Religion and responsibility!
The recent news article in The Island, published on November 13, 2021, under the headline ‘INSS Director General says no proof Zahran met Intelligence Operatives’, is of immense relief to us, the general public, who still have faith in the state watchdogs to protect the nation.
Professor Rohan Gunaratne, an expert on terrorist behavioural patterns, after studying the statements given by Zahran Hashim’s wife to the relevant law enforcement authorities, including the 300-paged evidence submitted to the PCoI, has confirmed that there is no mention in her statements of Zahran meeting any intelligence operatives. Furthermore, here is an expert who had personally interviewed the wife of the suicide bomber, and his observations and conclusions on the matter appear to have been formed after careful analysis of documented facts.
On the other hand, a priest has chosen to make absolutely irresponsible statements, in public, offering not an iota of proof to substantiate his allegations. He has agitated the public, planting seeds of insecurity in all our minds, which in turn may have serious adverse consequences on the security and stability of our country; as it delivers a severe blow to the confidence we have placed in the main watchdog of the country to ensure our safety. We expect such irresponsible conduct from local politicians of all colours, whose credibility and reliability have reached a less than zero rank, but not from the revered clergy.
When a damning statement is made, undermining the integrity and honour of a well-respected high rank officer, it is the correct course of action for the CID to record his statement and verify the truth of the same, especially as it will assist the ongoing investigation. If the allegations are exposed to be false, then appropriate legal action could be and should be initiated. Such a course of action is by the book, and the public expects the authorities to act by the book. In fact, they are and have been in the past, criticised by the Church and the public for not going by the book.
Therefore, if the allegations are of merit and substance, why did the Reverend Father shy away from giving his statement until now? Instead of doing the right thing, as expected from the Clergy, without fear or favour, Reverend Father Cyril Gamini Fernando first filed a Fundamental Rights application in the Supreme Court, seeking an order to prevent any attempt being made by the Criminal Investigations Department to arrest him, after being summoned by the CID to record a statement. Why did he assume that he was to be arrested, if he had sufficient proof to back his claim? In any event, if he has proof, why should he keep it in his possession without presenting it even to the public, if he doesn’t want to visit the CID? His conduct merely gives us the impression he is avoiding being questioned as he has no proof to offer … hence the public melodrama and shift of focus from accuser to victim.
When President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed duties, he visited the Head of the Catholic Church and offered a seat at, or active participation in the PCoI investigating the Easter Sunday bombings. The Revered Father therefore, had the opportunity to go before the Commission and present evidence that he allegedly possessed. Neither the Reverend Father nor the Catholic Church presented this evidence. On the contrary, the Cardinal claimed he was satisfied with the PCoI. Even today, the Cardinal’s complaint is that PCoI recommendations are not implemented, not that no opportunity was given for presentation of evidence.
There is another angle to the whole saga. Had the Reverend Father presented the so-called evidence, either to the public or the PCoI, and there indeed is evidence of liaison between Zahran and a state watchdog in the past, these facts by itself need not necessarily have any nexus to the Easter bombing. There are many examples the world over, of secret services and undercover operatives establishing contact with terrorists, for the simple necessity of information gathering for the greater good of protecting the nation. This is common knowledge. Assuming such a clandestine meeting had occurred, can the Reverend Father conclude that the Easter bombing was a result of such a meeting? In the mind of a reasonable man, such a conclusion will not surface.
Father Fernando is emulating the style of many politicians who appear before TV cameras with files in hand, claiming to possess proof of corruption, but never presenting the evidence to the relevant authorities.
From time immemorial, religion has played a very decisive and significant role in the election and sustenance of political power in Sri Lanka, if not worldwide. The State control of its people depends considerably on the blessings of the respective religious leadership. It is indeed extremely irresponsible for religious leaders, having full knowledge of the impact their speeches make on the general public, to resort to such conduct akin to politicians. In fact, it is to their own detriment that they do so, as most of us will very soon, if we have not already, lose the respect we had for these religious leaders who behave like political clowns.
His Eminence Malcom Cardinal Ranjith is a much-loved public figure and his words of wisdom on any subject, whether religion or otherwise, are well received and respected by the public. His own image is at risk of being tarnished, when some of those, who serve under him, resort to these cheap theatrics, with obvious hidden agendas to harm State Intelligence Officers, who have served our country through successive regimes. Of course, we are thankful that one rotten apple has not spoilt the cart, as another Catholic priest, obviously a gentleman worthy of the white cloth, whose name was not familiar to me, on a YouTube clip being circulated through social media, quite rationally and rightly, requested the media not to incite religious or racial disunity, by professing unnecessary comments and reminders, unrelated to the subject being reported. Such men of honour still exist, and all religious leaders must nurture them, whilst not making those unworthy, cardboard heroes of the hour, at the expense of the public. The Catholic Clergy has hitherto, been far more disciplined and responsible than some members of the Buddhist Clergy in matters of politics, and it is our fervent wish that these standards prevail.
