Justice hurried,justice buried
Posted on January 6th, 2017

Editorial Courtesy The Island

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has, in its wisdom, decided to set up a special tribunal to handle bribery and corruption cases as we reported yesterday. Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne has said once it is established, hey presto, the current investigation process which he considers slow will get a turbo boost.

The tardiness of the judicial process is not the only reason why the government has not been able to bring those it once accused of corruption and other serious infractions to justice. There are several others. First, the suspects covered their tracks while they were in power. Second, some of the allegations the yahapalana leaders used to galvanise the public into voting against the last regime were grossly exaggerated. They spoke of stolen gold weighing several tons, a ‘golden horse’ brought here all the way from Buckingham Palace and USD 18.5 billion stashed away in offshore accounts of the former ruling clan and its cronies. The naïve expected the new government to seize the stolen assets and throw the culprits behind bars posthaste. Third, some of the incumbent rulers are beholden to their predecessors as they received favours from the latter. Fourth, they fear that they will have to pay for their corruption and abuse of power when they lose power and the boot is on the other foot. Hence, they are wary of going the whole hog to fulfil their election pledge to punish the corrupt.

Current leaders, faced with serious politico-economic difficulties, seem to have taken leave of their senses. There are compelling reasons why a special tribunal must not be set up. True, justice delayed is said to be justice denied. Similarly, justice hurried is justice buried. The government must not yield to pressure from its backers to stage judicial circuses to entertain the public and cover up its many failures.

The setting up of a special tribunal will enable the suspects to show themselves to be victims of a political witch hunt. The ill-conceived move is sure to open an escape route on the political front for those who must be made to pay for their corruption and abuse of power.

The government ought to learn from its predecessor’s mistakes such as the wrongful impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. The Rajapaksa government, intoxicated with power, manipulated the parliamentary process and resorted to a kangaroo trial disguised as a PSC (Parliamentary Select Committee) probe to get rid of her. But, subsequently, her impeachment was revoked by the present administration, which also did not follow the proper procedure in effecting the rescission. President Maithripala Sirisena acted arbitrarily. (Interestingly, Sirisena and many others who are championing good governance today unashamedly voted for her impeachment!)

One is reminded of how the late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike was stripped of her civil rights and her parliamentary seat in the most despicable manner for seven years through a special presidential commission in 1980. The JRJ government, with several of the current UNP leaders within its ranks, imposed civil disabilities on her without caring two hoots about the judicial process. The then Opposition Leader A. Amirthalingam, speaking in Parliament minced no words when he declared: “This is a political murder; this is a political killing. You are seeking to kill the position of the Member for Attanagalla, which is the greatest punishment that could be meted out. Retrospectively and retro-actively you are creating offences and are meting out punishment, which is not in keeping with the fundamental rights you have guaranteed and it is a violation of the Universal Charter of Human Rights.” Some of those who unflinchingly voted for depriving Mrs. B of her civil rights are championing good governance today!

The Civil Rights Movement, in a hard-hitting statement issued on Dec. 10, 1980, said the course of action the JRJ government had resorted to had “inflicted a kind of second class justice for political offenders”. Is the current UNP-led government planning a repeat performance?

Meanwhile, the government decision to appoint a special tribunal is tantamount to an expression of no confidence in the judiciary and will help bolster the argument being peddled in some quarters for an international war crimes court here.

The yahapalana regime will be mistaken if it thinks the proposed ‘show trials’ will help distract the attention of the public from its pathetic failure on the economic front, protracted postponement of elections for political reasons, rampant corruption, skyrocketing cost of living, abuse of power, the continuation of the culture of impunity etc.

Those who have robbed public funds, benefited from kickbacks at the expense of the country and committed other forms of infractions must be brought to justice. But, in tackling issues arising out of investigations into bribery and corruption, let the self-appointed champions of good governance heed the classical adage, festina lente or ‘make haste slowly’. If they get their act together on the economic front and fulfil their pre-election promises, they won’t have to resort to measures such as the appointment of special tribunals to impress the public.

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