Professionals being needed to develop the country while protecting public interest have been highlighted multiple times. The importance of professionals engaging on key policies and improving engagement with policymakers has likewise gained much consideration over the years. But the responsibility of professionals to stand up and fight for the rights of their colleagues and speak up for what is right has only received limited attention.
Former State Minister of Finance Eran Wickramaratne took up the challenge last week in Parliament, calling out the Government for not protecting top officials engaged in critical investigations into high-profile cases and questioning why one solitary magistrate had to “stick his neck out” to fight for justice. Giving a detailed speech in Parliament Wickramaratne compared his Government’s conduct to that of the new administration, arguing that in 2015 the heads of Military Intelligence and the State Intelligence Service and the leadership of the Criminal Investigation Department were allowed to remain.
The Opposition parliamentarian contended that during the former Government there was only one head of the CID throughout its course, and he was appointed under one Rajapaksa Government and allowed to retire under another Rajapaksa Government. He also recalled that the former Government passed the 19th Amendment ensuring less politicisation and more oversight to key public sector appointments and gave the Opposition a voice in the selection of senior judges and civil servants.
In contrast, Wickramaratne argued the present Government within days of its appointment had demoted CID Director Shani Abeysekara as a personal assistant. Details revealed during the court proceedings overseen by Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake had shown the Government had transferred all top officers who were involved in investigating the MIG deal. Wickramaratne went onto say that DIG Dhammika Priyantha, SP Pavithra Dayaratne and Chief Inspector Nihal Francis were well-qualified professionals who were transferred for simply carrying out their duties. Expanding on his theme further, Wickramaratne also dwelt on what he termed as mistreatment of media industry professionals Krishantha Cooray and Dharisha Bastians, their close kin and others on trumped up links to the controversial Swiss abduction case. He stressed that professionals, even if they harboured different political ideals, should nonetheless be protected from victimisation. Wickramaratne insisted it was both unfair and an unnecessary overreach of power to impact their careers and their rights as done by the Government.
One essential effort to rectify this situation is for other professionals to stand by their brethren. In Sri Lanka’s highly politicised environment it is very difficult not to be brushed with one political colour or another but when law enforcement authorities are given a task they are duty-bound to carry it out. This should not mean that every five years their professionalism is questioned and they are side-lined. Sri Lanka desperately needs to rise above partisan politics and have a strong law enforcement system that is capable of putting justice, protection of public finance and public interest at the centre of all it does. Being a professional is not easy. It takes decades of focus, learning and growth. When an experienced law enforcement official or other professional is side-lined it is a loss that will be felt across society. Whether it is economic growth, attracting investment, protecting the rights of citizens or ensuring transparency, strong and independent organisations that stand for what is right is a must. They are an essential component in the balance of power in a democratic system. If their voices are muffled then democracy is the poorer for it.