Oct 28

Aggrieved persons and groups have the right to protest in public in order to put pressure on the government or other lesser authorities to solve problems that have not received requisite, timely attention.  This is a privilege that all fair-minded citizens would not wish to deny to adversely affected persons or groups.  However, if a protest is undertaken without allowing a reasonable amount of time for the relevant problem to be solved by the concerned authorities, or it calls for the diversion of scarce funds from more urgent causes, there could be many unwelcome consequences.  Protests often result in great inconvenience and sometimes injury or even death to innocent members of the public. There could also be damage to public and private property, and economic losses to the State, individuals or businesses; and various other adverse outcomes.  Predictably, in the case of disruptive protests, the public is not likely to be sympathetic to the demands of the protestors, negating the whole purpose of agitating publicly even if the authorities are “blackmailed” into acceding to some of the claims made on them.

If protesters were even a tenth as mindful as they should be of the trouble they cause to their fellow citizens, they would not fail to experience pangs of guilt at the sight of the long lines of buses, lorries and other vehicles brought to a complete standstill for hours in our already congested roads.  They would easily form a general idea of the enormous costs of wasted fuel, impact on the environment and on the health of thousands of frustrated drivers and passengers, and so on.  It is difficult to think that they could be so hard-hearted as to be immune to feeling regret for the terrible anxiety to which many hundreds of parents are subjected by not being able to get their children to school on time or to collect them from half-deserted school premises?  What about the tens of thousands of hours lost by fellow-citizens in delayed journeys of every variety and degree of urgency? What about the losses that result from the waste of police resources to deal with obstacles to the free movement of traffic, injuries caused to police and protestors, damage to public and private property, and interruptions to the functioning of offices and businesses?

Too many protesting groups think nothing of the injustice to which they subject fellow citizens by recourse to unfair and unruly protests. They completely forget that the principal purpose of demonstrating in full view of the people is to gain the people’s sympathy and support to help apply greater pressure on the authorities to get their demands dealt with positively.  Instead, they foolishly cause hardships to the general population in the belief that the sufferings so inflicted would force the public to complain to the authorities, who would then presumably be compelled to surrender to the protestors’ demands.

Ill-considered protests have become ever more violent in nature because the bulk of those who participate in them do so under the persuasion, importuning or threats of the principal organisers.  The bulk of particpants do not know beforehand what premeditated or unplanned excesses the organisers will commit.  For example, obstructing the movement of fire engines or ambulances that carry ill or injured persons for urgent medical attention is something that the average, socially-responsible protester would not wish to have happen.  But too often, some irresponsible protest leaders, tend to become so intoxicated with the demagogic power that they are able to exercise over their less extreme fellow protesters that they drag the latter into acting in a manner that any decent participant would normally condemn.  Too frequently, these leaders misuse their dominance recklessly without any regard for the trouble, loss, injury and anxiety caused to the public.

The media tend to sensationalise the burning of tyres; blocking of public roads with trees or protesters’ bodies and piles of miscellaneous rubbish; and the attacking of  police barricades and the police themselves.  The more extreme the violence, disorder and disarray that accompany a protest, the greater is the public exposure that the media grant to protest leaders, giving them the notoriety that they appear to crave more than anything else.

The media, especially TV, focus excessively on the visually destructive features of protests and to aggressive or violent language.  There is rarely a reliable and reasonably comprehensive narrative published by the media that describes the beginnings of a protest and the negotiating path followed so as to allow citizens to assess whether the protest is justified or not, and whether sufficient time had been allowed for the contending parties to reach a peaceful settlement.  Instead, most protests are reported on only after they have become sufficiently conflict-ridden to become “newsworthy”.  The fundamental issues in contention are hardly ever examined.

It is generally accepted that the media need to perform several functions beyond merely dispensing news.  They have a responsibility, inter alia, to educate, entertain and contribute to creating a better society, and also to do much more to protect the people not only from crooked politicians, administrators, businessmen and others but from wrongful actions by self-centred groups that promote mayhem in furtherance of their own interests.  The single most important thing that the media should do in this connection is not to make heroes of the wrong people by giving excessive publicity to their anti-social activities.  It is this wrong kind of exposure that encourages extreme positions to be taken up and promotes ruinous behaviour that is detrimental to the well-being of peace-loving citizens.

Some problems that could end up in public protests may be rendered more tractable, if the media were to take an early, proactive interest in the difficulties faced by diverse segments of the population.  This could be done by devoting a certain amount of space or TV time (not after everyone has gone to sleep!) and invite groups that have grievances regarding the “deafness” of authorities to their representations to set out briefly the history of whatever they have built up as a case of justice being denied to them.  This should be done before problems take on a character that ends up in unwelcome public protests.

