There are strict rules in India to prevent black money flowing into politics. Also, the funds of political parties in India are being closely monitored by the Election Commission. But, neither is happening in Sri Lanka; restrictions on election spending have not operated in Sri Lanka since 1978. The Election Commission does not have the power to inspect party funds. Political parties in Sri Lanka mostly depend on black money for elections
The criminality in politics can be considered an atrocious cancer that engulfed Sri Lanka as well as India, our closest neighbour. While there is enough data to establish the reality of the problem in India, Sri Lanka does not possess any such data to comprehend the extent of it. The lack of interest among sociologists, parliamentarians and election officials in Sri Lanka on this issue can be seen as an important factor contributing to the problem of not having sufficient data.
The ratio of MPs with criminal cases in India remained at 24% in 2004; it has increased to 30% in 2007, 34% in 2014 and 43% in 2019.
Situation in Sri Lanka
Despite not having adequate data, it is not difficult to comprehend that Sri Lanka is not in good shape in this regard. There are strict rules in India to prevent black money flowing into politics. Also, the funds of political parties in India are being closely monitored by the Election Commission. But, neither is happening in Sri Lanka; restrictions on election spending have not operated in Sri Lanka since 1978. The Election Commission does not have the power to inspect party funds. Political parties in Sri Lanka mostly depend on black money for elections.
Apparently there was always an underworld leader and a big source of black money behind every President that came to power after 1978. The source of black money helped solve some of the difficult financial problems of the President while the underworld leader solved the problems that the President could not solve by legal means.
It was during the second JVP insurrection that the phenomenon of hybridisation of politicians and criminals originated in Sri Lanka. The politicians of the ruling party were allowed to maintain private armies for their protection when they faced death threats by insurgents. The private armies thus formed often consisted of notable criminals in the respective areas where the politicians resided. They were provided training by government security forces and equipped with weapons they needed.
This enabled the criminal elements to establish a close rapport and confidential relationships with local political powers and through which to pursue their criminal activities with impunity and with political patronage, circumventing the law, in addition to functioning as private armies of local politicians. As the atmosphere of violent conflicts continued for a prolonged period, the close rapport developed between them also became a long term affair. Because of this nexus between the criminal and the politician, the politician has become a hybrid duality in society representing the both, making it difficult to distinguish between the politicality and criminality.
Politician and the criminal
The interrelations between the criminals and politicians led to corrupt the role of the Police also to the maximum. The Police officers who worked closely with politicians were compelled to cooperate with criminals who had maintained close contacts with politicians. As a result, there was a breakdown in law enforcement against criminals creating a situation where the Police were cooperating with criminals. So much so, this situation has led to an increase in crime rate in the country and the breakdown in the process of law enforcement against the latter.
This interaction between the two species has culminated in a situation where the criminal has become the politician and the politician a criminal to some extent. The political patronage has enabled some criminals to become the first order rich in the country creating a situation where the political leaders were dependent on criminals who had turned rich with resultant impact in which the latter has gained power to decide on the course of the country to a certain extent.
The negligence of Sri Lanka
Criminalisation can be seen as a strong trend in Indian politics as well, but there is a strong fight against it in India. Unfortunately, there is hardly any such fight against this trend in Sri Lanka.
Although there had been an undesirable system in operation for more than 40 years in which the Presidents, MPs, Ministers and Members of Parliament were engaged in seizing vital centres of public importance and looting public property contrary to the law, apparently the law enforcement in Sri Lanka against them remains a hardcore reality at present. This is a serious criminal offense and the proportion of MPs involved in it appears to be at a very high level. The annual loss incurred to the government by this process is enormous, and the law does not seem to be enforced at all, against them.
So far, only two MPs have been convicted in this respect over the past 42 years. It was Albert Silva in 1979 and Rajitha Senaratne in 2000. On two occasions the Court deprived them of their seats, but on both occasions, by other means, they were re-appointed as MPs and acquitted of their sentence. This ugly chain of actions did not provoke any opposition in Parliament or the Attorney General’s Department.
The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption is conducting investigations against a considerable number of Members of Parliament on charges of corruption and misappropriation. Some investigations have been initiated more than 10 years ago. Yet it has not been possible to conclude them. The same is true of the policy that applies to Court cases involving the members of parliament who have been served with indictments. All such cases have become protracted with no clear end in sight. Duminda Silva is the only Member of Parliament to have been imprisoned since 1978.
Situation in India
The handling of investigations and court cases against Public Representatives in India is totally different from that of Sri Lanka. In terms of a ruling by the Indian Supreme Court made in 2014, all cases of Public Representatives who are indicted with criminal charges, must be heard and concluded within a year. All appeals should also be completed within three months. Also, in terms of a ruling made in November 2015, The Supreme Court of India recommended that a special court system should be set up to expedite the proceedings of the cases against public representatives. Accordingly, in 2017, the government set up 12 Special Courts covering the entire subcontinent.
According to another judgment delivered by the Supreme Court of India in February 2020, whenever a political party decides to nominate a person having a criminal case, it should publish a clear statement explaining the reasons why the nomination has been given in spite of criminal charges levelled against the individual concerned, on the party’s website and in a newspaper advertisement within 48 hours. Besides that the party should submit a detailed report to the Election Commission within 72 hours. In the event any political party is abstaining from doing so, the Election Commission is obliged to report the matter to the judiciary treating it as a contempt of court.
When will Sri Lanka reach such a state?