LONDON, Feb 03 (IPS) – On February 4, Sri Lanka commemorates 75 years of Independence. Nevertheless it is not going to be the extravaganza of the previous years, the minaturised imitations of the grand shows on Moscow’s Purple Sq. or China’s Tiananmen Sq..
Nonetheless, a essential query has been reverberating in the neighborhood ever for the reason that authorities introduced a scaled down celebration to commemorate 75 years since Britain relinquished energy in 1948.
After defaulting on the nation’s debt servicing final April for the primary time in its post-independence historical past and being pressured to resort to large printing of cash to fulfill state expenditure, does Sri Lanka have to have fun independence day this yr nonetheless downsized it will be?
Significantly so, when President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s authorities itself claims Sri Lanka is struggling economically and it will take years to get better from its present chaos created by leaders who inexorably pushed it to the tip of the abyss with silly financial insurance policies, wasteful expenditure and wide- scale corruption and fraud.
Whereas imposing insufferable new taxes and different restrictions on the day by day lives of the folks, driving them additional into penury with faculty kids going with out meals, fainting of their school rooms and in want of medical remedy which itself is turning into scarce, the nation’s leaders don’t appear wanting sources for celebrations.
Even the nation’s diplomatic missions will probably be holding their annual independence day celebrations because the invitation I acquired indicated, feasting their countrymen as greatest as they may.
But over the past couple of months the federal government has been promoting the story that it has no funds to pay for the Native Authorities elections due in March. An odd sufficient declare after President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in one in every of his different roles as finance minister, presenting the price range for 2023 final November allotted funds for the election and parliament, which oversees public expenditure, permitted it.
Now, the very individuals who allotted cash simply three months in the past declare to lack funds for a constitutionally required election. Punning on the outdated Harry Belafonte calypso, there’s a gap within the price range, stated some wag on social media.
It’s this contradiction in authorities conduct that an already enraged folks discover inexcusable. Having removed one elected president– Gotabaya Rajapaksa– who surreptitiously fled the nation final July when mounting peoples’ protests demanded the Rajapaksa clan give up the federal government, they discover themselves confronted with what Sri Lankans have come to see as a Rajapaksa clone– and now derisively name him Ranil Rajapaksa– thrust into the presidency to maintain the household’s political fires alight.
The Roman poet Juvenal dismissively referred to as the delusionary performances staged by the Roman emperors of the time to distract their discontented citizenry, “panem et circensus”- bread and circuses.
Bread, like another necessities, is perhaps scarce or priced past the attain of a lot of its 22 million folks. Just a few months again, the UN company UNICEF reported that 5.7 million Sri Lankans together with 2.3 million kids, are in want of humanitarian help and the numbers are more likely to rise within the coming days.
However the nation’s leaders aren’t past performing their very own circus acts. Just a few days again President Wickremesinghe appointed two extra cupboard ministers bringing the whole to 22.
Inside hours Sri Lankans with their innate sense of humour had been on social media branding the brand new cupboard “Ali Baba and the 22” with the doorways to the cupboard nonetheless open for extra acolytes chosen not for integrity and competence however loyalty.
Earlier than the 2 new ministers fattened the cupboard, splicing off the portfolios of two current ministers, President Wickremesinghe a few months in the past appointed 37 state ministers leaving room for 3 extra.
Sri Lanka’s bloated ministerial ranks would absolutely be one of many largest in at this time’s parliamentary democracies. Not solely is it massive in numbers however the perks provided to ministers and state ministers is stunningly staggering–salaries, free housing, a number of costly autos with gasoline, free utilities resembling electrical energy, water, telephones up to some extent, a number of private workers with paid salaries, armed private safety with escort autos, a particular allowance for every day they attend parliament, state pension after 5 years and different amenities not usually identified.
Whereas the federal government is ready to splash state funds on bolstering social gathering cadres and lickspittle who’ve creamed off state belongings, within the final couple of months it has been utilizing each ruse within the books-and some which aren’t in them- attempting to deprive the folks of their constitutional proper to the franchise, by blocking the Native Authorities elections due shortly.
This election, final held in 2018, is for 340 municipal councils, city councils and village our bodies is scheduled for March 9—the date set by the impartial Election Fee final month.
However because the day for the election, as constitutionally required, neared, the makes an attempt to stymie it started with grandees of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United Nationwide Celebration (UNP) and the Rajapaksa clan-run Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) that’s propping up Wickremesinghe with its parliamentary majority, asserting that financial restoration should precede elections.
Ministers and even state officers had been trotting out excuses that there was no cash to fund elections, anticipating the populace to have forgotten the budgetary allocation handed by parliament a couple of months again.
