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Opinion

Judiciary – ‘a sleeping giant’?

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I stumbled upon an article published by Verite Research. It stated that the number of days it takes to enforce a contract through the court system in Sri Lanka was 1,318. That is in excess of three and a half years. The information was drawn from a World Bank study on the ease of doing business, with enforcing contracts being one of the metrics. A contract is one of the basic means of legal recourse. The article also showed that in Vietnam and Malaysia, time taken to enforce a contract was around 400 days. In Singapore it was 150 days.

You might safely assume that successive administrations since 2013 would have moved mountains to improve this most basic indicator. Especially considering that Sri Lanka was touting itself as a frontier economy in the region, in 2013, enforcing a contract ought to have been made much easier and quicker in the interim six -seven years.

Well, in 2013 it was 1,318 days and today, in 2020, the latest report from the World Bank shows that the number of days taken to enforce a contract is still 1,318 days! I dare say this may have something to do with inadequate reporting or a lack of data. I urge anyone to use the tools at hand to research this further.

Whatever these indices say about Sri Lanka, the lived experiences of many Sri Lankans are as good a measure as any. All Sri Lankans today, in 2020, know very well to avoid the legal system at any and all costs; as the expense, the time taken and the virtual harassment that the inefficiencies of the court system inflicts on ordinary citizens, are simply not worth the trouble. Even an employee that wants to seek redress for being unfairly treated by his or her employer will have to wait many years to obtain compensation, despite stringent labour laws. This shows that having strict laws in place is futile unless they can be implemented in a speedy manner.

During my career, I recall many instances where actions of competent officers were undermined by their organizations. I am aware of a specific instance at a foreign bank where there was a case of deferment of revenue by a senior officer, without formally advising the customer. This exposed a systemic failure of the bank’s internal systems, yet officers higher up the ladder were scapegoated. This allowed the bank to not only cover-up the deficiencies of their systems but to also conceal the incompetence of its expatriate CEO.

The expatriate CEO in question was conveniently transferred out of Sri Lanka, while the local officers are still in court, five years later. The expatriate CEO was allowed to take early retirement with full benefits, while the local officers even had their contributions to their own gratuity payments frozen by this foreign bank. The loss of earnings besides the effects on their reputations and the stress of the process is one thing. Yet to have an international organization use all of its financial and legal might to delay, block and mislead legal proceedings is shocking. What is downright disgusting is that the system is built for this type of delaying tactic, where justice comes after many years of court dates and many millions in legal fees.

Whether you are involved in a car accident or you have had a personal item stolen or you have been verbally abused, the most common course of action taken by you would be to shrug your shoulders and move on. Going to the police and resorting to legal action would basically be the utmost last resort, no matter what crime has been committed.

For reference, in the late 1980s, I met with a car accident while working in the Middle East; another motorist carelessly scratched my vehicle. There was a police officer nearby, who immediately intervened and took down my details. Within one week, I received a cheque from my insurance company to pay for the repairs. No going to the police station to record a statement, no prolonged wait for an insurance agent.

In Sri Lanka, if you are a business owner and you need legal recourse, you face a multi-year wait. Can we call this a fair judicial SYSTEM? Can something that is so clearly stunted, so obviously unfit for purpose, be described as a system? It you do so you must affix the word BROKEN, before the word, ‘system’. Is it broken beyond repair? Within this broken system, can there be justice? Without justice, can we be a truly democratic society?

There also seems to be a process of never-ending interviews and investigations. Witnesses and others related to an investigation are interviewed by the police for six or eight hours sometimes. I shudder at the thought of pages upon pages of unnecessary notes and records taken at these interviews. Another example of a lack of efficiency or intentional time wasting. The time taken to collect evidence after an offence has been committed simply allows those accused more time to escape punishment.

Sri Lanka has had a Ministry of Justice since 1947. Ministers of Justice throughout the years have included luminaries of public service such as Felix Dias Bandaranaike, Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, Nissanka Wijeyeratne in the past. More recently, W. J. M. Lokubandara, Rauf Hakeem and Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe have held this cabinet position. Yet, we see a shocking lack of attention paid to this issue which affects all Sri Lankans, of all walks of life.

