Kishali Pinto Jayawardene
On the eve of a General Election that promises to be (ominously) portentous for Sri Lanka, the inglorious jostles with the plainly ridiculous.
Incredulous attempts to deflect responsibility
A prominent criminal investigator long in the crosshairs of this Government and once in the forefront of majorly controversial cases ranging from massive corruption scandals to enforced disappearances, is arrested. And a Commission of Inquiry probing the 2019 Easter Sunday jihadist attacks is told by the former Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) that an ‘unusual increase of Muslim law students’ to Law College in 2012 had led to ‘concern’ reported in 2015 to the ‘appropriate authorities.’
Let us be very clear at the outset. This claim is, by far, the most incredulous attempt to sidestep responsibility by an intelligence officer heading the country’s premier intelliegence service which had been sleeping on the job when hundreds of innocents were killed in April last year, that we have seen so far.
The fact that the intelligence service ignored direct warnings both on the ground in Sri Lanka and from overseas that a major attack was imminent by ‘home grown’ islamists is established beyond a doubt. In that context, the enormous lapse in responsibility thereto cannot be brushed aside by intelligence officers burbling of an increase in law students.
The increase, incidentally, had been determined as ‘unusual’ by the intelligence service reportedly by comparing students in 2003 to 2012 and atrociously, inferring that this was due to infiltration by suspect elements without a shred of evidence to substantiate that claim.
The bare fact that such a statement was made by itself speaks to the depths to which we have fallen. It is an insult to the faithful who died while they were praying at the altar of their church and mocks the memory of playful children blown to smithereens by smiling young men carrying backpacks loaded with explosives.
Beckoning an explosion of communal and racial hatred
So apart from this sweeping claim which was predictably picked up by media and splashed in banner headlines this week, should we not be told as to why and how this increase can be labelled as suspect? Was this ‘unusual’ percentage of those admitted to study law found to be subscribing to an islamist ideology and if so, what is the evidence to that effect? Or is the very fact of belonging to a minority ethnicity sufficient to pin subversive labels on a person? If so, then we are positioning Sri Lanka for the potential explosion of communal and ethnic hatreds that may even surpass all that this country has experienced so far.
Which leads us to a question at the core of this discussion that is conveniently ignored. Quite apart from show arrests of the Defence Secretary and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) at the time, where is the accountability in regard to intelligence officers whose criminal dereliction of duty led to these attacks? That is the question which was relevant then and remains even more relevant now. In fact, this is what must be pushed for by the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Sri Lanka whose loud denunciations of the culpability (rightly so) of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe coalition in power at the time appears to have subsided to restrained muttering now.
The point is that the State, irrespective of which Government is in power, must be held responsible. It cannot arrest some criminal investigators who have incurred the ire of ruling party politicians implicated in abuses of the law which is evidenced now and privilege others who are clearly ‘politically protected.’ But this has been the overwhelming pattern reflected in the country’s criminal justice and prosecutorial processes for past many decades.
And despite all that we already knew so well of the frightful calamities that political manipulation of the state criminal investigative function leads to, the 2015 coalition ‘yahapalanaya’ Government committed exactly the same mistakes as their predecessors.
Protection of crooks then and now
Criminal investigations were stalled, held at bay and held over the heads of political opponents by a select few in Colombo’s elite ‘yahapalanaya’ circles as they returned the favour of protecting each other. Its IGP was captured on national television reassuring the Minister of Law and Order and a Wickremesinghe loyalist that a particular Rajapaksa favourite will not be arrested. That was one open admission. How many others would there have been? The enormity of this betrayal is, in fact, staggering.
It was little wonder therefore that a politically complicit IGP who was eminently unsuitable for the position and should never have been appointed by the Constitutional Council or at the very least, should have been removed from his position far earlier than the Easter Sunday attacks, continued until innocents died. And criminal investigators who tried to work their way through the ugly mesh of political chicanery were compromised with some fleeing, others demoted and yet others arrested as we are seeing now.
The point is that the failures of the criminal investigative process in catching the ‘crooks’ of the Rajapaksa decade was due to then ruling politicians and their supporters also in civil society being part of a cynical trade off.
Certainly we can be sure also that ‘crooks’ of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe coalition will not be brought to justice either as they grin and strut on the national political stage. Regardless of how the political map unfolds next week in what is probably the most lacklustre General Election ever held in this country, exhibitions by so called witnesses at Commissions of Inquiry whether on the Easter Sunday attacks, those alleging political victimisation or otherwise will continue.
This is befitting the circus rolled out for the benefit of a credulous public as much as the ancient Romans starved without bread but cheered wildly as gladiators fought to the death in the Colosseum.
These extraordinary times of great ferment
These are extraordinary times that we are ill fated to live through. It is a time of public ferment and forment with coruscating anger of covid inflicted citizens at the great misdeeds of the country’s post-war political leadership but with little alternatives to choose from as major political parties disintegrate into fractured groups.
It is important therefore to engage in a searching inquiry as to why such a plight has been visited on this nation. For whatever the result may be of next week’s poll, this is a consequence of monumental failures of the past five years, make no mistake about that.
It is also important to recognise that much of the failures blamed on the political leadership also reflects on the nation’s purportedly ‘intellectual’ leadership, or to be more exact, the lack thereof in the division of this too into political camps, willing to look away when culpable mistakes are made
. But as we face these polls, it must be remembered that irrespective of whether the 19th Amendment, a classic constitutional curate’s egg if there ever was one, will be swiftly decapitated or not, there will be a future when rude mockery of the term ‘good governance’ becomes less palpable.
It is at that point that recovery of the constitutional process and the Rule of Law will become crucial, even falteringly and in full recognition of where we have failed. That too will be possible.