Sri Lanka targeting police, judges, journalists again, system has to change for progress: legislator

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s new administration is targeting police and judges who are probing crimes while journalists and their family members are also victimized on false claims, but the system has to change if the country is to progress, opposition legislator Eran Wickremaratne told parliament.

Wickremaratne, a former bank chief executive, said he was asked whether he was ‘mad’ when he decided to enter politics because of the risk of reprisals.

“We have to change this system,” Wickremaratne told parliament. “That is the only way to redeem our country.

“Professionals, lawyers, doctors, journalists, police officers, accountants, bankers, business people, career diplomats and other civil servants and others should not be penalized by political opponents when governments change.”

Wickremaratne said that after the administration changed in 2015, many senior officials continued in office and were not “hounded out.”

The head of the Criminal Investigation Department who was appointed by the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2012, remained in office.

“These included the heads of Military Intelligence and the State Intelligence Service, and the leadership of the Criminal Investigation Department,” he said.

“Our government only had one head of the CID throughout its course, and that was Senior DlG Ravi Seneviratne, who was appointed in 2012 under the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, and retired in December 2019 under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

“We passed the 19th Amendment to bring rigor to key public sector appointments and gave the opposition a voice in the selection of senior judges and civil servants.”

Wickremeratne said the CID chief was transferred out the day after the new president assumed duties.

“Even as a member of the opposition, I was hopeful that this government would look forward and not backward, but what we have seen instead is a witch hunt of unprecedented proportions.”

Police officers who probed the so-called MiG deal had also been transferred out and had been replaced by people who had been previously removed over disciplinary issues, he said.

He said that in the case where an employee of the Swiss embassy was alleged to have been abducted, there was an attempt to show that it was fabricated by three people; a former Editor of the Sunday Observer, Dharisha Bastians, a working committee member of the UNP, who was also the chairman of Lake House, Krishantha Cooray and the former head of the CID.

“They have said this without a shred of evidence, simply to paint them as villains for not having bowed to threats and intimidations,” he said.

He said telephone records of Bastians, had been examined in a bid to identify their sources, without getting a court order.

“They have questioned other journalists and lawyers who worked with Bastians, and demanded to know who their sources were in the CID,” Wickremaratne said.

“How can journalists practice their profession if their phone records are checked by the CID at their whim and fancy? If the CID has to check a private citizens’ details, they must get a court order.”

He said Bastian’s husband, a career diplomat at the foreign ministry, had been recalled without explanation or due process, undermining the rights of a public officer.

Attempts are also being made to change independent magistrates or promote them, Wickremeratne alleged.

He called on professional associations to take note.

“If we do not stand by those who do the right thing, those honest, capable and qualified professionals and experts, Sri Lanka’s brain drain will be accelerated and not reversed, and over time, we will lose all the people of the caliber we need to develop this country and develop the institutions we need as a nation,” Wickremaratne warned.

Sri Lanka’s public sector started to break down and lost its independence after a civil service commission was abolished by the Republican Constitution and cabinet started to appoint ministry secretaries.

Earlier, ministry secretaries were permanent, and the public service commission appointed transferred and took disciplinary action. Countries like Singapore and even India, retained the system.

The last nail in the coffin came when the in 1978 constitution, the President started to appoint and transfer secretaries directly. (Colombo/Feb23/2020)