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Of the charges against the Chief Justice, that relating to her husband, seems particularly serious. Given that, during the inquiry into the National Savings Bank conducted by the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises, it transpired that Mr Kariyawasam had acted most irregularly, and might have to face serious charges in Court, it could be argued that his wife should not continue as the head of the Judiciary.
Morally that might be desirable, but unfortunately, as Alfred Doolittle might have said, morality has nothing to do with it. Indeed, in the modern world, it seems old-fashioned to treat members of the same family as responsible for each other’s conduct. Such niceties can only be enforced by rigid rules of conduct. If such rules are not in place, then we cannot expect people in public life to create and live up to their own code of conduct.
I think we are entitled to expect those in authority not to interfere with due process when their kin are under investigation, and were the Chief Justice to pick and choose magistrates to judge her husband, that would I think be misconduct. But I see no evidence of such attempts at manipulation, and I don’t think we can expect her to resign to avoid such an eventuality. Simply recusing herself from decision making in such a situation would be all we could expect – though again, were he to be found guilty, morally it might be desirable for her to resign. To resign beforehand would seem admission of his guilt, and that is something that could not in all fairness be expected of her.
Q:Although you say you do not perceive yourself as a “rebel” MP I am sure you must be aware of reports describing you as one. There have also been reports that you were to be moved out of Parliament on account of you being a “rebel”and that your National list MP slot would be given to Mr. Rohitha Bogollagama. It was also said that Mr. Bogollagama would be appointed External Affairs minister thereafter. Is this a likely scenario?
I don’t think this is on the agenda of the government and, though I have been told by two senior members of government that Mr Bogollagama was behind the stories, I do not believe this for a moment. Though I do not know him intimately, we got on well when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs, and he was always prepared to listen on the few occasions on which I spoke to him on important issues. I should add that he called up out of the blue some months back to express his support for me when I had been attacked in a communiqué from the Foreign Ministry.
I would say then that these reports about Mr.Bogollagama replacing me are another examples of the technique of hitting out in all directions and hoping that new animosities can be created. I should add in fairness to Mr. Bogollagama that he was a very successful Foreign Minister and, though I thought that his replacement would do a better job, I was completely wrong.
Q: Given your stated disappointment with the current External Affairs Ministry I want to ask you about another related reference in this sphere. It was reported that you had requested an opportunity to speak on the votes of the External Affairs Ministry and also informed the Chief Whip that you would be critical of the Ministry. Thereafter the Chief whip Dinesh Gunawardena had reportedly checked with the powers that be and stopped you from speaking . Was this what happened?
That again is complete nonsense. I was told that speeches in the Third Reading would be given in terms of Committees of which one was a member, so the idea of speaking on External Affairs never occurred to me. I thought I would be speaking on Education, and I had also asked for the Child Development and Women’s Affairs, a Ministry with which I have been working a lot because of the requirements of the Human Rights Action Plan and because its Secretary was one of the most thoughtful and efficient persons I had come across in the Public Service.
But when I got back from the Conference on Indo-Sri Lankan Relations that I had attended during the last stages of the Second Reading of the Budget, I was told that I had been allocated Resettlement and External Affairs. I told the office of the Chief Government Whip that I would be happy to speak on the former, but I might be critical of the latter Ministry and he might like to reconsider. Since he told me that he had made the decision himself initially, because he thought I would be suitable for this, I had no doubt the decision would be changed, but a week passed before I was told the position, so I prepared speeches over the weekend – as I had done while in India for Education.
” I was also the only Parliamentarian to contribute to the journal that Parliament decided to publish, though perhaps for that reason, there has not been a second volume as yet. I believe the essays I have written on reforming Parliament, though they do not seem to have had an impact on my colleagues, will be useful when we finally all realize the need for constitutional reform “
Sure enough, on the day of the Resettlement debate, one day before the External Affairs debate, I was told that I would not be required to speak, but was also told that this was because there were already too many speakers. This was not at all surprising, and I should note that the Chief Whip was not involved in communicating anything to me.
Q: So there is no misunderstanding with Dinesh Gunawardena as alleged?
