Jun 07

We have had leaders like Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, who resigned because one man was shot dead during the famous 1952 hartal.  He took the responsibility for what he considered to be the employment by the Police of a degree of force which he believed was excessive in relation to the provocation.  Then there was Minister Gamani Jayasuriya, who resigned because he was not willing to be pressurised, against his best judgment and conscience, by President Jayewardene, into supporting the 1987 Indo-Lanka agreement.  Many of us can recall that more than one Railways Minister in India felt obliged to resign when a train accident involving a large number of deaths occurred during their tenure of office.  British MP John Profumo resigned because he was caught having lied to Parliament about his association with a prostitute.

What do we have in Sri Lanka?  Numerous MPs, Ministers and Presidents have been accused publicly by the media, with volumes of supporting material, of having committed unlawful acts of a grave nature.  The singular lack of response to these charges by these peoples representatives is a measure of their insensitivity and want of regard for public opinion.  Sadly, the vast majority of Sri Lankans have long accepted this kind of behaviour without overt protest.  Evil continues to triumph because we, good men that we think we are, continue to do nothing about it.

The latest development in this area is of a more substantial nature.  We refer to the judgment given by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice himself.  On 3 May 2007, this bench delivered its decision on the Fundamental Rights application which had been filed by H.Senarath of Kelaniya and two other public-spirited citizens against former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (ACBK) and 99 others.  The principal alleged infringement of the fundamental rights of the applicants related to what they claimed was the unlawful, unreasonable, arbitrary and mala fide executive action of CBK and 34 members of the Cabinet in securing for her a free grant of land, 1.5 acres in extent, vested in the UDA, on the development of which land Rs800 Million had been spent earlier, and also securing for her use, as a residence and office, the premises at No 27 Independence Avenue (ANo 27″).

The Petitioners had to fight an uphill battle to get at some of the relevant documentation because of the persistent stonewalling of compliant bureaucrats.  Admirably, the Court insisted on exerting its authority to get at the facts.

It was found that the Minister of Urban Development & Water Supply had informed the Cabinet that Athe value of land requested is insignificant and had recommended that this block should be released to CBK on a Afreehold basis as she was purported to have agreed to forgo not only her pension but also the official residence that she was legally entitled to, and even the allowances for maintenance, electricity bills and water bills.  The Court, however, held that the statement made by the Minister about the Ainsignificant value of the land was Aa misrepresentation of the facts and it went on to state further that the grant of Aa freehold allocation of State land is a concept which is not known to the law of Sri Lanka.  Unremitting in its condemnation, the Court remarked less than favourably on the extraordinary speed with which this transaction had been rushed through.

Additionally, the Court found that the Minister of Public Security, Law & Order, in his later Cabinet Memorandum recommending the allocation of the premises at No 27 to CBK, had made no reference to the earlier Cabinet Memorandum submitted by the Minister of Urban Development, where she had been reported to have agreed to forgo some of her legitimate entitlements, including the right to an official residence.  The Court held that the Minister of Public Security had Asuppressed the fact that it was only two months previously that the Cabinet had made a free grant of land to CBK in lieu of her entitlements to a residence, pension etc.

Another matter that the Court commented upon was that the two State authorities who were the occupants of the premises at No 27 were said to have Aunanimously resolved to surrender the land even before the Cabinet had made its decision on the matter.  To compound these departures from rectitude, a sum of over Rs35 Million, not covered by the 2006 Budgetary Estimates, had been released to be spent on renovating the building at No 27.  The Court specifically noted that the contractor had been chosen by CBK herself, and the price agreed with him, without recourse to tender procedures.  It was held that the entire sequence of events pertaining to the release of No 27 to CBK was Aan abuse of authority by her and that it was Amarked by a serious deception.

CBK was ordered to pay a total of Rs200,000 in costs for her abuse of authority and deception, but what about the two Ministers?  Should they not resign for misleading the Cabinet?  Or at least apologise to the other members of the Cabinet and the people?  In any event, are we to believe that all the other 32 members of the Cabinet were not already independently aware of the immense cost at which the Madiwela land had been developed for the construction of a Presidential residence?  Moreover, did not even one of them remember that it was only two months earlier that they had been told that CBK had offered to forgo her rights to an official residence in order to get herself a gift of 1.5 acres of what was known to everyone else as prime-plus land?  Were they all affected, without exception, by a virulently infectious amnesia for which a cure is yet to be found?

As compared to the reasons for the resignations of the persons mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, what appears to have been contemplated and was accomplished in this episode, for a time, was the fraudulent and unlawful misappropriation and diversion to a private individual of property and other assets belonging to the people of Sri Lanka.  We have to thank the Petitioners and the Supreme Court for having frustrated the aims of those who were party to this shameful conspiracy.

Judging from past experience, we hardly think it likely that even one of our thick-skinned politicians will have the decency to express contrition and regret for their almost successful crime.  In the light of this unsavoury behaviour and the unceasing revelations in the press about other transgressions against the Rule of Law and good governance, CIMOGG is of the view that, when the new Constitution is being finalised, the public should agitate vigorously to have the existing provisions relating to the use of the title AThe Honourable … deleted when referring to our politicians, whatever office they may be appointed to hold.