Monday 31st May, 2021
The Covid-19 vaccination drive has got off to a bumpy start thanks to dirty politics; it has been politicised to such an extent that the SLPP politicians reportedly issue ‘chits’ to their supporters to receive the jab on priority basis, and publicly berate the health workers who are not willing to do their bidding, as was seen in a Colombo suburb, the other day. Moratuwa Mayor Samanlal Fernando went ballistic when a female medical officer refused to carry out the vaccination programme according to his whims and fancies. Undesirables in the garb of government politicians always want first dibs on everything given to them and their family members and cronies at the expense of the taxpaying public.
The brave police personnel who swoop on ordinary people for violating the health regulations and haul them up before courts, in double quick time, just looked on while the Moratuwa Mayor was hindering the vaccination programme. No action has been taken against them, but a constable has reportedly got into trouble for preventing the spouse of a superior officer from jogging in violation of the Covid-19 protocol, in Colombo!
The gutsy lady doc who stood her ground at the Moratuwa vaccination centre and told the barking Mayor where to get off deserves public plaudits. ‘And even the ranks of Tuscany could scarce forbear to cheer.’
It became too embarrassing for the government to defend the Moratuwa Mayor, who was arrested after his surrender to the police and remanded. A person who obstructed a group of Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) at Atolugama, last year, was sentenced to six years in jail, and it will be interesting to see what will or will not happen to the Moratuwa Mayor, who disrupted a vaccination programme. People without political connections are denied bail for such offences. The Atolugama man spat at the PHIs, and the Moratuwa man spewed out venom.
The blame for the ruling party politicians’ aggressive behaviour should be apportioned to their political masters. It is popularly said in this country that when a guru micturates while walking, his goloyas (pupils) do so while running. This is exactly what we are witnessing today. Ministers set a bad example by launching into tirades against state officials, who have the courage to tell them what they do not want to hear, and lesser politicians emulate them. How Minister Sanath Nishantha threw conniptions when a female Forest Officer, named Devani Jayathilaka, opposed a cretinous proposal to clear a mangrove forest for the construction of a playground in Negombo, last year, is a case in point. One may also recall that under the previous Rajapaksa government, Minister Mervyn Silva, who was on slipper-licking terms with the ruling family, tied a state official to a tree during a dengue prevention programme as ‘punishment’ for arriving late at a meeting; he also stormed media institutions and got away with his crimes including cheque kiting. It is this culture of impunity that emboldens government politicians to ride roughshod over state officials in public and do as they please.
Why should politicians other than the ministers in charge of health and pandemic control be allowed to visit the vaccination centres on the pretext of inspecting them or meddle with Covid-19 programmes? These are tasks that should be left entirely to health experts. There are some self-important political potentates who consider themselves more knowledgeable than doctors; they include Gamini Lokuge (MBBS–Piliyandala?) and Mayor Fernando (MBBS–Moratuwa?) They must be prevented from interfering in the work of doctors and other officials on pandemic control duties.
How the present-day rulers handpick the worst political dregs to head local government institutions is truly amazing; there are of course decent local council chiefs and members, but they are the exception that proves the rule. They also have a history of giving free rein to these notorious characters. Under the previous Rajapaksa government, the then Hambantota Mayor Eraj Fernando ran, brandishing a small firearm, behind a group of Opposition MPs, who visited the Hambantota Port. His bosses claimed he had been carrying a toy pistol! Tangalle Pradeshiya Saba (PS) Chairman Sampath Vidanapathirana together with his gang killed a British national, and raped the victim’s fiancée at a tourist hotel in Tangalle on Christmas Day in 2011. But for diplomatic pressure the UK brought to bear on Colombo, the perpetrators would have got away with those crimes. Vidanapathirana and three others were sentenced to jail, and the Attorney General filed an appeal seeking the death sentence for them. Kahawatte PS Chairman Vajira D. Silva along with SLPP MP Premalal Jayasekera was sentenced to death for murdering a UNP supporter in the run-up to the 2015 presidential election. The late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha, who led the yahapalana movement, and was instrumental in engineering the 2015 regime change, revealed at a public meeting that a UPFA PS Chairman in the South had raped hundreds of women and even celebrated those crimes. He demanded justice for the victims, but the rapist as well as the trigger-happy Hambantota Mayor later joined the yahapalana camp!
Going by the menacing behaviour of many ruling party politicians, we believe that the current leaders should have had their ministers, MPs and local government members inoculated against rabies a long time ago. Now, it is too late; many of them are already infected and pose a serious threat to society. The least the government can do by way of remedial action is to keep these dangerous elements on a tight leash.
