Mr. President, Put the House in Order!
In his 2019 Election Manifesto, then Presidential aspirant Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged to create a disciplined, law-abiding and a moral society. As a former military officer, known to be a stickler for discipline, even his opponents expected him to instil order in governance and put an end to rampant corruption, which has become a bane for this country.
Nearly two years after securing victory at the Presidential Election with an impressive margin, and backed by a Legislature with a two-thirds majority for the governing party, we hear of a State Minister entering not one but two of the most secure prisons in the country, allegedly inebriated, wielding a firearm, threatening inmates – all within a span of just one week.
A few months ago, there was a similar incident at the sacred worship site for Buddhists, Ruwanweliseya in Anuradhapura, where an allegedly intoxicated State Minister had attempted to forcibly enter the site at midnight, threatening and yelling at the security personnel posted at the entrance.
The incident at the Welikada Prison reads like a scene from a poorly scripted comedy. According to Media reports, the State Minister had alleged entered the prison premises to show off the gallows to his equally intoxicated friends, threatening prison officials who had refused to heed their demand. Several Media outlets reported that some in the group could barely stand on their feet and were falling on the ground. As expected, however, the Media Spokesperson for the Prisons Department, had denied any knowledge of the incident.
Nonetheless, there was nothing comedic about the incident at the Anuradhapura Prison. The State Minister had allegedly flown to the prison in a helicopter, entered the prison in a state of intoxication and had summoned LTTE prisoners, many of whom were detained without trial for many years. It is alleged the State Minister had ordered the prisoners to kneel at gunpoint and threatened them. These incidents amply display the erosion of discipline, law and order and morality, not just within Sri Lankan society, but in the heart of Sri Lanka’s democracy – the Parliament, where lawmakers are more often than not acting like lawbreakers.
Most importantly, these incidents, particularly the sinister occurrence at the Anuradhapura Prison, come at a time when Sri Lanka is facing world scrutiny for our human rights record. UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva are currently on-going. The President is set to visit New York to attend the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. Also, next week, an EU delegation is set to visit the country to review the GSP facility.
The unchecked behaviour of undisciplined, immoral and arrogant State Ministers will have far-reaching consequences for Sri Lanka in the long-run, as both President and Prime Minister will have to answer for these illegal actions when confronted with world leaders at international summits.
It was heartening to hear that the Prime Minister, upon learning the incident at the Anuradhapura Prison, had immediately called for the resignation of the said State Minister. Although he has complied and the President has accepted his resignation, he keeps denying his involvement in both incidents.
It was quite noteworthy that the Human Rights Council of Sri Lanka has initiated a Suo Motu (by its own accord) investigation into the incident and three regional coordinating officers of the HRCSL have visited the Anuradhapura Prison on 15 September to investigate the incidents that took place on 12 September. The HRCSL is expected to summon all responsible parties connected to these incidents as early as possible.
The country now expects an independent, impartial and most importantly, a swift investigation into these incidents that bespoke not just the indiscipline within Parliament but also a serious breakdown in law and order among certain politicians. Mr. President, the onus is now on you to fulfil your pledge to create a disciplined, law-abiding and moral society.
This should start from the Legislature itself. The rot has already set within the core of our democracy. Lawmakers are behaving like jesters, running around like guntoting monkeys with impunity, making a mockery of Asia’s oldest democracy.
The party responsible for this reprehensible act should be brought to justice and punished, no matter the political cost. For, this moment, today, will set the benchmark for future political leaders of this country. We cannot change the past, but we can make sure that such incidents will not recur. We, the people are waiting