As this was being written, internationally-known authorized educational and former international minister Prof GL Peiris was telling the media the federal government had made seven makes an attempt to try to cease the election together with an affidavit to the Supreme Courtroom filed by the secretary to the finance ministry claiming the state of the economic system precluded holding elections proper now.
The newest ruse was a legislation referred to as the Election Bills Invoice to manage spending for elections hurriedly handed by parliament. If, as Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa stated, this proposal has been hanging hearth for years, why the frenzy now, the opposition and anxious voters requested.
Just like the opposition, the general public too smelled a rotten rat. It was seen as one other try to derail the elections by calling for the provisions of the invoice be included which might name for extra time.
Regardless of all the general public bravura, each the Rajapaksa-controlled SLPP and Wickremesinghe-led UNP which was swept into oblivion on the 2020 common elections, concern that given the temper of the nation which rose in mass protests for some seven months final yr resulting in the resignation of President Rajapaksa and three of his brothers from the cupboard, they’d undergo ignominious defeat.
Particularly so the UNP which misplaced each single seat together with that of social gathering chief Wickremesinghe who managed to creep again into parliament one yr later via a clause within the electoral legislation.
Not solely would a poor electoral efficiency by the SLPP and UNP which have now joined palms make governance troublesome and troublesome, it will additionally strengthen public opposition each to the Rajapaksas and President Wickremesinghe who many argue-and rightly so-as a frontrunner rejected by the nation two years in the past and missing a well-liked mandate to rule the nation.
So what one sees now’s a symbiotic relationship between the chief headed by Wickremesinghe and the legislature managed by the Rajapaksas, working the nation and utilizing outdated laws- some courting again to British times- to beat again public dissent, using the safety forces to trample on the constitutionally assured freedoms of the people- free speech and expression, of affiliation and meeting and peaceable protest.
It additionally raises points concerning the independence of the Lawyer-Normal and among the impartial establishments arrange beneath the structure that are believed to have come beneath strain through the Wickremesinghe presidency.
With two arms of the state- the chief and legislature beneath the management of the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa- led cabal and backed by the safety forces as current occasion have proven, Sri Lanka’s more and more beleaguered populace can solely rely for justice on the third arm of the state- an impartial judiciary.
Over time the judiciary has, from time to time, been beneath strain from dictatorial leaders who haven’t been averse to tamper with justice and the judicial course of, typically denying neutral, impartial judges their rightful place as chief justice or appointing buddies or these amenable to the judiciary.
However two current judgements by the Supreme Courtroom have resurrected public religion that the judiciary may very well be relied on to safeguard the structure and the peoples’ constitutional and human rights in opposition to state abuse of the legislation and the battering and brutality by the safety forces.
Just a few months again the federal government tried to push via a “Bureau of Rehabilitation Invoice” ostensibly to assist deal with and rehabilitate drug addicts and different drug customers. Beneath cowl of that it hoped to incarcerate political dissidents, activists and others which state safety would establish these they don’t like as ‘hassle makers’.
So, it included amongst these to be included beneath the legislation “ex-combatants, members of violent teams, violent extremist particular person and another particular person or group of individuals”.
The Supreme Courtroom noticed via this as an try to spherical up any particular person the authorities thought-about a political nuisance and maintain them with out recourse to the legislation. The courtroom struck down the clause.
Holding that the Invoice as an entire violated the structure, it stated it may very well be acceptable if sure clauses had been amended. One of many clauses it discovered repugnant was the one cited above which the courtroom wished deleted, leaving rehabilitation open solely to drug dependent individuals and people recognized by legislation as in want of rehabilitation.
In mid-January the Supreme Courtroom delivered a landmark verdict which held former president Maithripala Sirisena, secretary of the defence ministry, police chief and top- rating intelligence officers, of dereliction of responsibility and “failure to behave” when legitimate and clear intelligence was handed on by international sources of an impending terrorist assaults by Islamic extremists on church buildings on Easter Sunday in 2019.
Some 270 individuals together with foreigners had been killed and several other hundred wounded in these assaults on church buildings and Colombo motels.
Since these had been civil instances, President Sirisena was fined 100 million rupees and the others lesser quantities. Sirisena as a former president was now not entitled to immunity, a lesson for different former and future presidents that they too are liable to civil and legal motion resembling corruption and human rights violations as soon as they stop to carry workplace.
These judicial judgments deliver some hope to the people who the citadels of energy are susceptible and may very well be breached by a robust and upright judiciary, the one establishment now left to guard and uphold the nation’s democratic traditions and norms.
If the judiciary is badgered, the final resort is simply too bloody to ponder.
Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who held senior roles in Hong Kong at The Normal and labored in London for Gemini Information Service. He has been a correspondent for the international media together with the New York Instances and Le Monde. Extra lately he was Sri Lanka’s Deputy Excessive Commissioner in London.
Supply: Asian Affairs, London
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