Wednesday 5th July, 2023
The age-old saying, “Health is wealth”, has apparently taken on a whole new meaning in Sri Lanka, where the health sector has become a Golconda of sorts for some corrupt politicians, their bureaucratic lackeys, and the greedy private hospital mudalalis, who thrive on other people’s misery. These characters sans any sympathy for fellow human beings have come under fire once again for making the most of the health needs of the public to amass colossal amounts of wealth. In carrying out their sordid operations, they are guided by Rafferty’s rules, or no rules at all. The prevailing culture of impunity has stood them in good stead.
Public sector health professionals have been vehemently protesting, for the past several weeks, against the procurement by the Health Ministry of substandard drugs, which have already snuffed out several lives and caused blindness in some people. In fact, they have exposed numerous health sector rackets and even named names, but the culprits always have the last laugh.
President of the Government Medical Officers’ Forum Dr. Rukshan Bellana has asked Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella to resign if the latter cannot eliminate corruption in the Health Ministry. His call has resonated with the public. Speaking to the media, he has flayed Minister Rambukwella for the existing drug shortages in the state sector and shielding corrupt Health Ministry officials in the pay of drug companies. Other trade union leaders representing doctors, nurses and the members of the professions supplementary to medicine have also exposed numerous corrupt deals in the health sector, all these years, but to no avail.
Anyone can go on talking about crooked deals in the state health institutions until he or she is blue in the face, but the crooks who profit from such questionable transactions will never be brought to justice. Such is the power of crooks. Not for nothing is it alleged that the Health Ministry is geared to look after the interests of the corrupt. It has been a den of thieves for the past several decades, and its corruption costs the country dear.
Dr. Bellana has said public funds must not be used to compensate the victims affected by substandard drugs, etc., and the errant companies concerned must be made to pay compensation. One cannot but agree with him. Those who ordered the drugs of questionable quality must also be severely dealt with.
Ravi Kumudesh of the Academy of Health Professionals is one of the trade unionists who have demanded to know how on earth Health Minister Rambukwella had been unaware of the unavailability of vital drugs in the state-run hospitals until it was too late. Rambukwella has admitted that 190 out of 800 medicinal drugs used in Sri Lanka are not available. Is it that nobody brought the issue of drug shortages to his notice or he was aware of it but did not care to do anything?
Drug shortages in the state sector are a blessing to private pharmacies, which make a killing at the expense of the poor; they also warrant emergency purchases much to the glee of the corrupt engaged in the procurement of medicinal drugs, etc. True, the current forex crisis has contributed to drug shortages, but allegations abound that they are also artificially created from time to time so that politicians and bureaucrats can bypass the standard procurement procedures and import drugs from companies of their choice and line their pockets. Most of the drugs so imported are found to be substandard and harmful, but nobody is called to account for this sorry state of affairs.
If the Health Ministry, which has become Sri Lanka’s Augean stables, could be cleansed and crooks therein made to pay for their corrupt deals, the country would be able to save a great deal of funds and boost the state revenue significantly.
Wednesday 27th September, 2023
It is heartening that justice has finally caught up with a retired top cop, albeit after a lapse of more than eight years. The Ratnapura High Court, on Monday, sentenced former Senior DIG Lalith Jayasinghe to a five-year jail term for having ordered the OIC of the Kahawatte police station not to arrest the then UPFA MP Premalal Jayasekera alias Choka Malli over a shooting incident in the run-up to the 2015 presidential election. The victim of gun violence succumbed to his injuries. He was an Opposition activist.
The Mahinda Rajapaksa government attempted a cover-up, and the prevention of Choka Malli’s arrest was part of it. But its plan went awry due to the regime change that followed soon afterwards.
The Yahapalana government ensured that Jayasekera was arrested and prosecuted. He was sentenced to death by the Ratnapura High Court, but he successfully appealed against his sentence after being elected to Parliament as a member of the ruling SLPP, in 2020. In this country, the acquittals of politicians in power come as no surprise!
Today, Choka Malli is a free man, but the SDIG who prevented his arrest in the immediate aftermath of the 2015 killing has been sentenced to jail!
It is hoped that Ex-SDIG Jayasinghe’s predicament will serve as a lesson for all police personnel who enter into Faustian bargains with crafty politicians, and abuse their positions to please their political masters. This unholy alliance is one of the reasons why public trust in the police has eroded severely and the rule of law is crippled.
