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The numeral eight has become a lucky number for Rajapaksa regime

Nov 28, 2010 9:47:40 AM- transcurrents.com

by Mangala Samaraweera

Mr. Speaker,

After indulging in a multi million dollar inauguration of his ill gotten second term 0n 19th Nov. – an extravaganza which would have made even Kim Jong Il of North Korea envious, President Rajapakse, on the 22nd presented the first budget of the ‘new era’, promising to make Sri Lanka ‘the emerging wonder of Asia.’ In order to facilitate his vision for our country, the god of the sun and the moon and the stars (naturally outshining Prabhakaran who called himself the Sun God) also appointed the worlds largest number of Ministers the same morning. Name board ministries were distributed while ensuring that over70% of the national budget remained within the family.

In an unprecedented display of arrogance and hubris, the regime subscribed experienced and able Ministers to political obscurity by calling them senior ministers while thuggish underworld elements were promoted as Cabinet Ministers. Like Emperor Caligula who appointed an ass to senate to express his contempt and disdain for the political establishment of his time, the present leaders have expressed their hatred of the traditional SLFP leadership.

In the classic ‘newspeak’ of the Rajapakse regime, the President painted a rosy picture of our country while presenting us with a collection of statistics during the budget while conveniently forgetting almost all the promises given to the people during the last Presidential and General elections. Many statistics given to Parliament in the budget speech, directly contradicts figures put out by other arms of this very government. The budget speech claims that ‘the per capita income this year is expected to be around US$2,375 in comparison to US$ 1,000 five years ago.’

However the Household Income and Expenditure Survey 0f July 2010, put out by the Department of Census and Statistics claims that per capita income in 2009 was RS.8931 per month which is 107,172 per year which is US$ 952 – a far cry from the touted $2,375. Who is telling the truth and who is misleading Parliament? Perhaps the Secretary to the treasury – who obviously wrote the budget speech- must be charged for misleading Parliament and the President.

Mr. Speaker,

Although the budget speech is full of such lies or to be more Parliamentary, full of such inexactitudes, many of which would have been dealt with by my colleagues here in the house, I would now like to move onto to the central theme of the budget which the state media has called an ‘investor friendly budget.’

In fact, in the budget speech, the President says, “we need to reformulate our strategies and the institutional mechanism to improve our investment climate.” In the new global order of the 21stCentaury where both the investors and the consumers they cater to, have become more politically conscious and more politically correct, improving our investment climate does not only mean economic incentives or a skilled labor force. The investment climate of a country is today determined by the political climate there; democracy, human rights and the rule of law been the key indicators of a country’s suitability and the perceived level of corruption in the country.

After the war ended nearly two years, Sri Lanka should have been the preferred destination for foreign investors given the experienced and skilled labor force we have and the other economic incentives extended. In fact, Bloomberg website expresses some of these concerns in a news item published on 23rd Nov., the day after the budget, captioned ‘ Sri Lanka’s post war boom misses investors weary of corruption’. It says that ‘overseas investors remain concerned about corruption and red tape. Foreign direct investment fell to $208m in the first six months from $253m for the same period in 2009.’

Also, this news item goes onto say,

‘Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International ranked Sri Lanka 91st out of 178 countries on Oct. 26 in terms of corruption 90 places below Singapore.’


“In July the European Union rescinded Sri Lanka’s preferential trade access because of the country’s human rights record, particularly due to violence in the final weeks of the war that killed as many as 15,000 civilians.”

And that

‘Some investors are concerned by the growing power of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. After Rajapaksa was elected to a second term in January and his party swept elections in April, parliament lifted the two-term limit for the presidency. Three of Rajapaksa’s brothers hold top government posts and his 24- year-old son is in parliament.’

Mr. Speaker,

Today, Sri Lanka’s international reputation stands at an all time low and now, Asia’s oldest democracy is perceived as a country well on the path to dictatorship and oligarchy. Despite the democratic trimmings and slogans, since the passage of the notorious 18th Amendment on the 8th of Sept. Sri Lanka has become a constitutional autocracy.

