The significance of the 67th commemoration of Independence lay in the clear signs of a determined move towards national unity, both in the address by President Maithripala Sirisena and the participants at the event. After many years, when Freedom Day was shadowed by the brutality of terrorism, and then with boasts about the defeat of terrorism, we saw the national leadership move towards the bright glow of unity among people.
In an address to the nation that looked back at the long struggle for freedom since 1815, remembered the many heroes of the struggle, and the major initiatives to strengthen that freedom and make it more meaningful in post-independence politics, President Sirisena was dutiful in acknowledging the defeat of terrorism in 2009 under President Mahinda Rajapaksa and troops led by General Sarath Fonseka.
Having set the record straight on the defeat of terrorism and the restoration of freedom and peace, after six years since 2009 he emphasized the reality of having squandered the opportunity to build genuine national unity after the defeat of LTTE terrorism. As he described it: "Although we had the opportunity to take the physical resources of the land forward towards development, we were unable to do so; and also to bring together the minds of the people of the North and South.
"To end the war against terror, our heroic troops were able with their guns to silence the guns of terrorism. However, the biggest challenge we face today, is that of bringing together the minds of the people of the North and South, and through a process of reconciliation to bring about co-existence and national understanding, and thus take our great Motherland forward as a land rich in human affection and understanding."
The presence at the ceremony of the TNA leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, and politicians who clearly represented the Tamil people, showed the success of the message of unity that is a vital aspect of government policy today, in a sea change from the politics of division that prevailed for the past several decades. The mood and feel of the celebrations highlighted the need for new political thinking, with the need for political strategies that were national both in thought and content; a clear departure from the politics of division that prevailed for decades, and was being sown with determination by the forces that were defeated in the presidential poll on January 8th.
The need for the sharing of blame and coming together for genuine peace and unity was made clear when President Sirisena said: "As we look back at these 67 years of freedom, the solution to our needs does not lie in the mutual pointing of fingers at each other. It is my belief that all political parties, all political leaders who have governed this country in the past 67 years, should look back at themselves and truly study and understand one's duties and responsibilities, and look towards the future in the discharge of such responsibilities.
New road map
"I think it is the great responsibility and duty before us today is to ask where we have gone wrong, and how we could correct those errors. As much as we look at the path we have trod in the 67 years of freedom, and especially since 2009, can we be satisfied at what has been achieved after the restoration of peace? In looking at this we must be aware of the income gap that prevails and poverty in the country. I believe this is both a major problem and challenge that we face today and one that needs necessary and compulsory change."
This brought into focus the real problems faced by the people, such as the elimination of poverty, speedier moves towards development with greater emphasis on the agricultural sector, the necessity of industrialization that meets the needs and resources of the country, and the increasing demand to empower our youth with the advances of new technology and support for innovative thinking that can bring about new standards of progress.
This was certainly the beginning of a new road map towards genuine progress, moving away from the hugely wasteful expenditure of recent years, which also included massive corruption and nepotism. It is a road that certainly goes beyond a 100 days of foundation building, with important changes to the Constitution that will ensure the sustenance of democracy, and strengthen the rights and freedoms of the people. It is a move towards a society where the Rule of Law is at the core of the promise of Good Governance.
It is significant that the ceremonial opening of this new road to progress, that was the call of the people at the recent poll, took place on the 67th anniversary of Independence, at the historic city of Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte, and 27 days since the swearing in of the new president. It is also most interesting that this commitment to Good Governance took place in this 800th anniversary year of the signing of the Magna Carta or Great Charter in England, which first put down in writing the restraints on the power of the king, and asserted the rights of his subjects, paving the way for what is today considered the Rule of Law, the essential feature of Yaha Paalanaya in modern democracy.
Discussion of the Rule of Law inevitably moves towards the independence of the judiciary. The recent change in the highest office in the Judiciary - that of the Chief Justice, with the most senior justice of the Supreme Court being sworn into this office, would give the welcome impression that we are moving in the right direction of judicial credibility. But the voices of protest being raised in Parliament about the exit of the person who played the role of Chief Justice in the past two years in a very bad performance, and the antics of this person too, call into question the readiness of sections of society to accept the need to set things right in the judicial structure of the land.