It is our firm conviction that the media owe a duty to their readers, audiences and the general public at large not to give more space and time uncritically for what loquacious protestors say and do, than to report the far more critical topic of how members of the public suffer.  Surely the stories setting out the losses and injuries of every type that are forced on law-abiding citizens are no less important than the intemperate antics of publicity-hungry protest leaders?  Violent and negative aspects of protests should not be over-dramatised without simultaneously presenting to readers and viewers at least some approximate cost estimates of the losses and avoidable expenditures incurred during the protests by destructive and unproductive acts.

The editors of leading newspapers and TV programs should raise a common cry to get the government to effect the following –

a. No-one should be allowed to carry out a protest unless a stipulated process of complaining, discussing, mediating and arbitrating has been followed beforehand.

b. Even after all avenues from complaining to arbitration are exhausted, protests shall be allowed to be held only in specified, centrally-located open spaces  formally identified by the authorities without overflowing onto roads and streets.

c. Declare that “lightning strikes” are illegal and urge the media not to give its participants any personal publicity.

 d. Decide on those services which should be classified as “essential services” and provide effective special mechanisms to resolve disputes with the members of such services rapidly.

e. Remind the people regularly that causing inconvenience and hardship to the people by interfering with their day-to-day movements and other activities – in other words, being a public nuisance – is already a crime in the statute books.

We call upon the leaders of the media world to recognise that the severe damage that is caused to the economy cannot be controlled unless the media jointly decide that enough is enough and that the immense power they wield, when united, could have a decisive effect in cutting down on undisciplined protests that are responsible for much hardship to the people and loss to the State.

Oct 12

Air Vice-Marshal (rtd) A.B.Sosa

Going by media reports, the relevant authorities in Geneva are of the view that foreign Judges and Investigators must supplement the indigenous Judiciary and investigators in order to ensure an unbiased investigation pertaining to the captioned subject. Many in the Opposition in Parliament are vigorously campaigning against this move on the grounds that it will impinge on the sovereignty of our country. Mixed signals in this context are emanating from the Government. Thus a rather hazy picture emerges.

In my opinion the foreign community is justified in having its reservations pertaining to the integrity of our Judiciary for the following reasons. During the decade commencing 2004 to 2014 our Judiciary has been tainted by the antics of three consecutive captains of our pinnacle of justice, commencing with Chief Justice (CJ) Sarath N Silva.

The tsunami of 2004 wreaked havoc on our country.  In the absence of the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was abroad at the time, Prime Minister (PM) Mahinda Rajapaksa acted temporarily as the head of state and government.  The International community responded with both substantial material as well as financial aid. It was alleged in the media that a sum of approximately Rupees Seventy Million had been siphoned out to the bank account of a sibling of the PM from these donations. This transfer was challenged in the Supreme Court but CJ Silva ruled that these funds, which were termed “Helping Hambantota”, were not moved fraudulently into the account concerned.

In the latter part of 2014, by which time Mahinda Rajapaksa had become President, ex-CJ Silva (now retired) entered the hurly burly of politics but failed to make any substantial progress in the political party of the President. On realizing that he was politically up against a blank wall, he threw in his lot in support of Maithripala Sirisena, who was contesting Mahinda Rajapaksa for the Presidency in the elections scheduled for January 2015. Silva appeared on political stages in the course of campaign meetings. His most deplorable act was to appear on several TV channels with folded arms begging the pardon of all citizens for having given an incorrect decision pertaining to the “Helping Hambantota” case where, instead of sentencing the then PM Mahinda Rajapaksa to jail, he had exonerated him of all culpability. Sadly, Silva, in spite of his mea culpa, realized within a short period of a few months that he seemed to be destined to go into political oblivion as he was not getting any “plums” in the newly elected Government of President Maithripala Sirisena. He then shamelessly returned to the camp of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the defeated President, and sat by his side at meetings convened to criticize the incumbent Government of President Maithripala Sirisena.

Recently ex-President Rajapaksa was being feted by his supporters at an event organized by them. The most deplorable sight was to see photographs in several media of ex-CJ Silva reaching out with a grin on his face to touch the former President in the same manner as devotees stretch out their hands to touch holy men like Sai Baba. Sadly, this former Chief Justice, who seems to have the hide of a rhinoceros, is still strutting around in the political arena.

