By Camelia Nathaniel
Recent reports have indicated that many politicians act with impunity by disregarding the rule of law. This year alone legal action has been initiated against 42 politicians, most of them from the ruling party, for their involvement in various crimes.
From the killing of a tourist to raping a 13-year-old and beating to death a 72-year-old, the alarming rise in crimes committed by the elected representatives, expected to lead by example begs the question, whether they are in office to serve the interest of the people or abuse their power for personal gain.
According to Police Headquarters the crimes committed by these politicians range from killings to rape, assault, harassment, land acquisition, treasure hunting, unruly behaviour, soliciting bribes, ransom, extortion and obstructing police from discharging their duty.
According to police statistics, the increase in crime rates is evenly matched by the increase in the number of provincial level politicians violating the law. Highlighting the legal action taken so far, the police point out that they do try their best to carry out their duty by arresting offenders irrespective of their political status. However many human rights and child rights organizations have on numerous occasions dismissed the punitive actions as a mere rap on the knuckles and questioned whether these measures actually ensure justice for the victims. Many have also accused the government of soft peddling the issue because of political patronage.
No political patronage
At a recent function, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa defended the government against such allegations claiming they were not true and that the police had been instructed to carry out their duty in an impartial and fair manner.
“Attempts have been made to show that political influence has led to criminal elements not being arrested and political interference had subverted the process of investigation. This is not true,” Rajapaksa said. He also denied that the level of crime had risen in numerical terms, and attributed it to more incidents being reported.
Giving a certain degree of credence to his claim that there is no political interference in the investigations, several ruling party politicians elected to local bodies are currently under arrest for a range of criminal acts that include the murder, rape and assault. But there is doubt if investigations are proceeding smoothly, because of the overwhelming political influence.
The politicians involved in the killing of a British national in Tangalle on Christmas Eve last year, Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman W.P. Sampath Chandra Pushpa, Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Member Anjana Kusumruwan, Akuressa Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman S.H. Sunil and Akuressa Pradeshiya Vice Chairman Sabha Munidasa Gamage, had all been taken into custody. But there is a high degree of scepticism as to whether justice will prevail and the perpetrators dealt with appropriately.
The Defence Secretary has repeatedly pointed out that there is no crime wave in the country and has maintained that police have been given a free hand to tackle the issue without any political interference. Yet these words carry no credibility as long as powerful offenders are let off with a rap on the knuckles and excuses are made for their criminal behaviour.
The words also sound empty, when, in spite of all promises made to the contrary, the politician charged with raping an under aged girl is been released on bail. The Tangalle Magistrate recently released Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Member Anjana Liyanage and 9 other suspects are accused of repeatedly raping a 13-year-old. Tangalle Magistrate Yuresha De Silva released the suspects on a Rs 25,000 e cash bail and two personal bails amounting to one million rupees each.
A total of 21 suspects were arrested for sexually abusing the minor over a period, at an inn in the southern beach town of Tangalle. Eleven of the suspects were released on bail initially. The owner of the inn where the girl had been kept and raped, is still in remand custody.
The case has outraged child rights activists who demand severe punishment be imposed on culprits who commit heinous crimes against children.
Despite tough laws in existence, child molestations have been alarmingly on the increase, with politicians implicated more often than not.
Human rights activists argue that most of the offenders get out on bail and repeat the crimes and call for the authorities to make rape a non-bailable offence.
Earlier this month, the Central Provincial Health Minister was arrested by the Kandy Police for allegedly assaulting a specialist doctor at the Kandy General Hospital. Doctors of the hospital went on strike demanding the arrest of Health Minister Sunil Amaratunga for assaulting Dr. Sapumal Dhanapala and verbally abusing Central Province Health Director Dr. Shanthi Samarasinghe.
The Health Minister was subsequently released on surety bail of Rs 100,000 by the Kandy Chief Magistrate Ravindra Premaratne.
Meanwhile in Badulla, a ruling party Pradeshiya Sabha (PS) member was arrested for allegedly assaulting an employee of the Badulla Water Board office. He was produced before the Badulla Magistrate Courts and released on Rs 50, 000 bail.
Other cases involving politicians included a United National Party (UNP) Member of the Galenbindunuwewa PS being arrested for allegedly assaulting a resident in a nearby area; a Ridigama PS member being arrested for allegedly hurling stones at a vehicle of a Kurunegala District parliamentarian, and United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Member of the Warakapola Pradeshiya Sabha being arrested for allegedly assaulting a 72-year-old woman in Dedigama.
The Wattegama Urban Council (UC) Chairman who was a suspect in the assault of a fruit vendor in Wattegama surrendered to the police. In a similar case Mawathagama Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman, Upul Perera was arrested last month on a complaint of assaulting a 28-year-old.
When it comes to obstructing police duties, a UNP member of the Southern Provincial Council and Opposition Member of Bope Poddala PS was arrested by the Akmeemana Police. The heavily intoxicated politicos had allegedly blocked the road with their vehicles, causing traffic congestion. In another case, the Balapitiya PS Vice Chairman was arrested and fined for unruly behaviour under the influence of liquor.
In another incident, a United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Member of the Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha was arrested for creating a commotion with residents regarding a garbage issue in the area.
Meanwhile, Kalutara Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman, Lakshman Vidana Pathiranange was arrested by officials of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption while to accepting a three million-rupee bribe from a property developer.
This year also recorded more serious crimes involving local politicians.
In March, a Pradeshiya Sabha Member was arrested for his alleged involvement in the double killing of a mother and daughter in Kahawatte, in the Ratnapura District. In July, a UPFA Councillor of the Tangalle Urban Council surrendered to police over the rape of a 13 year-old girl at a guest house in Tangalle.
The same month saw Akuressa PS Chairman from the ruling party being arrested in connection with the rape of a 14 year-old girl.
A senior police officer who spoke on grounds of anonymity said that steps have been taken to ensure that the rule of law is protected by bringing to justice, politicians who abuse their powers.
He added that currently several investigations have been launched to probe into the illegal activities of some of these politicians.
Party membership of accused to be suspended
President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently proposed that the party membership of any public representative charged with crimes including rape be suspended, until conclusion of judicial proceedings. Treasurer of the SLFP, Minister Dullas Alahapperuma said the party Central Committee has unanimously approved the proposal.
The Committee has, while authorizing the Chief Ministers to remove Provincial Councillors accused of crimes from their positions in the Council also decided not to nominate anyone accused of corruption for Provincial Council elections.
The committee had also decided to obtain police reports on former Provincial Councillors and the selected nominees. Though the move is welcomed, the question once again being asked is the party’s commitment to carrying out the decisions.