Counterfactual history Ratwatte’s drunken prison escapade: If it happened this way
Posted on October 25th, 2021

Courtesy The Daily Mirror

It has been more than six weeks since that epic moment when a ruling party politico who happened to be the state minister of prison reforms stormed the Anuradhapura Prison, and forced a group of Tamil inmates on their knees, threatening them at gunpoint.

What happened since then was path defining.  It was the Prison Commissioner who broke the news to the public and ordered an investigation. A sycophantic pet poodle might have claimed ignorance and might even have defended the errant minister’s nightly visits.

The Minister had a clean slate in the past did not matter. Surely the courts and even the party seniors might have been tougher if the errant politico had a history of violence, and had surprisingly gotten away with the alleged murder of an expat Rugby players and mass murder in the hill country

The president who was visiting New York for the UN General Assembly woke up to the news that the police had arrested the minister of prison for endangering the lives of prison inmates. The Attorney General charged the errant minister with a series of criminal charges, which if found guilty would land him in jail for a long time. 
In any Third World Banana Republic, the police have awaited the green light from the political leadership. The Attorney General would have cared more about saving his grace than charging politicos of thuggery, even if the alleged behaviour amounted to attempted murder.  But, not in Sri Lanka, where independent institutions stood tall and are not a captive of anyone’s- even the president’s – whims and fancies.

The President, so to speak had a hectic schedule in New York; after a string of meeting with G8 leaders and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and a much sought-after interview with the CNN, a reception fit to his larger than life persona at home. His counterparts from forsaken places might go sightseeing and do a bit of babysitting. But, not here. The public money was at work to the optimum return.

By the time his brother, the Prime Minister also on a major international engagement on the invitation of the Prime Minister of Spain – who threw his Sri Lankan counterparts a state banquet, and the duo watched a bullfight- checked up with the party secretary back in Colombo, the Party seniors have already launched the process to sack the Minister from the party.

That the Minister had a clean slate in the past did not matter. Surely the courts and even the party seniors might have been tougher if the errant politico had a history of violence, and had surprisingly gotten away with the alleged murder of an expat Rugby players and mass murder in the hill country.

The country’s independent institutions were at their best. The independent Human Rights Commission launched an investigation and called on immediate legal action and sacking of the errant minister. The President and the government heard it loud and clear.  

 For Sri Lanka’s illustrious bureaucracy, competent legal service and independent-minded judges, these are probably the best of the times to serve the nation, according to their conscience. The fall out of Ratwatte’s drunken prison escapade is proof that nothing and no one is above the rule of law.

In the following day, despite a hangover, the state minister was humble enough to take responsibility for his actions and to admit that he had one too many shots. But, before he resigned, the president had sacked him of all positions, not just from one portfolio, which would have reeked hypocrisy. 

It was the naysayers of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government, who claim it is a familial cabal of corruption and rights abuses – and that the president himself has skeletons in the closet- that got egg on their faces.
The UN Human Rights Commissioner had all that in her pre-written speech before she sucked up the words, seeing how Sri Lanka’s straight-shooting institutions and officials launched themselves against the politically powerful miscreant.

President’s much-avowed promise for one country – one law was out there in full force. 

Even the critics, some of the bitterest were pleasantly surprised. Sri Lanka seemed to have come a long way, from the dark days when prison inmates were picked, allegedly according to a list of names authorized by high officials and were killed, and their killers got away, they confided in private.

For Sri Lanka’s illustrious bureaucracy, competent legal service and independent-minded judges, these are probably the best of the times to serve the nation, according to their conscience. The fall out of Ratwatte’s drunken prison escapade is proof that nothing and no one is above the rule of law.

Really? Probably this is how things would have unfolded in any civilized nation. Now you should know, why every other local with a sense of fair play, the international community, NGO captains, media have a low opinion of the current administration, and by extension, sadly though, of the country it represents. Do not blame them for that, blame those who have made it happen and who keep reinforcing that law of the jungle. 

Follow @RangaJayasuriya on Twitter 

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