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The chainsaw massacre and other ‘lawful’ horror stories

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 22 February 2019 00:20


 QUICK! Someone tell the president, please! – Pic courtesy AFP

Admit it. The headline hooked you. Hope you won’t be disappointed. There are no gory scenes featuring dismembered limbs here. However you might read about the long arm of the law being truncated. Perhaps a chilling scene where the mask of the murderer slips and you see the face of the man wielding the deadly machine. It is about cultural – not culpable – homicide and political – not psychological – suicide.

First up is the president’s insistence that all chainsaws in the country be registered with the police. Apparently the head of state is concerned that Sri Lanka’s tropical rainforests are losing life and limb. Quick – someone tell our chief executive he’s a tad too late to reverse the rape of Wilpattu and restore Sinharaja and parts of Knuckles to their former pristine glory. 

Not to say that the illegal felling of forests isn’t a large-scale industry. But to ask whether the cumbersome bylaw will bring the biggest players in this racket to book! And if the police – who are supposed to receive registrations of all chainsaws in public, private and personal sectors for a week starting the day before yesterday – are confronted by proof of (say) a cabinet minister denuding the Seven Sisters, would prior registration of their machinery be sufficient grounds for prosecution? I dare say so. We know how it works, though. The need of the hour is efficacious political will coupled with an efficient and independent police force.


Rule by gazette

The problem is that the political will seems politically wilful. It’s quirky and jerky. It proceeds in fits and starts, and starts people thinking that the head that issues orders must be having some sort of a fit. It leaves yawning gaps in good governance while pursuing the cause of bad or even ugly politics. In many instances – a ban on the sale of liquor to ladies, the enforcement of outdated alcohol-related constraints – it seems like the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable. 

That it smacks in many such instances of the curiosity puritans have towards the pleasures of the sinful only makes it more conscionable to the moralising pseudo-religious hoi polloi. In that sense, it makes its chief executive architect more popular with influential monks and the masses who wouldn’t be seen dead under the influence. 

In many cases, political will seems more like a political won’t. Or don’t care and can’t quite agree: 

#1. I won’t allow my political opponents to enjoy thinking “Ah! How ‘green’ is my valley!” – by putting a spoke in the wheel of their allegedly cocaine-addicted cabinet and corporate biz interests. (My former executive boss has promptly clambered aboard that bandwagon by alleging that it’s hard to combat drug trafficking when so many politicians seem addicted. We seem to forget taking a helicopter ride to embrace an alleged drug lord in full view of the media glare and public scrutiny. Or having our powerful bureaucratic brother sanction the STF for daring to raid the west coast’s allegedly most notorious drug baron.) 

#2. I don’t think that the Constitutional Council is properly constituted – because it bashes me over the head with the constitution and insists on properly constituting my executive behaviour. (My culture minister does justice to my distress and goes as far as to call the CC the most corrupt institution in government. He should know. He’s been unable to COPE with corruption under a series of administrations in a succession of roles.)

#3. I can’t grant the good cop his well-deserved promotion. At least, not until a public outcry has pricked my conscience! After all, it’s not the long arm of the law that’s keeping the country clean and criminals in line now, is it? Isn’t it my rule by law and roping in a hangman?  


Rule by law

The other part of the problem is that the law doesn’t seem to apply freely or fairly. It’s an old issue that calls into question the independence as well as the efficiency of the policing arm of the state. Not a day goes by when we don’t hear for example about the police arresting a bunch of youth posing atop a stupa. Or taking a sacrilegious selfie at some sacred site while mooning the public. Or the long arm of the law reaching out to tap a surreptitious computer user in Pitigala posting a scurrilous piece of slander and libel and what-have-you about the local constabulary using a fake Facebook account as happened just this week. 

But I meant that the s. c. u. did so. Not that the l. a. of the l. used a f. FB a. And if you see the smile-value in that, you’re alone. PC Plod and Mr Good are still (as far as yours truly can discern) notoriously deficit in a sense of humour – although they’re all agog with a sense of stern duty. It’s a fair cop if you believe that the probity and reputation of the police must be preserved over and above the protection of the people from their elected representatives and other political machinery. 

That brings me back nicely to the great chainsaw massacre. While the president’s bleeding heart pathos for the country’s arboreal assets is laudable, his wounded hero approach to rule by law is lamentable. And in the long run, while legit timber merchants and other small-time operators will suffer as a result of his gazetteering, only our great heart stands to benefit from all the popularity his lone-ranger last-man-standing grandstanding will bring him. 

There is such a thing as a sense of proportion. Sadly the president seems to lack it. Let’s assign to him the role of loose cannon at a peace rally and try to move on. In the meantime, put away your axes and facemasks! For under the rule of men entirely gauche, you won’t get away with it. Or if you do, have the good sense not to use a fake FB account to boast about it.  

(Journalist | Editor-at-large of LMD | Writer #SpeakingTruthToPower)

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