‘positive message’ to discuss economic matters, especially debt restructuring – the millstone around Sri Lanka’s head – the Chinese attempt at one-upmanship by sending a Vice Minister to say “‘good news” is round the corner from their side on the same matter, was trumped by India sending a formal letter to the IMF expressing its willingness to sort out Sri Lanka’s problems. The problem with China’s pledge was that it was limited to mere words until yesterday as the Chinese go into their lunar new year today.
India in recent times, and particularly under the present administration, has played hardball in foreign policy and also taken a strong, controversial pro-Hindutva line. India is big enough to even snub the US and enter into special oil import arrangements with Russia because it knows the US needs it in its fight against China. Big, and now economically stable, India too can take the ‘Do as we say not as we do’ policy. Having castrated Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomy, the visiting Minister has asked Sri Lanka to fully implement the 13th Amendment and ensure provincial elections, etc. Significantly, though this is absent from the official statement.
It was only the other day, Indian Nobel laureate Amartya Sen slammed New Delhi for adopting “barbaric” policies on its own minorities and said its Government is “one of the most appalling in the world” the way it treats its own Muslim people. Such is the way of the world.