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Friday 06 April 2001




Priority for due process of law 
Quite understandably, allegations that two women suspects had been raped by some naval and police personnel in Mannar have caused considerable concern among sections of the public and human rights organisations. Abominations such as rape and sexual harassment should be condemned in the strongest terms and we lend our voices to the chorus of protests which has met the reports of the outrages in Mannar. 

It is, however, abundantly evident that the Government does not intend to drag its feet over these allegations levelled at sections of the law enforcers. Minister of Information and Media, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa was quoted telling parliament Tuesday that the State had initiated a police probe into the allegation while military spokesman Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne spoke of an independent military probe into the report. The Media Minister was further quoted as saying that the culprits will be taken to task by due process of law. 

Hopefully, these investigations would be concluded quickly and the offenders brought to justice. Such result-oriented, swift corrective action is necessary if pledges to redress any wrongs are to be believed in. Thus will the credibility of the State be enhanced. We therefore call for an urgent and expeditious probe on this allegation which the navy has denied. No pre-judging of the case is possible, at present. Only an impartial and swift investigation will reveal the truth. 

Meanwhile, action by the State to bring the offenders to justice should be appreciated. It has proved in the past that it could act impartially and decisively in cases of this nature. Some instances of this even-handedness are the Embilipitiya students' disappearance case and the Krishanthy Kumaraswamy rape and murder case. Swift State action was also evident in the Chemmani mass graves case and the more recent instance of several civilians disappearing in the North. In all these instances, the State displayed ample readiness to put in motion the due process of the law. Even the faintest tendency to cover the misdeeds of the agents of the law was not visible. 

These are the reasons why the State has won the appreciation of the world community for a better human rights record. Due process of law and legal transparency are two major gains from the Government's commitment to the preservation of human rights. 





Probing arms deals
The Assistant Leader of the UNP, Mr Gamini Athukorale, yesterday, in Parliament, called for the appointment of a parliamentary select committee to probe procurement in arms deals. The public will hail this move and there will most probably be none that will oppose it in public. There have been calls down the years since the conflict in the North and East escalated for probes. The cry on arms deals has increased in crescendo, but have fallen on deaf years. From the betel chewing squatters by drains of bazaars to society matrons and to the holiest of holies of the Mahanayakes, corrupt arms deals have been a subject of discussion for well over 15 years. But there has not been any kind of probe—at least to the public's knowledge.

The media have been consistently questioning shady arms deals. The Island itself has questioned specific arms purchases running into millions of dollars but there has been no official response-acceptance or denial. Indeed this has been the fate of many such exposes by the media.

Arms deals have been conferred with the sanctity of the most revered of religious incantations. They cannot be questioned. It will be a kind of sacrilege to query arms deals in public. 'National Security' is involved...Security of the State is endangered.' So mums the word. This has enabled politicians, bureaucrats and the top brass to avoid any kind of inquiry.

The government should accede to the request of Mr. Athukorale even if they know that some of them have tainted hands. It is because no select committee in 50 years of Sri Lankan parliamentary democracy has found any member guilty of any offence—least of all an offence such as a crooked arms deal, that could amount to treason.

Every government has had an abundance of inquiries—administration, public, presidential and parliamentary—into various matters. The only inquiry where high-ranking people were punished was the presidential inquiry into the alleged abuse of power by the late Prime Minister, Mrs.. Sirima Bandaranaike, the late Mr. Felix Dias Bandaranaike, Mr. A.H.M. Fowzie and Mr. Nihal Jayawickreme. And it was an inquiry, which decent citizens of the country condemned in the most severe terms and which brought opprobrium to all concerned.

All other forms of inquiries have failed to produce results—even some presidential commissions whose findings have been severely criticised by the Supreme Court.

Nonetheless, the Oppostion when it finds all doors closed, in desperation, challenges the government to appoint a select committee knowing well that a select committee comprising majority of government members is not the best kind of probe, to say the least. Thus, the government will have nothing to lose especially because select committee proceedings are not available to the public. Naturally, the government should backdate the inquiries to 18 years of UNP rule as well. The report of the inquiry is likely to whitewash both sides—if the report comes out in six years time.

Bo trees and politics

Saturday night's two-liner broadcast on ITN about the incident at Punchi Borella was a gem of its kind.

'The UDA demolished a structure around the Bo tree at Punchi Borella today. The occupant of the structure was found to have issued birth certificates to LTTE members,' was the terse announcement.