Our State Intelligence Service has done its best to protect us and they cannot be blamed for the actions of politicians who fail to heed their advice. State Intelligence Service personnel no doubt work as hard or more than those of the Tri Forces, but get very little credit and are never in the limelight. Please do not tarnish their image in vain.
C. J. N. JINADASA
Doctrine of immunity in Emperor’s Clothes
By I. P. C. MENDIS
Ranil Wickremesinghe has emerged as the chief “dramatis personae” in the current constitutional deadlock drama. Whether the stars had foretold the event is not known. He was never a man in a hurry. He was cool as a cucumber when he was sacked as Prime Minister by the latter and seeking the help of the apex Court regained the position. He has chosen to confront the Supreme Court in what appears to be a battle of wits as to who has the whip-hand – the Executive President or the Supreme Court. The SC ruling in respect of the release of funds for the local government (LG) elections has opened the door for many a fundamental issue, not the least being the question of immunity and that of effectiveness and priority for SC decisions. The presidential circular does not list election expenditure as an essential item. Indeed, a direct confrontation prima facie.
One does not need much grey matter to realise that as far as the government is concerned, it does not have an iota of interest in conducting the relevant election. The pointers came in very clear terms through the “machinations” of the Government Printer, the IGP and the Secretary to the Treasury. And in this time-consuming and futile exercise, the EC through its own volition reduced itself casting away its so-called independence to be nothing more than a pen-pusher – a far cry from the Deshapriya’s lion roar of yesteryear asking violators of election laws to be shot at the head. Fair enough for the EC to write to the Secretary to the Treasury (the custodian of state coffers) but when it was clear that there was a questionable delay, it had a duty and responsibility to bring the issue to the notice of court to which it is bound by ruling to hold the elections. The Secretary to the Treasury is bound by the Constitution to perform his duties under the direction and control of his Minister and has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution. He has no leeway to pass the buck or to treat a SC ruling as subordinate to any other source. Nothing of the sort has happened before. The Minister of Finance may hold the office of President substantively but that does not ‘ipso facto’ imply that he enjoys the immunity he enjoys in his substantive office while performing duties in areas other than those in Presidential office. If not anything else, this episode has the potential to become a dangerous precedent. It has to be immediately resolved once and for all.
Immunity of Parliamentary Proceedings
The question arises as to whether the immunity prescribed is limited to parliamentary proceedings. There is also the relevant issue of “absolute”and “qualified” immunity which has to be examined and argued with due reference to authorities such as Erskine May, the SL. Constitution and other such Constitutions. And who else is qualified to do it but the relevant professions, including the legal fraternity? The question arises whether the immunity is limited to parliamentary proceedings. If so, any action initiated or proceeded with by the Hon. Speaker in entertaining a motion of “Privilege” and any follow-up action thereon in tabling it, etc,. could be construed as “contempt of court” We have had the sad and unfortunate episode of Shirani Bandaranaike, which nobody wants to repeat and make SC judges the hunting ground of politicians of one hue or another. No-one wants our judiciary to be reduced to being a plaything of politicians. The judiciary expects unequivocally and requires no repetition of the treatment of Shirani B or Neville Samarakoon.
Legal Fraternity and the BASL
The BASL has proudly felicitated President Wickremasinghe on completion of 50 years at the Bar (yet not in practice). The country would not certainly seek to deny him the accolade. Yet, the BASL and the “Black-coated” gentry in particular, who thought it opportune to invade the courts of justice in their hundreds unsolicited to defend the Aragalaya demonstrators without a fee almost exercising undue influence vicariously in the course of justice, and the frenzy in which they took to the streets demanding the ouster of Mohan Pieris, was conspicuous by its absence in strength vocally and otherwise except through a tame letter.
Casteism, the canker!
By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
The malign influence of casteism was well explained in the editorial, “Canker of clientelism” (The Island, 14 March) wherein it was stated: “Caste-based politics has stood many crooks in good stead, and led to the presence of so many semi-literate politicians in Parliament, which has control over public finance. Some of these characters such as former chain snatchers, pickpockets, hooch dealers and cattle rustlers also claw their way to the Cabinet, and control vital sectors. The caste-factor is so dominant in Sri Lankan politics that it is well-nigh impossible to get rid of these unsavoury elements at elections owing huge block votes at their disposal; political parties are dependent on them to win elections. Religion and ethnicity also blind electors to reality and tribal instincts drive them to vote for some misfits.”
For the title, the editor has used the most appropriate word, though not in common usage nowadays, canker; derived from Latin ‘cancer’ and old French ‘chancre’ which is defined in dictionaries as ‘a malign and corrupting influence that is difficult to eradicate.’ How better can the role of casteism be described, not only in politics but also in many other vital spheres? Though such a division based on trades practiced may have had some significance in the past, it is a totally outmoded concept in the modern era. Though I have had a fair share of experience in my youth and was hoping that casteism would soon disappear, it has not happened, unfortunately, being perpetuated by politicians and, rather paradoxically, by Buddhist priests.
