on Rights - By Kishali Pinto Jayawardene
An illfated anti-graft body
The continuing tussle over the removal of one Director
General and the appointment of another to the Permanent Commission to Investigate
Allegations of Bribery and Corruption has, yet again, brought into public
focus, fundamental defects in the law under which the country's premier
graft fighting body functions. The outgoing Director General charges that
his removal was due to his "determination to go ahead with investigations
when evidence was available and reluctance to do so when there was no evidence."
His successor has retorted that he would continue with all investigations
presently before the Commission and has denied that his appointment was
prompted by "political reasons." The actual truths (or should one say the
relative untruths?) behind these contrasting public positions belongs,
of course, to a different debate altogether.
To that debate is also more appropriate, the sense of amazement that
visits one when the moral high ground is assumed with such consummate ease
by individuals who cannot but be less qualified to do so.
For the moment, this column concerns itself with the actual position
of the Director General vis a vis the Commissioners under the Act that
was passed unanimously by Parliament after a marathon sitting in 1994.
This is central to the ongoing dispute and deserves some clarification
in view of utterances on both sides of the controversy this week that tend
to give a misleading picture of the nature of the office of the Director
General. Similar misconceptions arose, in fact, in 1997 when the Commissioners
of that period were caught up in similarly destructive antagonism with
then Director General Nelum Gamage. Then, it became very clear that the
1994 Act specifically situates the Director General in a position inferior
to the former Bribery Commissioner under the old Bribery Act and indeed
reduces the Director General to nothing more than an investigating officer
of the Commission.
Thus, the Act makes provision for a Director General to "assist the
Commission in the discharge of the functions assigned to the Commission."
It is the Commission itself however that is empowered to enter into investigations
and the Commission could, in fact, direct any officer other than the Director
General to look into a particular case. Criminal proceedings are instituted
against individuals by the Director General but only upon direction of
the Commission and it is only in this context that indictment could be
signed by the Director General. The capacity of independent action given
to the Director General was therefore limited. Indeed, the final draft
of the law that came in Bill form before Parliament refers to the Director
General merely as a Director. The more grandiloquent phrasing in the Act
obviously emerged through the parliamentary debates and amendment process.
It was appropriate therefore, (or so the framers of the law, including
then Minister of Justice, G.L Peiris would have reasoned albeit unfortunately,
at that time), that the security of tenure of the Director General need
not be guaranteed to the same extent as the Commissioners.
Thus, the 1994 Act prescribed a laborious procedure for removal of the
Commissioners that is akin to the procedure for removal of judges of the
superior courts (however flawed that may be). The provisions governing
the appointment and removal of the Director General are however very different.
Thus, while appointment to the post by the President "may" be in consultation
with the members of the Commission, removal of the Director General, by
some startling oversight, is minus even this minimum safeguard and is not
provided for at all in the Act.
It remains highly arguable meanwhile whether the process of 'consultation"
specified in the case of appointment of a Director General, applies, by
implication, to the process of his removal as well. It is precisely these
ambiguities regarding the office of the Director General, which have constantly
plagued the smooth working of the Commission since it was set up seven
years back and now effectively diminished its credibility in the public
The questions therefore are obvious; in all its seven years of working
with full time or part time Directors General, what are the actual achievements
of the Commission in the convictions that it has brought about? Its annual
reports may give statistics of the number of cases prosecuted or investigated
but that is not the question in issue. Has it been a significant deterrent
force in curbing graft in the country? It is equally obvious that negative
answers must be returned to all these queries.
An important contributing factor to its ineffectiveness meanwhile has
been the absence of provisions giving the Commission an independent investigative
unit unlike anti-corruption units in Singapore and Hong Kong. The police
division attached to the Commission is under the IGP and its officers liable
to transfer or disciplinary action at any time as was apparent in 1997
when a substantial number was transferred out of the Commission, crippling
It stands to reason therefore that at a saner moment in time in the
future (if this country should ever survive to witness such a time), that
necessary amendments be made to the 1994 Act that would bring about a more
rational balance between the Commission and the office of its Director
General as well as grant to the Commission, an independent investigative
But the question as to whether even these amendments would result in
a Commission that sets a strong moral tone in tackling bribery and corruption
in Sri Lanka is far more complex. For that, we need individuals of not
only integrity but also tremendous courage serving on the Commission in
a culture moreover where laws and institutions are not so deplorably governed
by political necessities and personal aggrandizement.