Political opposition, with a façade of unity that is being increasingly exposed day by day, has seen the removed of an imposter in the highest office of the judiciary as a means to beat a government, as well as the national leader and the party leader of the largest party in the Opposition. This is as shameful as how most of them who were cowering under the former national leader and their party leader who was rejected by the people, behaved in the ugly episode of the attempted removal of the 43rd Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, in early 2013.
What I see as an excellent response to these forces that threaten to prevent the rebuilding of a credible judiciary came from Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, in the recent debate in Parliament on the removal of "Chief Justice" Mohan Peiris.
Commenting on a statement by Mohan Peiris published in the media that said "maintaining the dignity and decorum associated with the office of the Chief Justice and ensuring its respectability and propriety is [his] prime concern. As the pinnacle of our judicial administration, it should be safeguarded in its pristine purity; now and for the future - in the need to preserve justice as a wholesome entity." Minister Samaraweera said this was: "Like a harlot extolling the virtues of virginity, Mohan Peiris, who brought international disrespect and condemnation to our judicial system by his scandalous appointment two years ago, and his conduct since then, is now shedding tears for the 'pristine purity' of the office of the Chief Justice."
The Mangala expose
He detailed a very good record of how this imposter came to the office of Chief Justice, with the help of military personnel to guard his way to the pinnacle of justice, and also said much of what many did not know about this person who was handpicked by the person who opened the floodgates of corruption in the land, to head this esteemed office and bring disgrace to it and the country.
Here are more of the revealing facts that Minister Samaraweera said: "Mohan Peiris recently stated that separation of powers is a fundamental feature of our Constitution. It is in the spirit of his own words, then that I recommend that someone who was the Legal Adviser to the Cabinet, Chairman of the Seylan Bank, Director of Lanka Logistics (the arms purchasing unit of the Ministry of Defence), Director of Rakna Lanka Security (a security company established by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa), Legal Adviser in the Ministry of Defence, Attorney General, government spokesperson before the UN Human Rights Council to refute allegations of war crimes, and importantly a close and partial ally of the former President should not also hold the post of 'de facto' chief justice.
"The 'dignity' of the judiciary, which Mohan so nobly talks of, is dependent on its impartiality and objectivity, as well as its independence from the executive and legislature. It also requires that the head of that system commands the respect of the community of lawyers, who in this case have been propelled to be the champions of restitution for the former chief of justice. Under Mohan Peiris' tenure, this illusory dignity and independence was a cobweb of conflicting interests, and Mohan Peiris was in actuality an appendage of the state apparatus.
"The Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct - the international gold standard - states that 'A judge shall not only be free from inappropriate connections with, and influence by, the executive and legislative branches of government, but must also appear to a reasonable observer to be free there from'". Did Mohan Peiris give any thought to the sanctity of his judicial office when, on 14th April last year, he travelled from Colombo to Tangalle, apparently in the company of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, to join President Rajapaksa and his immediate family in celebrating the Sinhala and Hindu New Year, and join in feeding milk rice to each other at the auspicious time? Did Mohan Peiris think it was part of his job description to become a member of President Rajapaksa's entourage on an official visit to Italy and the Vatican in September last year? Did Mohan Peiris give any thought to the public perception of the Supreme Court when he begged for a diplomatic appointment from the executive branch of government? Is driving down to the home of a presidential candidate on election night to provide him with legal advice (as he claims he did) part of the duties of a Chief Justice?"
There is much more of the contemptible and clearly unacceptable behaviour of Mohan Peiris, both in Sri Lanka and abroad in his time as "Chief Justice" exposed by Mangala Samaraweera, found in the Hansard of February 1, 2015. Space prevents a more detailed report of what one hopes would silence the supporters of what was clearly the ugliest phase in the history of our judiciary. Never again should something even mildly similar to this be repeated.