“CJ is unsuitable”: Prof. Vitarana

Friday, 4 January 2013 00:42 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Speaks out on impeachment, Opposition views, foreign forces, human rights violations, cost of living, satellite launch and protecting the 13th Amendment

Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake requested the President to appoint her husband as the Chairman of the National Savings Bank and the President, who did not want to antagonise her, was compelled to accommodate the request, pointed out Senior Minister Tissa Vitarana.

“Where in the world does a judge go and make such request?” queries Vitarana, stressing that he personally believes Bandaranayake is not fit to hold the office of Chief Justice.

Following are excerpts from an interview:

Q: What are your views about the present developments with regard to the impeachment motion against the Chief Justice?

A: The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) is of the view that the Government is acting according to the Constitution and the past practices in relation to impeachment process. But we felt that the whole process could be improved by having preliminary investigations done by a judicially competent committee.

We suggested that there should be three retired Supreme Court judges who should be given that responsibility. This is something that should have been put in place well in advance. This Constitution has been there from 1978 and this was included in the 2000 draft Constitution. During the APRC process which I chaired we put in a similar proposal. No one moved it in Parliament and included it as an amendment to the Constitution.

Despite the lateness, I, along with Minister D.E.W. Gunasekera and Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara, made a request to the Speaker to amend the Standing Orders to include this judicial process. Either due to lack of time or due to inconvenience, it was not done. Then we found that an unnecessary confrontation situation was coming up between the Judiciary and the Parliament on one hand and the President on the other hand.

This is not a desirable situation and this could be used by opponents of both the Government and the country to discredit the Rajapaksa administration. We should do everything possible to prevent that from happening. Therefore we suggested that Parliament should be prorogued. Then automatically all that has taken place before prorogation lapses. That would enable the process to be start a fresh from the beginning of the next session on 8 January. Then the necessary amendments could be made. Unfortunately this was not accepted and the process was set in motion and is now proceeding.

If you ask me personally, I feel this lady is not fit to hold the office she is holding. Look at the charges against her. Is it alright to get that ‘Millennium transaction’ 1.6 million reduction in price? Then transfer a case that has been going for three years under a very able judge successfully which they only wanted number of people on the bench to be increased from three to five so that it will be strengthened? She takes it into her courts. This is very wrong.

This may be genuine money she got from her sister. We are not bothered about that. But if she withdraws that amount of money from the bank account and has it as cash, she must include that in her declaration. But sadly it is not in her declaration.

Q: Is it justifiable to come to such conclusion by looking into only one side of the case?

A: How can you say it is one-sided? This is all documented. What she should have done was, if she had evidence, produce that evidence to refute it. She was given time to produce written evidence. She didn’t do that.

Giving evidence, Shirani Tilakawardena said that this case was taken off her without her consent. Where in the world is a judge who is peculiarly interested in a particular case going and taking it from another judge and putting it into her court? Is it fair to do that? Do you justify that?

Look at the bank statements. The amounts there are withdrawn in middle of March and statement at the end of March is blank. And then in April that amount of money is put back in the bank. If even a Government official had acted in that manner, it would be taken against that person. Here we are having the Head of the Judiciary doing that. We raised this matter at the party leaders’ meeting with the President. We asked President Rajapaksa why he appointed Shirani Bandaranayake’s husband Pradeep Kariyawasam as the Chairman of the NSB. The President said he did it under her specific request. President Rajapaksa did not want to antagonise her and therefore had to accommodate her request. Where in the world does a judge go and make such requests?

When judges retire they are not supposed to take any posts, otherwise they will be offered things while they are acting as judges so they will be biased in those cases in anticipation of some reward later. These are ethical standards a judge has to maintain. Here we are talking about the Head of the Supreme Court of our country.

 

Senior Minister Tissa Vitarana

Q: If Shirani Bandaranayake is so corrupt and unethical, why did the President appoint her as the Chief Justice?

A: Who is to know she is corrupt like this till we make the appointment? It is only when they get the power that they show their true colours.

Q: Members within the Government say the impeachment process has weaknesses. But when the Opposition points out the same faults, you claim unseen forces are trying to discredit the Government. Why do you always blame the Opposition when they criticise the Government?