Incidentally, this regime’s lucky number seems to be 8. Presidential elections in 2005 were on a 17th and on a 26th. Both numbers add up to 8! I was removed from the cabinet on an 8th and Sarah Fonseka was arrested on the 8th February this year and the General Elections were on the 8th April. Strangely, Lasantha Wickrametunge was killed on an 8th and Sripathi Sooriarachchi’s fatal high-speed accident on an 8th. Our leaders seems to have a lot in common with Prabhakharan, the former son god who was also a firm believer in numerology and planned most of his mayhem according to it.

Getting back to more serious stuff, Mr. Speaker,

This new Amendment has now passed into law, killing the progressive 17th amendment, a historic piece of legislation endorsed unanimously by parliament in 2001. While protecting the presidency and keeping it in the hands of the Rajapaksa family, the 18th Amendment also ensures that all appointments to the public service, judiciary and the appointment of the elections commission or commissioner fall under the writ of an almighty executive president. In short, the 18th amendment is a piece of Rajapaksa legislation that ensures that the Rajapaksa writ holds sway over every single area of governance and public life, exactly that which the 17th Amendment sought to prevent by way of de-politicizing the public service, judiciary, police and ensuring independence during elections.

While all those of us in the political firmament has been determined to redefine the Sri Lankan constitution that would make the presidency more accountable to the people, This regime has checkmated the nation by this constitutional coup or power grab to increase its powers and ensure that the first family remain at the helm of this country for an indefinite time to come. In short the Sri Lankan presidency has now being transformed into the office of an all-powerful dictator.

For those who tell us that the President was re-elected by a popular mandate, it should be recalled that some of the worst dictators the world has ever seen have tried to legitimize their positions by conducting nominal elections. Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein held an election every five years where he was the only candidate. So does Mugabe of Zimbabwe.Adolf Hitler too obtained a 2/3 majority in the Reichstag on 23rd March 1933 to pass the Enabling Act.

Within 12 months of passing this bill empowering Hitler’s cabinet to take over the functions of Parliament, Hitler banned all political parties but his own, wiped out the labor unions, stamped out democratic associations of any kind, abolished freedom of speech and of the press and stifled the independence of the courts.

Without exaggeration, Sri Lanka is now traveling on the same path. Today, this government is trying to ruthlessly destroy the democratic opposition.

Within a fortnight of the Presidential Elections, the common candidate for the opposition, General Sarath Fonseka was dragged out of his office by armed thugs and the most shocking political witch-hunt Sri Lanka has ever seen began. After trial by a kangaroo court, he is today serving 30 months of rigorous imprisonment.

Almost all political parties have been divided and weakened. This governments numbers have been achieved by using the full might of the government’s financial strength, to bribe and entice opposition members to sign over a country’s democratic rights. Where financial enticement failed, the Rajapaksas employed tactics of terror, blackmail and intimidation, threatening lawsuits and trumped up charges against those they needed to pass the 18th Amendment into law.

Democratic activity of any kind is becoming increasingly difficult; posters of the opposition are now banned; the printer of a poster protesting against the 18th Amendment was held for 9 days under Emergency regulations while his wife and family were taken in lieu of the printer until he produced himself at the police. I was also questioned for nearly four hours in the notorious 4th floor of the CID as the head of the communications unit of the UNP.On the 6th of Sept. all cutouts of the leader of the opposition and decorations for the ‘Grama Charika’ in Matara town were destroyed by goon squads using state vehicles with police and army protection. The orders to do so were given by the SecretaryDefense.

Student leaders are rounded up and arrested; even at he moment Udul Premaratne, convener of the Inter University Students and many others are in custody. Nearly 11000 students, youth and others are languishing in jails in the north and their identities are yet to be revealed. Fellow Parliamentarian Sunil Handhunetti was assaulted by armed goon squads, reportedly coming under the Secretary of Defense when he went toJaffna to collect information about these prisoners.