Many listeners would have wondered whether the best way to have punished this person, who had helped the LTTE, was to have demolished the structure around the Bo tree or punish the person concerned. There were others who failed to see the humour in this announcement on a state TV station directed by a former adherent of the Moscow brand of Communism. They were wondering whether this was the triumph of dialectical materialism over spiritualism, urban development or parochial Colombo Municipal Council politics.

Urban Development Minister, Mr.Mangala Samaraweera claims that he is not going to touch the Bo tree but will only demolish the unauthorised structure that has come around it. However, his actions will be watched with suspicion because during the past two decades, Bo trees at prominent cross-sections have fallen to the axe of the UDA or the CMC. There appear to be some UDA officials who do not care very much about trees—least of all Bo trees. Many years ago, a massive and beautiful Bo tree to the entrance to Colombo, near the Kelaniya Bridge, disappeared overnight. A concrete Buddha statute replaced it but could not match the aesthetic beauty of the Bo tree. At that time another beautiful Banyan tree at Greenpath - Flower Road junction too disappeared during the road widening. Sensible road engineering could have saved that tree. There was also a Buddha statue under a Bo tree at Thunmulla junction. Both the tree and the statue vanished overnight, because it was alleged that a Buddhist monk, a UNP supporter, had put up the statue under the tree and was attempting to claim ownership to the land.

Both the Ministers of Highways and Urban Development will be confronted with these green giants in the form of Bo and Banyan trees in their development efforts. They well know that not only are these trees venerated, but also create stunning landscapes that other trees are incapable of. Unscrupulous monks by lighting a 'pahana' under these trees may attempt to claim possession of the land covered by the spreading branches but it is our duty to protect what is known as our heritage. 





Accidental democrats?
With the Alliance for Democracy making a bid for establishing genuine democracy in this country despite efforts made by detractors to denigrate those playing a leading role in the movement, a debate on the theory and the practice of democracy has arisen in the country. 

There is hardly anybody here or elsewhere in the world today who spurns democracy. Even the worst of dictators the world had seen have praised democracy while practising authoritarian methods of governance. This universal acceptance or democracy is understandably so, because it is one of the one of the most enlightened concepts that man has evolved over the ages. Its validity, fecundity and freshness have not diminished a wee bit over the years. 

What is democracy? Though the tears stems simply in the Greek 'demos Kratia' meaning people's authority, it acquired fresh dimensions and as the theory developed over the years. The concept of human rights which is part and parcel of democracy has today acquired the status of a new religion. Justice and fairness which are the cornerstones of this concept have become indispensable features for nations claiming to be democratic. 

Democracy emerged not only as a method of government, but also as a way of life. Democracy as a way of life teaches people to live in peace and harmony with their fellow beings, respecting the dignity and worth of the individual, recognising each person's right to equality, freedom to hold opinions, beliefs and express views, freedom to develop one's talents, realise ambitions and aspirations and fulfilling duties and obligations. The thought that runs through all these principles like a golden thread is the concept that humanity is one and that bonds of brotherhood among them should be preserved. 

Problems that have now arisen about the practice of democracy appear to stem from the abysmal failure on the part of politicians and ordinary people to appreciate the vital need for combining these two aspects of democracy. If democracy is to be successful a system of government, the institutions and environment that promote the basic principles of democracy have to be created and preserved. Freely elected representative legislatures, guaranteed fundamental rights and freedoms, universal suffrage, an independent judiciary, political parties, a free media are some of the essential organs of democracy. The mere presence of these features however does not ensure the practice of genuine democracy. Their functioning has to be so fashioned as to promote the cherished ideals and the spirit of democracy.  

These features through invariably present in most countries, which claim themselves to be democratic, they do not function in the desired manner. Legislatures are not properly structured, elections held are not free and fair judiciaries are not allowed to function independently, media operations are interfered with and obstructed. Above all, the party system which is considered a sine qua none for the practice of democracy has deteriorated to such an extent throughout the world that it has now emerged ironically an a threat to democracy. 

Political parties should ideally be based on policies and principles geared to protecting and promoting general national interests. They should not be organisations set up to elevate or infiltrate personalities or to serve the narrow selfish interests and desired groups of communities. They should indeed be founded on factors of opinion that can change. Parties based on race, religion, language caste etc. which are not matters of opinion are a threat to democracy.

No in-depth study is necessary for anyone to determine that the way the political parties operate in this country does not conform to the ideals of democracy. Principles of ethical conduct are thrown to the winds by politicians. Parties are changed for personal reasons or selfish gains and new parties are formed with hardly any difference in policies. The opposition who criticises the government policies in scratching terms today, will join the government tomorrow and support its policies with equal eloquence. It is not peaceful persuasion prescribed in democracy that is adopted by parties for eliciting support for them, but thuggery, intimidation, violence bribery and corruption.    

