The March of Folly A simplistic and confused Attorney General
Posted on October 24th, 2017

By Rajiva Wijesinha Courtesy Ceylon Today

A little learning is a dangerous thing. It is also sad when limited intellect leads to high appointments on the grounds that there will be unthinking support of the appointing authority. This seems to be the case with the current Attorney General (AG), who seems in a couple of weeks, to have completely destroyed the reputation of his department which had been considerably enhanced by the brilliant cross examination at the Bond Commission by senior officers.

What seemed the silencing of the forceful Dappula de Livera, the absence for some time of the incisive Yasantha Kodagoda, suggested that the AG had decided to hold back – and so the leading lights of the UNP have been preserved.

Then the AG went further, in delivering a preposterous opinion regarding the appalling move to postpone elections through introducing amendments to a Bill that was for an entirely different purpose. The amendments were referred to Jayantha Jayasuriya by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya whose reduction to being a mere tool of chicanery is extremely sad. The latter’s behaviour in the last couple of years suggests that the excuses he proffered to me, when I tried to make him act on the Good Governance issues in the President’s manifesto, that his hands were tied because he was not trusted by his Leader, now seem rank hypocrisy.

It is strange that he felt a need to refer amendments to the Attorney General, since this is mandatory only for Bills. The reason doubtless was that he realized that this was in fact a new Bill, so he wanted to cover himself.

On cue the Attorney General responded with a farrago of nonsense, beginning with citing Erskine May to the effect that ‘As in other matters of order, the admissibility of an amendment can ultimately be decided only by the House itself, there being no authority which can in advance rule an amendment out of order…’

The Attorney General then advises that the amendments can be passed with a two thirds majority. He has evidently forgotten that, in Britain, Parliament is indeed supreme, for there is no written Constitution. So there is no other authority to be consulted with regard to matters that in effect change the provisions of the Constitution – in this case the provision that Provincial Council elections must be held immediately after the term of an existing Council ends.

It is also ironic that, unlike in the situation Erskine May was talking about, the younger Jayasuriya refers to a two thirds majority.

Provisions about a two thirds majority spring from our Constitution, whereas May talks about a situation where a simple majority of Parliament can legislate at will. Since the amendments sprung upon Parliament and the nation affect the franchise, obviously the provisions in the Constitution regarding the franchise must come into play. Since it is on the basis of the Constitution that our righteous duo, deem a two thirds majority necessary, it is preposterous that they ignore the fundamental right on which the Constitution lays such stress.

This government noticeably ignored seniority in appointing both the Attorney General and the Auditor General. The latter has shown himself to be independent and incisive, leading the Prime Minister to declare that he would have to get rid of him and they should have appointed the Deputy instead. Ironically D.E.W. Gunasekara told me that the Deputy had perhaps forfeited his chances of being appointed because of the principled position he took at the COPE proceedings in 2015 on the bond issue. But Gamini Wijesinghe has proved admirable and, though I hope that Chula Wickramaratna will in time be appointed, we must be thankful for the continuing integrity under current leadership of the Department.

Jayantha Jayasuriya however does not seem to understand that his service is to the people of Sri Lanka, not his political masters.

And if he thinks the letter he sent Karu Jayasuriya is an adequate excuse for perverting democracy, he needs a refresher course in conceptualization and thinking skills. I can only hope that his able and forthright juniors make it clear that they will not be silenced, and will continue to serve the country well.

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