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Editorial

Democracy, cops and violence

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Friday 14th August, 2020

The US has evinced a keen interest in promoting ethnic reconciliation and national integration in Sri Lanka and never misses an opportunity to proffer advice to the governments here. It also generously funds some local NGOs that promote democratic ideals. Issuing a statement on the outcome of the recently-concluded general election, the US has urged the newly elected government to renew its commitments to building an inclusive economic recovery and uphold human rights and the rule of law. Some pro-government elements have taken exception to this unsolicited advice, as evident from their social media posts, but there is nothing wrong with it. Sri Lankan governments and politicians should be kept reminded of the need to uphold democracy, which they are allergic to, but shouldn’t the US put its own house in order first?

Social integration eludes the US, which pontificates to others, as can be seen from the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been the African Americans’ response to racially motivated brutal police attacks on the member of their community. Their long-standing grievances have also found expression in their protest campaign, which has rippled out to some other countries as well. Perhaps, it was only in Sri Lanka that the police set upon a group that took part in a Black Lives Matter protest. America’s failure to achieve national integration fully and the attendant issues seem to have led to a serious problem.

Homicide rates in some large US cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Chicago have increased by double-digit percentages amidst police officers resigning and retiring across the country, Newsweek reports. The beginning of the rise in crimes coincided with the death of George Floyd at the hands of a group of police officers, on 25 May, Newsweek says. The diminished police legitimacy, following the killing of Floyd, is thought to be one of the reasons for the increase in the crime rate.

The murder of Floyd led to a resurgence of the Black rights campaign and calls, in the US, for deep fund cuts for the police force and downsizing it. These measures have been adopted in US states, making many police officers quit or opt for premature retirement. The Seattle city council recently voted for reducing the police force by 100 officers and decreasing the salaries of its high ranking officers. Seattle Police Chief Carman Best has resigned in protest. Fund cuts have reportedly affected the New York Police Department as well. It has had to cancel a recruitment drive and is experiencing a high retirement rate. A decrease in the number of police officers leads to an increase in the crime rate anywhere in the world. This situation would not have arisen if the US had practised what it preaches to others and achieved national integration and social cohesion.

One can only hope that the Sri Lanka police will learn from what has befallen their US counterparts and mend their ways. Their legitimacy is also diminishing rapidly. They have become a mere appendage of the ruling party and earned notoriety for their selective efficiency and brutality. Unless urgent action is taken to straighten up the Police Department, the day may not be far off when the people take to the streets, calling for fund cuts or even the abolition of it, as in the US.

It has now been revealed that the Police Narcotic Bureau was the biggest distributor of dangerous drugs in the country. The Attorney General’s Department, disappointed at the failure of the guardians of the law to carry out court orders, has said it can enlist the assistance of the military to have suspects arrested. The Military Police has already been deployed to help the traffic cops, who have failed to carry out their duties and functions properly. It looks as if the situation could not get any worse.

 

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Editorial

Shameless shirkers

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Saturday 26th September, 2020

Cynics pooh-poohed the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority’s boastful claim that Sri Lanka was the Wonder of Asia. But we are convinced of the veracity of that slogan. In fact, this country is not just the Wonder of Asia’; it is the Wonder of the World, for it survived the yahapalana government without becoming a hotbed of ISIS terrorism.

On seeing the shameful conduct of the former rulers and their erstwhile trusted lieutenants, blaming one another for their collective failure to prevent the Easter Sunday carnage, people must be feeling ashamed that they were once ruled by those imbeciles. Under the yahapalana government, national security became nobody’s business and the Defence Ministry a playpen of politicians and mandarins who knew next to nothing about defence; they even did not know what to do with vital intelligence.

Hemasiri Fernando would have us believe that during his tenure as the Defence Secretary, the then President Maithripala Sirisena purposely kept him out of the loop, and, therefore, he should not be held responsible for the circumstances that led to the Easter Sunday carnage. He thinks the blame for the terror strikes should be laid solely on his former boss, Sirisena.

Ex-IGP Pujith Jayasundera says former President Sirisena should take the full responsibility for the yahapalana lapses that enabled the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) terrorists to carry out the Easter Sunday carnage. He insists that he had written to all those below him, informing them of the intelligence warning of the impending attacks, and they should have taken action. He pretends that he did not have full control over the police, and Sirisena interfered with transfers. But as far as we can remember, he controlled the police with an iron fist, and there was no way anyone could bypass him or conceal anything from him. It may be recalled that he ensured that his sil campaign was a success, and went so far as to rough up an elevator operator at the Police Headquarters for not observing sil. It is not possible that anyone would have dared ruffle his feathers. The blame for his subordinates’ failure to take action on the warning should be apportioned to him.

