Corruption Vs CORRUPTION

In Anti Corruption on September 6, 2011 by uvinduk Tagged: , , , , ,

By Uvindu Kurukulasuriya

Sarath Silva at the seminar also said that, “The government media is today charging that all my decisions were wrong. If that is so, even my decision in favor of the President is wrong, and he is a fraudster.”

“Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?” – Lord Denning.

Lord Denning’s rhetorical question used to be entirely relevant when Sarath Nanda Silva was Chief Justice of Sri Lanka. With Sarath Silva taking on the mantle of anti-corruption campaigner-in-chief, it is also relevant now. Silva appearing in this hypocritical guise has the potential to destroy the struggle against corruption in Sri Lanka.

Let us not permit President Mahinda Rajapaksa to ask, “How dare you call me a thief of Tsunami aid, when you are the one who misused World Bank funds given for law and justice sector reforms as if this money was your personal account?” Let us not permit President Rajapaksa to say, “How dare you call me a dictator, when you abused your authority and judicial power to the detriment of innocent people.”
Fighting against corruption is itself an issue of integrity. There are several definitions and interpretations of the meaning of corruption. The general meaning is, “where a person, who should act with integrity, is guilty of dishonesty by accepting some form of bribe.” Another interpretation says, “A person who is entrusted with a public or private duty or obligation, to solicit any kind of inducement in whatever way other than what he/she is entitled to, in order to discharge such duty or obligation. Corruption takes place where people abuse their power for their own benefit, but not for what they have been obliged to do according rules. Public office used for private gain causes loss to the government and to the public”. According to Transparency International, there are many forms of corruption such as bribery, embezzlement, theft and fraud, extortion, abuse of discretion, favoritism, nepotism and clientelism, conduct creating or exploiting conflict of interests, and improper political contributions.
Retired Chief Justice Sarath Silva is a prime example of someone who has indulged in most of these forms of corruption. He was, without a doubt, the most corrupt Chief Justice of Sri Lanka. An attempt was made by Parliament to impeach him on 6th June 2001. The United National Party and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna acted in unison to move the motion of impeachment against the Chief Justice. The detailed allegations set out in that impeachment motion, in addition to the hundreds of columns in the independent press especially Sinhala weekly Ravaya at the time, are of such a serious nature that a man of integrity would have immediately stepped down.
On 16th May 2001, the JVP issued a press release regarding the matter. The communiqué said, “…whatever the wrong committed at the time the present Chief Justice was appointed is not diminished at all by what is mentioned above. We believe that the course of action followed in appointing the Chief Justice, and his acceptance of that appointment are both against morality. It has done serious damage to the purity and the impartiality of the law. It was because no one who values democracy, the fairness of the law and morality can support it that ideas arose from various communities of the country against this appointment. Although the rulers who appointed the Chief Justice may have no morality we believe that the Chief Justice may have refrained from accepting this appointment because it is his duty to defend the dignity of the judiciary. We also think that, in the alternative, he should have resigned from his post in an honorable way when the people’s protests were coming. However no such thing happened and this has become a matter which raises doubts about the dignity and fairness of the judiciary. We have no personal problem with Mr. Sarath N. Silva. However we also firmly believe that such immoral acts should not become precedents for the future…What must be said finally is that as a party which values the survival of democracy in the country and which seeks the independence and the dignity of the judiciary, the JVP opposes anyone who desecrates the independence of the judiciary.”
The same JVP is now lionising and promoting the same Sarath Silva as the champion of anti-corruption.  Has the JVP changed its stance about Sarath Silva? How has he changed from being a violator of the law and morality to the JVP’s publicity front-man now? What does the JVP now say about the allegations in the impeachment motion? Using Sarath Silva in the fight against corruption only undermines the ongoing campaign ‘Voice Against Corruption’ which has been launched under the political leadership of the JVP.
Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva used to be a good friend of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Many years ago, Silva’s young son was even among Mahinda Rajapaksa’s wedding entourage as a page boy.
I am reminded of my own experience with President Rajapaksa, then Minster of Fisheries. Once, Sarath Silva expressed his wish to resign from his post as Attorney General due to pressure brought by the press. Mahinda Rajapaksa immediately went to see Sarath Silva, along with Attorney Chandima Weerakkody (now Deputy Speaker), Dr. Ajith Ranawaka (now the President’s physician), and popular actor Kamal Addararachchi, and convinced him of the importance of staying on as AG. When I heard that story, I met Mahinda Rajapaksa and asked about it. He was unfazed. He took me by the hand and led me to his sitting room, where he pointed to his wedding photo hanging on the wall and said, “Look at this. This is Sarath’s son.” Sarath Silva’s son was the pageboy at Mahinda Rajapaksa’s wedding, in the early 1970s. That was the relationship they had.
Ironically, Chandrika Kumaratunga’s own political appointee Sarath Silva was to turn against her in favour of her would-be successor. On 26th August 2005, Chief Justice Sarath Silva ruled that President Kumaratunga must step down from the presidency by December 2005, even though she argued she had another year in her term, paving the way for Rajapaksa to stand for election.
In 2005, a series of in-depth investigative articles were published in The Sunday Leader on the ‘Helping Hambantota’ scandal, where it was alleged that post-tsunami reconstruction funds received by the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa were being siphoned off into a private bank account controlled by him. Based on these articles, the opposition UNP made a complaint to the Police and to the Bribery Commission, and Rajapaksa was to be arrested. Before any action could be taken on the complaint, Prime Minister and presidential candidate, Mahinda Rajapaksa quickly filed a fundamental rights application. Chief Justice Sarath Silva, not surprisingly, gave a decision in favour of Rajapaksa and also stated in his order that he cannot act on the basis of newspaper reports.
However, after he retired from the bench, Chief Justice Sarath Silva confessed at a seminar in March 2010, titled “Law, Democracy and the Country’s Future” at the Jayewardene Centre, that “Rajapaksa filed a fundamental rights application and…I took the stand not whether the complaint was true or false…but that it was politically motivated. If we had not taken such a decision…if the President had been remanded on the tsunami fraud allegations, he would never have been able to contest elections”, Silva added.
It is important to note that following the investigations by The Sunday Leader, Rajapaksa was compelled to even return some of the moneys from his private account back to the donors. Therefore, in one sense, Silva was right to say that it was not a question of whether the allegations were true or false, but whether there was in fact political motivation. The difference is that such political motivation came from the Supreme Court bench, rather than from the newspaper that exposed this corruption.
Sarath Silva at the seminar also said that, “The government media is today charging that all my decisions were wrong. If that is so, even my decision in favor of the President is wrong, and he is a fraudster.”
What does this imply? Where is the integrity of this man? Before they go championing this man the JVP must understand one thing: change begins with us. Sydney Smith once said, “Nations fall when Judges are unjust, because there is nothing the multitude thinks worth defending.” That is what happened to Sri Lanka. The man who is responsible for it – the most corrupt, partial and politicized judge in Sri Lankan history – is now talking about justice, democracy, good governance and corruption. Any movement for good governance in Sri Lanka that uses this man as its public face is bound to meet ignominious failure.