In the absence of this, it is a pertinent question as to whether we
would be better off without a corruption fighting body that has hitherto
marked itself only by its internal controversies adorning the front pages
of our newspapers?
Clinically Yours - By Dr. Who
Thanks for cricket, no thanks for politics
Arjuna Ranatunga is contesting the elections; OK, so what? Much has already
been made about this entrée of the Grand Old Man of Sri Lankan cricket
to the dirty old game of Sri Lankan politics, but is there anything in
it to write home about? Just because Arjuna Ranatunga the cricketer transformed
Sri Lankan cricket like it had never been done before, is there reason
to hope that he could do the same
for local politics?
Ranatunga sees himself as the paragon of virtue; remember how many times
he has reminded us that he is the poor kid who used to travel from Gampaha
to Colombo by train for cricket practices, just as much Ranasinghe Premadasa
reminded us that he was the little boy who sold 'levariya' at Kehelwatte
? And it is the same Arjuna Ranatunga who said that he never appeared for
a single advertisement. And of course Ranatunga it was who initiated the
fund-raising campaign to purchase a MRI scanner for the National Hospital.
But before we go ga-ga over Ranatunga the gentleman, let's consider
the other side of the coin. Papa Reggie is already in the dock, accused
of at least being a spectator to the first political murder in the current
election. And Arjuna himself is charged with assaulting schoolboys for
the crime of entering his garden to retrieve a cricket ball. And ask any
UNPer about the gung-ho of the Ranatunga clan in Gampaha and they will
have many stories to relate.
It is also an open secret that Arjuna was the monarch of all he surveyed
in the Cricket Board after his World Cup triumph- the Sinhala media coined
the word 'Ranatungakaranaya' to describe the phenomenon. Calamity came
upon those who crossed the path of the cricketing Emperor and they who
were at the receiving end say that the arrogance King knew no bounds.
Today, Arjuna takes a broadside at Imran Khan by saying that he would
become the first international cricket captain to taste success as a politician-but
there is a significant difference here that Arjuna chooses to ignore. Imran
was committed enough to realize that the two-party system in his country
was corrupt beyond repair-as it is here- and courageous enough to strike
it out on his own.
Not so Arjuna, who has a ready family electoral fiefdom to inherit.
So, he will win and handsomely at that- but that will not make him a great
politician. Yes, we as a nation should be grateful to Ranatunga for making
little Lanka proud as a cricketing power. Yes, he did defend Murali by
sticking his neck out as no one would have done and we do admire him for
But while we must say thank you for the Cricket, Arjuna, we must also
say no, thank you for your politics, at least not yet. From the sublime
to the ridiculous is but a short step.
Ranatunga now descends from the sublime summit of winning the 1996 World
Cup to the ridiculous rabble of politics, an act that could sadly overshadow
or even obliterate the niche he has carved for himself in this country's
In Arjuna Ranatunga in the cricketing arena, we have seen the power
of arrogance. But let it not be now said, you ain't seen nothin' yet folks,
for may we soon see the arrogance of power.
2001 Election - Issues
President's attempt at Hara-kiri
It was pressure-cooker atmosphere back home. The President had just averted
certain defeat at a censure vote in Parliament. Her close allies were deserting
the sinking ship. She had called for elections; just about rustled up a
nomination list, and needed a break very badly. Apart from the Kurumba
village in the Maldives, London is the place she opts for such, eh, 'working
Infact, she had decided to visit the United Arab Emirates, but folks
over there were a little more than startled that there was someone visiting
the area in the midst of a war in the region. So, the visit was called
off at the eleventh hour.
Bell Pottinger a highly priced Public Relations agency was hired to
line up a few interviews for the visiting first lady from Sri Lanka.
The one question that begs an answer is why a PR agency had to be hired
when BBC and CNN had asked for interviews in Colombo. In Colombo, the President
would have been on home turf; but she opted to go to Old Blighty instead
and into their studios and their den.
When an interview is requested by BBC or CNN from the President in Colombo
there is some obligation for those broadcasters to be a little gentle.