By the Justice Ministry’s own latest available statistics, as at end 2016, about 725,000 cases were pending in courts, with the largest number, 535,000 cases, pending in Magistrates’ Courts. Consider what this number actually represents; in human terms. How many people must feel helpless at the lack of action? A wait that could last several years would be bad enough for the owner of an enterprise or an entrepreneur or even a simple shopkeeper.

Yet consider those waiting for justice for serious crimes; murder, rape, theft or even harassment. How desperate must someone feel to have been robbed, or had a loved one assaulted, but then wait years upon years for redress, with no guarantee and no definite time-line. How many people will watch the best years of their lives wither away in courtrooms around the country? The almost machine like process of taking a day off your job to attend a court date, only to be given another court date three-six months later, is simply dehumanizing. Let us call it what it is; an inhumane system, completely unfit for purpose.

If there are over 700,000 cases pending in our system, do we even dare consider how many cases never make it into the system at all? Such an estimate, if attempted would certainly be multiple times more and would perhaps be the most depressing statistic of all. Usually, what is most insidious is what the numbers do not show as well as the situations for which there are no numbers.

Sri Lankans seem to have internalized this notion of helplessness, perhaps this is ingrained in our psyche by design. We simply do not want to risk our precious time, energy, money, well-being and job security to take a case to the courts. The countless, faceless millions of Sri Lankans over the years that have had to simply grin and bear whatever misfortune befalls them, deserve better.

Worse still, this system allows those with even a modicum of power, to abuse it, as they know they will not be tried in a court of law, anytime within the next five years. The room this leaves for corrupt practices in every sphere of life is a blot on our society. The vacuum of law and order that this creates will necessitate desperate measures by Sri Lankans. We read many stories of Sri Lankans taking matters into their own hands, most times out of sheer desperation.

To gauge how bad the situation is, you need only revisit the infamous “Yahapalanaya” government, and its efforts (genuine or not) to litigate cases involving political corruption and abuse of power. President Maithripala Sirisena at the time decided to form special courts to hear such cases. This too seems to have been an abject failure, similar to the five year stint of that administration.

The people should also note that if certain cases need to be expedited, for political reasons, it can sometimes happen. Political expediency is the number one priority, not the needs of the common man. Yet another indication that the political class and elites of the country play by a different set of rules.

RW

Colombo

 

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Opinion

The care of good dentists

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I experienced an agonizing toothache for the first time in my right-hand upper jaw. On bringing it under control with native medicines, a couple of colleagues at my work place stressed me to see a dentist who could prevent any recurrence, and recommended a highly proficient doctor by the name Rini Mathew attached to a popular medical centre in Riyadh. After nearly five-days-wait I was successful in getting an appointment to consult her.

This highly pleasant lady doctor from Kerala, India, after seeing the set of teeth in my right-hand upper jaw recommended for a root canaling and requested to return in two-weeks-time. Having not undergone any sort of surgery in my whole life, I was a little confused as to what to expect. As I arrived prepared for the repair work on my teeth, the good lady told me to my pleasant surprise that I don’t need any further treatment for the moment and if I get the toothache back again to come and see her. I thanked God and praised her for her being frank and honest.

The history of dentistry records Hesy-Re, an Egyptian scribe, who lived around 2600 BC is recognized as the first dental practitioner. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about dentistry, specifically about treating decaying teeth, but it wasn’t until 1530 that the first book entirely devoted to dentistry – The Little Medicinal Book for all kinds of diseases and infirmities of the Teeth – was published.

You don’t want to feel like just another item on your dentist’s to-do list. The best dentists, like whom I consulted, have a way of letting their patients know they care about them personally. They are interested in their patient’s lives and are eager to become a part of their general care team. The best dentist always gives you the care that you deserve.