PTA as a bludgeon
Wednesday 1st February, 2023
Colombo Chief Magistrate Prasanna Alwis, who heard a case against Convenor of the Inter-University Students’ Federation, Wasantha Mudalige, yesterday, ruled that the latter had not committed any offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Mudalige was cleared of the PTA charges, but taken back to remand prison over some other cases pending against him.
Why was the PTA ever used against Mudalige? The government, the police and the state prosecutor should answer this question.
There are situations where protesting university students turn unruly and even become a public nuisance. Troublemakers in the garb of students have to be dealt with according to the law, and the police cannot be faulted for doing so, but draconian measures such as the use of the PTA against them cannot be countenanced on any grounds. Ironically, the incumbent dispensation, which has the police arrest anti-government protesters under the PTA, has chosen to grant presidential pardons to several LTTE cadres serving jail terms for terrorist activities! It seems to think that anti-government protesters are more dangerous than terrorists!
Arrested about five months ago, Mudalige underwent tremendous suffering due to being charged under the PTA. This can happen to anyone who dares organise or take part in anti-government protests. Detention or a protracted stay in remand prison is tantamount to punishment in this country.
The police and all others responsible for having Mudalige arrested under the PTA and pressing trumped-up charges against him must be held to account. There is no way they could justify what they have done to him, and it is hoped that legal action will be instituted against them so that the government and its stooges in the police and the Attorney General’s Department will be deterred from using the PTA as a bludgeon against protesters; most of all, the police will be compelled to act within the confines of the law without overstepping their limits to humour their political masters.
Preaching while splurging
The government has been advertising its financial difficulties for the past few weeks apparently in a bid to bolster its claim that it is not in a position to allocate funds for elections. The Department of Government Printing has reportedly asked the Election Commission to settle its dues and make an advance payment for carrying out election-related printing!
President Ranil Wickremesinghe is reported to have directed all public officials not to obtain goods and services on credit. State Minister of Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has said external debt restructuring is always at the expense of foreign taxpayers, and therefore the countries that have lent funds to Sri Lanka expect us to make sacrifices. One could not agree with him more, but will he explain why the government has not cancelled the Independence Day ceremony, which will cost taxpayers an arm and a leg? The cost of the grand event has been estimated at Rs. 200 million, according to media reports, but there must be other hidden costs. Let the government leaders who are grumbling about lack of funds be urged to learn from Tanzania how to rationalise state expenditure.
Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan was considerate enough to cancel her country’s Independence Day celebrations, last month, and direct that the funds earmarked for the event be used to construct dormitories at schools for children with special needs. In 2015, the then President of Tanzania John Magufuli cancelled the Independence Day celebrations and allocated funds saved therefrom for the development of roads in Dar es Salaam. He did so again in 2020 and the money allocated for the Independence Day celebrations was used to acquire medical facilities. In this country, money that should be spent on treating and feeding poor children at state-run hospitals is being utilised for Independence Day celebrations!
Media reports say there have been no reductions in funds allocated for the offices of the President, the Prime Minister and others despite the current economic crisis. Don’t the government worthies who are wailing that they cannot meet state expenses think that they have to practise what they preach to others?
A regime sans shame
Tuesday 31st January, 2023
The SLPP-UNP combine, which is taking great pains to delay the local government (LG) polls for fear of losing them, is all out to make the public lose interest in elections; it is trying to engineer a low voter turnout. Voter apathy is usually advantageous to unpopular regimes in power. Trotting out lame excuses to make a case for postponing the mini polls, the government claims that it is so broke that it cannot allocate funds for an election at this juncture. Curiously, it is not without such pecuniary difficulties where fund allocations for celebrations are concerned. If the country is to wait until the economy is turned around to go to the polls, it will have to wait until hell freezes over!
The government propaganda mill is in overdrive to deprive the ongoing electoral process of legitimacy. No sooner had it been reported that three members of the Election Commission (EC) were receiving death threats the Government Information Department issued a media statement, claiming that ‘the gazette notice with signatures of the Chairman and other members of the Election Commission required for the commencement of the Local Government election process has not been sent to the Government Press for printing.’ The EC has dismissed this claim as baseless.
The Information Department’s media statement reminds us of an ill-advised letter that Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration, Home Affairs, Provincial Councils and Local Government, Neil Hapuhinne, recently sent to the District Returning Officers in a bid to prevent them from accepting deposits for the LG elections. The EC reacted swiftly and Hapuhinne withdrew his letter. The EC assured the public that the electoral process was on track. Hapuhinne was lucky to get away with only a rap on the knuckles from the EC. Now, Director General of Government Information Dinith Karunarathna has done something similar.
We argued, in a previous comment, that Hapuhinne had to be dealt with in such a way that action against him would constitute a deterrent for others of his ilk bent on scuttling the LG polls. He should have been made to face the full force of the law for his high-handed action. It is never too late.
