Thursday, 8 May 2014 00:00
FOUR non-prominent participants of the attack on a group of United National Party (UNP) MPs while they were engaging in an inspection tour of the Hambantota Harbour and Mattala Airport were briefly arrested and released on bail this week. They were more responsible as the main actor, namely the Mayor of Hambantota, was absconding. He however surrendered himself yesterday and was subsequently released on bail too.
The south is no stranger to fiascos involving mayors. The Tangalle case where a tourist was killed and his girlfriend manhandled was also an act allegedly involving a mayor. These two and numerous other incidents show how dangerously wrong the country’s politics have become.
It is despicable that an elected official, in this case the Mayor of Hambantota, can openly run around terrorising people with a pistol and not face any retribution. Whether the pistol was plastic or not may never be proved, but what it shows is that Sri Lanka has become a nation of plastic politicians and plastic Police.
Whatever the perceived shortcomings of the main Opposition party, the fact that they have a right to inspect projects that will utilise billions of rupees of taxpayer money to repay loans cannot be disputed. The UNP MPs also obtained the necessary approvals from the relevant ministries and officials, making this visit above-board.
Even after the regrettable incident, it is disappointing that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is focusing more on what he says was an attempt by the MPs to discredit and criticise the projects rather than seeing the great dual threat of armed politicians and politically-disempowered Police.
Undoubtedly, the most disturbing point is the creation of a culture that allows a politician to behave in a violent and despicable manner without any danger of retribution, either from the law or his own party. This is nothing new to local politics but it is incredibly worrying that such an environment is being openly fostered by the very people who claim to have built an inclusive and peaceful society. Clearly the two aspects are not mutually-inclusive in their minds.
The law is increasingly being sidelined by people who seek to move above it and the Police, it seems, are sidetracked by the UNP MPs’ lack of security rather than why the Police present at the site did nothing to prevent the attack. Investigations have no public confidence because they lack transparency or consequence to the perpetrators and so justice continues to be ignored.
Opposition parties have showcased the attacks on the MPs as another in a long line of anti-public actions, aligning it with notorious incidents such as Weliweriya. The UNP will also present a report to Parliament, making it a matter of official record obtainable by interested parties outside of the country. The Government desperately needs to become consistent and credible on its implementation of law and order as well as stop playing crony politics to remain legitimate.
Hambantota, deep in the heartland of the Rajapaksa family, endowed with multi-billion dollar projects, should ideally be an example for progressive attitudes and development. Rather, it has come to embody all that is wrong with the present political system, the political elite and the plastic functioning of Sri Lanka’s tottering democracy.