First published 2011/ 09/04


Waging war in silence

In Uncategorized on September 3, 2011 by uvinduk Tagged: , , ,

A picture released by the government said to show troops in the war zone in Sri Lanka. On Monday, the country's 25-year civil war was declared over. Photograph: Reuters

Press freedom: The Sri Lankan government won the battle by effectively shutting out access and allowing only selected media to join guided tours

Are governments at war winning the battle of controlling the international media? Of course they are. The Sri Lankan government has already won that battle.

Why am I saying this in this year’s World Press Freedom Day discussion? Because my own experience in my country, Sri Lanka, provides no alternative for me.

As the Sri Lankan government, in conjunction with the army, continues to push toward a military solution and announcing that victoryagainst the LTTE is imminent, independent information about the war has been reduced to a minimum. As one foreign correspondent said to the latest press freedom mission, “We have had no access to the field of operations for a year and now authorities refuse to give us casualty figures.” One photographer working for an international news agency said: “Now they are even banning some media from covering military parades.”

The government has decided to stop releasing figures for soldiers killed and wounded in the conflict; for the past several months, the army had already stopped releasing numbers of soldiers “missing in action”. In April 2008 the army banned the media from going into hospitals where soldiers wounded after bloody battles in the north were being treated.

There is no longer a single foreign correspondent in Jaffna. The last to leave, Vincent Jeyan, was a stringer for the Associated Press. He was forced to leave the country after receiving death threats. Almost five local correspondents for foreign outlets were forced to leave the country, including prominent journalist and CNN correspondent Iqbal Athas, Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi from Reuters and Gamunu Amarasinghe from the AP.

