(Text of Editorial Appearing in “The Island”of 13 April 2023 under the heading “It’s ATB, stupid”)
Government politicians are blindly supporting the proposed anti-terrorism Bill (ATB), which has been put on hold. It is doubtful whether most of them have ever seen the ATB, much less read it. But Foreign Minister and former Justice Minister Ali Sabry, a senior lawyer, has struck a slight discordant note. He has taken exception to some sections of the ATB; the DIGs should not be empowered to issue detention orders, he has said.
One could not agree with him more on this score, but he is being charitable. The Bill is like the proverbial curate’s egg. All it takes to spoil a pot of milk is a smidgeon of cow dung, as they say. The ATB is a pot of milk with more than a dab of dung.
Justice Minister Dr. Wijayadasa Rajapakshe is disappointed that there has been so much resistance to the ATB. Maybe he is genuinely desirous of introducing an alternative to the PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and ensuring that national security is well protected. But where laws are concerned, even well-intentioned ones could have negative effects if any room is left for crafty political leaders to manipulate them. There’s the rub.
Most laws lend themselves to abuse owing to loopholes therein. Unsurprisingly, politicians and their legal advisors drive a coach and horses through them. They have not spared even some constitutional provisions including the one anent the National List. They have been using the Parliamentary Election Act to circumvent a constitutional provision that does not permit anyone other than a person who has been either named as National List candidate or nominated to contest a general election to be appointed to Parliament.
Some government politicians have argued that the best forum for a discussion on the ATB is Parliament. But governments usually present bad Bills to Parliament and steamroller them through. Since there is no constitutional provision for the post-enactment judicial review of legislation, Bills become faits accomplis once they are ratified. Some of the Bills are even stuffed with sections sans judicial sanction at the committee stage and passed. The Provincial Council Elections (Amendment) Act of 2017 is a case in point. Hence the need for bad Bills to be aborted before they make it to Parliament, where the MPs are swayed by their party affiliations rather than the merits and demerits of what is put to the vote in the House.
Some MPs cannot make head or tail of what is debated. Their low brain energy consumption is reflected in their bulging waistlines! So, it is not advisable for the public to defer to their elected representatives on decisions in respect of vital laws on the anvil.
If the ATB is allowed to be presented to Parliament, the government, which has a majority in the House, will ensure that the ayes will have it though it will endanger democracy and fundamental rights of the citizenry.
It is being claimed in some quarters that the ATB has sought to strip the Executive President of some of his powers. But the fact remains that the President has the police on a string, and is in a position to have his interests served at the expense of the people’s fundamental rights. The Police Department is one of the most politicised state institutions in this country. There is hardly any high-ranking police officer who is not locked in a Faustian embrace with the powers that be. They go out of their way to humour their political masters as evident from their high-octane performance during operations to crush anti-government protests. They also collaborate with the political authority to cover up serious crimes.
When ruggerite Wasim Thajudeen was murdered in 2012, the police did their darnedest to make the incident out to be a tragic road mishap. There have been many other instances where they unashamedly protected the interests of politicians in power. So, the odds are that senior police officers will have anti-government activists detained at the behest of the ruling party politicians.
The Opposition would have the public believe that the ATB has been tailored to meet the requirements of the government hell-bent on suppressing its political opponents and trade unions. One may say this claim should be taken cum grano salis, but the possibility of the government planning to use it to compass its political ends at the expense of the democratic rights of the people cannot be ruled out.
The government ought to abandon the ATB, and formulate a new law with the help of all stakeholders to replace the PTA.