by Ashanthi Warunasuriya
The political environment of our country took a different turn since the beginning of this year. Many have called it a ‘transition period’. While all the political statuses remained heated up, the birth of a new political culture have set an example for all in the political arena.
However, as the present government came into power, among the promises it had given to the people was the promise of finding and punishing the culprits who are responsible for the misdeeds of the previous government. And having faith on the vows, on January 08 the people in Sri Lanka gave their mandate in favour of creating a new political culture in the country.
As soon as the government was formed, charges were filed against many alleged wrongdoers. Among them were the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his ministers and officials. And as the investigations on fraud and corruption were initiated, the former president was put to question before a presidential inquiry commission. However, this is not the first time such a thing had happened in the country. And even in other countries there are instances where state leaders have been put on trial for wrongdoings they had committed and even punished.
But the topic has become controversial in Sri Lanka as some have argued that there is no legal power to question a former President for acts committed during his period of office. Many have expressed different opinion on the matter.
As such The Sunday Leader decided to seek the opinion of several intellectuals as to how accurate it is to bring a former president before a presidential inquiry for questioning.
Following are excerpts of their comments:
Prof, Mayura Samarakoon,
Head of Sociology and Anthropology department,University of Sri Jayawardhanapura
No matter what the social rack of a person is, be it a former president or not, there must be an ability to inquire the alleged wrongdoings that have been committed by him during his period of office. Otherwise they would be able to behave in an arbitrary manner.
In this instance the right to bring president before a court has not been executed. However, if what is going on is Good Governance then there must be an ability to question even the rulers.
The openness is very important. And within the democratic framework there must be adequate opportunity for such a quest.
This is provided by the provisions in the constitution. However, this was not achieved for a satisfactory level even by the 19th amendment.
It has only focused on the aspect of violating human rights. Still a president cannot be brought before a court.
This must be rectified inside the democratic framework via the 19th or 20th amendments. If not for an outsider who is looking at the issue, it might look like an act of political revenge.
SO in this way we must not have to wait until the president is out of power in order to capture him and charge him for the alleged wrongdoings that have been committed by him during the period of office. The constitutions must be reformed in allowing it to happen during the time when he is in office.
Rev. Shantha Sagara,
Editor, Gnanartha Pradeepaya
Under the existing constitutional framework there is no opportunity for a president to be put on trial during the period of office. But in previous instances when issues similar to this had sprung up, we saw how former presidents were questioned regarding alleged wrongdoings. And if there is any problem regarding the procedure, I see no problem in inquiring and clarifying the matters, for the transparency and openness of the two parties is preserved. We do not need to conceal anything. And there is no point in concealing anything that is suspicious either. And if we take former President Mahinda Rajapaksa for an instance he has once again become a public representative by being an MP.
So as a public representative he is bound to show the public the truth. And if he knows that he is innocent, there is no need of disrupting these questionings by acting anxious.
Under the concepts of equality and respect, there is a need to change these specific immunities that have been given to the president. Otherwise some may even misuse this power to do wrong.
However, in the public eye it is important to have these types of questioning to prevent all wrong opinions.
Dr. Tudor Weerasinghe,
Senior Lecturer, University of Colombo Sri Pali Campus
Today reports of many alleged acts of fraud and corruption are being told by many. And when pointing fingers the responsibility goes to the former president and the group of ministers and officials who had served under him.
This is something that has taken place inside a well laid structure. And the relevant officials are bound by the due responsibility. And when questioning these officials it must be sought whether these issues do run up to the president.
And if we look in to our history, even though there are many instances where presidents and their fellow officials have been questioned on alleged wrongdoings, it is only in few occasions that they have been punished for any wrongdoing.
We take the present scenario, we can see that it has gone beyond the status of a legal procedure and has become a propaganda medium. This is one of the weakest points in our political culture. So there must be a higher legal structure to mitigate these issues. And it is because of these lapses in law that when it comes to these instances structures that go beyond the law are being created. And it is the similar process where hybrid courts take in to action.
And under these circumstances due to various international connections and political needs issues about power arises. So rather than punishing the wrongdoers, the trend in our political culture have been to use it as a tool to boost propaganda.