There has been a serious deterioration in the security situation for the Sri Lankan media with threats, abductions and attacks. At least 16 media workers have been killed since August 2005 and there have been numerous death threats and incidents of harassment including violent attempts to stop the distribution of newspapers. Moreover, even in cases where evidence exists of the identity of the killers, the relevant authorities have apparently taken little or no action. Those supporting negotiated settlement are often labelled as “traitors”.

The international media cannot and does not work independently of what is happening in the local media. What the government has done is effectively control the flow of information. Today, the technology has developed to a level that the distinction between the local and foreign media has greatly blurred. The internet has helped the local media to have an international reach. Therefore, controlling the local media is also equal to controlling the international media.

The government won the battle by effectively shutting out access and allowing only selected media to join guided tours. It won simply by not allowing anyone to go to the conflict area. By blocking access to civilians, including those who manage to escape the war zone and seek shelter in government-controlled areas. By refusing or delaying visas for foreign journalists. By indirect censorship. By creating a climate of fear among journalists.

The problem with winning the battle to control the media is that it cannot be sustained for a long time. It could be a classic case of winning the battle and losing the war.

The government has created a serious credibility issue. It has also allowed its adversary, the LTTE and their proxies (example Tamilnet) to resort to similar tactics. Overall, when the audience is aware that journalists and independent observers have no access to the information, they tend to believe the horror stories coming out from the opposition.

Last week AP carried a story that 6,500 civilians had been killed, quoting UN documents. In the same week the foreign minister, addressing heads of diplomatic mission, said where the security forces were concerned there were zero casualties. Now the question is how to verify which story is accurate?

I would like to draw your attention to Andrew Stroehlein’s recent article, “Welcome to a world without foreign correspondents”, in which he says:


The other example of a crisis unfolding mostly not before our eyes is Sri Lanka, where over the past few months the situation in the north east has become incredibly desperate for some 150,000 civilians trapped in an ever-shrinking “safe zone” between their government that is shelling them and the cult-like LTTE rebels who shoot them if they try to escape. Today, as my colleague writes, “A mass slaughter of civilians will take place Tuesday at noon. And everyone knows it.” Once again, foreign correspondents are unable to cover the story, this time because the government is not allowing them in to the region.



• For other articles in our World Press Freedom Day series click here



Attacking Tamils continues – No lesson learnt

In Human Rights on September 3, 2011 by uvinduk Tagged: , , , ,


IATR attack and TNA attack  

By Uvindu Kurukulasuriya

“that the refusal of the government to appoint a Presidential Commission to inquire into the seven deaths and the conduct of the Police which led to those deaths, was a prime cause of the demand for a separate state.”   Leader of the Opposition  Appapillai  Amirthalingam – before the Sansoni Commission

Just two weeks ago on June 16, A group of Tamil parliamentarians from Sri Lanka’s largest Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) who had gathered to discuss their political campaign for the up coming local elections was attacked by army personnel.

The TNA political planning meeting was being held in a village called Alaveddy outside the city of Jaffna when some 15-20 uniformed army personnel wielding poles, batons and rods entered the Saiva Maha Sabhai hall premises at Alaveddy and assaulted those present at the meeting. Government spokespersons have argued that the meeting was unauthorized. The TNA has pointed out that it was not a public meeting and hence did not require the approval of the Police.

Meaningless probes

According to the State controlled Daily News newspaper, the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, four days after incident had ordered a probe and necessary action against the attackers.
Let me focus on four points. First, from past experience it is hard to believe that the culprits will be brought to justice. It is two weeks since the incident took place and so far no one has been arrested. People are yet to be informed of the outcome of the promised investigation. That is the Sri Lankan experience.
The culture of impunity has continued to grow in Sri Lanka with no accountability. Impunity continues to be the norm regarding any form of human rights violation in Sri Lanka. Last month, Lanka Independent exposed the mindset behind this kind of repression. We explained what happened to a commission of inquiry appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Attack at the Tamil Research Conference of 1974