This unprincipled political adventurer was succeeded by CJ (Mrs) Shiranee Bandaranaike. Citizens of this country expected the desecrated office of CJ to revert to its pristine image of years long gone by. However, she succumbed to political machinations when her husband, who was a non-entity, was appointed head of the Insurance Corporation of Sri Lanka and, later, the Chairman of the National Savings Bank. It was at this time that the infamous 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka was forwarded to the Supreme Court for its comments, if any, and approval. The main clause of this amendment removed the limit of two terms that a President could serve and permitted an unlimited period of tenure. This was approved by CJ Bandaranaike’s court as proposed by the Rajapaksa government.

A short while after this ignominious approval, CJ Bandaranaike resisted giving further biased judgments in favour of President Rajapaksa, which resulted in her being impeached by Parliament on the grounds of impropriety in some questionable financial dealings.

The people of Sri Lanka are fortunate that Rajapaksa was defeated in January 2015 and the election promise given earlier by the incoming government to have the offensive clauses of the 18th Amendment repealed was honoured by the passing of the 19th Amendment.

The abyss into which our judiciary next fell was the appointment of Justice Mohan Peiris as the CJ. Earlier, while he was the Attorney General, he had the audacity to inform a United Nations sub-organization that a reputed journalist Mr Ekneligoda, who was credibly believed to have been “disappeared” by a powerful authority, was in fact resident in France. When questioned whether he had met him there, he replied that he was given this information by another person resident in France. Presumably this august body accepted this statement of CJ Peiris in view of his high position in the administration.

At this time, the disappearance of this journalist was very much in the public domain and, in fact, a habeas corpus application had been filed. On Peiris’s return, he was summoned to appear in the Magistrate’s Court and asked to confirm that he was told that Ekneligoda was living in France. He confirmed this. When asked the identity of the person who gave him such vital information, he said that he had forgotten the name and identity of this person. Surely, no one but a moron would believe this evidence given by a supposedly responsible senior Judicial Officer. The obvious conclusion is that he is a deliberate liar. It is amazing that such a character was appointed Chief Justice. Not surprisingly, Maithripala Sirisena, on being elected President, sent him packing home.

It is thus seen that three consecutive Chief Justices of Sri Lanka during the period 2004 to 2014 were a disgrace to the august office that they held.  In such regrettable circumstances, it is very logical for the relevant International authorities to view our muddied Judicial system with disdain. Hence, their insistence on buttressing our discredited Judiciary with foreign judges is not only logical but also very reasonable.

On a personal note, a decade of the period of conflict was spent by me in the Sri Lanka Air Force as the Director of Ground Operations. My area of responsibility was to supervise the defenses of all Air Force installations. These included the air-fields and their extended peripheries in Batticaloa, China Bay, Vavuniya, Minneriya, Sigiriya, Palaly and also Morawewa, which only had a helipad. In the course of my frequent visits I interacted closely with the high and mid-command levels of the Army. Thus I am aware of their excellent professionalism in the execution of their duties. I am confident that they will be exonerated of deliberate culpability in the perspective of the violation of Human Rights, subject to due allowance being made for unintentional collateral damage in the course of battling the deadliest terrorist organization in the world, as classified in international fora.

In these circumstances, I am convinced that it would be to the advantage of our three valiant services and the police if our Judiciary, supplemented by international legal luminaries, helps to clear their name for posterity, as I have no doubt that it will.

A B Sosa
Air Vice Marshal (retired)

20 July 2016
(Note:  This article has been edited for easier reading since it was first published in the SUNDAY LEADER)

Aug 16

President Sirisena, during his televised discussion on 13 August 2016, said that the Rajapaksa government carried out most projects without Feasibility Studies (FSs) and serious planning. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first authoritative statement on the absence of FSs on major projects of the previous government, although it was widely suspected to be so. He took the example of how the decision to locate the Mattala Airport was taken in order to reveal the irresponsible and flippant manner with which vital decisions were made. This means that massive funds, borrowed at commercial rates of interest, were wasted on these projects. Is any further evidence needed to conclude that the government was criminally negligent in the management of public funds?

President Rajapaksa, after enacting the infamous Eighteenth Amendment, was the most powerful president in the world in terms of the powers he wielded over the people he ruled. Therefore, he should be held accountable for lack of due diligence in executing the office of President. The mere fact that there is no FS on this thirty-billion-Rupee project, as well as for several other big projects, is sufficient proof of gross financial impropriety. The balance of probability suggests consequent financial mischief on a massive scale.

