Fast-tracking corruption cases – flip side of the coin!
Posted on September 2nd, 2017

by I.P.C. Mendis Courtesy The Island


It appears as if the “talk shows”, press briefings and invective have succeeded in taking the wind off the sails in the Ravi K episode and an uncompromising Minister in Wijeyadasa R sacrificed on the cross in a bid to save the face of the government. Ravi K  faced it with  innocence personified but  he was pressed against the wall by a section of the Opposition and Government and almost compelled to agree to resign. His resignation was reportedly conditional, with him being permitted to retain some of the ministerial perks (undenied to-date).

The Government turned its attention on the delay in dealing with the FCID cases and targeted ex Minister Wijeyadasa R who took cover under non-interference with the judiciary and AG’s department.  The anti-WR group then shifted its stance  accusing  him of administrative lapses in not taking the initiative in recruiting additional staff to the AG’s department, not providing additional office space and not setting up Trials-at-Bar or a Court to deal with corruption.  The figure of 200 additional State Attorneys was their estimate together with additional office space on rent. Such action would appear to them to be somewhat of a panacea for the ills caused by the delays. All this and the collective responsibility issue  appear to be nothing more than a “red herring”  to erase, if not  minimize the ill-effects of the RK episode on the image of government.

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Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe

It is pointless harping on the concept of one being innocent till found guilty. If the government is serious, all it has to do is to refer the issue to the Bribery Commission forthwith.  Minister Rajitha Senaratne opines that Special Courts are not necessary (as originally suggested) and refers to the possibility of establishing courts for the specific purpose of hearing corruption cases as in commercial issues and divorce or even Trials-at-Bar. Even if that were possible, what could be gained on the straight would obviously be lost in the roundabout! The other factor is that even if the numbers at the lower level of State Attorneys are in fact recruited, still there could be the bottle- necks as there could not be a plethora of AGs, Addl. SGs and DSGs at the top to filter the work done at lower levels and take decisions without upsetting the organizational structure.  Further, there needs to be support staff, equipment and other logistical support with attendant recurrent and capital expenditure, not to speak of refurbishing costs and rentals on office space.

Increase of cadre of State Attorneys and additional office space

Anybody with knowledge of government procedure and budget processes will know that the Minister of Justice or any Minister does not have the power to recruit staff and expend monies at his whim. A Minister or his Secretary can only request going through the specified processes and such requests have to be reasonable and convincing keeping in view the overall economic constraints faced by the government. The Ministry of Justice is only one of numerous other Ministries and if the Treasury is to fund everything they ask for, governance and financial control could well be left for those fit for a lunatic asylum! Such megalomaniacal ideas are made irresponsibly and tend to mislead and deceive an unsuspecting public. It is plain political rhetoric! In the case of additional staff, approval needs to be obtained from other institutions in place for the purpose and the numbers agreed upon only could be referred to the Treasury for funding. The Treasury has the final say to approve, disapprove or slash it. The Ministry of Justice is only one among numerous Ministries and departments and there is not a chance in hell that huge recruitments and rentals would be agreed on in a debt-ridden situation. The Treasury has to have its eye on the maximum budget deficit percentage dictated to by the IMF.  Further, it does not stand to reason that in order to tide over a temporary situation, permanent staff in huge numbers should be agreed on only to be saddled sooner or later with surplus staff. This is an era that overtime is being slashed and Samurdhi allowances are interfered with and on the other side rental running into millions monthly being paid for over two years elsewhere without occupation. Wijeyadasa R’s fault appears to be that he did not act irresponsibly.

The effects of an additional Court for Corruption Cases or Trials-at-Bar

In speaking of causes for delays, a contributory factor seems to have been either intentionally or otherwise left unmentioned. That is the inability of lawyers appearing for various parties being unable to agree on dates. The focus has been on the AG’s department only.  The various parties involved have a right to retain Counsel of their choice and judges being very conscious of this right  are always accommodating as far as possible. By expecting Courts to hear cases continuously and lawyers being held up in such Courts, other litigants elsewhere will be  either consciously deprived of such able representation or compelled to wait for longer periods till they are able to appear. The alternative is to risk with less able lawyers. Consequently, delays occur elsewhere.

Is the offence of corruption graver than that of murder, rape, child abuse, fraud, grievous hurt etc. etc. and are the people at large to stand aside to accommodate political considerations?  The thinking behind the problem seems to be purely one-sided and warped. Much of the delays would be capable of being minimized if each Ministry re-examines the legislation coming under its purview that could be revised to assist the judiciary in expediting cases, avoiding situations where lawyers could insist on seemingly non-essential documents etc. – eg. getting rid of requirements that still remain in statutes which are out-dated.  The remedy now proposed to be employed could be worse than the disease!

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