Secondly, the argument put forward by the government that the meeting was unauthorized despite the fact the TNA pointing out that the meeting was private and thus such authorisation was unnecessary.
It is vital to note that Tamils have been experiencing state violence even when their meetings were authorized and even before a section of Tamil nationalistic politicians started to use terrorism as a counter terrorism method. Even if one were to put aside for a moment the military attack on the successful mass Satyagraha campaign launched by the Tamil Federal Party in 1961 in response to Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s decision to implement the Sinhala Only Act in the Northern and Eastern Provinces or the communal violence of 1956, 1958 and 1961, one of the best examples of state deployment of military force against Tamils was the International Association of Tamil Research Conference (IATR) incident of 10 January 1974.
The research forum series was launched by Fr. X. Thaninayagam, who was an eminent Tamil scholar. The first conference was held in 1966 in Kuala Lumpur and opened by Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahuman. It had been supported generously by the Malaysian government. The 1974 conference was initially expected to be held in Colombo but the organizers decided to shift it to Jaffna.
The scholarly conference was held in Veerasingham Hall from 3rd to 9th January. There was a popular demand to hear the foreign delegates and this public event was fixed for the evening of the 10th. The police permit to have the meeting, which ended on the 9th, was extended to the 10th on a gentlemen’s understanding between ASP Chandrasekera and Dr. Mahadeva, the chief conference organiser. The meeting started late at 8.00 pm and the chairman, Dr. Vithyananthan, thanked the Police for their cooperation. The first speaker, Prof. Naina Mohamed from South India, held the audience spell-bound. A little later, to everyone’s surprise a police party in riot gear started moving into the crowd westwards towards Veerasingham hall from the Clock Tower side, assaulting and roughly ordering the crowd to move aside. Pandemonium broke loose and seven civilians died of electrocution when a power line came down. (The Arrogance of Power by Rajan Hoole – page 17)
The government of the day could have cleared up the matter immediately by appointing a Commission to go into it. But the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike was so paranoid that it declined to do so.

An unofficial citizens’ commission inquiry

Thirdly, what Tamils should now do on the 2011 attack on the TNA meeting is to appoint an unofficial citizens’ commission as they did in the 1974 attack on the above Tamil Research Conference. At that time once the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike rejected the request for a commission of inquiry, some in Jaffna had the presence of mind to appoint an unofficial citizens’ commission comprising retired supreme court judges O.L. de Kretzer and V. Manickavasagar, along with Bishop Kulandran. Fortunately Rajan Hoole found a copy of the de Kretzer Commission Report and in his book “The Arrogance of Power” gives us an in-depth analysis of the incident and its aftermath. Following the communal violence of August/September 1977, Jayewardene (then prime minister) appointed a retired Chief Justice, M.C Sansoni to a one-man commission of inquiry. TULF leader and then the Leader of the opposition Appapillai Amirthalingam had testified before Sansoni “that the refusal of the government to appoint a Presidential Commission to inquire into the seven deaths and the conduct of the Police which led to those deaths, was a prime cause of the demand for a separate state.”

Tamil nationalist version of history

There is a Tamil nationalist version of history. To the Tamil nationalists, the police action at the Tamil Research Conference which resulted in 7 deaths became the ultimate expression of the malignancy of the State which led to the adoption in May 1976 of the goal of separation as the only viable option for the Tamil speaking people.
The Tamil United Front (TUF) included the Tamil Congress and Ceylon Workers’ Congress on 14th May 1972. The TUF became the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) on 14th May 1976 after adopting the policy of separation from Sri Lanka. The LTTE too was formed in 1976, and advocated the creation of a separate state for the minority Tamil population in the North and East of the country.
The LTTE used terrorism as a tool of their politics. At the end the government won the war and declared that they had achieved peace. However after the TNA was attacked even one of Rajapaksa’s ardent supporters and theoreticians, professor Sumanasiri Liyanage had this to say, “While the war was going on, people were made to believe that the violations of democratic and human rights were part and parcel of the war situation and everything would be hunky-dory after the war came to an end. War came to an end in May 2009, but the pre-war situation characterized by the violation of democratic rights remains essentially unchanged. The ruling party politicians are now trying to dupe people into believing that this exceptional situation should prevail without any significant change for some time as the new task, namely, economic development, calls for its continuation. This hypothesis raises many theoretical and practical issues.”
Fourthly, the government boasts that they have appointed a Lessens Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. But the continuous attack on Tamils shows that the Sri Lankan government has not learnt a lesson.
From the point of the whole country, for the sake of future generations, the need for national reconciliation and the prevention of communal violence again, it is important not to view Tamil politics in isolation, but rather to understand how it developed due to its engagement with the obduracy and blindness of the Southern polity.

read it full

First published – 1 July 2011