Sri Lanka President’s controversial take on commissions, police and rights

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President’s unexpected outburst on Wednesday against police and the criminal justice system has sent shock waves through the political establishment. Much of his remarks appeared to be aimed at criticising his own government led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who is yet to react publicly.

Here are the key points made by President Maithripala Sirisena.

1) Independent commissions should keep the President informed. President Sirisena reprimanded secretaries and heads of independent commissions  for carrying out their work without keeping him informed.

"There was an objective in setting up these independent commissions. Members of these commissions should know their limits. They must know the scope of their work."

"Maintenance of the state, national security, security forces and the management of the armed forces are important for the state. They (commissioners) must have a proper understanding of these things. People who have no understanding of these issues are conspiring in various corners and take wrong decisions. I, as President and defence minister, express my disgust at the marching of three admirals to courts."

"If there is a problem with a defence-related matter, there is a proper way to deal with that. The heads of these commissions have a responsibility and duty to keep the president informed, to keep the defence minister informed."

"One can argue that independent commissions need not do that. but in all these commissions, the secretaries and director-generals have been appointed by me. They have a duty to keep the chief executive (president) informed." This could be a new interpretation of the work of the commissions established to keep out political interference and make them truly independent.

2). Actions of the Financial Investigations Division (FCID), Criminal Investigations Division (CID) and the Independent Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC) are politically motivated. The President’s  remarks appear to confirm the allegation made by his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa that investigations against him, his family and associates were a political vendetta.

3). The President said the authorities were holding military intelligence officers in remand custody for over 10 months without charging them. President Sirisena was referring to the case of Prageeth Eknaligoda who disappeared two days before the January 2010 presidential elections. The President said he was promised by the investigators that the suspects will be held for just two weeks only, but they are languishing in remand for over 10 months.

The President said holding military intelligence officers who have been implicated in the abduction and the disappearance of Eknaligoda amounted to a violation of the human rights of the suspects. He made an impassioned plea on behalf of the suspects, something that the Rajapaksa camp has been doing for months.





4). He criticised delays in the criminal justice system. Accused law enforcement authorities of holding suspects for lengthy periods without trial or charges being framed. It is the same allegation made by hundreds of Tamil detainees languishing in jail for over 10 years without any charges brought against them.

5). The President promised decisive action against those “conspiring in corners.” He did not specify what action he would take as president, commander-in-chief and the defence minister. He said he had decided to end his long silence and speak out. (COLOMBO, Oct 12, 2016)

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