|Letters to the Editor
22nd August 1999
In Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian ocean, blessed by mother nature in plenty, we find that only man is vile. Why is this? Who is responsible for this cancer which is eating into the body politic of Sri Lanka? The answer is simple.
It is nothing but this ill-conceived, misunderstood and often misnamed democratic party system. However reasonable a proposal may be, the opposition, is there to oppose it at every turn, merely for the sake of argument. The 'opposing' tactics are many and varied- from a battle of words to that of blows or even to bullets depending on the ground situation. There is hardly any room for an all party consensus. Party interest precedes national interest.
Politics is a dirty game, nevertheless our party leaders must have some degree of national sentiment to work together towards the progress of the country. If this is not realised and the country not geared to offer a legitimate place to future generations, their curse will be on us and will open the flood-gates of revolt. Such insurrections have taken place in the past and history can repeat itself, if suitable remedial measures are not adopted in time. Surely in the process of quenching their thirst for power, the leaders cannot be so deaf, blind and ignorant as not to realise the gravity of the situation. Is there a way out? We have been introducing new constitutions or amendments so frequently, like changing pillows to cure a headache, as and when a new government comes to power. But the headache is not cured!
Thus what we need today is some unity amongst diversty. Party leaders must graduate from their present petty party stances, to become national statesmen. They must join hands to deliver a lasting constitution. This can be achieved by transferring the character of the present Parliament to that of a Constituent Assembly, where parties sit and put their heads together to finalize a constitution to run the country by common consensus.
All parties must be partners in governing the country. Confrontational parliamentary practices, must be replaced by one of collective governance. We have already had the experience of such a system working in harmony producing excellent results. The pre-independent executive committee system is the case in point. Therefore, why don't we adopt that system which has served us best? It can be re-introduced with necessary amendments to suit present day needs. With such a system, national problems like this conflict can be solved through consensus. Then, when we view the Executive Presidency, it can fit very well with necessary adjustments. The President should not enjoy the immunity granted under the present constitution. He should enjoy the same privileges and human rights as any other Sri Lankan. The executive committee system with an Executive President, will help the country's progress. It will be necessary to have checks and balances on any erring Executive President and Parliament should perform that function.
Meanwhile power could be devolved on a regional basis. Regions should not be too large as to be a threat to the centre. Devolved powers too must come under the overall law of the land and limited accordingly. A cardinal principle which should be adhered to ensuring the prevention of racial segregation. All regions must be multi- ethnic, multi-religions and multi- cultural. It is advisable to share power at the centre. This principle should be applied both at central government and regional government levels, reflecting unity in diversity.
Dr.George R. Wijegunaratne
Batty Weerakoon has dealt another blow to investor confidence in this country by tapping confidential e-mail. Having done something illegal, he has been bragging that he is the Minister of Science & Technology, presumably inferring that he therefore has the privilege of tapping confidential e-mail.
There is a doubt now whether business correspondence will remain confidential, as the likes of Mr. Weerakoon resort to such illegal tapping. Investors will think twice before coming to Sri Lanka as every Tom and Dick and Batty will tap their confidential correspondence.
Mr. Weerakoon and whoever helped him do such a thing should be prosecuted. If necessary urgent legislation should be enacted to prevent this kind of thing happening again.
Parliamentarian Vasudeva Nanayakkara is at it again. I wonder whether he has visited at least one estate after the state take - over, to see the plunder and destruction by the cahoots appointed to oversee them.
Though one could agree with the nationalisation programme during the stewardship of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the single, indelible black spot was the estate takeover. On the contrary, with all the misdeeds of the UNP administration, a good thing it did was setting up the process of privatising estates.
If Mr.Nanayakkara goes through the records he will see the vast improvements in estate production, under private management and ownership.
Of the three arms of democratic government, the judiciary enjoys the greatest degree of regard and confidence of the public, as the ultimate guardian of their democratic rights and privileges. It is the judiciary which protects the public from the excesses of the legislature as well as of the executive, and also acts as an impartial arbiter of disputes between members of the public. The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) must therefore, enjoy even greater public confidence, being the august body which oversees and controls the administrative and disciplinary aspects of the functioning of the judiciary itself.
A news item on the front page of The Sunday Times of July 18 stated that a district judge who is alleged to have mishandled a case in which the Attorney General (at that time the President of the Court of Appeal), had been involved as a respondent, has been sent on compulsory leave, consequent to an inquiry by the JSC into a complaint by the aggrieved plaintiff. So far, so good. However, it went on to state that the plaintiff's original complaint regarding this matter some years ago was ignored by the JSC and that it was only after the Ravaya brought this matter into the public domain with a massive expose, and a second complaint by the plaintiff, that this action was taken by the JSC.