 

S. H. MOULANA

 

 

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Opinion

The Age of Animal Ministries

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The call by the government’s backbench MP Mr. Dilan Perera to be made the Rilav/Vanduru Amathi, or the Minister for Monkeys, in the Pohottuva Realm, certainly leads to plenty of interest.

This must do with the various divisions and breakup tasks that have been given to both Cabinet and State Ministers, in the current play of governance, by the Gotabaya strategies. 

The call for a Rilav Ministry may have come after the Minister for Coconuts, Arundika Fernando, tried to climb a coconut palm, in his estate, at Dankotuwa, and hold a press conference to tell the people about the shortage of coconuts and the cause of the high price of this essential food item. One was surprised that he did not blame the coconut price hike on the 19A to the Constitution, and give any assurance that the coming 20A will bring the nut prices to within the people’s reach. Such nutty thinking is possible from politicos today.

What was also interesting is how he did this climb, halfway to coconut heights, with some modern climbing gear, having nothing to do with the traditional coconut tree climbers, who used their feet and hands to move much higher, and also walk on ropes from tree to tree for coconut plucking and toddy tapping. He must be following the new thinking of the Rajavasala on Digital Development to raise this country to new heights of Rajapaksa Success.

Let’s get back to the hopeful Rilav Amathi – the Monkey Minister Dilan Perera. The dictionary meaning of ‘Rilava”, that comes from the Vaanarayas, is those who take the forest products. This certainly has much relevance to the huge forest destruction taking place today, with the clear political blessings of the Rajapaksa realm. It is the crooked, or rilav, thinking of the Pohottu politicians that is causing this huge destruction of nature, bringing disaster to the environment. Is it the hope of Mr. Dilan Perera that he would be put in charge of this chronicle of destruction, becoming the political gatherer of profitable forests products, and giving free forest land to the political catchers of 20A fondness?

Or, is he thinking of the romantic legends of the monkey Hanuman, that had so much to do with Rama and Sita, and brought so much of forest land from India and dumped in several parts of this country, giving much of the ayurvedic medicine to this day. Is the Pohottuva Dilan thinking of becoming the Phohottu Hanuman, to bring in new legends of politically powerful romances that will soon be part of the Hanuman Keli or Monkey Games of the Power Players? His recent defence of the 20A, against the 19A that he voted for, gives a good indication of the Rilav and Vanduru thinking that is the stuff of Pohottu politics.

 There is also a good opportunity for the call for a Nari/Hival Amathi, or Fox Minister, in this government. Why not have one of these foxy politicians, with their delight in political long-jumping, who have plenty of nari-thinking in their systems, as the new Nari-Hival Amathi. He or she will make some quick decisions on how the ‘Nari Tharjanaya’, the Fox Threat in the Kalutara, and now Horana areas, can be tackled; giving the Cabinet Minister of Health time to keep thinking of matters other than public health, and more on the political health of those who are in the bandwagon of power politics. 

A Nari-Hival Amathi will be one whose hoots will be heard loud and clear in support of 20A, and one who would have gladly hooted in support of both the 18A and 19A, and is ready to raise both hands, and even one’s legs, for the 20A.

There are other animals who can have Cabinet or State portfolios in this politics of backward evolution. Why not have a Buffalo, or Meeharak Amathi? This could be a Pohottuva activist who will promise to give a good price to the curd made from buffalo milk, and also tell the public how much they can benefit by lying for hours in the mud found near their homes, without looking for government jobs or contracts for services that can only be given to the Pohottu catchers.

The Tamil Tigers were defeated more than a decade ago. But the politics of today is still seething with tiger threats to national unity. With what is happening to the leopards in this country, there is certainly a cause for a pohottu backbencher to ask for a Kotiya or Diviya portfolio. This can be a pohottu player who have the stripes of corruption on one’s body, with plenty of experience of grabbing the land of others, whether paddy fields or plantations, with the twisted politics of power, whether from the UNP, SLFP, UPFA or the Yahapalana travesty. A Koti Amathi will be roaring away, and leaping with great success on grabbing the property of other people, for the rising cause of Pohottu Balaya, the future power Dual Citizens, especially of the Washington-Medamulana alliance.

