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Swiss Embassy and the natives



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by C.A.Chandraprema


As this column is being written on Saturday, we mark the 13th day since the alleged abduction and sexual molestation of a Sri Lankan Tamil lady working for the Swiss Embassy in Colombo. According to the Embassy, the victim’s health is in such a precarious state, that she is not in a position to give a statement to anyone about her ordeal. In fact the Swiss Embassy had asked the Sri Lankan authorities for permission to airlift the victim and her entire family to Switzerland in a special ambulance plane due to the seriousness of her health condition. Despite the alleged seriousness of the alleged victim’s health condition, no Sri Lankan doctor has been allowed to see her. Even though it’s nearly two weeks since the incident, no team of doctors have been flown in from Switzerland to look after the patient either. Instead, the Sri Lankan government has been told that a Swiss doctor had ‘examined’ this serious patient on skype.


So this serious patient who needs to be airlifted to Switzerland in a special ambulance plane has been without any real treatment for over 13 days, holed up in the Swiss Embassy. The question that arises is if the Swiss Ambassador falls ill, will he also consult a Swiss doctor over skype instead of going to a Sri Lankan hospital or seeing a Sri Lankan doctor? It appears that the decision that the alleged victim is unfit to talk to anybody has been taken by the Ambassador and not by any doctor. In the absence of any statement made by the alleged victim, we have to go by whatever is told to us by the Swiss Embassy.


According to the Swiss Ambassador Hanspeter Mock, an embassy employee had been abducted in a white car on November 25 between 5.00 and 6.30 pm by a group of unidentified men at a place a little distance away from the Embassy, and threatened, sexually molested and told to divulge details of the manner in which fugitive Police Inspector Nishantha de Silva was granted a visa to flee to Switzerland with his entire family. It was also said that the abductors had taken data from her phone. Though the Swiss Embassy had not divulged the name of the alleged victim, the police had been able to ascertain that the supposed victim was a lady named Galagher Bannister-Francis. The police examination of CCTV footage in the area where the abduction is said to have taken place had not shown any such incident.


Even though no statement has been made by the alleged victim, certain members of the Sri Lankan opposition seem to know that a pistol had been put into her mouth during the ordeal. The Swiss Embassy obviously trusts the opposition much more than it trusts the government. They could then have at least requested a member of the opposition to come into the Embassy and to see the alleged victim. That too has not been done. This alleged abduction had taken place apparently to seek information relating to how IP Nishantha de Silva was granted a visa to Switzerland. By what stretch of the imagination are we to assume that a local employee of the Swiss embassy would be privy to that kind of information? Even if she was, how would any information relating to Silva’s visa be on her phone?


Nishantha de Silva was a cop who was well known to all the Western embassies in Colombo because he was handling several high profile cases that the West was interested in. When the Police Commission transferred him out of the CID last year on a complaint made by Chief of Defence Staff Ravi Wijegunaratne, there was an outcry from the Western Embasies in Colombo. So Silva did not need the good offices of any local employee at an embassy to get a visa to flee to Switzerland. This is obviously a flatfooted hoax perpetrated by the Swiss Ambassador to deflect attention from the fact that he granted a visa to to a policeman who has been caught red handed manufacturing evidence in order to file cases against targeted individuals.


The ban on the alleged victim leaving the country, imposed by the Colombo Chief Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne expires on Monday December 9. In the meantime, the standoff continues. Ironically, it was Magistrate Jayaratne herself, when she was the Colombo Fort Magistrate who recorded the special statement from a prosecution witness in a high profile case filed by Nishantha de Silva as to the manner in which evidence had been manufactured. The court hearing on Monday will obviously generate a lot of interest and it is expected that the police will report to courts the full details of the investigation carried out into the matter. Just last week, 15 people from Vavuniya and Batticaloa were apprehended while attempting to go to New Zealand by boat. It now appears that with the Rajapaksas coming back into power, another migration pathway has opened up at least for a select group of people.  


Hoole and the Elections


Commission


While describing the recently concluded presidential election as ‘the freest and fairest’ he had seen and while stating that he was ‘proud of the EC staff’ on that account, Member of the Elections Commission Prof.Ratnajeevan Hoole states that the elections were marred by pre-poll malpractices. He has given two interviews to the press after the election. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s citizenship issue is the main instance of pre-poll malpractice that Prof. Hoole mentions. The other two instances which Hoole claims to have skewed voting patterns was a comment attributed to Ali Sabry PC where he is supposed to have told a group of Muslims that GR will win the election and that Muslims should become a part of that victory or risk reprisals.