So it is important to create a new democratic constitution for a democratic country where every citizen is given equal rights and freedom.
Only then can the law operate against wrongdoers well. The legal structures cannot lay stagnant all the time. They must constantly change with the time and need.
Attorney at Law
This was not changed by the 19th amendment. Under our law of the land no one can challenge the President in this regard. Under the 19th amendment it is only in case of a violation of fundamental rights action could be sought against a President.
If we take former President Mahinda Rajapaksa for an example he was first accused of giving away ministerial portfolios.
Then he was accused of failing to pay the election campaign bills. And here the former President has made a statement claiming that the money has been paid.
So this is ethically wrong. And as I see it this is just an instance of a political revenge.
Prof. Desmond Mallikarachchi
We call him the ‘Sovahan monk’. And when a head teacher becomes and ordinary teacher, we do not call him the former head master. He is only called a teacher. So it is the similarthing that we see here in this instance as well.
The former position does not come in the way of a person’s present position. I’m not a lawyer and I do not know the exact legal provisions on the issue. But my personal view is that if there has been an error then we must look in to it. If there is no accountability then there is no point of law. In the world history there are many instances where Presidents have been taken in to courts. And if there is an issue that has to be resolved by going before the law, there is no fault in resorting to such a path and getting the name cleared. The constitution of Sri Lanka has to undergo a lot of changes in this regard. If the President is the first citizen, then he must set example by going before the law and proving his innocence. And if there had been an error made, then there must be adequate opportunity given to rectify that error.
If we consider the past events we can see that there were instances where those who had been convicted of grievous offences had been given special presidential pardon. It is one of the main reasons for the increased rate of crimes in the country.
However, we must not rush in to action just because the commission of inquiry had obtained evidence from former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
What is important is to carry this out under the ordinary legal framework.
Rajakiya Panditha Most Ven. Wehigala Saradha Thero
When we take the word politics in Sinhalese, the term ‘country’ is seen inside it. But if we take the present political situation, we can see hateful politics where everyone is trying to overcome other by any means necessary. However, we must all respect the former president for ending the war. But when any problem arises, there is no you of either taking the favouring side or the objecting side. And also if there had been anything wrong that has been committed then there must be a personality for them to rectify it by accepting their mistakes.
If we take history for example thereare countless example for such events. So at any time, the rulers must practice nonviolence. And they must take the middle path when dong everything. Everyone wants to protect their self-esteem. In previous times punishments were fixed. But in today’s politics we cannot find totally pure characters. Everything changes upon money, positions and power. However, we must look at things in a balanced manner. And if the person in question in a special person, then it is important to set a proper example for the future when dealing with such cases.
Dr. Aminda Methsila Perera,
Senior Lecturer, Department of finance and management, North Western University
When parent give birth to a child and raise him, in later years when that child commits some wrongdoings they are not going to kill the child for doing so. And similarly even if the president had brought peace and freedom to the country, if he had used the country as his own private property, then there must be some legal punishment for those wrongdoings.
The common thing that we have seen throughout these years is that all the rulers who have come in to power in this country were good only during their first term in office. And as time goes by their good nature starts erode. It is only in the beginning of their term in office they are going to be good.
And even the people have given their approval for good work by electing former President Rajapaksa for a second term. And even after that respecting is good deeds, the people have elected him as an MP to represent the parliament. SO in this regard, if anyone has done anything wrong then the common fate that is shared by all wrongdoers must await them.
It is important to execute the law equally upon everyone. We must also mind ourselves not to become slaves to our emotions.
And in the end if there had actually been any wrong done, the punishment too must be given by considering the honour of the person and the social status he had bourn. These are all qualities of a civilized society.
According to the 78’ constitution this cannot be done to a president.
But this was changed by the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa by himself in order to bring former President Chandrika Kumarathunga before court for the Water’s Edge and Insurance Corporation cases.
So if that had happened then then this could happen now. If it is actually the concept of Good Governance that is being ruled in this country at present then I do not see any fault in taking measures to ensure the equal treatment to all the citizens and to do justice against any wrongdoings resulting in fair treatment.