Foreign interference
Posted on July 24th, 2019

Editorial Courtesy The Island

A Foreign Ministry panjandrum has come under fire for allegedly seeking to facilitate a UN bid to influence the Sri Lankan judiciary. The Opposition is out for his scalp as he has written to the Chief Justice and the High Court judges, asking them to make available information pertaining to some cases to a group of UN officials.

Allegations that foreign powers are influencing the Sri Lankan judiciary are not of recent origin. They have been there for the last several years. Two months ago, UPFA MP and Joint Opposition member Udaya Gammanpila told Parliament that a US diplomat had sought information about some ongoing court cases here from a group of Sri Lankan judges attending a seminar in Washington.

The government ought to act on the aforesaid very serious allegation against the Foreign Ministry and order an investigation to find out whether the official concerned has done anything high-handed and his action amounts to a violation of the Constitution, as alleged by some MPs. It is hoped that the Opposition won’t allow the issue to fizzle out with the passage of time.

The incumbent government brags that it has restored the independence of the judiciary. If so, there cannot be allegations of foreign interference with the judicial system. A prerequisite for ensuring judicial independence is to prevent foreign governments from getting involved in various programmes purportedly aimed at modernising and strengthening the judicial system. Nothing comes without strings attached thereto. Such matters must not be left to foreign governments or the outfits funded by them.

The practice of foreign governments sponsoring state officials should also be discontinued. There is no such thing as a free lunch, as the saying goes. It is not out of pure altruism that other countries sponsor top bureaucrats’ and judicial officers’ foreign training programmes and overseas visits. They spend their taxpayers’ money to further their interests at the expense of the countries dependent on their largesse. The same goes for MPs and other elected representatives.

There is hardly any MP who hasn’t been on an all-expenses-paid trip to China, which also sponsors provincial councillors’ and local government members’ junkets. The National Election Commission has also received assistance from the USAID, we are told.

The Sri Lankan government should bear the cost of foreign training and visits of public and judicial officers if their independence is to be guaranteed. They must not be beholden to external organisations. There is no way the government can convince the public that it is without enough funds. Its pecuniary difficulties mainly stem from its wasteful expenditure, which has to be curtailed drastically. The presidential commission of inquiry probing alleged malpractices under the present administration has recently been informed that the Ministry of Agriculture paid about Rs. 300 million to a private company as the rent (and taxes) for a building over a period of one year before shifting there. The person responsible for that questionable deal must be dealt with under the Offences against the Public Property Act.

Minister Ravi Karunanayake has sought Cabinet approval for shifting his ministry at a cost of Rs. 364 million. In 2016, the JVP revealed in Parliament that two vehicles ordered for the Prime Minister’s use cost as much as Rs. 600 million. The Cabinet was recently requested to allocate funds for another expensive vehicle for Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa. Thankfully, President Maithripala Sirisena turned down that request. That vehicle, too, would have cost Citizen Perera an arm and a leg. The government drew heavy fire in Parliament, the other day, for having raised Rs. 300 from poor Samurdhi recipients for propaganda activities related to the expansion of the poverty alleviation programme.

If the government cares to curtail the criminal waste of public funds and corruption, it won’t have to depend on external assistance, which opens the door to foreign interference with vital state sectors.

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