The civic rights conundrum | Page 2 | Daily News

The civic rights conundrum

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has sought the co-operation of political party leaders representing parliament to support legislation to deprive MPs found guilty of serious crimes, of their civic rights. Opening the adjournment debate on the Presidential Commission report on the bond issue and 34 investigation reports of PRECIFAC pertaining to corruption under the Rajapaksa regime, the Premier asked whether political parties represented in parliament would support amending Section 81 of the Constitution to deprive a person found guilty of serious crime, their civic rights. “Are the party leaders ready to amend Section 81of the Constitution, or are they scared of doing so?”, the Premier asked.

The PM’s suggestion, however, was shot down, by both, the SLFP, and, the JVP. Speaking during the same adjournment debate, UPFA General Secretary Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said since late Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike was stripped of her civic rights, unfairly, they are against being a party to any more attempts to deprive anybody’s civic rights. However, the SLFP was not opposed to subjecting MPs found guilty of wrong doing, being subjected to the judicial process.

Chief Opposition Whip, and, JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said his party would not back moves to strip anyone of his, or, her civic rights, but would support the government introducing new laws to bar MPs found guilty of corruption entering parliament. “We will support passing of such laws to ensure parliament is a place free of corrupt politicians”, he stressed.

President Maithripala Sirisena too has opined that he is not amenable to any move to deprive the civic rights of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa although this would not mean the corrupt would be allowed to go free.

The issue of civic rights, of course, is a sore point with the SLFP. It is understandable from a SLFP point of view. The party was forced to endure a long period in hibernation after Mrs. B. lost her civic rights curtsy JRJ. Hence, it could be a knee jerk reaction by the party towards such a course of action, although Mahinda Rajapaksa is today in the opposition camp and has caused a split in the SLFP. Ironically, the party suffered a similar split, with one faction led by the Maithripala-Anura Group and the other by the Sirima-Chandrika-Vijaya trio, following the loss of civic rights of Mrs B. But this implosion was caused from within, when the SLFP was a single unit, while the recent breakaway occurred when then General Secretary left the party to take on MR at the presidential election. What we are seeing today is the fallout of this split, and, what is more, one half of the blues honeymooning with it’s arch political enemy.

It is however difficult to fathom why both, the SLFP, and, JVP are reluctant to support moves to deprive MPs arraigned for serious corruption, their civic rights, while at the same time not being averse to enacting laws to deny such MPs entering parliament and /or contesting for political office. This indeed is a contraction. Deprivation of civic rights involves both, the taking away of voting rights of an individual in addition to barring such individual from holding any political office. Are the SLFP and JVP saying that taking away the voting rights of an individual is unacceptable while blocking an errant MP from entering parliament, or, holding political office is game? Does not this smack of hypocrisy? They, (JVP and SLFP) might as well support the amendment proposed by the PM to deprive MPs charged for corruption their civic rights.

But wait a minute. Is it only parliament that has the powers to deprive rogue MPs of their civic rights? Not so, going by a recent precedent. A Police Constable, the other day, was sentenced to ten years Rigorous Imprisonment AND deprived of his civic rights, for seven years, by the Colombo High Court after he was found guilty of accepting a bribe. Hence, it is apparent that the courts are empowered to impose civic disabilities on offenders and this includes parliamentarians, arraigned for bribery.

Hence, why not leave the matter for the courts to decide, instead of bringing in new laws in parliament? Surely, the Police Constable’s act of bribery would pale into insignificance, given the enormity of the bribes politicians are known to accept.

Be that as it may, forgetting the little matter of civic rights, now that both SLFP and JVP are supportive of introducing laws to deny entry to parliament MPs found guilty of serious acts of corruption, the government should do just that. This will go a long away in cleansing the body politic, which is today rotten to the core. Our honourable peoples’ representatives should be made to understand in concrete terms that parliament cannot be made an avenue for enriching themselves. It will be interesting to see if this support will be forthcoming from the Joint Opposition, many of whose members are today being investigated for serious acts of corruption. 


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