Shooting the messenger

Wednesday 29th September, 2021

Former UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake once sought to ridicule the Army, in a parliamentary speech, at the height of war, by claiming that some troops were going towards Medawachchi, thinking it was Kilinochchi, and others were heading for Pamankada, having mistaken it for Alimankada. We would have agreed with him if he had said something similar about the Sri Lanka Police, for they are all at sea; they have proved once again that they do not know whether they are coming or going.

There has been a mega garlic racket at Sathosa, as is public knowledge. Sathosa recently purchased a consignment of garlic, weighing 56,000 kilos in two uncleared freight containers at Rs. 105 a kilo from the Ports Authority and sold it to a trader at Rs. 135 a kilo. The racketeers at Sathosa were planning to repurchase the same garlic stock at Rs. 445 a kilo and sell it to the public at a price above Rs. 500. The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) scuttled their plan, and its Executive Director Thushan Gunawardena came under pressure to step down, and he eventually gave in. The Island reported the racket, quoting Thushan himself, and its editorial, ‘Of that den of thieves’ (22 Sept.) was based on its news items.

Thushan has stood by his statements to the media and offered to assist the CID. Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena has taken on Thushan, claiming that the latter has defamed him; he has lodged a complaint with the police. What the CID should have done was either to take action based on Thushan’s claims which we carried with comments from Minister Gunawardena’s Media Secretary, and State Minister of Co-Operative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Protection, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, under whose purview the CAA comes, or to ask him (Thushan) whether he could prove his claims. Instead, the CID chose to summon the journalists concerned!

Minister Gunawardena and some government propagandists supportive of him have claimed that the journalists who exposed the garlic racket, published the former CAA Executive Director’s views and commented thereon are conspiring against him (Gunawardena), and the government! As for conspiracies against governments, can Minister Gunawardena recall the names of those who plotted against the Kumaratunga administration and brought it down in 2001 while being members of it? They are the real conspirators, aren’t they?

The CID should stop offering its services as a cat’s paw to cornered politicians who want journalists harassed for exposing various rackets. Even the Cabinet of Ministers has deemed the police action at issue unwarranted and deplorable. But the CID continues to harass the media. Yesterday, it visited the Lankadeepa office.

The CID ought to use its time and energy productively because there are many unsolved crimes in this country. It has not yet traced the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday carnage, or the killers of journalists such as The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge.

As for the garlic racket, the matters that the CID wants to question the journalists of The Island, the Divaina, and the Lankadeepa on, are already in the public domain. They have nothing new to reveal. So, instead of grilling journalists on the Sathosa racket by way of harassment and intimidation, shouldn’t the CID summon and interrogate those who are accused of having committed real crimes such as entering prisons, holding inmates at gunpoint and threatening to kill them? Why hasn’t the CID questioned State Minister Lohan Ratwatte for what he is alleged to have done inside the Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons? Aren’t the allegations against him serious enough to warrant even interrogation?

There have been numerous rackets at Sathosa under successive governments, and they could not have been carried out without the knowledge of the political authority. Some of the former Trade Ministers have been questioned on corrupt deals that have cost the state coffers dear. They also adopted the same ruse as crafty pickpockets, who shout, “Pickpocket, pickpocket,’ while outrunning their pursuers.

Let President Gotabaya Rajapaksa be urged to take over the Ministry of Trade and the State Ministry of Co-Operative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Protection immediately so that the garlic racketeers cannot cover their tracks and intimidate witnesses.

Thank you

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