Ending ‘bheeshanaya’ | Daily News

Ending ‘bheeshanaya’

President Maithripala Sirisena’s National Independence Day speech at Galle Face on Monday may have been heavy on political content but in the course he also made some pertinent observations that would be endorsed by a majority of the citizens. In his speech President Sirisena said that there were both pluses and minuses during the four years of the UNF-SLFP Alliance Government. Foremost among the positives mentioned by the President was that he was able to totally eliminate the fear psychosis that had gripped the nation prior to January 2015.

Even his worse critic would concede that the people of this country today enjoy untrammeled freedom and that the culture of impunity is a thing of the past. The media which was virtually under siege today in their new found freedom are targeting the leaders of the country and criticizing the Government with gay abandon. There are no white vans to ‘lift’ journalists or military Safe Houses specially set up to abduct, torture and kill editors of newspapers. Military commanders are not thrown behind bars simply for the reason that they challenged the political authority of the day by coming forward as Presidential candidates nor are entire communities evicted from their dwellings for the purpose of beautification of cities. Regrettably, even the religious leaders who talk glibly of dispensing with the concept of human rights and criticize westerners for attempting to impose their own human rights values in this country, forgetting the times that all norms of human rights were observed in the breach, have failed to comment on this transformation from a society wracked with fear and uncertainty to one that is today breathing the fresh air of freedom and acknowledge same.

It is not just the elimination of the fear psychosis. Under the four year Yahapalanaya regime the culture of impunity too was done away with. For the first time in the post Independence history of this country Government Ministers were relieved of their functions after being hauled before Presidential Commissions and being given a hard time by the State Counsel representing the very Government. The Prime Minister, no less, was forced to appear before an Inquiry Commission and answer probing questions put to him by the self same State Counsel. In what was a very rare instance the President was practically humbled by the highest court of the country when he requested it for a determination of the exact duration his tenure of office. The self same court also ruled against the President’s bid to dissolve Parliament ahead of time. The verdict was accepted humbly by the President. This is in contrast to the time when stones were thrown at the homes of the Lord Justices when judgements were not to the liking of the country’s leaders, nor where a Chief Justice had to suffer the ignominy of impeachment for an unfavourable ruling against the Government.

There was also no instance when Presidential pardons were granted to death row convicts as happened when a spouse of a Government minister was set free while being sent for life for the murder of his (minister’s) mistress nor when drug lords and rapists had their cases withdrawn courtesy the good offices of the Attorney General’s Department at the behest of the political leadership. On the contrary those involved in financial scams and graft including an official at the Presidential Secretariat were brought before the law and thrown behind bars.

Independent Commissions were also set up to ensure justice in the matter of appointments, promotions and transfers etc. and to prevent political victimizations. The 19th Amendment was introduced to empower Parliament and ceding much of the hitherto dictatorial powers enjoyed by the President. The judiciary has been completely freed of political interference. Ditto for the Attorney General’s Department.

True, the negatives tended to overshadow the achievements in the sphere of ushering in true democracy and freedom. Like the President noted, there were things that the Yahapalanaya Government could have done but failed to do and also things that should not have happened. He specifically referred to the harrowing incidents in Parliament, which, according to the President, represented a microsm of the decline all round. The fact that the fountainhead of democracy was desecrated in such a manner, indeed, certainly undermined the gains reaped in restoring democracy and something that should not have happened. Hopefully lessons had been learnt and saner counsel would prevail in the future.

It is also hoped that the gains achieved on the democratic and human rights front would not be reversed by all future leaders hoping to govern this country. Instead steps should be taken to strengthen the structures already in place for further advancement of these ideals. This signal achievement that won for this country the praise and accolades of the international community and restored concessions such as the GSP Plus facility that were withdrawn due to our poor rights record should be cherished and preserved as a treasured legacy.


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