Man has not yet fully evolved as an intelligent being. His animalistic traits urge him to dominate others like pack animals. Therefore, even a nincompoop put behind a counter, as Camus has wisely said, begins to put on airs and graces. Nowhere else is this more discernible than in politics where every blockhead considers himself or herself a king or a queen and indulges in empire building and suppressing others so as to perpetuate their hold on power. However, politicians are not alone in the game.
It was to restrain such men and women with dictatorial tendencies that wise philosophers and statesmen of yore advocated principles such as separation of powers and human and fundamental rights for the wellbeing of democracy and the benefit of the voiceless multitude. However, these principles remain lofty ideals not fully put into practice anywhere in the world.
In this country since a few decades ago, politicians have aggrandised themselves by causing the once well defined boundaries of non political institutions to disappear and then grabbing powers thereof. They have employed various methods, both constitutional and extra constitutional, if not coercive and illegal, to achieve this end. The result has been the debilitation of many an institution which used to be a strong pillar of democracy.
The public service, the police and the judiciary were the first few casualties of this unbridled process of politicisation. Of them, only the judiciary remains resilient.
The first ever Executive President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka J. R. Jayewardene was his name began his autocratic rule by sacking eight Supreme Court (SC) judges and bringing in an outsider, Neville Samarakoon, as the Chief Justice. However, CJ Samarakoon refused to be a lackey of the ruling party much to the disappointment and consternation of JRJ, who boasted that the only task he could not accomplish as the executive president was to make a woman a man and vice versa. (But, the public perception is that he managed to make eunuchs of all his parliamentarians including ministers except the late Minister S. Thondaman. All of them tendered undated resignation letters thus placing themselves at the mercy of the President!)
JRJ rode rough shod over the judiciary in the most despicable manner. He not only interfered with it but also rewarded those who were convicted of human rights violations and pardoned criminals serving sentences. Some of the UNP stalwarts who are campaigning for the independence of the judiciary at present were members of the JRJ government which went on a witch-hunt against judges, especially CJ Samarakoon, who finally escaped an impeachment attempt by resigning. They were also responsible for the dastardly act of stoning the houses of Supreme Court judges in 1983 in protest against a ruling in favour of Vivienne Goonewardene, who had challenged her illegal arrest and assault by a police officer. UNP thugs led by notorious criminal Kalu Lucky demonstrated opposite judges` houses hurling raw filth and stones.
The public service which the previous United Front government (1970-77) had reduced to a mere appendage of the ruling party was rendered more servile by JRJ and many independent officials who refused to sell their souls to political devils were victimised. Trade unions were crushed and over 50,000 state workers thrown out of jobs for the crime of asking for a small pay hike in July 1980. The perpetrators of such crimes against the working class are today weeping buckets for the aggrieved state employees and organising strikes on their behalf!
Ever since the introduction of the present Constitutions in 1978, this country has experienced terrorism of the Executive, which has come to dwarf all other institutions. The Legislature has been at the receiving end of the arrogance of the Executive, as could be seen in the President`s power to dislodge a government after one year of its formation without rhyme or reason.
The legislature revolted against the Executive President for the first time in 1991. The then President Ranasinghe Premadasa was accused of running a one man show by the elitist members of his own government and their backers. However, President Premadasa aborted that revolt by extra constitutional means and resumed his dictatorial rule without resistance from within.
The three arms of government coexisted only during the brief tenure of the stopgap President D. B. Wijetunge, who proved to be a statesman and handled the political transition of 1994 quite adroitly and democratically.
Terrorism of the Executive characterised the Kumaratunga administration as well. President Chandrika Kumaratunga s democracy was but skin deep. She, as was her wont, wanted to have a finger in every pie and interfered with each and every institution. The saving grace of her tenure was the 17th Amendment but she was able to drive a carriage and six horses through it. She also made arbitrary appointments to the judiciary but luckily for the country those appointees, including the present CJ Sarath N Silva, turned out to be efficient and upright judges. President Kumaratunga opened a new low in politics by sacking a democratically elected UNF government on false pretext in 2004. Paradoxically, that undemocratic act stood the country in good stead where national security was concerned. Ironically, she now regrets having ever done so, presumably because that ouster facilitated her b te noire, Mahinda Rajapaksa`s ascension to the throne.
The UNF government (2001-2004) was also consumed with arrogance of power. Under its watch, the legislature usurped the powers of the Executive President. Although it is the Head of State who has the power to either wage war or sue for peace, according to the Constitution, the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe entered into a disastrous CFA with the LTTE without even the concurrence of President Kumaratunga thus forcing a fait accompli on the country.
The UNF government also made a mockery of the law of the land by subjugating it to the CFA some LTTE cadres who committed a non-bailable criminal offence by carrying arms and explosives in a government controlled area had to be given bail though the judiciary was fully aware that they would never ever return to stand trial, simply because the LTTE abducted some soldiers and swapped them for their cadres in remand.
The present political dispensation has been no better. The public service is in a mess and politicians are keeping the police under their thumb. The press is under attack as in the past. Pet poodles of the President have become more equal than others before the law.
Minister Mervyn Silva once walked to freedom by settling the State costs after pleading guilty to a fraud charge. Recently, he was made to eat humble pie courtesy of the Supreme Court for a goon attack on an MTV crew. We editorially welcomed the treatment he received in the SC but one may wonder why the judicial gavel did not land on Mervyn s head, if any, as devastatingly as it did on the pates of the former Treasury, CPC and Consumer Affairs Authority chiefs.
However, it is heartening that there are signs of the judiciary snapping back into its pristine position as a robust institution. This has not been to the liking of the government but what has given rise to judicial activism is the government`s failure to carry out its duties properly. The Education Ministry cannot handle school admissions and teachers` salary matters. Most of the State ventures are dens of thieves reeking of questionable deals like the now infamous CPC hedging agreement which prevented petroleum prices being brought down. Now, even the GCE O/L mathematics paper is likely to end up in the Supreme Court!
The public service is inefficient and callous. The Executive is not capable of decision making and nipping issues in the bud. The legislature is all at sea with its members driven by an insatiable thirst for power. So, it is not surprising that people are turning to the Supreme Court for relief. The government is trying to have us believe that the powers of the Executive and the Legislature are being usurped, but people are on the side of the Supreme Court. That`s for sure! Their increasing dependence on the judiciary is proof of a systemic failure which needs to be addressed urgently.
Instead of castigating the judiciary, it behoves the government to put its house in order and obviate the factors that cause the public to go running to the Supreme Court and seek judicial remedies every so often.
If the legislature, the executive, the public service etc carry out their duties by the people effectively, efficiently, judiciously and impartially, there will be no need for people to expend time and money on costly law suits.
The government is barking up the wrong tree!