Jayasundera has said his phone was tapped by the SIS, and he was under surveillance while he was the IGP. We thought the yahapalana government did not resort to such measures. No wonder the state intelligence agencies, stuck neck deep in political work, had little time to spy on terrorists and ensure public safety.

SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena claims that, as the State Intelligence Service Chief, he had conveyed the intelligence warning of the terror attacks to everyone in the Defence establishment except President Sirisena. Curiouser and curiouser! It has now been revealed he used to call President Sirisena almost daily.

The entire yahapalana government and the police top brass who stooped so low as to do dirty political work should be held responsible for having created conditions for the rise of Islamic extremism and terror. Their witch hunt against the military and intelligence personnel who had been instrumental in defeating LTTE terrorism brought about a situation where nobody in the intelligence community was willing to go beyond the call of duty to neutralise the NTJ. Time was when intelligence officers sprang into action, upon receiving information about possible terror attacks, and dealt with the terrorists without wasting time on writing memos. If those brave, efficient officers and men, who served the country faithfully, risking as they did life and limb, had not been arrested, harassed or hounded out of their jobs, following the 2015 regime change, Zahran would not have been able to explode even the Kanthankudy motorcycle bomb, which was a dry run of the Easter Sunday bombings.

The yahapalana shirkers responsible for their failure to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks are lucky that they are not living in a country like Saudi Arabia, where a Sri Lankan girl—Rizana Nafeek—who worked as a housemaid was beheaded, in 2013, for the death of a baby, in her care, due to her negligence. Their lapses led to more than 250 deaths.

 

 

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Editorial

What’s in a dress?

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Friday 25th September, 2020

National Congress MP A. L. M. Athaulla caused quite a stir in Parliament on Tuesday. In he walked wearing a dress, which became something like a red rag to a bull for some MPs, who protested, demanding that he be removed from the Chamber. One of his fellow Muslim MPs shouted from the Opposition benches that his dress looked like the national costume of Afghan males, and demanded that he leave the Chamber forthwith. Athaulla complied, but subsequently the Speaker allowed him to return to his seat after he had said he was wearing a jacket as it was too cold inside the Chamber.

If it is freezing inside the Chamber, then the air conditioners can be set at a higher temperature so that the MPs will feel comfortable, and the Parliament electricity bill can be reduced significantly. However, the MPs protest against Athaulla’s ‘Afghan’ attire left us baffled. What’s in a dress? Do clothes make good MPs? Athaulla’s dress, in our book, was fine. In fact, he looked smart in it.

What matters in Parliament is not an MP’s attire as such but his or her conduct. Only the female MPs and some of their male counterparts act with decorum. Others are nattily dressed in the so-called kapati suit, which is de rigueur, but their conduct is no better than that of ruffians. We saw them in action during the failed constitutional coup in 2018. The Speaker had to be removed to safety when they ran amok, smashing furniture and throwing projectiles and chilli powder. Several MPs in the last Parliament admitted that they had taken money from Arjun Aloysius. According to MP Dayasiri Jayasekera, as many as 118 members of the last Parliament had received funds from Aloysius’ company, Perpetual Treasuries Ltd., which has become a metaphor for fraud owing to its involvement in the Treasury bond scams.

During heated arguments, allegations of drug dealing, etc., are traded liberally in Parliament. The Speaker has to close the public gallery for schoolchildren when MPs resort to fisticuffs and let out streams of raw filth. Among the derogatory terms they exchange freely are ‘gigolo’ and ‘procurer’. Worse, now, there is a murder convict in the House. (Luckily, he has not been made the Justice Minister!) Another MP is in remand prison over the killing of a former lawmaker. Some MPs have a history of backing terrorism.

Allegations of bribery and corruption are often traded across the floor of the House during debates. The new government accuses the Opposition of having within its ranks a bunch of crooks who helped themselves to public funds and were involved in corrupt deals while they were in power; the Opposition would have the public believe that the incumbent administration consists of dozens of rogues who amassed ill-gotten wealth and stashed it away overseas from 2005 to 2015. This being the situation, can anyone be faulted for concluding that our legislature is full of rogues? There are, of course, decent men and women in Parliament, but they are the exception that proves the rule.

The media reported a few years ago that several female members of the last Parliament suffered sexual harassment at the hands of some of their male counterparts. The then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya promised an inquiry, but no action was taken. One can only hope that those randy elements in the garb of MPs have not been re-elected. (Anyway, as people are said to be what they eat, food items known for boosting libido should not be served in the parliamentary canteen, as a precautionary measure, for the sake of the female MPs.)

