Will the government “Cherry Pick” the PCoI recommendations?

Minister G.L. Peiris, that Great Oracle of the government who is also the nominal chairman of the ruling party, told us just the other day that the recommendation of the PCoI to ban the Bodu Bala Senawa (BBS) will not be implemented. Of course, not. How could the government be so silly as to ban an organisation which has an ideology quite similar to that of the government itself when both organisations draw their support from the same vote base of radical majoritarian nationalism?

If you thought that the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks was the real thing, you got it totally wrong.

Sure, it could end up ruining what is left of Maithripala Sirisena’s political life and retirement and, in a worst case scenario, land him in jail. Even if that happened, that wouldn’t alter the course of Sri Lankan politics much, would it? Not now, anyway.

Not that the recommendations of the PCoI will be implemented in full. The government will ‘cherry pick’ the recommendations most advantageous to its own political advancement and survival and implement only those recommendations.

Minister G.L. Peiris, that Great Oracle of the government who is also the nominal chairman of the ruling party, told us just the other day that the recommendation of the PCoI to ban the Bodu Bala Senawa (BBS) will not be implemented.

Of course, not. How could the government be so silly as to ban an organisation which has an ideology quite similar to that of the government itself when both organisations draw their support from the same vote base of radical majoritarian nationalism?

We can also rest assured that the PCoI is not the real thing. It is not the inquiry that really matters. The PCoI is the appetiser that whets our taste for Commissions of Inquiry- even though, judging by the reaction thus far, everyone is enamoured with implementing the PCoI’s recommendations.

The main course though has only started. It is the Presidential Commission to Investigate Political Victimisation- let us call it the PCIPV, because there are too many commissions going around. Its report was tabled in Parliament this week although its contents were known widely through ‘inspired leaks’ after the report was handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa some three months ago.

Once we shout from the rooftops (or the pulpits) saying that all the recommendations of the PCoI on the Easter attacks should be implemented, then we cannot say that the recommendations on of the PCIPV can be ignored, can we?

 

The PCIPV was chaired by retired Supreme Court Judge Upali Abeyratne and comprised of Retired Appeal Court Judge Daya Chandrasiri Jayatilleka and retired Inspector General of Police Chandra Fernando.

And what has the PCIPV recommended? It has held that former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, former ministers Mangala Samaraweera, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Rauff Hakeem, Sarath Fonseka, Malik Samarawickrema, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, opposition parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran , former parliamentarian Jayampathi Wickramaratne, former Secretary to the Prime Minister Saman Ekanayake, senior Police officer Shani Abeysekera and activist J.C. Weliamuna are all guilty of political victimisation.

It doesn’t end there. It recommends a review of the conviction of former parliamentarian Duminda Silva, whose death sentence was affirmed by no less than the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. It also recommends the discontinuation of cases filed against the Current Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, Yoshitha Rajapaksa and former Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda.

In one broad sweep, the PCIPV has delivered a massive blow to what is remaining of the democratic opposition polity. The political lives of former ministers Samaraweera and Samarawickrema may be over and Wickremesinghe may be on his last legs but if the likes of Ranawaka, Fonseka, Dissanayake and Sumanthiran are rendered ineligible to participate in the political discourse that will make matters much easier for the government.

Apparently what is being contemplated is the possibility of those found ‘guilty’ being deprived of their civic rights. While that is still a long way from becoming reality, nothing is seemingly impossible for a government that has sufficient numbers in Parliament where it has already demonstrated that a two-thirds majority- and then some- is available for the asking.

The PCIPV matter is now embroiled in a further legal wrangle with lawyers challenging the findings of the Commission, saying in a complaint to Bribery Commission that the PCIPV exceeded its mandate and thereby wasted public funds.

How serious a matter this is, is reflected in a letter sent to the Bar Association (BASL) of Sri Lanka by eleven eminent lawyers including K. Kanag-Isvaran, Ikram Mohamed, Faisz Musthapha, Upali Gooneratne, Geoffrey Alagaratnam, Romesh De Silva, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, U.R. De Silva, Nihal Jayamanne, Upul Jayasuriya and Saliya Peiris.

This group of lawyers which counts several former Presidents of the BASL fears that the findings of the PCIPV could “undermine the Rule of Law in this country, impair independence of the judiciary and erode impartial and efficient functioning of the Attorney General’s Department.”

The gravity of the possible implications of the PCIPV recommendations is underscored by the fact that the letter has been signed by lawyers such as Romesh de Silva and Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe. De Silva has been President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s counsel on many an occasion while Rajapakshe is still a ruling party parliamentarian.

What next, you may ask? Just as President Rajapaksa appointed a cabinet committee headed by elder brother Chamal to review the PCoI on the Easter Sunday attacks, yet another ‘Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry’- and we will call this ‘SPIC’- has been appointed to ‘study’ the PCIPV recommendations.

This SPIC is chaired by Supreme Court Justice Dhammika Priyantha Jayawardena and comprises Supreme Court Justice Khema Kumudini Wickremasinghe and Court of Appeal Justice Rathnapriya Gurusinghe as members. The purported purpose of this SPIC is to “create an appropriate mechanism to implement the recommendations of the report” of the PCIPV.

Analysts have noted that the terms of reference for this SPIC is not to query or corroborate the findings of the PCIPV but to merely work out how its recommendations are to be implemented.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking because the SPIC, appointed at the end of January, has been given a three-month deadline to submit its recommendations. Therefore, by end of April, these recommendations will be on the table and the legal emasculation of the collective opposition is set to begin.

 

If the PCoI was the appetiser and the PCIPV was the main course, the government will ensure that SPIC will dish out what it wishes to be just deserts for the opposition- and democracy may never be the same again in Sri Lanka.

By KASSAPA

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