There is no way the government could avoid defeat by postponing elections. Such action is as injudicious and futile as ‘using a loincloth to control dysentery’, as a local saying goes. If the SLPP had plucked up the courage to face the LG polls, last year, instead of postponing them, the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration would have suffered an electoral setback and realised the need to make a course correction, which might have helped prevent the current economic crisis.
The SJB, the JVP, the SLFP and some SLPP dissident groups are on a campaign to ensure that the LG elections are held as scheduled, but they, too, have sullied their reputations by helping put off elections. The SJB consists of former Yahapalana MPs; they, the SLFP and the JVP unashamedly joined forces, in 2017, to postpone the Provincial Council elections, which they knew they would lose. Their modus operandi was antithetical to democracy and parliamentary norms they claim to uphold. They helped the UNP-led Yahapalana government stuff the Provincial Councils (Amendment) Bill (2017) with some sections sans judicial sanction, at the committee stage, and steamroller it through the House. The SLPP dissidents, who have taken up the cudgels for the people’s franchise had no qualms about supporting the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration’s decision to postpone the LG polls.
That the country needs alternatives to both the government and the Opposition, as evident from the phenomenal rise of anti-politics and the growing resentment of the youth cannot be overstated, but first of all, it has to be liberated from the clutches of the current regime, and the LG polls will help loosen their vice-like grip thereon—hopefully.
Democracy in danger
Monday 30th January, 2023
Those who are all out to scuttle the local government elections (LG) scheduled to be held on 09 March have got down and dirty. Having failed to intimidate the Election Commission (EC) into postponing elections, they are now trying to scare the members thereof into resigning as part of their strategy to delay the mini polls. Their desperation knows no bounds and they will baulk at nothing.
The EC members who have been threatened with death to resign from their posts are S. B. Divaratne, M. M. Mohamed and K. P. P. Pathirana. P. S. M. Charles has already tendered her resignation letter. It is obvious that someone is trying to render the EC incapable of having quorate meetings by causing three or more of its five members to resign. It is hoped that the EC members will be given maximum possible security so that they will be able to carry out their duties without fearing for their safety.
Ironically, those who resorted to mindless violence to disrupt elections in the late 1980s are currently at the forefront of a campaign to safeguard the people’s franchise and some of their political rivals who dared protect democracy by holding elections and participating therein during that time are all out to sabotage polls. The JVP attacked the public officials who were on election duty during its second uprising (1987-89) and some of them were gunned down. The intrepid voters who defied the JVP’s order to boycott elections during the reign of southern terror were also attacked. Some of them died violent deaths at the hands of the JVP sparrow units, which terrorised the country. The then UNP governments held elections, which they rigged and won, and the current SLPP leaders who were in the Opposition at the time took part in those electoral contests courageously despite threats to their lives. Today, there has been a role reversal! The JVP is threatening to take to the streets if elections are postponed, and the UNP and the SLPP are trying every trick in the book to delay the polls.
The act of threatening EC members, or anyone else for that matter, with death, is a serious criminal offence, which must be treated as such. The caller who issued death threats to EC officials must be traced, brought here, made to reveal who his handler is and prosecuted forthwith.
Nobody should be considered guilty until proven innocent, but it is only natural that as for the threats to the EC members, fingers are pointed at the government, which is doing everything in its power to delay the LG polls for fear of losing them. The SLPP and the UNP have no one but themselves to blame; he that has an ill name is half-hanged, as a popular saying goes. All other political parties including the dissident SLPP constituents are keen to face an election at this juncture, when the public is resentful and the government’s approval ratings are extremely low. The worst times for the country are the best times for the Opposition both politically and electorally. The only way the SLPP-UNP administration could clear its name, if at all, is to ensure that the person who is threatening the EC members is brought to justice immediately. It will not be difficult to trace the caller if he or she has no links to the ruling coalition. Even Sri Lanka’s Napoleon of Crime, Makandure Madush, was arrested in Dubai, and extradited. So, it will be child’s play for the Sri Lankan police and their UAE counterparts backed by Interpol to arrest the caller.
Those who fear elections will not spare any institution in their efforts to postpone polls. There have been situations where repressive governments targeted even the judiciary to further their interests. The stoning of the houses of the Supreme Court judges, in 1983, following their historic judgement in a fundamental rights petition filed by Vivienne Goonewardene against the Police is a case in point. The Mahinda Rajapaksa government went so far as to ‘impeach’ Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, whom it considered an obstacle in its path. It removed her from office in the most despicable manner. Today, the SLPP and the UNP are savouring power together.
It goes without saying that the ruling alliance, which poses a serious threat to democracy, has to be tamed, and the best way to achieve this end is to ensure that the LG polls are held as scheduled and the people given an opportunity to subject the government to an electoral shock.
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