Today, the media has been totally stifled and the fear psychosis is so much, that most if not all journalists subject their articles and reports to self-censorship. Each time I mention any member of the Rajapakse name in a critical manner in any interview, it is discreetly left out in the publication. The general response when I query the omission ‘ I travel by bus and live alone with my wife and family. We don’t want to be killed like Lasantha, we don’t want to be beaten up like Poddhala, we don’t want to disappear into thin air like Ekneligoda nor do we want to live as refugees abroad like many of our colleagues.’

Mr. Speaker,

Another important influence on economic development in developing and emerging markets –applies to emerging miracles as well – is the rule of law. No country has ever achieved economic prosperity for the people by suppressing the rule of law. All those who tried to do so have only brought economic ruin to their people and their country like Zimbabwe, Burma and N. Korea.

In September 2005, the Council of the International Bar Association passed resolution which said;

“The rule of law is the foundation of a civilized society. It establishes a transparent process accessible and equal to all. It ensures adherence to principles that both liberate and protect….”

With this resolution, it listed certain components of the rule of law, among them an independent, impartial judiciary; the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay. It described as ‘unacceptable’ arbitrary arrests, indefinite detention without trial, cruel or degrading treatment or punishment and intimidation and corruption in the electoral process.

Unfortunately for us in Sri Lanka what has been described as unacceptable by the CIBA has now become part and parcel of our society.

Mr. Speaker,

The declaration on the rule of law made by the International Commission of Jurists at Athens in 1955 emphasised that “the state is subject to the law” and declared that “judges should be guided by the rule of law, protect it and enforce it without fear or favour and resist any encroachments by governments or political parties in their independence as judges.”

As I said at the last budget debate in June, the most serious assault against the rule of law today in Sri Lanka is the encroachment of the judiciary by the executive in the most unscrupulous manner. If I may quote from my own speech –

“Although the lower level of judges and magistrates are putting up a valiant and courageous front to preserve their independence, many judges from the higher echelons of the judiciary have compromised their independence and their integrity in the most shocking manner. Plum positions for spouses and offspring’s have been doled out, the promise of promotions {including the promise of promotion to the Supreme Court while others are being tempted with the prospect of been appointed CJ} are used as bait and some are being tempted with diplomatic postings after retirement. Judges are summoned and instructed by the executive himself and lawyers who appear against the interests of the government are threatened and labelled as terrorists by the defence ministry. In fact the defence ministry seems to be gradually replacing the judiciary as judge and executioner.”

In fact, in the same speech made in June, I warned of the consequences if the constitutional amendments are passed.

“This culture of impunity and the rape of the rule of law will be total and complete if the government is allowed to carry out the proposed constitutional amendments giving the executive the ultimate power of appointing the constitutional council. Any semblance of independence these commissions may have had will be stifled and the Police, the judiciary and the elections commission will become mere extensions of the executive dropping any pretences to impartiality they may still have.”

In fact some judges of the court of appeal and the Supreme court seems to have done just that by dropping any pretences to impartiality they may have had prior to the 18th Amendment.

For example the court of appeal is divided into two camps; the pro government group consisting of those who are expecting promotions to the Supreme Court and the independent group who want to carry out their duties in a non-partisan manner. As a result, these judges have lost the respect of the bar and I understand that even General Sarath Fonseka has instructed his lawyers in writing to object to this judge (a nominee of the executive who was initially turned down by the now defunct Constitutional Council) on grounds of bias.

Last week the Supreme Court took an unprecedented step of giving a stay order before a stay order be given by a lower court.

In fact, lawyers are complaining bitterly of another SC judge aspiring to be the next CJ, whose spouse is holding a top appointment in the state sector directly under the purview of the President, who also seems to have dropped any pretences to being impartial.

