By Tisaranee Gunasekara
“Nothing is closer to the law of the jungle than a system of distorted laws and procedures”
Haaretz Editorial (2.1.2012)
President Rajapaksa won the Eelam War, with the help of countless others (including the imprisoned Gen. Fonseka). In fairytales, the hero who saves a country from some deadly peril is rewarded with kingship and a happy ever-after ensues. In real life, when heroes claim countries as their reward, tyranny beckons and tragedy happens.
The 18th Amendment transformed independent commissions into Presidential appendages. The politicisation of the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) is one more step in that Rajapaksa-drive for borderless power. During the Eliyanthe White scandal, the SLMC courageously condemned the antics of that Presidential-quack. Such principled conduct may be beyond the SLMC in the future because it has suffered the same fate that befell the independent commissions and the Attorney General’s Department: “A treasury circular was issued some months ago informing medical organisations about a decision to list the SLMC as a public enterprise…” (Daily Mirror – 26.11.2011). Last week Prof. Carlo Fonseka was foisted on the SLMC as its head, arbitrarily, sans any consultations, even though “the GMOA with 40 other institutions connected to the medical professions wrote to the President…requesting not to appoint Prof. Fonseka to the post” (Colombo Page – 3.1.2012). As the GMOA pointed out, “According to the Medical Ordinance the SLMC Chairman should have no political affiliations to be able to function independently” (Daily Mirror – 30.12.2011). Though an accomplished medical professional, Prof. Fonseka is very much a man of political affiliations. But the real danger lies in the politicisation of the SLMC. If Prof. Fonseka acts autonomously, thus in a manner displeasing to the regime, he can be removed as arbitrarily as he was appointed and replaced with an unaccomplished yes-man. (The sad fate of the Central Bank under its accountant-cum-failed politician Governor is a warning to all other institutions).
Gramsci wrote that though in pre-Revolutionary Russia, “the state was everything and civil society was primordial and gelatinous”, in the West “the state was only an outer ditch, behind which there stood a powerful system of fortresses and earthworks…” (Prison Notebooks). In Sri Lanka, civil society was closer to the Western rather than the Russian model. Autonomous entities such as the SLMC were important components of that civil society, while measures such as the 17th Amendment were aimed at further strengthening it. But such a civil society is inimical to the Rajapaksa project. Thus the Siblings have launched a ‘war of manoeuvre’ to weaken and occupy this ‘system of fortresses and earthworks’. Only total power will satisfy the Rajapaksas; no institution is safe from the reach of their grasping fingers.
AL Fiasco, Tangalle-Lynching and Rajapaksa Governance
Development is the current Rajapaksa-mantra – the regime’s quid-pro-quo for Familial Rule. But is it possible to believe in this promise after the AL results fiasco? If an administration cannot do what all its predecessors did, and release the results of the most crucial examination in the education system without massive errors, it indicates a degree of ineptitude which cannot be dealt with by sacking a single official or blaming overworked computer operators.
Anyone who sat for the AL exam would know the effort which goes into it and the hopes which ride on it. Perhaps the regime’s irreverent attitude to education (symbolised by the appointment of a tuition-merchant as the Education Minister and a Neanderthal as the Higher Education Minister) would be explicable if a recent WikiLeaks cable is accurate. According to the cable, Mahinda Rajapaksa “did not complete his Advanced Level…education, instead leaving his job as a clerk at the library at Sri Jayawarendapura University…to run for his late father’s seat…. Taking advantage of a decision by the then-Justice Minister to allow MPs to enter law school, whether or not they had the necessary educational qualifications, Rajapaksa graduated from Sri Lanka Law College…” (Colombo Telegraph).
Criminals exist in all societies but not every society is plagued by criminals enjoying impunity because of their political positions/connections. Tourists dying or getting killed is not uncommon, but tourists being lynched and raped by political chieftains is singular. The chilling account by a Canadian tourist paints a word-picture of a lynching of an unarmed man by bloodthirsty thugs, unmoved by either the agony of their victim or the gravity of their deed. Kharum Shaikh “was walking and hunched over hugging himself. Things were being thrown at him and he was being beaten while he was walking. He made it to end of the pool area where they caught up to him. Three guys were bearing down on him and then attacked him. This is where I believe he was again wounded severely by the broken bottle and they slashed his throat. He only made it another 15 feet where he collapsed and did not get back up’” (Rochdale Observer – 30.12.2011).
When Sampath Chandrapushpa, an important cog in the Rajapaksa politico-electoral machine in Hambantota, became implicated in the killing of an elderly woman during the 2010 Presidential election, the police informed the court that he was ‘mentally ill’. That assessment seems correct. According to neuroscientist Dr. Kent Kiehl, a psychopath is someone “suffering from a disorder…someone who scores high on traits such as lack of empathy, guilt and remorse… They are very impulsive: they tend not to plan or think before acting” (BBC – 15.11.2011 ). Had the authorities taken the next logical step and committed Sampth Chandrapushpa to institutionalised-care, society (and tourists) would have been safe from his brutal excesses. Instead the authorities freed him, gave him nominations and elevated him to the head of a local government body. Even his guns may have come at public expense!
So far no Rajapaksa has condemned the alleged crimes (murder and rape) of their henchman; nor has he been suspended from the UPFA or removed from his position as Chairman. Incidentally, many people saw Minister Mervyn Silva tying a public official to a tree. But none came forward to testify against him. Is there any guarantee that a similar miscarriage of justice will not happen in the Tangalle case, especially if Sampath Chandrapushpa is given bail?
The AL results fiasco is only the latest in a series of politico-administrative bungling, such as the hedging deal and the importation of substandard fuel. The Tangalle lynching is a milestone in a process of transformation which turns key Rajapaksa political acolytes into warlords with a law unto themselves. Both outrages are intimately connected to Rajapaksa governance. Every institution is being ‘occupied’ and rendered not just servile but also inept. Any bureaucrat who is willing to kowtow to the Rajapaksas can be reasonably confident of advancement; those who are unwilling to do so can expect stagnation at best.
It is not true that in dictatorships trains run on time; dictatorships are better at effacing the reality of delayed-trains than democracies. Efficacy, honesty and legality are non-essentials in such a system. Under Rajapaksa governance, the essential virtue is subservience; sins of omission and commission (including crimes) are forgiven if the perpetrators are loyal acolytes. If this modus operandi remains, other fiascos and other crimes, of even greater magnitude, will follow, endangering public safety and subverting economic development.