In fact, I became aware of the caste system due to the involvement of my father, C Justin Wijayawardhana in politics. Though the Matara branch of the UNP chose him as the candidate for 1952 and 1956 parliamentary elections, the high-command turned it down and parachuted a businessman of dubious repute from Weligama for the 1952 election and a retired district judge from Colombo for the 1956 election. Apparently, it was done because Matara was considered an electorate dominated by the caste they belonged to! Surprisingly, this kind of the baptism of Matara electorate had been done by the comrades of the Communist Party itself!
Looking back, I wonder whether my eligibility for the Commonwealth Scholarship for postgraduate studies in medicine, in 1969, was overlooked because of caste discrimination rather than political pressure. A few days before the interview, my father dropped in our flat, on his way to meet PM Dudley Senanayake over some issues in Matara, and inquired whether he should mention my scholarship to Dudley. I told him not to as I wanted to get selected on merit. I was the only applicant under the age, it was stated preference would be given. I had a Distinction in Medicine in the final examination in addition to a distinction in Pharmacology in the 3rd MBBS examination. A candidate older than I, above the age for preferential choice, and had only one distinction (Pathology & Bacteriology in 3rd MBBS) was awarded the scholarship! The chairman of the selection panel and he were from the same caste, which may be a coincidence.
The next setback is my career was also due to caste discrimination. Having missed the Commonwealth scholarship, I was in the UK on a Health Department scholarship to obtain MRCP, which I did in 1971. Prof. Varagunam informed me that a vacancy for a senior lecturer had arisen in the Department of Medicine in Peradeniya when I applied. However, as I could not afford to return for the interview, I sent an appeal to the selection panel to consider my application in absentia and was surprised to get a registered letter informing me that I had been selected.
I returned in January 1972, ready to settle down in Kandy, but my hopes were dashed on reporting for duty to Dr D A Jayasinghe, Assistant Director of Hospitals, when he told me that the DHS, Prof R (real name withheld) had refused to release me. He could not explain why, though he agreed that up-to-then it was routine for specialists to be released for permanent teaching positions in the university. I am indebted to Prof Varagunam for keeping the position open for almost two years but I neither went pleading to Prof R nor sought help from politicians to secure my release. Instead, I opted to go to Badulla as Consultant Physician and took a step down in June 1973 to join Dr Wallooppillai as his Registrar in Cardiology Unit.
Prof R was well known to be pro-Sinhala Buddhist and I had done nothing to antagonise him. Therefore, I was baffled by his decision till the subject clerks at the Health Ministry informed me of his antipathy towards one particular caste. They pointed several instances where he had given top positions to doctors of his caste over more senior and better qualified from other casts. Worse still, he had granted overseas study leave before confirmation in post, breaching the Establishment Code, to a young doctor of his caste! It was sad and so disappointing to see such puny behaviour from an academic.
The worst form of caste discrimination is the caste-based Nikaya system, which is the biggest affront to the Buddha, who preached equality twenty-six centuries ago, but our Mahanayakas indulge in discriminatory practices even today! What is the justification for Siyam Nikaya to offer higher-ordination only to Govigama caste and exclude others? The Amarapura Nikaya to have about 21 sub-divisions based on caste and creed?
Casteism is a canker, a malign and corrupting influence that is difficult to eradicate, which muddles politics but has it got a place in religion? Is it not the time for all the Mahanayakas, of which there are many, to come together and declare that casteism has no place in Buddhism and higher-ordination is open to all in all Nikayas? The ideal would be the abolition of all Nikayas with one Sanghanayaka, but unfortunately that is not likely to happen!
Sri Lanka is fast creating a Viyathmaga II. When observing how various categories of professionals – teachers, musicians, artists, officers from armed forces, doctors …. are getting on a single stage, it reminds us how Viyathmaga was formed and what they did and finally how its choice carried the whole country towards disaster. Whatever happened later, their choice had some reputation gathered during the war against the LTTE.
The chosen Party of Viyathmaga II does not have any past to boast of but they show themselves as an uncorrupted group. But corruption comes with power and without any power there cannot be any opening to involve in corruption. Even if a few persons already known could be considered trustworthy though inexperienced, a government is an assembly of many and there could be many who are unheard of.
Listening to tales criticizing one’s enemies and how they are going to be punished may be music to ears, but those vows cannot be fulfilled easily and quickly, and also will not bring people a country with Kiri Peni. Sri Lanka has no time to experiment and “This time we’ll vote for them and see” will bring more disaster.
Every political party has capable and incorruptible members and what we need urgently is, all opposition parties to join up to form a government with such people. Any party which has a genuine love for the country, at this moment should not act with over-evaluation of their capabilities or popularity and bring more disasters.
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