The other instance mentioned by Hoole as a pre-poll malpractice is a video of Karuna Amman saying that Muslims needed to be brought under control and that GR was the man for it. With regard to the allegation against Ali Sabry, it was later explained that he was addressing a group of Muslims, and said that GR was certain to win and that Muslims should become a part of that victory and he posed the question what would happen otherwise? This was obviously a rhetorical question which needed no answer but someone in the audience said that if not, the Muslims would be beaten up. That’s what is being portrayed as something that Sabry said. Be that as it may, Hoole states that there was an atmosphere of fear created and that many did not go to vote out of fear. However he argues that the overall result would not have changed because of the overwhelming Sinhala vote which is why he accepted the final result.


With regard to the main instance of pre-election malpractice that Hoole mentions, he still seems to subscribe to the view that GR should never have been allowed to contest the presidential election on account of citizenship issues. His allegation is that the Elections Commission did not look into GR’s dual citizenship matter. Some time before the election, Hoole had informed the Commission that the American Embassy had said that they could explain matters if a formal request was made by the Elections Commission. However Hoole says that the Elections Commission had not sought a formal clarification from the American Embassy at that stage because Gotabaya Rajapaksa was not a candidate at that time. Then he said that one day, Gota and Ali Sabry had arrived at the Elections Commission when all three members had been present and had handed over a dual citizenship certificate, a letter from the American Embassy stating that his American citizenship had been canceled, and a canceled US passport.


Hoole stated that the other two members had shown scant interest in the documents presented but that he could discern issues that could result in Gotabaya Rajapaksa becoming a stateless person. Hoole had said that a case filed in the Appeal Court requesting a stay order on the recognition of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as a Sri Lankan citizen had been rejected. Thereafter he (Hoole) had wanted to raise objections relating to Gota’s citizenship at the conclusion of nominations but he had been told by the other two members of the Commission and some lawyer friends that others would raise objections. He had in fact been informed that the documents pertaining to those objections had alrady been prepared. However, ultimately no objections to Gota’s nomination were filed. That essentially was Hoole’s complaint regarding Gota’s citizenship matter.


Prof. Hoole is obviously chewing his own backside in anguish because he was not able to stop GR from contesting. It’s almost as if the UNP and TNA has a mole in the Elections Commission. Knocking GR out of the race before the election was also the main strategy of the UNP-TNA combine. Until the election campaign came to an end the UNP had a Buddhist monk fasting on Independence Square demanding clarification about Gota’s citizenship status. The interviews that Hoole gave after the election shows how unsuited he is to be a member of a body like the Elections Commission.


Hoole is oblivious to what it would have looked like if the Elections Commission had formally requested the American Embassy for a clarification on Gota’s US citizenship before or after his candidacy was announced. The Elections Commission has not only to be impartial but appear to be so. If the EC had jumped the gun and asked the US Embassy for a clarification, that would have fatally damaged its credibility. It is not the business of the Elections Commission to seek verification from foreign embassies about the citizenship status of potential presidential candidates.


Furthermore, he appears to be unaware that according to Section 15(1) of the Presidential Elections Act of 1981, the Elections Commission on its own initiative can reject nomination papers only if the nomination paper has not been delivered to the Commission at the correct place and at the correct time, if the required deposit has not been paid, if the signature of the person making the nomination has not been attested by a JP or a Notary Public, or the written consent of the nominee has not been endorsed on the nomination paper. The law also prohibits one person from signing more than one valid nomination paper and one nomination being made by two different signatories. The Elections Commission has no power to reject any nomination paper on its own initiative on any grounds except the above mentioned.


Section 14 of the Presidential Elections Act empowers the Elections Commission to entertain objections to the effect that a candidate is not qualified to be elected as President or that he is disqualified from contesting owing to a conviction by a court of law in relation to a corrupt or illegal practice or that he has been deprived of his civic rights by Parliament. An objection could certainly have been raised under Section 14 about Gota’s citizenship matter. But the law specifically states that only a rival candidate or the person who has signed the nomination paper of a rival candidate can raise objections under Section 14. Members of the Elections Commission cannot on their own initiative raise objections under Section 14. Hoole is obviously unaware of all this and after the election, he has been complaining to the media that he was not allowed to break the elections law!


