A call for a thorough inquiry | Sunday Observer

A call for a thorough inquiry

As the media and the wider society continue to analyse the fallout from the leaked audio clips of former State Minister Ranjan Ramanayake’s telephone conversations with judges, politicians, police top brass and even his fellow actors and actresses, a disturbing picture has emerged of the very “Good Governance” that the previous Government professed to practice.

It is not for us to speculate on why Ramanayake decided to keep the recording of these possibly top-secret conversations and how they got leaked to mainstream and social media (the Police have denied any responsibility for this), which may or may not seem unethical depending on one’s point of view. Moreover, in most other countries, it is illegal to record telephone conversations without the consent of the other party.

Our focus here however is on the explosive content of these recordings, the likes of which have never been heard of or seen in Sri Lanka before. Even Minister S.B. Dissanayake’s infamous “Range, Enawada” conversation and other such leaked audio pale into insignificance compared to Ramanayake’s telephonic escapades. The word “Ranjangate” has already been seen on social media to describe the whole scenario, which could have come straight out of a movie in which Ramanayake himself starred.

Judging by Ramanayake’s conversations, one sees a disturbing pattern of coercion on the Police and worse, on the Judiciary to target political opponents of the Yahapalana Government. It is unthinkable that the top political leaders of the UNF did not know about Ramanayake’s manipulations or conversations. After all, at least one conversation features former Prime Minuster Ranil Wickremesinghe himself. And there is plenty of evidence that witch-hunts against then Opposition figures were planned at meetings that took place at Temple Trees. Such meetings have been described in detail by several officials who had given newspaper interviews.

Hence, there have been several calls by political leaders and civil society advocates to investigate the revelations from Ramanayake’s audiotapes of telephone conversations. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has taken a strong stand in this regard. The Ranjan Ramanayake telephone recordings reveal such manipulations of judges that a Presidential Commission of Inquiry should inquire into the whole matter to redress this attack on the independence of the judiciary, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa told editors of national newspapers.

Rajapaksa told the editors and senior journalists gathered at Temple Trees that the Ramanayake phone call recordings revealed direct attempts to influence the Judiciary on a large scale for the first time in the country’s history.

As the Prime Minister noted, “this indicates that the Police, the Attorney General’s Department, judges and other senior officials were being manipulated.” According to the telephone conversations, perks such as promotions, salary hikes and extensions of service were dangled before officials to make them more amenable towards rulings favourable to the governing party.

“We need a thorough inquiry to be done by a commission to expose the full dimensions of the problem. We hope the Chief Justice will also look into the matter with regard to the Judiciary,” the Prime Minister stressed. This is the right call to make, given the magnitude of the influence on, and interference in, independent commissions and other such Government bodies, that become apparent from the contents of the calls.

The sheer interference in the work of the Police and the Judiciary could hurt the reputation of these institutions in the long term. Even more worryingly, the sheer scale of the manipulations and interference has served to undermine public confidence in the judiciary. People will now have doubts about court rulings and convictions - as to whether they had been influenced by some quarter.

It is also regrettable that some public servants see it fit to kowtow to politicians to get their promotions and transfers done, as seen from some of the recordings. Many thought that this tendency would get away once the independent commissions (a regular boast of the Good Governance Government) are established, but canvassing the support of politicians for extensions, transfers and promotions (known in local parlance as ‘Pandama’) seems to be alive and well. This demeans the very institutions they represent. A mechanism has to be evolved to punish the politicians concerned as well as public servants who curry favour with them.

The most damaging consequence of Ramanayake’s telephone conversations (most of which are apparently yet to be aired publicly) is the direct assault on the impartiality of public servants. It is clear from his recordings that many figures in that Government expected senior public servants and members of the Judiciary to ‘bend the law’ even in the absence of any hard evidence to meet their insular political objectives. Ramanayake was a conduit through which such wishes were conveyed to the relevant Government servants and members of the Judiciary.

Since there is no doubt about the veracity of the recordings themselves (Ramanayake himself and the others involved in the recordings have not made any denials), the next step is to analyse and investigate the recordings for their content. If any laws had been broken or if undue pressure has been brought on any person or institution via these calls, all those involved must be dealt with firmly under the law. This is perhaps the most serious assault on our law and order structure in recent times and no stone should be left unturned in the quest to undo the damage and restore the independence of the Judiciary and the Public Service.