A: There are no unseen forces. The Opposition should be a constructive Opposition, not a disruptive one. The UNP and JVP go outside and make completely antinational statements. This is what they did even during the height of the war. This is the type of Opposition we are having. We are not only having local reactionary forces led by the UNP and the JVP, but there are also foreign forces.

Q: Who are these foreign forces?

A: American-led British and European forces. In our terminology we call these forces the imperialist powers. Our Government and President Mahinda Rajapaksa are not following their neoliberal agenda. The fact is that we have a nonaligned foreign policy; Sri Lanka has friendly dealings in both politics and trade with governments they consider to be their opponents, such as Cuba, Iran, China, or Vietnam. They go flat out to whack any country that shows independence from their policies. Human rights issue is an issue and they have been flogging all countries that don’t follow their agenda.

Q: But as far as the impeachment is concerned, what the foreign countries have tried to point out is that there is no rule of law in this country. Do you agree?

A: Who are the biggest transgressors of international law in the world today? America and NATO forces. But they are getting Nobel Peace awards. What did they do to Syria or Libya? What did they do in Iraq and Afghanistan? Did they not violate all international law conventions?

Q: You blame the present Opposition for not defending the government in the international arena, but during the ’80s, Mahinda Rajapaksa went to Geneva and made a statement against human rights violations taking place in Sri Lanka. Your comments?

A: Are you trying to say there were no human rights violations in the country at that time? People in all professions including journalists were murdered. Whenever we (trade unions) held a protest, there were gangs of people with bicycle chains who came and attacked us. You think those were not human rights violations?

Q: Are you saying there were human rights violations during the ’80s but such cases are not experienced at present?

A: I am not saying that. If we feel there are human rights violations, if there are violations issues pertaining to democratic rights, even though we are within the Government, we don’t hesitate to criticise. In a speech made during our party anniversary in December, I openly said that just like the Government is taking action against the Chief Justice on grounds of corruption and misconduct, all others in high levels in administration should be similarly dealt with.

There are people who engage in corrupt practices but manage to get away because they support the Government. As a party the LSSP will never hesitate to oppose such issues. But you shouldn’t make false charges against human rights violations merely to discredit the Government.

Q: Are you saying what Mahinda Rajapaksa did in the ’80s was acceptable but when the Opposition criticises the Government’s wrongdoings, it should not be tolerated?

A: What Mahinda Rajapaksa did in the ’80s was perfectly correct. There is no wrong in that if the criticism is genuine. The grossest human rights violations were done by the imperialists during the colonial era. Now those people who had a history like that and who want to subjugate further and exploit us further want us to submit to that exploitation process. If we don’t and fight against it, the issue that they raise against us is human rights.

There are human rights violations in every country. There is no country with a clean slate. You can’t have absolute standards here. It’s relative. We were in a war with the worst terrorist group in the world who were backed by imperialism. Although they (imperialist forces) openly criticised the war, they covertly backed it, simply because they wanted to divide our country.

When the report of the Norwegian oil and gas exploration of our sea came to the Cabinet, we realised that they had left out the part adjoining the north and the east. When we questioned why that part was left out, they had no answer to give. Then to get that added information which they had withheld from us we had to pay US$ 10 million. The reason was they were supporting the LTTE and expecting the country to be divided.

Q: It was Chandrika Kumaratunga who invited the Norwegians to get involved in the peace process. The LSSP was also a part of Kumaratunga’s Government. If the Norwegians were backing the LTTE, why did you invite them to act as a mediator?

A: At that time they were involved in Palestinian conflict. There are certain countries which have been playing the role of mediators in conflict situations. That is why Norway came into it, but their true colours came out once they were in operation.

Q: Despite all the protests and requests made by various parties, the Government is going ahead with the current proceedings of the impeachment. Where will this end?

A: As I said before, I am convinced personally that this lady is not suitable for this post. That is going to be the outcome of the impeachment process. I spoke to the President; he gave us the undertaking that the necessary amendments would be brought up in Parliament after this issue and that they would be supported. In future we will have a process which we can accept as impartial process.

Meanwhile, my opinion of the Judiciary in Sri Lanka is that it is at the lowest level. Do you know that on the day they had the trade union action, lawyers went to courts and collected fees from the litigants and then walked out? This is the quality of the legal profession we are having in this country.

Q: Will you be voting against the impeachment or for it?