It is not likely that there will be any calls for a Bull or Cow – Harak Amathi – especially after the reigning silence over the plan to stop the slaughter of cattle. There are plenty of bulls in the huge pack on the government side, at Diyawanna Oya, we hear and also see their ‘gon talk’ and ‘harak keliya’ in the parliament so often today. They will be happy that cattle slaughter will remain a reality here, with no moves for the rise of a vegan society, which is certainly not the substance of the real Rajavasala thinking, with complete absence of kindness to animals.

There are many more animal or species ministries that can be offered to build up this Rajavasala Sathva Kattiya, once the 20A is passed, and the ministries can flow from the Rajapaksa pen. There is much space for more than one serpent or Sarpa Amathi – who will spread themselves all over the country, and crawl around and strike down with venom those who dare talk of the disasters that lie ahead post 20A. There can be many cockroach and mosquito ministers, too, who will help spread the Covid 20 — that can be far more dangerous than today’s Covid-19.

Let’s give a bow to the Age of Animal Ministries or Sathva Amathya Yugaya. 

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Opinion

Where is Sajith’s leadership?

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By Dr UPUL WIJAYAWARDHANA

The Leader of the opposition is a vital link in democracy and, as the name implies, is expected to give leadership. Unfortunately, the behaviour of Sajith Premadasa is casting doubts as to whether he is giving that leadership.

Even when he challenged Ranil for the leadership of the UNP, he was happy to put up a fight for some time and then give up. His disappearance into the wilderness after losing the presidential election and issuing a statement that he would devote the rest of his life to looking after leopards, perplexed many. Egged on by a coterie of Ranil-haters, he split the UNP but still wanted to grab the HQ of the party, an aspiration he quickly gave up after the last general election, probably because the UNP did unexpectedly bad.

There is no doubt that the biggest challenge he faces is opposing the introduction of the 20th amendment. If the ugly scenes in the parliament, when 20A was tabled, on 22nd September is anything to go by, many would be in for disappointment. “The ongoing campaign against 20A is characterised by a severe trust deficit, which the Opposition has failed to overcome.”: This forewarning in the editorial “Diyawanna Post Office” (The Island, 22 September) seems to ring true. I greatly doubt the opposition enhanced its image with this behaviour and the contempt of the voters towards Members of Parliament surely would increase.

What was displayed was not leadership but gang-leadership. Instead of obeying the rulings of the Speaker and forging a strong opposition in a democratic manner, what we saw was rowdy behaviour. To add insult to injury, they were demanding the cameras be aimed at them, so that the whole country could witness their rowdiness!

I too am against some aspects of 20A, like removing the limitation of Cabinet size and letting dual citizenship holders enter parliament, but have done so by just means; having voiced them through this newspaper.

In addition, Sajith failed miserably as a leader when he did not take any action against the national list MP Harin Fernando, who made a totally unsubstantiated allegation against Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith. He told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry investigating the Easter Sunday attacks that the Cardinal shifted the Sunday Mass to Saturday as he was aware of the terrorist attack. As a catholic himself, Harin should have verified facts before he made such a serious accusation. In spite of having had to admit his folly to the commission, on his way out, Harin made sarcastic remarks to journalists. It is impossible even to speculate what earthly purpose these insults are meant to serve. If it is to regain the support of the Buddhist voters, it certainly is an exercise in futility as most Sri Lankans hold Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith in high esteem for his exemplary leadership following the Easter Sunday attacks.

Sajith should have taken immediate action, as this is a repeat offence; having taken Harin to the Cardinal for an apology on the previous occasion. Instead, he said in high-brow Sinhala “abhyantara kathikawathaka yedenewa”, meaning an internal conversation is taking place. Sajith seems to be under the impression that using serious sounding words would satisfy the masses and solves problems.

Unfortunately, Sajith’s lack of leadership qualities are becoming more obvious by the day. Perhaps, there is a chance for Ruwan Wijewardena, if he plays his cards right!

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