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Friday Forum on socio-economic development and democracy

Comments / 5390 Views / Wednesday, 23 November 2011 00:01

Following is the full text of a letter sent by the Friday Forum to President Mahinda Rajapajsa recently on ‘Equitable Socio-Economic Development through Democratic Governance’

The Friday Forum

2, Greenlands Avenue, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka

E-Mail; chandraj111@gmail.com

Telephone: 0773634444 Fax: 2504181

17 October 2011

H. E. Mahinda Rajapaksa

The President of Sri Lanka

Temple Trees

Colombo 3.

There have been several incidents recently where the military and the Police are reported to have engaged in violence against civilian communities

Your Excellency,

Equitable Socio-Economic Development through Democratic Governance

The Friday Forum is an informal gathering of public spirited persons wishing to contribute to the future development of Sri Lanka within a framework of democracy, social justice and pluralism. It is in that spirit, we wish to share some of our concerns with you.

The Government of Sri Lanka and you as the elected President have re-iterated on several occasions your commitment to a process of equitable socio-economic development through democratic governance, upholding the rule of law, freedoms and rights and justice.

We at the Friday Forum share those same ideals. But we are concerned that some public officials, including Ministers and senior military and Police personnel, have been acting in a manner that undermines that commitment and brings the Government into disrepute. We list some of these which require urgent remedial attention in the interests of good governance:

1.There have been several incidents recently where the military and the Police are reported to have engaged in violence against civilian communities. We refer to the incidents of violence against civilians at Navanthurai, Kopay, Kinniya, Pottuvil and other places.

We are aware that the incidents followed protests, including stone-throwing, by civilians alleging intruders into the villages taking shelter in military camps. But an indiscriminate attack on the whole community undermines the Rule of Law and creates fear and insecurity among the people. It is reminiscent of “collective punishment” repressively resorted to by authorities in some countries. It is more unfortunate that all these incidents have been in communities of citizens belonging to minority groups, thus setting back the process of post-war reconciliation.

2.There has been an alarming increase in reported incidents of Police violence and brutality, some of which have resulted in deaths and grievous injury to citizens who were in Police custody. Such conduct is unacceptable at any time and under any circumstances.

We are aware that the present Inspector General of Police has only recently assumed duties and we are addressing a separate letter to him. It is the responsibility of the Government to take urgent steps to change this culture of extra-judicial violence. This has been going on for a long time but has increased in intensity in recent times.

3.There is also a marked increase in violence to settle private scores. This includes general acts of lawlessness. Some, including Ministers and Provincial Chief Ministers, have taken the law into their own hands and acted in a manner that brings the law into contempt.

We refer in particular to the recent assault on Dr. N.J. Nonis, the Registrar of the Sri Lanka Medical Council, and the recent actions of Minister Mervyn Silva in Chilaw and Kelaniya. In some notable cases, Minister Silva and North Central Chief Minister Berty Premalal Dissanayake have allegedly publicly humiliated government servants and civilians who have disagreed with their views. Since no action has been taken in such cases, people assume that they enjoy impunity for their unlawful actions as long as they are politically on the side of the Government.

The Attorney General’s actions in not proceeding with judicial action in respect of unlawful activity, including murder, and your unfortunate presidential pardon of convicts involved in murder have created a strong sense that criminals enjoy impunity as long as they are politically with the governing political coalition.

4.We are also deeply concerned with the recent incident on election day which resulted in several deaths. Friday Forum had made representations to a former Minister of Justice for an active strategy of de-weaponisation of society. After the recent incident, it becomes an absolute necessity that we affirm the principle that the ownership and use of firearms must be exclusively with the Police, armed forces and a few others with a specific licence granted under a transparent licensing process.

5.There has been some damage caused to the ecology of the country as a result of recent leases of land to various investors, local and foreign, ostensibly for development. It has been reported that there was no independent assessment of the environmental impact of such land being leased for cultivation, leisure resorts, etc in various parts of the country.

We refer in particular to reported lease of lands in Kalpitiya to those with political connections, to the lease of land to a US multi-national for banana cultivation and to land in Soragune for a Golf course and resort. It is reported that clearance was not given in all cases by the Central Environment Authority. In the case of the project at Soragune, we are told that this would impact on an already existing Weli Amuna irrigation system affecting the livelihoods of several farmers.

There is also the case of a road being built which will encroach on the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, a world heritage site. We are of the firm view that there should be complete transparency and consultation with all affected parties and that public hearings should be held before such projects are approved.

6.    We are also concerned with work being done in the name of city development. We are particularly concerned with the destruction of the Old Park and the proposed buildings within the ancient Dutch Fort, both in Jaffna. Both are of immense historical value and were landmarks that were a pride to the people of Jaffna.

The Old Park with its magnificent mahogany trees was a legacy left behind by a British Government Agent P.A. Dyke. The Dutch Fort is of archaeological value that was wantonly destroyed during the war. In view of this, it should be preserved and restored to its original state.

We are dismayed that, without any consultation with the local civil society, academics and organisations concerned with the preservation of national heritages, trees have cut down in the Old Park and modern style buildings are being constructed to house Government departments and residences. The buildings in the Dutch Fort, including the Dutch Church and the Governor’s House need to be restored to their original state.

Your Excellency will no doubt agree that decisions on the development of historic sites should be undertaken only after much consideration, consulting especially those with a feel for our history and heritage such as the Department of Archaeology and the National Heritage Trust.

We trust that our concerns will be taken in the spirit of engaging in a constructive democratic dialogue. It is in the interests of good governance that timely action is taken to arrest the trends towards a breakdown in the rule of law in our country.

In this regard, it may be appropriate if in association with the Hon. Speaker of Parliament, an All Party Parliamentary Select Committee is appointed to develop and recommend strategic action to enforce a Code of Conduct for all Persons in Public Life, similar to that recommended by the Nolan Committee Report on Standards in Public Life published in the United Kingdom (Reference attached and available on http://www.public-standards.gov.uk/ and http://www.archive.official-documents.co.uk/document/parlment/nolan/nolan.htm).

Yours sincerely,

Jayantha Dhanapala

On behalf of The Friday Forum, the Group of Concerned Citizens committed to accelerating equitable socio economic development, ensuring peace, harmony, good governance and addressing the national question.

Jayantha Dhanapala, Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare, Suresh de Mel, Lanka Nesiah, Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Ahilan Kadirgamar, Manouri Muttetuwegama, Dr. Camena Gunaratne, Dr. A. C. Visvalingam, Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, J.C. Weliamuna, Shanthi Dias, Professor Savitri Goonesekera, Dr. Deepika Udagama, Daneshan Casie Chetty, Dhamaris Wickramasekera, Ranjit Fernando, D. Wijayanandana and Chandra Jayaratne


Hon. Speaker of Parliament,

Secretary Defence,

Secretary to the President,

Secretary Ministry of Justice

Attorney General,

Inspector General of Police,

Chairman, Human Rights Commission

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