Meanwhile, are the MPs who frowned on Athaulla’s ‘Afghan’ attire really proud of their Sri Lankan identity and passionate about safeguarding the dignity of Parliament? Computers used in Parliament have been sponsored by China. Only the first-timers in the current Parliament have not benefited from the generosity of China, which organises junkets for MPs (Provincial Councillors and local government members) from time to time. The MPs do not consider it infra dig to benefit from the Chinese largesse. Funds for the parliament information centre came from the US. Not even the MPs who claim to be opposed to the Millennium Challenge Corporation compact, which, they rightly say, is loaded in favour of America, protested against that US-funded project.

When a person does something extremely shameful, it is popularly asked in this country how he or she could walk on the road with clothes on—reddak endan pare behala yanne kohomoda? This is the question that should be posed to those who made an issue of Athaulla’s foreign-looking dress but do not protest against the misconduct of MPs and the shameful practices such as living high on the hog at the expense of the public and panhandling for foreign aid.

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Editorial

Puttalam land grab: Dig deep

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Thursday 24th September, 2020

An attempt is apparently being made to sweep the issue of land encroachment and forest clearing at Aruwakkalu under the rug. Encroachers cleared a vast extent of land belonging to the Sri Lanka Cement Corporation, in Aruwakkalu, Puttalam, in a bid to sell it, early this month. The area affected by encroachment is a part of land encompassing about 4,500 acres leased by the state. The original lessee was Thawakkal and the second one Holcim. The responsibility for ensuring the safety of state property under threat lies with Siam City Cement (Lanka) Ltd. (SCCL), the current lessee.

On Tuesday, SCCL published a newspaper advertisement, claiming that at an ‘emergency meeting,’ presided over by Forest Conservation Minister C. B. Rathnayake, an ‘urgent course of action’ had been agreed upon by ‘all stakeholders’ to address an incident of encroachment and forest clearing in a long-term leased land belonging to the Sri Lanka Cement Corporation’. Were the environmental groups, that exposed the incident, present at that meeting? They are also stakeholders, aren’t they? The SCCL also listed some measures it had undertaken to adopt to prevent the encroachment of the state property. It has only made a virtue of necessity. Will it explain why it did not care to take such action earlier?

The Minister under whose purview the Cement Corporation land at issue comes is Wimal Weerawansa, who holds the Industries portfolio. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa goes all the way from Colombo to Deniyaya to inquire into complaints of threats to the Sinharaja rainforest, which is under Rathnayake’s ministry, and Rathnayake goes all the way from Colombo to Puttalam to inspect the Cement Corporation land, which is under Weerawansa’s ministry!

The Minister of Wildlife and Forest Conservation cannot chair a meeting to discuss a vital issue concerning a Cement Corporation property simply because there is a dry zone forest on it. No sooner had the incident of encroachment and forest clearing in Aruwakkalu been reported than Minister Weerawansa rushed a team of Cement Corporation officials there; they conducted an investigation and took up the issue with the police, the Divisional Secretary and the SCCL. In fact, the presence of any politician was not required there, at all, and the matter should have been left entirely to the senior officials representing the lessor (the Cement Corporation).

Grama Niladaris (GNs) are required to submit reports to Divisional Secretaries, every two weeks, and mention therein the instances of encroachment of state land, etc., if any. Land grabbing and forest clearing have gone on, for years, at Aruwakkalu, and why haven’t the GNs concerned reported such illegal activities to the District Secretaries or the police? GNs spring into action only when ordinary people happen to be on the wrong side of the law. Villagers are hauled up before courts for felling jak trees on their own properties, without permits, but organised racketeers are free to grab state lands, which they clear and sell with impunity.

Those who grabbed part of the Cement Corporation land at Aruwakkalu, cut down trees and set them on fire, have gone scot-free to all intents and purposes. They would not have been able to do so without help from the ruling party politicians in the area. The government must have them arrested and prosecuted under the Offences against Public Property Act without further delay. That is the only way it can prove that its politicians had no hand in the land racket. The police must be made to explain why they have failed to arrest the culprits.

Legal action must also be taken against the serious lapses on the part of the lessee, for they led to the encroachment of state land and forest clearing. The SCCL has said, in its advertisement, that on some previous occasions it had brought the issue of encroachment of the Cement Corporation land to the notice of ‘relevant authorities’, which it has not named. Can it prove that it reported land encroachment to the police or the Cement Corporation?

The lease agreement at issue has no termination clause, we are told. Such agreements are money-spinners for venal politicians and bureaucrats responsible for signing them. The Thawakkal deal was struck under the Chandrika Kumaratunga government in the 1990s. (Most of the self-righteous SLPP heavyweights were powerful ministers in that administration.)

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