A: Our party will be having our politburo and central committee meetings this week. We may take a decision about the vote during these meetings.

Q: The Government has failed to bring any relief to the people in this country. The cost of living may continue to skyrocket, with the expected price hikes in electricity and domestic gas within the coming weeks. Your comments?

A: We are unhappy that the burden of economic development, which could be placed on the rich who can afford it, has been transferred to the poor. The upper limit of direct taxation is 24%. This is one of the lowest in the world. We have been advocating that it should be increased to 45%. In return, all the indirect taxes which are being placed on essentials goods should be removed. The real way to develop our economy is by increasing our export income.

In my view we can get out of this debt trap if we have a proper taxation policy and Customs policy and if we curtail imports and increase our export earnings. That is the direction in which we should be heading. Unfortunately, instead of doing that, we went and devaluated the rupee. The LSSP has been fighting on the side of the poor people in this country and we will continue to do that. Unfortunately, because we have been raising these issues, we are not very popular in the Government.

Q: You were backing the recent launch of SupremeSAT, which the Government claimed was the country’s first communications satellite. But according to the Opposition, it was another cheap and misleading publicity stunt by the Government. Your comments?

A: Just like with all advanced technologies, we have to move into space technology. Space technology would enable us to have better quality information and communication technology within the country. At the moment all our ICT channels are from foreign satellite stations, therefore having our own satellite will be much cheaper. In addition space technology will enable us to map our resources accurately, not only on land but even in the sea area.

When I was Minister of Science and Technology I promoted launching our own satellite. In fact I went to London and they were taking on payloads for satellites for which they were partners in putting them into space. We tried to work out a deal with them, but it didn’t materialise because I was appointed as a Senior Minister.

One day a person called Manivannan came and spoke to me. He said he heard about interest in this and he was also interested in the matter. Of course he was looking at the commercial point of view. He said he wanted us to have our own satellite. As an entrepreneur he wanted to make money out of the deal but at the same time it would benefit the country.

I encouraged him and sometime later he informed me that he had got in touch with the China Great Wall Industry Corporation in China. This corporation undertakes sending up rockets into satellite orbit, which they launch for a commercial fee. Manivannan told me that he had made arrangements so that he cpi;d go ahead with the deal. I told him not to expect funds from the Government. He said he would find his own funding. This is how they launched SupremeSAT.

The next satellite is scheduled to launch in April next year and the third one in 2015. The total cost of this project is around US$ 300 million. Manivannan has paid US$ 70 million for the first launch and the project is proceeding stage by stage.

As a country we are entitled to a particular orbital position. That part the Government has to make available, but unfortunately the Government has not done that. In fact the satellite which went up carries the Sri Lankan flag. Along with this corporation, we have set up a receiving centre and a training centre in Pallekele.

When I met an agent from China Great Wall Industry Corporation, they said they were prepared not only to train our people but even get job opportunities in this field in foreign countries. If this is the outcome, what is wrong in a private company engaging in this type of activity?

Q: What happened to the alliance that was formed to protect the 13th Amendment? Have you handed over the letter to the President?

A: The alliance met once. I drafted the letter and we got almost 30 signatures. Then one or two withdrew their signatures, I guess due to pressure. Minister Douglas Devananda said that he would be in a position to collect more signatures. So the letter was given to him to get more signatures and hand it over to the President. I am not sure whether Minister Devananda has handed over the letter to the President.

In that letter we clearly stated to the President that we would do everything possible, even vote against any move with the 13th Amendment, and do away with the provincial councils. There are lot of short comings in the Provincial Council system. We are the first to recognise that and we would be the first to call for suitable amendments to rectify those.

We are totally opposed to any move to do away with the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Council system. We stand for the strengthening of the system and the rectification of any shortcomings that exist. The arguments that are brought against the Provincial Council system are, to say the least, frivolous. These arguments should not be taken seriously. What has been started must be carried right down to the people’s level and strengthened.

In 1987 it was because of the setting up of the Provincial Councils that all the Tamil militant groups other than the LTTE put aside their guns and came to the democratic scene. What is the message we are sending out to those people? We are saying to them that we are not prepared to give them an honourable settlement. They must share power pertaining to their areas and they must be free to elect as representatives. If you are not going to do that, you are driving them back again to the same situation that led to disaster 30 years ago.

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