Now this disquieting little detail, so casually mentioned in the news item, is likely to cause grave concern in the public mind. If whatever allegations were made in the plaintiff's second complaint to the JSC were considered sufficiently serious for an inquiry to be instituted, and if that inquiry yielded adequate material for the JSC to send the district judge on compulsory leave, why was the plaintiff's original complaint ignored?
Then, The Sunday Times of August 1 reported that the JSC,in an apparent volte face, had quashed its own earlier decision and decided that the judge has not been dishonest but has merely made an error in law.
Now, The Sunday Times of August 8 reports an interview with the Acting Secretary to the JSC on this same issue, as well as on very serious allegations against another judge in which the answers given by that worthy gentleman are, to say the least, evasive.
In order to restore public confidence in these vital institutions, a full inquiry should be conducted by a Parliamentary committee comprising both government and opposition members.
Chief Justice G.P.S. de Silva once observed: "A person admitted and enrolled as an attorney-at-law must always remember that he or she becomes a member of a learned and honourable profession. Their conduct is subject to public scrutiny at all times."
Hitherto, judicial integrity has been left to the good sense of individual judges. But, alas, current developments as highlighted in The Sunday Times would show a real need to put other checks and balances in place, to ensure standards are more effectively maintained, and enforced.
The Kandy Litigants' Association has in its manifesto, spelling out an extensive agenda for a revamped administration of justice, called for two cardinal institutions.
Firstly, a multi- member Ombudsman Authority with a two-thirds non-legal and one-third legal constitution of its membership, with the exclusive function of inquiry into any complaints of bias in procedure or decision- making in the courts, and to order their redress.
Secondly, the creation of a permanent Committee on the Judiciary in Parliament (like the institution so-named in the United States) which, as a further adjunct to the existing power of Parliament for removal of Judges of the superior courts, will be charged with the task of keeping a constant vigil on the conduct and work of courts at all levels. It could report to the House where necessary, enabling, Parliament to intervene judicially and issue to the apex court, orders in the nature of "rescripts" issued by the Roman emperors. This could be with regard to revising orders of the courts which to the thinking of Parliament are contrary to the laws and customs of the country.
When I arrived with my daughter at the gates of the British High Commission one morning to obtain our visas to the United Kingdom, the notice at the entrance informed the public that applications for visas will be accepted only from those entering the U.K before August 15. Our reservations were for a couple of days later. The British who are supposed to be the custodians of the English language had not indicated what would be the fate of all those scheduled to travel after this date.
On a subsequent phone call to the High Commission, I was told by the lady who answered the phone that I could bring in our applications any time after July 27.
On Monday August 1, we visited the H.C again. The security personnel at the table refused us a number saying the notice was still valid. She told us that she was not permitted by the authorities to accept applications of those travelling after this date.
I asked to speak to someone more responsible and was directed to the gentleman at Counter no 1. Having listened to my story he told me that his staff was on leave and that they had only returned that morning and could not have spoken to anyone, implying that I had made up the story.
I told him that we were U.S residents and that my daughter was going to school in the U.S and that as we were travelling via London, we needed to expedite our British visas early to get on with matters connected with our travel plans. He refused to listen and very nastily requested us to come the next day, when he would accept our visa applications. Rather aggressively, he suggested that I send my daughter if I was unable to come. "After all, she is going to the U.S and would have to be very independent".
What right has this officer got to comment on my daughter's independence? And why were we asked to come the next day through no fault of ours? Shouldn't the explanation given on the phone have been taken into consideration? After all, we do pay a very flattering fee to have our visas processed.. Is this the service we pay for?
As requested we turned up the next day. The same officer was assigned for the interview. This time he told me that I should have a sponsor letter. "From whom?" I asked him. After all I had proof of sufficient funds to stay one year, but I was only requesting a five day visa.
"You need some sort of letter of welcome," he said.
He insisted I should return with a letter of sponsorship or that I write out my explanation. I asked him for some paper which he refused to give. I managed to get this from someone in the hall and wrote out my letter and gave it to him.
"This should have been on a letter head" he went on "or written more neatly."
This young man at Counter no.1 is the same person I have met a couple of times at functions held at the High Commissioner's residence. I met him last at the farewell to the former High Commissioner David Tatham. He was so awfully kind then, asking everyone to have a drink and something to eat. But what double standards. One face to Colombo society and one to the innocent public who he assumes do not get invited for such receptions. When will this colonial mentality be got rid of and how long are we going to allow ourselves to be harassed by the 'masters'?
As long as we remain a divided society, I guess, such people will continue to exploit us.
While I was writing my letter 'neatly' a second time, a second British national took over the next counter. When my number was called up again it was to this officer that I was requested to come. What a difference. He was kind, polite and dealt with me like a professional visa officer. There were no signs of racism or indifference. The visa was approved and we returned home with an experience that so many Sri Lankans have at the mercy of visa officers. It was my daughter's introduction to the West and it was a frightful introduction to Great Britain.
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