If one needed proof that ‘law and order’ is merely a phrase in Sri Lanka with no meaning at all, there was another example on display last week, involving State Minister of Small and Medium Enterprises Development, Prasanna Ranaweera.

Ranaweera is alleged to have accosted an employee of the Bandaranaike Airport at Katunayake, taken him aside, trod on his foot and slapped him, reportedly for the offence asking for his due payment for handling Ranaweera’s wife’s luggage. Footage of the incident, captured on CCTV, went viral on social media and is self-explanatory.

This incident comes hot on the heels of Diana Gamage being found to be a British Citizen by the Supreme Court after she was brazenly masquerading as State Minister of Tourism for almost four years. Both mainstream and social media carried a many a detail of Gamage’s misdemeanours and the issue was raised in Parliament but Ranil Wickremesinghe, himself a President without a mandate, not only turned a blind eye but also asked incredulously, “why are you jealous of her?”.

Ranaweera’s pedigree is well-known. During the infamous constitutional coup under Maithripala Sirisena and the resultant 52-day illegal government where Mahinda Rajapaksa was posing as Prime Minister, Ranaweera it was who threw chilli powder at his opponents in Parliament. Rather than being punished for his shenanigans and being booted out of Parliament, the enlightened voters of the Gampaha district and the Kelaniya electorate in particular, sent him back with over 80,000 preference votes.

Ranaweera’s conduct after the incident at the Airport is worth recalling. When the first news first broke, his name was not mentioned, although it was speculated upon. The CCTV footage was not available. Asked by a media outlet whether he was involved, he denied the incident.

It was thereafter that CCTV footage emerged. Ranaweera then admitted to the incident but stated that he did not assault the worker in public but took the precaution of taking him aside and doing so. What he was implying was that he was in fact so considerate as to protect the worker’s reputation while assaulting him!

The worker then attempted to lodge a complaint with the Police. At first, he was told that the complaint could not be recorded as ‘the Officer in Charge was absent”. It was when this new broke and the pressure escalated that a complaint was finally recorded. Ranaweera was asked to provide a statement to the Katunayake Airport Police, which he did, basking in the glory of the cameras that were filming him and without an iota of shame.

Not content with that, he then went on several social media channels, justifying his actions. The fees charged by the workers were exorbitant, he said and claimed that he was ‘fighting for justice’ for the thousands of travellers who use the airport. Being a state minister, he could have agitated for that from within the government and obtained a more sustainable result but he, in his infinite wisdom, believed that slapping a worker was the better course of action.

Rather than trying to achieve the impossible by attempting to reform Ranaweera, perhaps the more pertinent question is, what has the legal system done about all this? Apart from recording the victim’s statement- and that too only because the Police was under pressure by the media to do so- and questioning Ranaweera, absolutely nothing. No one is waiting with bated breath for Ranaweera to be charged with assault in court and be punished by the criminal justice system. No, we all know that will not happen.

In the circumstances, the least that could be done from an ethical point of view is for President Ranil Wickremesinghe to remove Ranaweera from his ministry. No, that too will not be done by Wickremesinghe, once the great democrat and guardian of civil liberties in our country when he was languishing for decades in the opposition, with no prospect of gaining power.

Remember Lohan Ratwatte? He, along with his father Anurudhdha was charged with the murder of ten youths at Udatalawinna in Kandy during the 2001 general election but were later acquitted. Those youths paid the supreme sacrifice for campaigning for the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress which was supporting Ranil Wickremesinghe at the election. That same Wickremesinghe recently appointed that same Lohan Ratwatte as State Minister of Plantation Industries and Mahaweli Development!

Like Ranaweera, Ratwatte also has a dubious track record. Under Gotabaya Rajapaksa, he was appointed State Minister of Gem and Jewellery and Prison Management and Rehabilitation. While he was holding this portfolio Ratwatte allegedly visited prisons in the night and terrorised inmates by asking them to kneel and pointing a gun at them. Rajapaksa’s response? The portfolio related to Prisons was removed from him but he was allowed to function as State Minister of Gem and Jewellery!

There was a one-person committee comprising of former High Court Judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena appointed to probe Ratwatte’s conduct. The committee recommended that charges of attempted murder be filed against Ratwatte. Instead, what he has been offered is a state ministerial portfolio by Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The incidents involving Lohan Ratwatte, Diana Gamage and now, Prasanna Ranaweera all illustrate how corrupt the legal system is in Sri Lanka. There is one law for ‘ordinary’ citizens, such as the youth who vented his frustrations at the airport about the ‘visa on arrival’ process or the odd street vendor who overcharges a tourist: the Police, under the direction of the equally flexible Tiran Alles and Deshabandu Tennakoon, pounce on them and intimidate them.

There is a different law for the likes of Ratwatte, Gamage and Ranaweera. They can do no wrong and whatever they do, the Police will look the other way. That is the pathetic state of law and order in this country.

There is a message that has gone viral on social media giving five reasons why Ranil Wickremesinghe will lose the next presidential election. The reasons are, in order, Keheliya Ranbukwella, Diana Gamage, Deshabandu Tennakoon, Sagala Ratnayake and Shammi Silva. A sixth can be confidently added to that list now: Prasanna Ranaweera.


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