It appears that the other two members of the elections Commission and lawyer friends of Hoole himself would have had quite a time trying to prevent Prof. Hoole from setting the house on fire. All this mind you is in a context where the Appeal Court unceremoniously threw out a petition challenging GR’s status as a Sri Lankan citizen. The biggest irony is that Prof. Hoole who was trying to knock GR out of the race on citizenship issues is himself a Sri Lankan-US dual citizen. That at least is what his Wikipedia page says. The information had been quoted from his University of Michigan CV which is no longer available on the university website. There is yet another CV on the Colombo Telegraph website which states his citizenship simply as Sri Lankan. Was the Constitutional Council aware that he is a dual citizen when he was appointed to the Constitutional Council? Is it appropriate to appoint a dual citizen as a member of the Elections Commission when dual citizens are not allowed to contest elections?


 


UNP gunning for


Mahinda Deshapriya


UNP national list MP Ashu Marasinghe has gone on record as stating that the UNP will be complaining to the Constitutional Council about the ‘grave’ allegations made by the Elections Commission member Ratnajeevan S.Hoole regarding President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s citizenship and several other matters. Parliamentarian Ashu Marsinghe has said that since the Elections Commission is an independent commission, only the Constitutional Council can take action with regard to complaints against such a body. There is however, little point in complaining to the Constitutional Council about the Elections Commission. There’s little or nothing they can do. According to Article 103(4) of the Constitution, members of the Elections Commission can be removed from office only by the same means that apply to the removal of judges of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal by means of an impeachment.


 The behavior of Prof Ratnajeevan Hoole raises certain issues which have to addressed as a matter of priority without waiting for any amendments to be made to the Constitution. Article 103(1) of the Constitution states that those eligible to be appointed as members of the Elections Commission are "persons who have distinguished themselves in any profession or in the fields of administration or education". There is a constitutional requirement that  one of the members of the EC has to be a retired senior officer of the Department of Elections, so that leaves two members who have to be appointed from outside. The Constitutional Council should adopt a rule of thumb that the other two members of the Elections Commission will always be retired senior officers of the public service who have direct experience in working closely with Ministers of different governments over a period of time.


 Under no circumstances should serving or retired university dons be appointed to a body like the Elections Commission. Taking Shirani Bandaranayake out of the university and putting her into the Supreme Court was a disservice done to her even though she obviously thought she could do the job. Likewise, taking Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole out of academia and putting him in the Elections Commission was a bad mistake even though he may have thought he was suitable for that position. Prof. Hoole is a distinguished academic but thoroughly unsuited for a position of public trust. It has to be said that despite alarms raised by this columnist about all three members of the Elections Commission, because they were appointed by a 100% yahapalana Constitutional Council, two of them have proved to be balanced and much saner than Prof. Hoole.


 This sanity and balance obviously comes from the fact that both of them have served in the public service under several different governments. Prof. Hoole obviously has no such experience and over the past five years, he has been plugging his political line in the Elections Commission. There are only three members in the Elections Commission and if one other member had subscribed to his view of things, the whole country would have been plunged into chaos. Contrary to popular belief, its not the judiciary that is the sentinel of democracy – the Elections Commission is the sentinel of democracy. It is the elections authority that facilitates peaceful transfers of power in a country.


 No country can afford to have people like Prof. Hoole serving in an Elections Commission. Last year, he joined the UNP, TNA and JVP in petitioning the Supreme Court against the dissolution of parliament and the holding of a fresh parliamentary election. He was oblivious to the fact that as a member of the Elections Commission, he should have left that to the political parties. If the SC had declared in favour of the dissolution in that case, the independence of the EC would have been seriously compromised. Just before the Presidential election Prof. Hoole was telling the Tamil people not to boycott the election and to vote because the minorities were facing an uncertain future. None of that did the image of the Elections Commission any good. The Constitutional Council should take Hoole’s erratic behaviour into account and in future appoint only retired members of the public service who have experience of working under several different governments as a members of the Elections Commission.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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