No! In fact this is again an example of the animosity creating technique, since Dinesh Gunawardena is someone I like and respect very much, ever since the days when we were instrumental in setting up the Democratic People’s Alliance under which Mrs Bandaranaike contested the 1988 Presidential Election. Significantly, I think, he went out of his way to congratulate me on my speech in the Resettlement debate, and this is typical of a very warm-hearted man. Read the rest of this entry »
National List MP Prof.Rajiva Wijesinha has been in the news lately for his independent approach and outspoken views. In this interview the academic turned politico speaks out openly on a number of issues including the impeachment motion against the chief justice, stalled Govt-TNA talks, National Reconciliation, about the President being reportedly annoyed with him and whether he desires a cabinet portfolio.
Q: Let me begin with a topic that is close to your heart as well as mine. National Reconciliation! You are an adviser to the President on reconciliation and have taken much effort in this regard. Could you talk about your work in this sphere and the progress achieved so far?
The Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation meetings I have had have been very useful, in part because they allow for attention to the problems that affect the day-to-day lives of communities, and in part because some government agencies have been quick to respond with solutions. But by and large my work has not moved as quickly as the situation demands, because there is no specific responsibility in government for Reconciliation.
Q: As the Presidential adviser on Reconciliation have you made any suggestions or recommendations to rectify this situation? I did read about a report you had submitted. Could you elaborate please?
I believe a Ministry for National Reconciliation is essential and I have suggested this to the President in the Report I have submitted, together with suggestions as to who should be appointed, either as Minister or as Deputy if the President wishes to keep the portfolio himself.
I have made 21 recommendations altogether, including strengthening of Divisional Secretariats so as to promote more responsive and accountable government with regard to the immediate problems of communities which now feel alienated from the decision making process. I have also dealt with three areas of particular concern, namely land issues, livelihood development which must be promoted hand in hand with infrastructure development and with much greater efforts for skills development to empower people to take advantage of the opportunities that are being opened up, and psycho-social support which has been comparatively neglected.
More concerted efforts to promote language learning and develop better communication between different communities is also essential, and we have to think outside the box to achieve this, given the continuing incapacity of the Ministry of Education to train and deploy sufficient teachers.
Q:You also formulated a draft National reconciliation policy that had many commendable features. What is the position on that?
I think my greatest disappointment has been the fact that the draft National Reconciliation Policy prepared in my office with the involvement of a multi-party multi-religious group, and endorsed by a range of politicians, media personnel, religious leaders and members of Civil Society, has been ignored.
The President said he had passed it on for comment, but he has warned me that things get lost in his office, and reminders have not helped to resurrect this. I am sorry about this, because endorsement, of course with whatever amendments Cabinet might make, would make it clear that Reconciliation is a national priority, with a home grown framework through which to implement the LLRC Action Plan as well as think beyond that for long term attitudinal change on all sides. Read the rest of this entry »
It is ironic that, having been the only government Member of Parliament to complain over the year of the failure of the Judiciary to administer justice either effectively or efficiently, I seem now to be the only one who thinks impeaching the Chief Justice would be a mistake. This struck me when Ravaya was interviewing me about the matter, which was when I also realized how quickly history is forgotten, and in particular the perversion of justice that this Constitution seems to have entrenched.
My first active political intervention in this country occurred when I resigned from my job with Peradeniya University to protest the manner in which Mrs Bandaranaike’s Civic Rights had been taken away for seven years, the maximum punishment possible under the law. That was the most egregious instance of Parliament acting as a judicial body, and it was a horrifying sight. I can still recall then Prime Minister Premadasa claiming that one reason to punish Mrs Bandaranaike was because she was an example of absolute power corrupting absolutely. He said this with no sense of irony while nearly 140 government parliamentarians cheered and jeered. The TULF had left the chamber, so Mrs Bandaranaike had barely half a dozen supporters, and the dignity she displayed on that occasion has remained the most impressive of my political memories. Read the rest of this entry »
The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 ( sinhala & tamil) as well as the full series of Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.
In dealing at some length, over several columns, with the meeting on Prisons convened by the Task Force on expediting implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, I have neglected an equally important meeting that took place the next day. On August 4th the new Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment had a meeting to discuss initiative regarding children, to deal with problems raised in the plan.
The meeting on Prisons, which I had convened as requested by the Minister to look into the excellent report the ICRC had prepared on Overcrowding in Prisons, had ranged over a number of other issues too, including former LTTE combatants and those still in detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Though we dealt much more swiftly with these problems after the conflict was over than other countries engaged in what they term a war against terrorism – which has with one notable exception never laid low hundreds of their citizens as happened to us, Muslims and Sinhalese and Tamils – there are still some issues to be resolved, and better coordination would I think help us to ensure justice as well as security for all our citizens.