Several former senior cops have had to pay for their past sins. In 2010, ex-SSP Nihal Karunaratne was sentenced to a five-year jail term by the Kandy High Court for having issued death threats to the OIC of the Hanguranketha police station, in the run-up to the 2001 general election; he was the Director of President Chandrika Bandaranaike’s security division at the time. The following year, the Colombo High Court sentenced Karunaratne to two years RI suspended for 10 years and fined him Rs. 25,000 for having obstructed a police officer, in 2000, when a police team entered the house of notorious criminal called Beddegana Sanjeewa to arrest some underworld figures hiding there. (Having been appointed a Reserve Sub Inspector of Police, Sanjeewa served in Kumaratunga’s security division until he was killed by an ‘unidentified gunman’.)
In 2016, the then IGP Pujith Jayasundera was caught on camera, at a public meeting, answering a telephone call from someone, whom he reverentially called ‘sir’ and assuring that a certain person would not be arrested. A fish is said to rot from the head down, and this may explain why the Police Department is full of stooges. Jayasundera’s obsequiousness, however, did not prevent the politicians he served very faithfully from throwing him to the wolves after the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in 2019.
The person who died at the hands of the goons of the Rajapaksa regime, in Kahawatte, ahead of the 2015 presidential election, was one of the UNP supporters who, at the behest of their party leadership, stuck their necks out to enable Maithripala Sirisena to secure the presidency. Three years later, Sirisena sought to dislodge the UNP-led Yahapalana government. He thereafter closed ranks with the Rajapaksas, whom he had blamed for election violence in 2015, among other things, and threatened to throw behind bars; he had no qualms about being in the same parliamentary group as Choka Malli after the 2020 general election. Worse, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe joined forces with the Rajapaksas, who were accused of unleashing their goons on UNP activists, and realised his presidential dream. He stands accused of protecting the interests of the Rajapaksas. In a turn of events replete with irony, Jayasekera was sworn in as a state minister before President Wickremesinghe, last year!
One can only hope that the public will realise that nothing is stupider than to risk life and limb for the sake of politicians or political parties. Unfortunately, many lessons go unlearnt in this country.
Foretaste of lawlessness?
Tuesday 26th September, 2023
It was reported yesterday that gun violence had snuffed out about 50 lives in Sri Lanka so far this year. A cold shiver runs down one’s spine when one reads local crime stories or watches television news bulletins that dish out graphic details about violent crimes. One fears whether at this rate Colombo and some other urban centres will soon be bracketed with Tijuana (in Mexico), which has come to be dubbed the ‘murder capital’ of the world, the main cause of death there being gang violence among dangerous drug cartels.
Commandant of the Special Task Force DIG Waruna Jayasundara has said in a recent television discussion that there are about 17 criminal gangs operating in the Western and Southern Provinces and their leaders are operating from overseas. Many hired guns are ready to carry out contract killings for about Rs. 100,000 each, according to him.
Criminals and reckless drivers destroy more lives daily than the Eelam war and the Covid-19 pandemic did, in this country. The police do not seem equal to the task of protecting the public against these killers. Hardly a day passes without shooting incidents and killer accidents being reported from various parts of the country. The police swing into action only after lives are lost instead of trying to prevent road accidents, which claim about eight lives a day, and organised crimes.
As for violent crimes, the situation has become so bad that a close relative of a prominent ruling party politician was gunned down, in Galle, on Saturday. The police attributed his killing to an ongoing gang war in the Southern Province. The next few weeks will see an increase in tit-for-tat killings in the South with rival gangs going all out to settle scores. It is being argued in some quarters that Saturday’s incident can be considered irrefutable proof of the nexus between persons with political connections and the netherworld of crime. When powerful politicians and their kith and kin become the targets of underworld killers, it goes without saying how vulnerable the ordinary people are.
The country may be free from organised terrorist outfits, but the rise of the underworld could pose a serious threat to national security in that the powerful crime syndicates are willing to do anything for anyone, for the right price, regardless of the consequences of their actions. These criminal outfits are equipped with sophisticated weapons and explosive devices and have well-trained military deserters in their pay, as evident from the arrest of several ex-armed forces personnel over contract killings during the past several months. One can only hope that the defence authorities will take cognisance of these aspects of the problem.
Drug cartels, which are responsible for most crimes, especially murders, have infiltrated even the CID. A notorious drug dealer known as ‘Harakkata’ almost succeeded in escaping from the well-guarded CID headquarters with inside help recently. He had his handcuffs unfastened on the sly, and tried to grab a firearm from a policeman. Luckily, he failed in his endeavour. However, a constable who is suspected to have collaborated with the drug dealer made good his escape, and is still at large. He cannot be the only dirty cop in league with the underworld. The infiltration of the law enforcement agencies will make the country’s fight against crime even more uphill.
