One gathers from recent newspaper reports that the Government of Sri Lanka intends, or has already decided, to abrogate unilaterally the commitments undertaken in the documents which were signed at the last six or so meetings in Oslo, Tokyo and Geneva. Considered in the light of the circumstances surrounding the tearing-up of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact and the Dudley-Chelvanayagam Pact, and the deliberately slow implementation of the various laws passed in respect of the national and official languages, as well as the failure to pass the requisite laws to make effective nationally the many important international covenants, protocols etc which were signed by our nation’s representatives many years ago, one could hardly be blamed for thinking that, when a Sri Lankan government signs a document saying AYes, it may well mean A No.
If memory serves us right, one of our Prime Ministers, in a rare moment of candour for a politician, confessed, on a public platform, that everyone in Sri Lanka knows that election promises are meant solely to secure votes and that all citizens are well aware that most such promises will not be fulfilled. It did not need his confession for the people to realise that this type of deplorable hoodwinking, by political parties and their candidates deliberately lying to voters, continues to be the norm. However, our people have been most forgiving, perhaps believing implicitly that this type of vice, sin or crime is meant only for local consumption and is, therefore, not something about which one should fret too much because, in any case, one may discount appropriately the value of any election promises before casting one’s vote.
We also recall how a Adharmishta form of government was promised and how it led to a cooked-up referendum, and the stoning of the residences of some of our then revered Supreme Court judges. Promises of a guaranteed price for paddy and bread at Rs3.50 per kg were just two other low frauds. Moreover, it did not take too long for one and all to fathom years ago that the 1994 election undertaking to have the Executive Presidency abolished was a premeditated deception.
Then there are the oaths and affirmations, taken by those thousands who are required to do so, to uphold the Constitution. We have learnt from increasingly bitter experience that most of these thousands, irrespective of their rank in the national hierarchy, do not appear ever to have intended to honour such oaths or affirmations. The Constitution continues to be brazenly violated, particularly under the cover of the so-called Ablanket immunity, which is said to apply to all presidential acts, even if they are patently unconstitutional or unlawful.
The Commissioner of Elections has been asking, for several years, to be allowed to retire. The last time was when the 2005 Presidential Elections were concluded. On this occasion he was publicly and smilingly given the nod to go on his well-earned retirement. But, what do we have? A less than acceptable excuse that he cannot be released because the Elections Commission cannot be appointed owing to the fact that the Constitutional Council cannot function lawfully without its full complement of ten members, ignoring the fact that it had functioned for some time with only nine members (upon the resignation of one of its better known members), and that its quorum, in any event, is only six.
It now appears that the international community, too, is expected to swallow our politicians’ unserious undertakings in the same manner as our apathetic citizenry do in respect of unfulfilled vote-catching slogans. This is an utterly shameful situation. We need to accept in all humility that the unilateral abrogation of solemn commitments made to other parties in the name of the State is just not compatible with integrity or good governance. The time is ripe, therefore, for Parliament, now hopefully bipartisan, to pass laws that would bind the government for the time being, whatever its political colour, to honour at least the international commitments made by all preceding governments from the time of independence, including the passing of any necessary national legislation so as not to harm Sri Lanka’s standing and reputation in the world community, not to mention the loss of credibility and the sympathy of all the other 191 nations which, together with Sri Lanka, comprise the UN.
As for the hundreds of broken election promises, we shall have to wait for more favourable litigational conditions to prevail, whereupon the public may be sufficiently emboldened to sue politicians in their personal capacity for cheating the public with evident fraudulent intent.
All the improprieties referred to above arise because the Rule of Law has been progressively undermined by politicians with no little assistance from many others. It is vital that we take steps to stop this rot, but the onus for doing so lies largely with our legal fraternity. It is dispiriting to see, though, that most Sri Lankan lawyers are content to focus solely on how quickly and thickly they can line their pockets, with no thought of their civic responsibilities, for which they have been uniquely empowered unlike other citizens. We appeal to the Bar Association of Sri Lanka to do their duty towards the welfare of future generations of Sri Lankans by energising and motivating each of its members to help restore the Rule of Law, not only during Law Week but every day of the year.