The task therefore before the people today is to rescue democracy from the clutches of unprincipled party politics and politicians. How many of our politicians are "accidental democrats" driven by hunger for power like former Russian president Boris Yeltsin as described in a book published recently? 






President Chandrika Kumaratunge has said at a public rally in Buttala that she believes it would be possible to end the war and achieve peace through the talks the government is planning to have with the LTTE.  This ray of hope the President has held out is like a soothing balm on the people severely burdened by the various cruel consequences of the war.  The Tamil public in the North undoubtedly suffered the worst travails of this war. We trust that the government's preparations for peace talks would be greatly influenced by the tragic results of earlier talks held with the LTTE.  Tempered and worsened by past experiences the government also should enlighten foreign representatives who are to mediate or participate in the forthcoming talks.  We wish this concerted peace effort a complete success, to end the terrible efforts of the war, which has scourged us for 18 long years.




Certain public officials have complained that the proposed attempt to curb government expenses would disrupt working and result in inefficiency of government institutions.  It should be realized that reduction of government expenses is extremely unnecessary when one considers the waste reported in government departments and institutions. However, this has to be done without allowing the quality of service rendered by them to suffer. It is up to top officials of these institutions to create a sensible balance between cutting down expenses and performing an efficient service. What is essential is to take necessary steps to avoid waste of public funds and resources received through foreign funding agencies.  Proper and timely use of foreign aid allocated to each institution is also of utmost importance in this exercise of careful use of both material and financial resources.





People's expectations of peace have begun to rekindle with Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar's announcement in Parliament that a definite date for peace talks would be given before end of April.  Despite diverse views expressed in various quarters, a political solution is the only way to achieve peace.  Even late General Denzil Kobbekaduwa, despite his valor and dedicated military service, held that a political solution was the ultimate way for peace. Previous bitter experiences of peace talks have undoubtedly tempered government's stance regarding stark realities and made it more cautious. While wishing the forthcoming peace talks with Tigers an unreserved success, we reiterate that even if they fail, a just political solution with or without LTTE agreement is the only way to achieve peace.





The latest news on price of rice is not at all auspicious for the forthcoming New Year season.  Rice millers have predicted that the price per kg of local rice could go up to about Rs.50/=.  This increase will be due to the addition of bank interest and extra taxes, representatives of the Rice Millers Association have said. Such a price increase is to come while paddy farmers are struggling to sell their produce even at Rs. 13/= per kg. The yawning gap between the price paid to the farmers and the price consumers have to pay is shocking.  Private traders and rice millers are obviously cashing in on bank interest and taxes to make unconscionable profits.  The CWE's weak effort to curb market price increases is woefully inadequate and ineffective.  The government should directly step in to implement some effective system of price control before the price of rice shoots up to Rs. 50/= per kg as forcasted.





The UDA has recently demolished unauthorised structures surrounding the Buddhist Vihara at Punchi Borella.  The action was apparently to ease traffic congestion in the area.  However, the UNP and the Sihala Urumaya has vehemently condemned this as a demolition of the Buddhist Vihara and even gone to the extent of branding Minister Mangala Samaraweera as a Taleban ruler in Sri Lanka. It is unfortunate that this normal demolition process has been made a political issue and attempt made to discredit the government by raising communal and religious sentiments.  This is actually an attempt to disrupt the talks between the government and the LTTE.  Therefore, the government should be alert about such subversive elements.







It is unfortunate that the sex assault of two young women has taken place at a time when the peace process is being taken forward.  It is no secret that ever since the PA came to power, the Tamil people have been made to suffer the most. As usual, the English and Sinhala Media organs had not given sufficient publicity to this atrocity.  The Sinhalese people should be told the truth about this incident.  Even women's organisations have not raised their voice against this incident.  President Chandrika Kumaratunga has, however, promised to send a special police team to investigate the matter, if present investigations are found unsatisfactory. Sexual assault is not the only atrocity perpetrated against the Tamils. They are liable to be arrested without notice and placed behind bars on mere suspicion.  They face murder, hijacking, torture, disappearances and other forms of cruelty.  Security forces personnel who indulge in excesses and making inquiries into such excesses, appear to be influenced by communal feelings.  Not only security forces personnel, but also every section of authorities in this country today are approaching the problems faced by the Tamil people with a communal eye.  Any failure to take stern action about the Mannar incident can result in serious consequences.


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