The government is in overdrive to crush protests, claiming that it has to maintain political stability to enable economic recovery. It deploys thousands of heavily-armed police and military personnel for that purpose. But despite its braggadocio, it has pathetically failed to contain the scourge of crime. Being labelled a high-crime destination is what Sri Lanka needs like a hole in the head while trying its best to boost its foreign currency reserves by increasing tourist arrivals.
The need for a countrywide crackdown on the underworld to arrest the country’s rapid descent into lawlessness cannot be overstated. The government had better shift its focus from suppressing peaceful protests to fighting violent crimes. Rhetoric and excuses will not do.
C4, Grease Yaka and Trojan horse
Monday 25th September, 2023
Channel 4’s recent programme on the Easter Sunday attacks may have made the Rajapaksas squirm and landed President Ranil Wickremesinghe in an awkward position, but former President Maithripala Sirisena has become an unintended beneficiary thereof. It could not have come at a better time for him; he has had to pay Rs 100 million as compensation to the families of the Easter Sunday terror victims, as per a court order, and the government is coming under increasing pressure to ensure that he faces criminal action for his failure to prevent the 2019 terrorist bombings, which took place when he was the President and Minister of Defence.
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI), which probed the Easter Sunday attacks, has recommended that criminal proceedings be instituted against Sirisena. He is now at the mercy of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who can have him prosecuted anytime. He has therefore opted to hold out an olive branch to Wickremesinghe, whom he wronged very badly during the latter stages of the Yahapalana rule, and indicated his willingness to support the UNP; he has gone to the extent of ousting his sidekick, Dayasiri Jayasekera, as the SLFP General Secretary for opposing moves being made to bring the UNP and the SLFP together again.
Sirisena however has got one thing right. He has said an international probe into the Easter Sunday attacks will be fraught with the risk of adversely affecting Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, and therefore what is needed is a thorough domestic investigation with foreign assistance and not a full-fledged international probe as such.
It is not possible that Channel 4 (C4) and those who are said to be behind its programme at issue are driven by a genuine desire to have justice served for the Easter Sunday carnage victims, for they had no qualms about backing Tiger terror, which claimed many more lives than the Easter Sunday attacks. Their real intention seems to be creating a precedent for international probes in Sri Lanka in a bid to achieve their goal of having a UN investigation conducted into alleged war crimes against the Sri Lankan military; C4 has craftily woven war crimes allegations into its programme on the Easter carnage. They have succeeded in making even the ardent opponents of the ongoing campaign for an international war crimes probe against Sri Lanka support their plan, albeit unwittingly.
The government however must not be allowed to use the possibility of the country having to face a UN war crimes probe, in case of an international investigation being held into the Easter Sunday attacks, to justify its unwillingness to have the carnage investigated afresh. Pressure must be amped up on it to launch a credible domestic probe into the Easter Sunday tragedy that shook the world. The Catholic Church and other campaigners for justice have had to call for an international probe because the unpardonable delay on the part of the government to complete the ongoing police investigations into the carnage, and implement the PCoI recommendations fully, is widely viewed as proof of a grand cover-up.
Sri Lankan politicians are adept at political escapism. They are as slippery as the so-called Grease Yaka (a naked voyeur or burglar, covered in grease, moving about at night), and capable of escaping capture when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Otherwise, by now, most of them would have been behind bars for their crimes. It is thanks to their escape artistry skills that they have avoided prosecution for their serious lapses that enabled the National Thowheed Jamaat terrorists to carry out the Easter Sunday attacks with ease. They have artfully turned the C4 programme to their advantage!
Sirisena has attempted another escape stunt amidst pressure mounting on the government to have criminal proceedings instituted against him in keeping with the PCoI recommendations. He has used the C4 allegations to assail the validity of the PCoI probe and recommendations; his call for a fresh investigation with international assistance is aimed at further delaying the legal and judicial processes pertaining to the Easter Sunday carnage.
When the PCoI final report became public in 2021, we argued that ideally a fresh probe had to be held based thereon, or if the government chose to implement its recommendations it had to do so expeditiously. If a thorough investigation had been launched at that time, it would have been possible to get at the truth and have justice served many moons ago. At least, the PCoI recommendations should have been implemented fully. Instead, the Rajapaksas opted to let the grass grow under their feet and thereby unwittingly helped bolster the claim that they were attempting a cover-up because they had a hand in the terror attacks. An ill repute is said to influence judgments.
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