Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, the government’s nominated parliamentarian and adviser to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has refuted media speculation over possible disciplinary action against him over the decision to abstain from voting in favour of the impeachment of Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake.
In an interview with Ranga Jayasuriya, the former academic reiterates his stance to abstain from voting and contends that there is no culture of sycophancy in the ruling party.
1. There is talk that the ruling UPFA is planning to take disciplinary action against you for not voting for the impeachment . Are you aware of any such move ?
I have read about this in a couple of papers and have since been asked about it by other media outlets. I have heard nothing from any official source, and as I observed to the lady (from the Lankadeepa) who called me, it is significant that the papers (such as that and Mawbima) saying such things are strongly opposed to the government. I would suggest that those wanting to create trouble for me would also not mind trouble for the government.
2. The president and his inner circle may have expressed their ‘displeasure’ for your act of insubordination..
If this is a question, it would depend on what is meant by ‘his inner circle’. But I would think, while some individuals might be displeased, insubordination is the wrong word, because I explained my position clearly.
3. Do you think Sri Lankan politics, with its deep seated culture of sycophancy, which was made increasingly clear by the voting patterns of ruling party MPs during the 18th amendment and the impeachment motion, provide even bare minimum room for the elected representatives of people to act true to their consciences?
Firstly I see nothing wrong with the 18th amendment, which was a great improvement on the confused and confusing 17th amendment – just as the Local Government Elections Bill, though flawed, was a great improvement on what we had had before.
Secondly, while there are certainly instances of sycophancy, it is not a culture, as we can see from the principled position of politicians such as D E W Gunasekara, and indeed the different opinions from those of the President and his manifesto expressed by different politicians, on say issues such as 13 plus.
And I am sure that, recalling the adulation of previous Presidents by individuals also engaged in adulation now, the President will not be fooled by sycophancy, and will prefer the loyalty of principled politicians such as DEW Gunasekara.
4. Do you still stand by your position which prompted you to abstain from voting for the impeachment?
5. Why did you abstain? The proper thing could have been voting against the impeachment?
No, because as I explained in the speech I could not deliver but which appeared (in the Island) the following Sunday, I felt the conduct of the Chief Justice had not been entirely proper, and I did not want to seem to condone this.
6. Isn’t it a bit lame to abstain, specially, when you know that the circumstances under which the chief justice Shirani Bandaranayake was impeached was manifestly unfair and a breach of natural justice and that the PSC was ruled unconstitutional as the country’s apex court?
I don’t see this as lame at all, given the circumstances as I have explained them. The problem is that we had an inappropriate Standing Order, which should have been amended years ago, as suggested by three distinguished opposition MPs in the eighties, and promised since. Sadly the Committee to amend Standing Orders has not met for three years, and I am the only MP who has brought this up regularly with Parliamentary officials and written to the Speaker about it. It is a reflection on other members of the Committee, and in particular the opposition members who have a greater responsibility to ensure proper procedures, that no one else bothered about this.
The problems with the Standing Order, and the process followed by the PSC, did not warrant a vote against the motion, given the irregularities that had emerged notwithstanding the procedural flaws. Even though it is regrettable that Dr Bandaranayake’s lawyers were not told about the witnesses to be called so that they might have had an opportunity to cross examine them, the evidence of Justice Shirani Thilakawardana seemed very worrying.
7. Do you accept the new chief justice Mohan Peries as the lawful chief justice of this country?
Since the President had removed Mrs Bandaranayake from office following the Parliamentary vote, and she had indicated her decision to vacate office, it was necessary for another Chief Justice to be appointed. I would have preferred more consultation, but the failure in this regard I attribute to the Opposition which has completely flouted the 18th amendment.
I have regretted Mr Sumanthiran not accepting appointment to the Parliamentary Council because I believe he could contribute a lot in a small and serious Committee, and perhaps had he been on the Council, Dr Bandaranayake might never have been appointed. But he at least refused the position, whereas the Leader of the Opposition and Mr Swaminathan accepted and then welshed on their responsibilities.
I am astonished that no one has drawn attention to their failure in this regard, because had they commented conscientiously on any nominations – which government representatives should also do – then the President would have an obligation to reconsider. When that does not happen, the President may well go ahead with appointments that first come to mind or are suggested to him, whereas reasoned objections should lead to further reflection and, if appropriate, a change. In this case, with the Parliamentary Council not functioning satisfactorily, the President had to go ahead as he had done with Dr Bandaranayaka, when the Opposition was blathering about her elsewhere, but not where they should have.