President Chandrika Kumaratunga has rejected one of the members newly nominated by the Constitutional Council (CC) to the independent Bribery Commission, prompting council sources to express concern that it may suffer the same fate as the Elections Commission.
The Elections Commission has been pending since 2003, when President Kumaratunga shot down another of the nominees selected by the CC. Justice Ranjit Dheeraratne had been named as Elections Commission chairman but Kumaratunga wrote to the CC requesting them to reconsider his nomination. The CC, taking her concerns on board, had re-examined his credentials thoroughly and decided that they had no reason to change the selection. This was duly conveyed to Kumaratunga and there has been no response from her since then.
CC sources warn that this process has revealed a fundamental flaw in the 17th amendment. The legislation decrees that no person shall be appointed by the president as chairman or any member of the commissions except on a recommendation of the council. However, it does not give a timeframe to the president within which to make the final appointments.
`She has still not officially rejected Dheeraratne,` a council source said. `But neither has she appointed the commission. She has simply kept quiet. There is an obvious loophole in the law.
There is nothing making it mandatory for her to finalise the appointments.`
The 17th amendment also does not make any provision for the president to veto or reject the CC?s selections.
The CC?which comprises ten members including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and the president?s appointee, Prof Colvin Goonaratna?selected three members to the Bribery Commission on January 13, this year. The names of retired Supreme Court judges Ameer Ismail and P. Edussuriya, and retired Inspector General of Police T. E. Anandarajah were forwarded to Kumaratunga on January 17. New commissioners were needed because the term of the previous officials had expired, leaving the body inoperative.
State media reported last week that Kumaratunga had rejected the selection of Anandarajah on the grounds that he allegedly had connections with the narcotics mafia. These allegations had arisen after he was filmed at the Hilton birthday party of a drug dealer?s daughter.
The article also said that the choice of Anandarajah was a conspiracy by the UNP to invalidate the Bribery Commission. It quoted Bribery Commission sources as saying `the UNP was trying to block these investigations using the ex-IGP as a red herring.`
A council source said that the president?s dissatisfaction has still not been conveyed to the CC. `We sent three names to the president,` he said. `Our part is done. We have not been told anything by the president about a rejection of any of our nominees.`
A council member said that several applicants had been considered before the selections were made. According to the requirement, two of the commissioners had to be judges while the third member had to have experience in criminal investigation. The choice was eventually narrowed to three people, including Anandarajah.
The names were leaked to the media before the final selection was made, prompting several people to communicate concern to the CC about Anandarajah?s choice. (There is provision for public objections provided they were supported by acceptable evidence). However, according to Goonaratna, the protests against Anandarajah came only in the form of anonymous letters and newspaper clippings.
`As far as the Constitutional Council was concerned, there was no evidence whatsoever`85 nothing even suspicious`85 to say that he was linked to any illegal activity,` Goonaratna told the Sunday Island. `In the objections that were sent to us, there was nothing resembling proof.`
`If we are to act solely on the basis of paper clippings and anonymous letters, we won?t be able to appoint anybody to anything,` he continued. `There was enough time for anyone to present us with proof.`
Goonaratna admitted that he had supported Anandarajah?s selection on these grounds. However, he and other CC members had rejected two other applications. One aspirant had contested a parliamentary election on the UNP ticket and withheld this information from the CC. Another failed at the interview.
Asked whether, as president?s appointee, he had not been aware of Kumaratunga?s objections to Anandarajah, Goonaratna said he had acted independently: `In all my life, I have done what I think is right in any post that I am appointed to.`
`I have political links but I have long since given up party politics,` he said.
Asked whether the CC will change its position in the face of the president?s opposition, another council member said: `The question is whether it should.`
`There must be checks and balances in a democracy,` he said. `Look at what happened in the US, where Condoleeza Rice was put through the mill.`
`The CC was formed to curtail the absolute powers of the president,` he stressed. `Now, the powers of the president are being used to prevent the functioning of vital institutions. This is not the way democracy works. I feel very sad for the country.`
`We go through the whole process of selection and nomination only to find that it has been a waste of our time,` he said. `When will we start putting country first and acting responsibly?`
The member confirmed that Anandarajah had been given a complete background check and all the necessary documents sent to Kumaratunga.
The CC is expected to meet on Thursday.