The Government cannot go on like this by depriving the Opposition Parliamentarians of their civic rights and hindering the democratic process. We will rise against this suppression
- SJB MP says Presidential Commission of Inquiry process would result in a climate of fear, a paralysis among investigators and prosecutors
- Warns process would stifle current investigations and diminish public faith in judiciary
- Wows to rise up against moves to suppress dissent
The politicisation of the Commission of Inquiry process would result in a climate of fear, a paralysis among investigators and prosecutors stifling current and future investigations, SJB MP Eran Wickramaratne warned in Parliament last week.
Speaking during the debate on the Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry that looked into alleged instances of political victimisation during the previous administration, Wickramaratne said the conduct of such commissions questions the independent functioning of the courts and tribunals and diminishes public trust in the legal system.
Here are excerpts from the speech made by Wickramaratne in Parliament on 22 April.
The Commission of Inquiry on political victimisation was appointed in January 2020 and the report to President was given in December 2020. Thereafter Cabinet approval was obtained, and another special Presidential Commission of Inquiry was appointed. Furthermore, we saw on 9 April a resolution brought to Parliament stating that things that should be acted upon were in the Commission of Inquiry report item No. 8, 9 and 10. No. 8 has now devolved on the special Presidential Commission of Inquiry. Exempting that, everything in No. 9 and No. 10 should be acted upon after the resolution is passed in Parliament.
This resolution seeks approval of Parliament to initiate criminal prosecution of public officials, lawyers, Attorney General Department officials, witnesses and others involved in the cases. It also seeks approval for the dismissal of several cases currently pending in the courts undermining the independence of the judiciary. Actually, this resolution firstly attacks the doctrine of separation of powers which are in Article 4 of our Constitution. This is the first time we have seen such a resolution being brought to Parliament. We know that it is only the judicial bodies that can discharge or acquit those who are being accused. Nobody else can do this. This resolution is positively against the separation of powers.
Over the past 30 to 40 years never has such a resolution come before this Parliament and should have been correctly ordered out of the order book by the Speaker. I am afraid that the Secretary General of Parliament and his department should have advised the Speaker that it should not have been tabled. Moreover, some of these cases that have been brought and mentioned in the commission have already been challenged in the Appellate Courts by those directly affected by the findings. These challenges are ongoing. Above all this resolution cannot be implemented in anyway except by the Courts of Law.
Moreover, it tends to interfere with the jurisdiction of the AG’s dept. and those Judges presiding over the established courts who alone can decide on the merits and demerits of these court cases. What are we doing with the AG’s Dept.? We are questioning its professionalism; we are questioning its integrity and we are basically putting the AG’s department in a huge problem by the way in which this Government is pushing for this. The independence of the judiciary is critical.
We have a Commission of Inquiry; we have a special Presidential Commission of Inquiry and now we have a resolution. This process faultily suggests that the judiciary did not arrive at its findings in an independent and impartial manner. This is what it is suggesting.
For example, there are about 90 cases here that were instituted by the Attorney General and his department during that period. At that time the AG was His Lordship Jayantha Jayasuriya who is the Chief Justice of the country presently. What are we actually saying? By acting in such a way, we are actually indirectly moving a no-confidence in the current Chief Justice of the country. This is what this Government is doing by actually tabling such a resolution when they should not be tabling such a resolution. Because those cases were instituted by the AG at that time who happens to be His Lordship the Chief Justice of the country presently. I think this Government hasn’t really thought through this. This is a very unfortunate incident.
The conduct of this political victimisation commission questions the independent functioning of the court and tribunals as well as the public trust in the legal system. This is an unprecedented step which violates the sovereignty of the people whose judicial power shall be exercised though the courts. There are so many cases mentioned in this resolution. The complaints against the criminal investigations in several such cases such as alleged abduction involving Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda and others.
There was a war in this country and Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda gave leadership to the Navy. Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka gave leadership to the Army and Air Vice Marshal Roshan Gunatillake gave leadership to the Air Force. When there is a conflict, Generals who succeed in the conflicts are held in high esteem. I do not wish to take away the esteem that they are held in.
However, I might say this as said by the then Army Commander, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka who led the Army during that period – naming cases of individuals in the armed forces who violated the law that these violations must go before the Tribunals and before the courts of the country. It was significant for the persons who have the honour of having led the Armed Forces of the country to actually stand up in this assembly and say there have been crimes committed in violation of the law. Those crimes must go before the judiciary. And therefore, I applaud him for doing that.
The assassination of Nadaraja Raviraj MP, the death of Wassim Thajudeen, and the murder of Joseph Prarajasingam MP are mentioned. The Welikada prison massacre is mentioned. The disappearance of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda and Kieth Noyar are mentioned here. There are also in addition to that financial irregularities which are mentioned in this report and misappropriation of funds – the Divineguma department, the Tourism Development Authority, the Cooperative Establishment, SL Embassy in the US and various other cases cited.
I went to see Ranjan Ramanayake in prison yesterday. He was serving his 100th day in prison and he has 1,362 more days to serve. The sentence that was meted out to him is not commensurate to the wrong that he has done. If you look at USA, England or India for contempt of court there are more commensurate punishments given. But we have put the courts in a problem by not having legislation approved by the Parliament.
So, I call upon this Parliament to pass an act for the contempt of court limiting or giving a commensurate punishment for the contempt of court. We can’t leave it up to the judges. It is embarrassing for them when they are being wrongfully accused to decide on what the punishment should be and therefore, we should do that.
I would like to say that the politicisation of the Commission of Inquiry process would result in a climate of fear, a paralysis among investigators and prosecutors stifling current and future investigations. Shani Abeysekara, he could have gone abroad, Shani Abeysekara did not leave this country because he has a clear conscious. So, he is fighting for his independence and his rights. Similarly, we have Saman Ekanayaka a former Secretary, and the lawyer Weliamuna. Future investigators, professionals, Police Officers even people in the AG’s Department will be cautious about going in to investigations because of this political interference.
At this important moment the Government is failing. The Government has failed in handling the COVID-19 pandemic efficiently, protection of the environment, managing the economy, international relations and the investigation on the Easter Sunday attack. Earlier the President failed, now the entire Government has failed. I warn the Government not to suppress the Opposition. We now hear that there is a move on the part of the Government to hunt down MP Harin Fernando. The Government cannot go on like this by depriving the Opposition Parliamentarians of their civic rights and hindering the democratic process. We will rise against this suppression.