In a very different way, this is what we need for children too, and the discussion in the Ministry covered a number of issues. Most important perhaps was a proposal the Secretary had initiated previously, by writing to the Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration, to ask that a Unit for Women and Children be set up in every Divisional Secretariat. The nucleus for such a Unit is present, with Women and Children’s Desks now established in most police stations, and a host of officials appointed to deal at that level with the problems of Women and Children.
A few weeks back I was approached by a body called the Oxford Research Group, asking about a workshop on the recording of casualties during the conflict in Sri Lanka. This seemed a good idea because, as we have expressed in the draft National Policy on Reconcilation, we must address the anguish of those who do not know what happened to their loved ones. I believe we took too long over preparing census returns and, even if that was understandable given concentration on physical returns and restoration for those who remained, we must remember that concern for the dead is a continuing problem for the living.
Now that we have received some sort of a record from the Census Department, which fits in with figures I cited a couple of years back on the basis of extrapolations (and which led to my being attacked by both sides as it were), we should build on this to issue documentation to all who have suffered bereavement. I believe it is true that, in some cases, those who are missing have gone abroad, but this is where we need to work coherently with foreign governments to try to match identities.
I am told that many governments will not share information with us, but we should, while recognizing any concerns they might have, press for statistics, as to the numbers at least of those who have sought asylum in the period beginning January 2009. Given that some individuals may have gone from India, we should also seek statistics from the Indian government, which has informed us of substantially large numbers entering India during the first part of that year. But precision is lacking, and we should pursue this. And I believe a coherent programme together with the ICRC and IOM will help us to match some of those who are seeking asylum abroad with those recorded as missing here.
One of the saddest aspects of the recent attempt to impeachment the Chief Justice is that it is concerned with punishment rather than reform. This fundamental flaw in our judicial system was diagnosed in the President’s budget speech last year, when he called for reforms that would limit unnecessary remanding and employ rehabilitation rather than retribution for more offenders. But, characteristically, those suggestions were ignored, and so we had regular riots in our prisons during the past year.
I am not of course suggesting that we should try to reform the Chief Justice or seek to rehabilitate her. But we should certainly set in place systems that will prevent the type of abuse that has taken place.
The abuse has now boiled down to three issues. When the controversy first erupted, the Liberal Party issued a statement which noted that ‘what appear to be the principal and indeed only charges possibly warranting impeachment, those relating to financial misbehaviour, clearly require judicial investigation before any decision can be reached.’ We thought the several charges at the end related to trivial issues and, though the Parliamentary Select Committee report does not quite say this, it makes it clear that there is no need to explore these further.
With regard to the charges relating to financial misbehavior, the first is clearly the most serious. I am not referring to the fact that she bought a house from Trillium, but rather to the fact that she headed the bench looking into Trillium issues. More shockingly, she had removed the bench doing this previously – and doing this swiftly and effectively, I believe – and introduced herself.
That she herself realized this was improper was obvious from the fact that, soon after the charges were brought, she recused herself. This confirms my view that she is a clever person who understands what judicial propriety is, and that in this case she had violated norms.
Whether that is a reason to impeach her is another question. My point here is that no one is addressing the appalling fact that she was able to thus give herself authority over a case in which, if only to a limited extent, she was involved. Equally worrying is the fact that no one raised any questions about this until there seemed reason to impeach her. And I fear government suggested that it was impeachment rather than righting the wrongs that had occurred that was vital, when it brought so many trivial charges, instead of focusing on what might be misconduct, rather than simply bad judgment.
The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 ( sinhala & tamil) as well as the full series of Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.
A week ago, in writing about former combatants who have undergone rehabilitation, I referred too to the decision of government to send several of those remanded before the conclusion of the conflict for rehabilitation instead of seeking to punish them. These had been taken in under the PTA or Emergency Regulations, on suspicion of terrorist activity or of aiding and abetting terrorism.
I noted then that, from what I had been told last year, there were 4195 of these, a figure which fitted with the 4000 I remembered from my days as Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, which had monitored their fate. We would get regular reports about them from the ICRC, which visited them regularly, and they were also amongst those visited by Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, who produced a very helpful report that we should have acted on more expeditiously.