When in their turf, they have absolutely no obligation and that is why
we saw Zain Vergee (CNN) and Tim Sebastian (BBC Hard Talk) being very dismissive
of, after all, the Head of a sovereign country.
Neville De Silva, our correspondent in London says that at one stage
she was forced to admit that she had not read the latest US state department
report on Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankans abroad are overwhelmingly of the view that Kumaratunga's
interview on Hard Talk was like 'Romans throwing the Christians to the
Here was Zain Vergee, a fairly junior anchor at CNN studio in Atlanta,
mind you, and not London, cross-examining the President of Sri Lanka. Why
did the President of Sri Lanka subject herself to this? Surely, did she
not learn a bitter lesson only two months back when BBC's (India) Hard
Talk specialist Arun Thapa made mince-meat out of her. The President should
also have realized that she was the head of the country — not the head
of the Peoples Alliance — because that is how she is introduced to the
Well, we defend anyone's right to make a spectacle of things but several
important issues have to be raised. There is one thing that local VVIP's
have never learnt, which is to trust the local press and get on with them.
They prefer the state media where an interviewer usually asks a question
then goes to the canteen for a smoke and a cup of tea, and returns to find
the VVIP still talking. When he/she decides to stop, they ask the next
Even our local TV chat shows (private channels included) are open-ended,
sometimes going on into the silent night while the rest of the country
has fallen asleep. Our politicians who love to talk have not learnt the
art of speaking to the point. They don't know the importance of sound-bites.
But what is worse is that the Govt. of Sri Lanka does not know how to
use the media other than the State media. In that case, they must stick
Interesting incidentally, is the fact that two previous assignments
of Bell Pottinger had been to save the soul of Augusto Pinochet the Chilean
leader and to convince the world that Genetically Modified (GM) food is
harmless. No wonder Sri Lanka withdrew its own ban on GM food.
The President, Pottinger-prodded or not, did not know what she was about
at times during the interviews. She referred to the 60,000 people killed
during the 1987-90 JVP led insurgency as an insurgency involving "democratic
youth." In the CNN interview; she referred to the "UNP" as if the whole
world knew what was UNP (..some viewers may have thought it was a UN agency
like UNFPA or something).
She then said that the people who stuffed ballot boxes are now with
the opposition, in other words admitting that ballot boxes were stuffed
during her tenure as President.
Bell Pottinger is also distinguished by it's efforts to find a mediator
between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. Suggested names? Madeline
Albright, Jimmy Carter and John Mitchell? All people rather aloof from
the Sri Lankan situation. This for all that's paid to them?
UNP-led coalition or vise versa?
Is it going to be a PA-UNP contest at the forthcoming elections or a PA-PA
contest. From what can be seen, it looks more like the latter. The PA's
campus of resigned frontliners has 'hijacked' the opposition campaign.
At the UNP rallies in Colombo and Kandy it is GL Peiris and S.B. Dissanayake
who are sitting next to party leader Ranil, edging out Karu the trusted
Their speeches especially of SB is like baila to the UNP ears. The hardcore
UNP love the defectors because they see in them, people who can throw authentic
mud at the PA — especially the President — and give some titillating insights
to how the government was run during the past seven years.
All this has given the confidence to a party that had neglected its
grass-root organizational machinery, a glimmer of hope considering that
when it comes to rigging, the New champs are now with them. However, there
is a large segment of the voting population that might think the UNP is
the better alternative, but ask the question whether this is the UNP they
With all the rascals in the PA taking front seats with a smile that
says 'cat that got the cream?' GL Peiris is the Messiah and spokesman for
this new Front. Is the UNP so bankrupt to have this wizard who hardly two
months ago issued a press release contradicting reports that he had decided
to join the UNP, adding that he was presiding over some SLFP Bala Mandalaya
meeting in Moratuwa at the time the report was made?
SB's recent speeches have CBK running down Galle Face Green like a madwoman.
Well, at least he was asked about it, but gives the incredible answer that
he did not know the media was covering the event at 'Siri Kotha'. Ranil
has a difficult task ahead no doubt. While (because of the UNP's weak organizational
capacity) he has to rely on the PA defectors and the minority parties,
he must accommodate them. On the other hand he must show the electorate
that they are voting for the UNP led coalition not the coalition led UNP.