Dear Sri Lanka,
By Dilshani Palugaswewa
The biggest newsmaker this week was no doubt the drunken State Minister who infiltrated the Welikada Prison complex with his intoxicated friendsquad, demanding he’d be allowed to show them the gallows. Having spent years in prison himself, perhaps it was muscle memory that led him to his second home or he was just playing tour guide to where he belongs. If that wasn’t enough of a scene caused under the influence, he subsequently flew off in a chopper to the Anuradhapura Prison and held two Tamil political prisoners at gunpoint.
After much speculation in the initial reports of the incident whether it was indeed the State Minister of Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation that was the unnamed minster in question, he was forced to tender in his resignation. This was not because he confessed to his allegedly erratic behaviour but because it caused much public outcry which called for his immediate removal, and inspired a phone call from the Prime Minister, currently in Italy who demanded the same.
But there’s a catch – he still retains his second portfolio of State Minister of Gem and Jewellery because of course that is completely fair and it is a guarantee that he won’t storm into another institution related to his second ministry, whip out his personal firearm and abuse his power…again! Not like he has done it before or anything. Anyone else would have gotten arrested with no complaints filed for doing the same and has been for much less; poetry, peaceful protests, and comments on social media – but I guess he is allowed to have the cake and eat just a slice of it as opposed to the whole cake, a privilege only the politicallyinfluential have.
Or perhaps, there is a more important portfolio that will be bestowed upon him in the coming months, if the usual pattern is anything to go by. This couldn’t have come at a better time. Not only is the Prime Minister on an official visit to Italy holding peace talks and assuring foreign diplomats that reconciliation among ethnic groups in Sri Lanka is important to the Government, in the hopes of wooing them with our so-called commitment to human rights, but it also is at a time when Sri Lanka’s every move is being scrutinised by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in light of the country’s failure to recognise accountability of past gross human rights violations, including those held under the Prevention Terrorism Act (PTA). The PTA, a controversial Act which international bodies recommend to be repealed, allows authorities to detain people for years on end without trial, evidence, or judicial oversight.
The UNHRC has also urged Sri Lanka to either prosecute or release 78 Tamils incarcerated under the PTA for decades without being charged. Despite Sri Lanka’s commitment to the EU GSP+ criteria in 2017 to align our terrorism legislation to international standards, four years on, the Human Rights Watch has observed that nothing much has changed since. Instead, what we’ve seen are pardons given to politically-connected murder convicts and PTA prisoners who have already served a good chunk of their sentences or even past their time. This incident also took place right before the President takes off for the upcoming UN General Assembly sessions.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister himself caused some backlash when he and his ‘small delegation’ left for Italy. A particular image of them dining at a restaurant made the rounds, making it look like sacrifices are only to be made by the public while these officials spend lavishly on trips overseas. The former First Lady and her daughter-in-law were also a part of the party that headed out. If the argument is that they went at their own expense, the question still remains – Why did they go if not in an official capacity? Because people in the country are struggling to get through the day with barely any essentials amidst price hikes and food shortages, and are asked to, “Sacrifice one meal a day for a better future,” by a certain member of the ruling party, while another proposes that we give 5 per cent of our monthly income that meets a certain range. Aren’t we all supposed to cut out costs where it can be done? Oh right, these are the vistas of prosperity and splendour!