The low down of the low-and-odour government
Posted on March 1st, 2018

BY MALINDA SENEVIRATNE

Law and Order. This seems to be the one thing that the yahapalana government has cottoned onto in the aftermath of the election rout. And I don’t mean that in a good way. 
The United National Party in particular has climbed down and fast from grand pronouncements of victory (no less!). Party bigwigs bragged about going solo (i.e. shedding the SLFP), then acknowledged defeat. The party leader himself said that the people had rejected the party’s  programme and vowed to correct flaws (which ones, he did not say). The UNP eventually reconciled to continue the bedding arrangement with the SLFP and made a lot of noise about a cabinet reshuffle.  
At the end of all the huffing and puffing they birthed a creature called ‘Law and Order’.  To be precise, the Prime Minister officially took over a ministry in which, by all accounts, he called the shots. On the face of it the ‘change’ is insignificant. What makes it worse is that a beleaguered President, politically punch drunk, is talking about fiddling with the institutions that come under various ministries, threatening in fact to pull the rug from under the Prime Minister’s feet. He has also begged his disheartened and uneasy loyalists to give a further month ‘to sort things out’. Rather, to ‘sort out Wickremesinghe.  
President Sirisena, note, not only said just before the election that he would take the economy into his hands, but even set up a ‘National Economic Council’ and then a short while ago made some disparaging remarks on the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management headed by Wickremesinghe. He is reported to have stressed the need for centralized decision-making on economic matters. ‘Under me and no one else,’ he seems to be saying.
It just indicates that the President hasn’t yet come to terms with his seriously diminished circumstances. Neither has the Prime Minister when we take this law and order business into account.
The latest is that the appointment was temporary; Rajitha Senaratne has stated that the portfolio will be given to someone else soon. It seems that the government is going out of its way to give credence to the analogy of a pack of cards made solely of jokers; shuffle it anyway you like and you’ll get the same set. Of jokers, that is.  
That’s yet to be seen. What’s known is that the new Minister of Law and Order has got down to business by doing what he’s best at doing, appointing committees. Three of them, no less. Just goes to show how much he trusts the institutions aligned with the ministry.  
There’s one committee to set up a university devoted to ‘criminal justice’. He could have sent a note to the Minister of Higher Education, but no, he appoints a committee. There’s another to expedite action on appeals regarding political victimization. Maybe he’s forgotten that a Police Commission was appointed as per requirements of the 19th Amendment. The third is to combat bribery and corruption. We could say ‘charity begins at home, sir,’ but before we get to that we need to read the text or rather the subtext. When you say ‘expedite’ you imply a push of some kind. That’s interference in the work of institutions that are supposed to be independent.
Let’s begin at the beginning that everyone seems to have forgotten. Law and order. What is law and order about? The common sense meaning is the matter of dealing with occurrences of theft and other illegal activity (including Central Bank bond issue scams), maintaining peace, and bringing wrongdoers to book as swiftly as possible. The way this government has been thinking ‘law and order’ so far is nothing more nothing less than the deliberate, pernicious and selective targeting of political opponents.  The Thajudeen murder or rather its investigation is a case in point. The dead man has been resurrected, buried and resurrected again and again, whereas if all those ‘taken care of’ by the UNP were to be treated likewise those in the business of resurrection and internment would have no sleep.  
Sure, nothing should be forgiven or forgotten when it comes to infringement of the law.  For this reason, selectivity stinks. Former President, Chandrika Kumaratunga infamously said that the only person in the SLFP who was ‘clean’ was Maithripala Sirisena. Well then, how about checking on those other dirty people who are now part of the Yahapalana government? Have people forgotten that there are UNPers who were once with Mahinda Rajapaksa? Were/are they clean? Is the lady ‘clean’ for that matter?  
Those who trotted out numbers to indicate the magnitude of wrongdoing by the previous regime have gone quiet. Every single act of homicide was diligently noted; volumes as well as averages calculated and revealed to the accompaniment of shrill screams of horror to lament ‘the breakdown of law and order.’ They’ve all lost their voices, without exception. 
In short, the government and its cheering squad are all out of order. This is not what was expected or could have been reasonably expected from a government that swore to deliver good governance. The worst criminals couldn’t do worse, some would argue. Indeed, one might whisper, ‘wait, the worst criminals are already in charge!’. It is not a coincidence that we are hearing people observe wryly, ‘set a thief to catch a thief, eh?’   
This government is incompetent, incorrigible and irrelevant. Things have hit a low, this much is certain. Things stink, metaphorically speaking. ‘Low and odour’ is an apt descriptive under the circumstances.
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