In the race to become the next CJ, many are now desperately trying to impress the appointing authority. For the first time in history, lawyers and the public were treated to the spectacle of seeing the AG of our country seated in the high court when General Sarath Fonseka’s white flag case was being heard on 23/11.

Despite the obvious bias of certain over ambitious judges, we must also note that the minor judiciary which consists of Magistrates, District Judges, labour tribunal judges, Primary court judges and even high court judges and some of the court of appeal judges have shown impartiality even at the risk of losing perks and promotions.

Even in the Supreme Court, there are some courageous judges who are true to their conscience but such individuals are not put to benches of cases of a political nature whose outcome is crucial to the government.

In fact, many lawyers have spoken to me from Colombo as well as outstations to express their dismay at the current situation and the mood is for all to unite to safeguard the independence of the judiciary from the corrupt few. This emerging mood became very clear at the Bar Association Elections in February when the government sponsored candidate, Palitha Kumarasinghe was defeated resoundingly by the independent candidate, Mr. Shibli Azis.

Mr. Speaker,

The sine qua non for a positive investor climate is a durable peace. However, despite defeating the LTTE nearly two years ago, the government has yet to win the peace by winning the hearts and minds of the Tamil people. The government resorted to In a vulgar and crude display of chauvinistic triumphalism of the Rajapakse regime has alienated the long suffering people of the north and east even more and many of them are finding themselves in a “frying pan into the fire situation” despite being ‘liberated’ from the clutches of the LTTE.

The President in his budget speech talks about “ connecting hearts and minds of our multi ethnic and multi cultural society”. Yet he has not set aside a cent for the nearly 23000 IDPs who are still languishing in Internment camps. Nor is the government concerned about the over hundred thousand displaced families in the north; presently they are only getting 4 poles and 8 corrugated sheets from the government. The last budget set aside a measly RS. 350 per head but this time around that has been suspended. This is in stark contrast to the Defense Ministry increasing its vote by Rs. 13b in spite of the fact that the war is over.

Not only has the government given step-motherly treatment to the Tamils in this country, they are provoking them by many of their actions today.

Last Sunday 21st November was “Thipam day”, a holy festival dedicated to Lord Shiva, celebrated by Hindus throughout the world. However, the people in Jaffna and Killinochchi were banned from lighting lamps and candles and in Jaffna some people, including a lawyer was arrested for doing so.

The government is also following a policy of shameless discrimination in state recruitment. Recently, the government recruited minor staff for the divisional secretariats in Amparai, Batticloa and Vavuniya where the locals were shockingly overlooked. In Amparai, out of 30 minor staff recruited only one was Tamil – 29 were Sinhalese from the south; Ratnapura etc. In Batticloa out 0f 21 recruited, 17 were Sinhalese and only 4 were Tamil. In Vavuniya, out of 21 recruited, 19 were Sinhala, 1 Tamil and one Muslim.

What is equally worrying is the governments plan to change the demography of the north and the east, which would culminate in west bank type of situation in time to come. Although the government continues to deny such claims in public, the army is giving land and creating permanent settlements for army personnel and their families in the North. Already 1000 army families have been given land in Murugandy off the A9 in Killinochchi. Chinese pre fabricated houses are been put up and there are unconfirmed reports that some retired Israeli Military types are here to advice the Defense Ministry on putting up armed Kibbutz type settlements in the North.

Instead of utilizing the great window of opportunity our country got on the 19th May 2009 to win the peace our people are crying out for and ensure that the face of terrorism never raises its ugly head, ever again in our country, the Mahida Rajapakse regime, intoxicated with power is paving the way for yet another uprising in our country with its foolish and short sighted policies.

Although the regime talks about the emerging wonder of Asia, all signs are that we have become the emerging rogue state of Asia.

(Full Text of Parliamentary Speech made by Mr. Mangala Samaraweera on November 27th 2010)