Political interference in the administration of justice | Sunday Observer

Political interference in the administration of justice

The main grievance of the citizens of this country against the Rajapaksa administration which was defeated at the presidential elections and the parliamentary elections held in 2015 was the high degree of corruption that prevailed in the administration.

The politicians and civil society organizations that led the propaganda campaign against the Rajapaksa administration said that they have information regarding the then politicians in power, who abused political power and political influence for corrupt deals by which they enriched themselves by misappropriating public funds and misuse of other assets and property belonging to the state. They gave hope to the people that all those who were involved in corrupt deals causing loss and damage to the state, would be dealt with according to law and steps would be taken to recover such loss and damages from those who are responsible for such conduct.

The citizens of this country have now realized that the Yahapalana Government had miserably failed to achieve the objective of a clean administration with no place for individuals interested in using the political power and influence for enriching themselves by misappropriating state funds and misuse of state assets. It is evident now that a high level of corruption and wastage prevailed in the administrative system even after the regime change in 2015 and the President should be commended for appointing the Presidential Commission of inquiry (PCoI) for investigating the serious allegations of corruption in the present administration.

Among the different organs of the institutional structure of the administration of justice system in Sri Lanka, the different branches of the Police Department, the CID and the FCID, the Attorney General’s Department and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) are the most important. Out of the law enforcement authorities, a unique role has been assigned to the Attorney General’s Department.

Although it comes under the purview of the Ministry of Justice, it is a convention that it is permitted to act independently without the interference of the President or the Minister of Justice with regard to the exercise of the law enforcement functions. The office of the Attorney General provides legal advice and legal assistance to Government Departments, Provincial Councils, Statutory Boards and semi-government institutions.

However, there are many instances in which former Presidents have abused their authority in the matter of appointing the Attorney General by appointing political supporters to this post thereby making it impossible for the holder of the post to act independently. It is the duty and the responsibility of the officials of these institutions to conduct investigations regarding unlawful and offensive conduct on the part of Ministers and other politicians both in the present government and also in the previous administration, causing loss and damage to the state.

It is now obvious that the main reason for not being able to eradicate bribery and corruption in the administrative system in this country is the failure on the part of the institutions in charge of law enforcement in the country to act according to law, due to the obstructive interference for preventing the law enforcement authorities from doing their official duty.

Some startling revelations made by the media explain the extent to which there was political interference in the administration of justice, preventing the law enforcement authorities from proceeding with investigations and producing the wrongdoers before courts. Recently, there was a media report regarding a recorded telephone conversation between the accused in a well-known case – the Avant Garde case – and the Solicitor General, Dilrukshi Dias Wickremesinghe (now removed from her office), former Director General of CIABOC, explaining the extent of pressure exerted upon the officials of the CIABOC to prevent the officials of the Commission from performing their duties. According to another recent media report, former Solicitor General Suhada Gamlath complained that some members of the present cabinet attempted to influence him regarding the progress of the Avant Garde case.

A former Additional Solicitor General Wasantha Nuwaratne Bandara PC, who was at the Attorney General’s Department in 2015, giving an interview to the Sunday Observer (October 27, 2019) has explained how the then Minister of Justice intervened to prevent him from taking further steps for the prosecution of the suspects in the Avant Garde Mahanuwara case. Another revelation made by media reports is that the former Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) head, Senior DIG Ravi Waidyalankara had close connections with the suspect in a money laundering case, which was assigned to his office for investigation.

In spite of the negative factor of political interference with the activities of the Law enforcement agencies above referred to, a positive development that has taken place after the regime change in 2015 regarding the independence of the judiciary should not be overlooked. The present government should be commended for the environment that prevails today for the judges to act independently without being influenced by the politicians in power.

The best example to prove that in Sri Lanka the judiciary is now independent and therefore competent and credible for assigning even an investigation which has an international significance, is the landmark judgement of the seven member bench of the Supreme Court delivered on December 13, 2018 holding that the dissolution of the Parliament by issuing a gazette notification by the President on November 9, 2018 was unconstitutional and therefore was “null void ab initio and without force or effect in law”. This judgement was delivered after hearing the Fundamental Rights applications filed by the Petitioners challenging the unconstitutional removal of Ranil Wickremesinghe from his office of Prime Minister and the subsequent dissolution of Parliament by the President paving the way for a state of anarchy for a period of about 52 days.

It is pertinent to mention in this context that in the Resolutions adopted by the UNHRC based in Geneva in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 (Resolution 30/1) Sri Lanka was required to hold an impartial investigation into allegations of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law during the last stage of the war, by the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE, by a tribunal including foreign judges. The reason given for the inclusion of foreign judges in such a tribunal is that “although Sri Lanka has many excellent judges, lawyers and law enforcement officials, over the years, the system became highly politicized unbalanced and unreliable”. The citizens of this country can totally agree with the observation that the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime had no respect for the rule of law and independence of the judiciary. At the time these resolutions were adopted, the international community perceived that Sri Lanka was an authoritarian state where there was a serious threat to the independence of the judiciary as a result of political interference in the administration of justice. The most classic example of interference in the administration of justice was the way that the judicial power of the Parliament was abused for removing the former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayaka from her office.

This was done obviously for the reason that the benches of the Supreme Court over which she presided decided that some Bills such as the Divi Neguma Bill, presented to the Supreme Court for its approval were unconstitutional.

The presidential candidates of the two major political alliances have promised to the voters that, under their administration, if elected to power, there will be a clean administration with no room for bribery and corruption.

They have promised not to appoint any politician against whom there are allegations of bribery or corruption or misappropriation of public funds, as a Minister in the new government. If the new President is really interested in eradicating corruption in administration, as a preliminary step, he has to create an environment in which the officials of the different organs of the institutional structure of the administration of justice system, such as the CID and FCID of the Police Department, the CIABOC and the Attorney General’s Department can carry out their duties and functions independently with no opportunity for obstructions by political interference as it has happened during the administration of the present government and also during the previous Rajapaksa administration.