By Anushka Gunawardena
President Mahinda Rajapaksa at a meeting with editors and publishers last Monday, September 7th at Temple Trees, produced a copy of an affidavit claiming to be from the Samurdhi officer where he had said he had willingly asked to be tied to a tree, based on Silva having threatened to do so if they did not deliver in context of the dengue programme.
Mervyn Silva who was stripped of the portfolio of Deputy Minister of Highways after he tied a Samurdhi officer to a tree has been re-appointed to the post in the government. A disciplinary committee was appointed to inquire into his involvement in the incident, but Silva was cleared of all charges.
It is hard to conceive that the Samurdhi officer would have willingly subjected himself to such humiliating and degrading treatment violating his fundamental rights on his own accord. However, in a country where intimidation and power go hand in hand, the credibility of the decision of the disciplinary committee is rather questionable.
To gather the public opinion on Mervyn Silva’s reinstatement, a few citizens were interviewed. The questions were based on the decision of the disciplinary committee, the affidavit produced by the Samurdhi officer and how this incident reflects on free and fair justice in Sri Lanka.
Lasantha David, a writer, said that it is highly unlikely that anyone would willingly make such a statement and considering Mervyn Silva’s powerful position one may easily assume that such an affidavit was issued out of fear. However, he feels that it is possible that a direct threat may not have been posed on the Samurdhi officer, but he may have been threatened indirectly into making such a statement, as it has become an accepted norm that action against the government will carry negative consequences. He also regards this whole incident as a perfect example as to how Sri Lankan politics works and what ‘justice’ has come to, adding that we are 20 million puppets working according to the wishes of the powerful.
Harith de Mel, a law student, is of the view that since this was an issue of national importance, an independent commission should have been appointed in this regard. As the commission consists of members of the SLFP, he feels that the composition of the committee did not ensure an independent decision. He does not question the verdict of the committee, but feels that having a more diverse panel would have ensured a better, more reliable outcome. De Mel also expressed the view that given Mervyn Silva’s past acts, it is likely that the helpless Samurdhi official may have been pressurized into making such a statement.
With regard to the current system of justice in Sri Lanka, he feels that justice is available but not accessible to all, as the fundamental element of justice which is equality to all, is lacking in this country. However, he is optimistic that justice will occur in future as it is not completely dead in Sri Lanka. He also stated that currently Sri Lankans are apathetic towards such issues as they do not care for justice.
Kamal Silva, a shop keeper, is thoroughly disappointed with the SLFP Disciplinary Committee’s decision. He feels that political backing and connections are essential for the process of ‘justice’ in Sri Lanka as evident from the verdict of the committee. He added that the objective of a system of justice should be to curb thuggery and corruption, rather than to encourage it.
Naveen Marasinha, an associate project manager says that he is completely against the decision of the SLFP Disciplinary Committee and that it does not appear to be just and fair. He believes that as Mervyn Silva has done many wrongs in the past which have been unaccounted for, steps should have been taken to punish him. He also feels that this would send a wrong message to the public if such atrocities go unpunished.
With reference to the current situation regarding justice in Sri Lanka, he is of the view that total justice does not exist in the country or in most parts of the world. He added that even though we do not have a hundred percent perfect system, proper verdicts have been given in the past and changes must take place in the Sri Lankan judiciary in future.
Sunil Wetthasinha, an entrepreneur, said that he is completely against the decision of the SLFP Disciplinary Committee as there were many onlookers who witnessed this incident. He believes that there was sufficient evidence to indict the Minister, as there was even island wide coverage of his unlawful action. Wetthasinha went on to say that considering the fact that justice is non-existent in Sri Lanka, the Samurdhi officer would have been intimidated into making such a statement.
Parinda Bulathsinhala, a student, feels that the decision that was taken by the committee was not fair as there is a great likelihood that the Samurdhi officer may have been under duress to issue such an affidavit. He also said that given Mervyn Silva’s caliber, there is a high probability that the Samurdhi officer did not issue an affidavit on his own will.
A secretary of a former parliamentarian who wished to remain anonymous, was of the view that the conduct of the minister was ethically wrong and strong disciplinary action should have been taken against him. However, she also believes that as government servants are not working in an efficient manner, the Minister’s action cannot be completely condemned.
Further, as the Minister had publicly declared that he would take a strong stance against the eradication of dengue, thus making a prior warning before resorting to such action, she believes that the verdict of the committee was correct. However, as there are many stories and speculation regarding this incident, she said that it is difficult to ascertain the credibility of the verdict. She went onto say that as the wife of the concerned Samurdhi officer refrained from engaging in any form of interviews due to the incessant threats that they were receiving, it is very likely that the Samurdhi officer may have been threatened into issuing such an affidavit.
She also said that this view is further established by the fact that the officer went into hiding and did not appear at the three-wheel park which he previously visited frequently. She believes that currently a yes-men culture is being perpetuated in Sri Lanka where ones survival is closely associated with ones allegiance towards a certain political party.
Tamara Fernando, an Attorney-at-Law, said that as the committee could not find sufficient evidence to charge him, the decision of the disciplinary committee was fair. She also said that as an affidavit cannot be obtained without one’s consent, it is unlikely that the Samurdhi officer would have been under any form of duress to issue such a statement. As the charges against Mervyn Silva could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt, she went onto say that it was correct for the charges to be dropped.
Roshan Pieris, a company director, said that this whole incident is a farce which does not contain any element of truth. He believes that the photographic evidence proves that the Samurdhi officer was thoroughly mentally and physically harassed by him being tied to a tree and it did not appear that he willingly underwent such degrading treatment. He also does not feel that this was a staged incident and believes that this whole incident speaks volumes about the justice system in Sri Lanka.
According to his recollection, the Disciplinary Committee found three grounds to exonerate Silva, which were lack of evidence, no complaint made against the Minister and issuing of an affidavit. With regard to the claim that there was lack of evidence, he believes this incident was witnessed by many government officials who could have been easily traced through the photographs. He finds it ironic that such a public episode which was even covered by state media is claimed to have no sufficient evidence, while those involved in crimes that occur in private have been given proper punishment taking ‘circumstantial evidence’ into consideration.
With reference to there being no formal complaint, Pieris went on to say that the President appointed such a committee as there was a complaint against Mervyn Silva. He also said that as reports held that the Samurdhi officer went missing following this incident, are we to believe that he went missing to prepare an affidavit?
Shalini Goonesekara, an accountant said that the decision of the Disciplinary Committee is appalling. She went on to say that such a decision would have been strongly influenced by politics and was far from being free and fair, adding that recent incidents of public violence have proven time and time again that justice only serves a selected crowd in Sri Lanka.
She said that one must be on the correct side of the coin to reap the benefits of the justice system in Sri Lanka. She also said that claims regarding the inadequacy of information to reprimand Mervyn Silva are unacceptable and the reinstatement of the Minister goes to prove that justice has been a dream of the past and not part of the present.
From the voice of the people, it is clear that a majority opposes the ‘investigation’ process and the verdict of the Disciplinary Committee, while there were a few who did not condemn Mervyn Silva’s actions and felt that his conduct was justifiable. It is interesting to note that with a rapidly degenerating system of justice in the country, many were fearful of engaging in this interview as the subject matter is of an ‘un-opposable’ nature. Clearly, this shows that Sri Lankans’ freedom of thought and freedom of expression is tampered upon due to public threats made by Mervyn Silva. One may only hope that this incident is not a premonition of things to come, but rather will serve as an opportunity for the system of justice to redeem itself.