Our Ministry indeed advocated that these remandees should be charged soon or else released. However we understood that at least some of them were extremely dangerous, given the long and terrifying reach of the LTTE in those days. We understood therefore the need for special care, as provided for by the special measures in force, but after the war we suggested that those measures needed to be reviewed, and that decisions as to the remandees should be made swiftly.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, national list MP from the ruling party speaks to Ranga Jayasuriya of LAKBIMAnEWS about why he refused to sign the resolution that called for the impeachment of the chief justice and how he feels about the erosion of democracy in the country under the very regime he is serving in.
1. You are one of the government MPs who did not sign the resolution that called for the impeachment of the incumbent chief justice. Why?
In the first place, I was simply asked to come over and sign the impeachment resolution, and told it could not be sent to me to read beforehand. Obviously one should not sign, or commit to sign, what one has not seen.
Secondly, as I noted when I was asked, I did not think this a good idea. After I saw the text of the resolution, I felt the more strongly that it was a hasty and inappropriate move.
Thirdly, the President had said very clearly some days earlier that no action should be taken against the Chief Justice, so I was not sure whether this was being done after proper consultation. I am aware that some things are done in his name without him knowing, as had happened for instance when my colleague Malini Fonseka was asked to resign and she later found out that this was not his wish at all.
Unfortunately it would seem that the President had been advised by those who did not have his best interests at heart. While there were certainly problems with the judiciary – and ironically, despite my distaste for the impeachment, I had been pointing these out over the year, since I found they were not concerned with adopting due processes in the interests of our Human Rights Agenda – these should have been solved in terms of long-term reform. There was no need to use a sledge hammer to crack a nut, as I noted in one of the Human Rights Watch articles I have been writing since March.
2. There is definite evidence to suggest that the whole affair of the impeachment was politically motivated. Ex: the composition of the Parliamentary Select Committee; the disrespectful treatment of the chief justice by some PSC members, about which she has now complained to the Speaker; the ruling party organized anti- CJ protests . What is your view?
I don’t think the elements you cite are evidence that the impeachment was politically motivated, though I would agree that the PSC should not have included MPs as to whom it could be alleged that there was a conflict of interest, because of cases involving them the Chief Justice had heard.
With regard to disrespectful treatment, I fear that that has nothing to do with politics, it is part of the culture of Parliament, as I used to find when I attended Parliament for meetings of the Committee on Public Enterprises. The fact that COPE is now a dignified body that public servants are happy to attend, as one very senior public servant informed me some time back, is a tribute to the civilizing effect that a good chairman like D E W Gunasekara can have. In that regard I am told that the change wrought by the present Speaker in Parliament is remarkable compared with what we had before, though unfortunately he has not been able as yet to change the culture as a whole.
The demonstrations that have been organized are also part of what I see as a destructive culture, as are those demonstrations organized by those supporting the Chief Justice, and they make it clear that everything in this country is political.
Unfortunately the sanctions procedures in Parliament, as used against Mrs Bandaranaike and others whose Civil Rights were taken away, as also against former Chief Justices, has been ruthlessly politicized from the start. We need through structural reforms to get rid of this appalling culture that was introduced by President Jayewardene.
My attention was drawn to a most extraordinary report written by someone called Julian Vigo. It called itself an ‘Independent Report on Sri Lanka and United Nations Human Rights violations’ and contained nasty personal attacks on the UN leadership in Sri Lanka during the conflict, in particular on the Resident Coordinator, Neil Buhne, and Amin Awad and Philippe Duamelle, the heads of UNHCR and UNICEF.
The argument is that these people either did not know their jobs or were frightened to speak out because they were having a cushy time. This is intermixed with what seems rank racism, the idea that people from a different background were more likely to conform: ‘The UN wants staff who will tow the line. For instance, it is harder for a Nigerian who is supporting seven families to denounce wrongdoings of the UN. I recognise that. If you are a father of five kids and supporting eight other families, it is hard to denounce. UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sri Lanka, Neil Buhne, had to be approved by the Sri Lankan government. Why the Sri Lankan government would agree to have him there, but he didn’t have the skills required for the job and had never worked in a conflict zone before.’
This was said from someone called Natalie Grove, and a measure of the shoddy nature of the report is that she is said to have worked for UNICEF, but also to have resigned from IOM – which comes in for flak for having ‘broken from the position of the UN as it was more supportive of the government’s position and of the integration of IDPs.’ This bears out what I have been told, that Cynthia Veliko, the representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has been vindictive about IOM for having supported the Government’s Rehabilitation programme, since clearly in terms of her mandate it was better for people to suffer and continue with a separatist agenda rather than to be rehabilitated and integrated.