A FIVE YEAR LEGACY: malice, far too much toxicity | Sunday Observer

A FIVE YEAR LEGACY: malice, far too much toxicity

So much malice has seeped into the innards of the system, that it’s toxic now. The toxicity will contaminate the body politic to the point it becomes dysfunctional, if healing doesn’t happen, and happen fast.

How did such poison seep in? Yahapalanaya grew malice on trees!

Those addicted to Yahapalanaya, and those who have green blood coursing through their veins would admit there was a malice-excess in the four years of Yahapalana rule.

The President has now sought some way out of this toxic mess. He has sent out a circular requiring all police officers to abide strictly by law when persons are arrested. He has reminded them that the dignity of those apprehended is paramount, saying that any arrested individual is not yet guilty of any wrongdoing, unless convicted by law. He has natural empathy, being as he was at the receiving end in the last four years, and thereby hangs a tale.

A fine balance is required. On the one hand, miscreants have to be brought to book. But on the other, the malice overload unleashed by the former regime has to end, and healing should come about so that nation building can take place.

There are folk who continue to offend. Those who rail against court orders against them are dangerously in the territory of contempt of court. It’s enough that there has been so much upheaval as a result of the release of the notorious tapes now in the news. No more damage needs be added, such as those arrested under such self evident circumstances claiming they have been politically targeted. Arrest orders are made by judges. To rail against those orders in the presence of law enforcement officers, is to be cynical in the extreme.

So obviously, there is work to be done. But the system must go on. Those judges and prosecutors who have always tried to uphold the rule of law, are owed a debt of gratitude by society at large.

But, about the persecution that was unleashed by the last regime, it has to be said it was totally unnecessary. There was hardly a precedent for this type of malice overload, in the history of the country. Perhaps, folk would need to have recourse to the history books, to look for any possible parallels. In 1977, the Jayewardene regime went after the former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike who was stripped of her civic rights for offences that were created retroactively. The Civil Rights Movement noted that the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights had been flagrantly flouted with the imposition of civic disability on Mrs. Bandaranaike.

Privy council

But Mrs Bandaranaike herself previously enacted the Criminal Justice Commission regulations that were used to go after pro UNP individuals such as Mubarak Thaha, who ran a string of night clubs. They were charged with being in violation of Exchange Control regulations which were in force at that time.

The CJC legislation enabled the Commissioners to completely ignore the provisions of the Evidence Ordinance, and moreover, included a provision that none of its orders could be subject to any challenge in any court of law.

These laws were used to victimize political opponents or at least they were used against the political opposition at that time. A special court was also established in 1962, and a Criminal Law Special Provisions Act enacted to try those convicted in the aborted coup attempt of that year. The Privy Council however — Sri Lanka had not been declared a Republic at that time — ruled on appeal that the Act was illegal and had been enacted in particular to prosecute those who were implicated in the coup attempt.

All accused were acquitted by the Privy Council and others who were also implicated in the coup attempt such as the former Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke left the country and chose self imposed exile in the UK.

In 1972 Oliver Goonetilleke was tried in absentia for exchange control violations, again under provisions of the infamous so called CJC Act. He was convicted and sentenced, but was able to return to the country after the Act was repealed under the JR Jayewardene UNP Government of 1977.

Unorthodox moves

Certainly, these were all substantial precedents that established the dark arts of political revenge, but the events of 2015 up to 2019-2020 under the UNP Government seemed to outdo all of this in the victimization department. Existing laws were used to ‘bend the law enforcement process,’ as claimed by the then IGP and reconfirmed in the observations made by those such as Suhada Gamlath, Senior AG’s department official. He and others in law enforcement, corroborated the fact that opposition figures of that time were targeted out of malice. The recent voice tapes, are now subject to investigation, and senior law enforcement officers are implicated in this regard, though legal proceedings are still underway.

At the very least, the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s rather unorthodox move to enact special legislative provisions was primarily due to a coup attempt against her, but J R Jayewardene’s manoeuvre to impose civic disability in turn on her can be seen as politically motivated victimization, and was called a ‘political assassination’ by the victim herself in Parliament. The Yahapalana Government took a leaf out of this book in 2015 but the malice extended to hitherto unprecedented levels with family members of previous administration figures being targeted. All that venom unleashed has left the system of law enforcement under a toxic cloud.

It has also presented the current regime with an unenviable conundrum. On the one hand, malicious prosecutions have to be dealt with, and confidence in the compromised system of law enforcement restored. On the other, the Government does not want to be seen as perpetuating a cycle of malice adding to the already existing toxic atmosphere that has contaminated the body politic.

Siege mentality

Institutional actors have to do their part in this regard. Key intellectual figures and those in other representative professional organizations, etc. have to assist in establishing for the record, the extent of the malicious prosecutions of the Yahapalana era. This is not merely for historical reasons. It would be imperative as a cathartic exercise that would cleanse the system, and restore normalcy.

Such a record would also help enact legal and other measures to avoid a repetition of this kind of crass manipulation for political ends in the future. Apart from the fact that such misdoings have victimized several innocent persons, it’s regrettable that the country has to deal with the enormous toxic fallout that has caused all types of negative repercussions that impact all and sundry.

The armed forces were forced into a siege mentality, and are recovering. Public servants were afraid to do their jobs fearing malicious prosecutions. Sections of the political leadership that have the interests of the country at heart are now left to pick up the pieces.

They have to tread a fine line, as stated earlier. But more importantly they have to devote substantial time and energy to detoxify the body politic and restore the status quo ante.

It undermines pressing tasks of nation building and economic regeneration, and therefore, the damage done as a result of this toxic malign political culture is incalculable. Healing has to come from a genuine desire to address these issues without perpetuating a vicious cycle. It’s easier said than done. Political reconciliation between the main actors could be explored where possible, but it should not be at the cost of compromising any legal measures to rectify the damage done by politically motivated malicious prosecutions.

‘It will all pass’ is not an option. That’s an easy way out, and to use the expression, an irresponsible cop out.

That’s not desirable, and the leadership would be remiss in its duty to put a stop to these exercises in malice that destabilize all important structural elements of society such as the armed forces, the police and other law enforcement, and those sections of the political leadership that are genuine in their desire to cause positive transformation, to the extent that such elements exist.

It’s a difficult job, but somebody has to wipe the slate clean of this toxic vulture-culture of malice.