Prudence requires investment decisions to be based on robust and rigorous FSs. These studies explore all important aspects including physical, environmental and economic considerations arising from and impinging on the work to be undertaken. Project inputs and outputs are usually computed for periods extending twenty to forty years from inception. Cost and benefit streams expressed in border prices (for economic evaluation) are discounted to the present. Sensitivity Analyses (SAs) are performed to establish the integrity of the project in the event that major assumptions are subjected to adverse pressures. Measures of economic feasibility such as Payback Period (PP), Net Present Value (NPV) Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) and Economic Internal Rate of Return (EIRR) are calculated and weighed in making the investment decision. Physical and financial plans for a project would be drawn up within the parameters established in the feasibility reports. Excepting in defense spending, these reports are not classified documents and are usually made available to the implementing agencies and libraries, and also posted in dedicated government websites.

There was no mention of FSs and implementing plans and programs during the many public discussions on the mega projects of the Rajapaksa government; particularly those ghost facilities in Hambantota. There was much discussion over a rock that was obstructing the access channel to the fifty-billion-Rupee Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port, that was discovered only after it was declared open. How could that have happened if thorough geological investigations had been carried out before commencement of construction? The following are only a few of the questions that arise regarding Sri Lanka’s second international airport that has so far cost over thirty-billion Rupees.  (1) What other locations were considered and examined for building the airport? (2) By what criteria were they found inferior to Mattala?  (3)  What are the management and mitigation plans regarding environmental issues arising from its close proximity to a wildlife sanctuary, including risks posed to aircraft and wildlife?  (4) What are the assumptions and projections of demand for airport use by airlines, numbers of passengers and tons of cargo in the years ahead?  (5) Were implementation plans and schedules for construction, installations and operation with timelines up to the end of pay-back time and beyond prepared?  (6) How acceptable were the measures of profitability to the national economy over time (BCR, NPV, EIRR) derived by economic analysis?

We now know that there are no answers to these questions regarding the massive investment on this airport and other such projects. The irony is that these are questions that are routinely addressed, for example, before the Irrigation Department builds a minor village irrigation tank that would cost even less than a mere one-hundred-thousand Rupees!

The FS should have included a comprehensive overall plan with a timeline for implementation. The present government has stated that it is preparing plans to get the Mattala Airport functioning. This suggests that, before commencing work at the site, there was no implementation plan for management and business development of the completed project.  If there had been a proper plan the present government could have continued with development accordingly. Serious errors of technical design in the alignment of the runway and the absence of a parallel taxiway have been reported. It is also alleged that contracts for construction work on several large projects, both at Mattala and elsewhere, were awarded without resorting to competitive bidding procedures.

These issues were raised before and during the implementation of these projects. But they were not heeded by an all-powerful president with a craftily engineered and pliant two-thirds majority in parliament, basking in the glory of winning the war against the dreaded LTTE. History will record, and men will remember, his vital role as the Commander-in-Chief in that great victory. Nevertheless, what happened after that was a mockery of governance. Shielded by the Eighteenth Amendment, a veritable orgy of shameless squandering of people’s monies ensued in the guise of creating a mythical “Miracle of Asia”.

How could a responsible government commit massive funds borrowed at high rates of interest in such monumentally irresponsible and brazenly corrupt manner, and leave the consequences to be borne by a largely poor people? Did they have no honor or shame at all? The price of this despicable crime against the Nation would be paid in foregone prosperity and extended destitution by the poor un-empowered majority of the people, and yet to be born generations. (Sadly, robbery seems to continue under the present government as well.) Let us, the people, particularly the Civil Society Organizations that gave leadership to the ‘January Eighth’ transformation resolve, that such madness shall never happen again under the new constitution now being framed.

In July 2015, RMB Senanayake wrote “If there is no law, then a new law on Public Finance and Accountability should be passed. If MR was a public official he would be guilty of violating the Financial Regulations. But there is a doubt about whether Ministers and the President can be bound by these Financial Regulations. Public Interest organizations should address their minds to this issue since public funds are the subject matter. Can Ministers be allowed to act with impunity in matters of public finance? We are now talking much about good governance. What about its applicability in financial matters?”

No new project to be funded by the Treasury should be undertaken without a thorough study of its feasibility and a plan of implementation. The feasibility reports with implementation plans should be freely available for public scrutiny. It should be the responsibility of the relevant Minister and the Parliament to ensure that the planning and execution of the project are done in a systematic and orderly manner. They should be among those accountable for any failure of the project. It is time that the civil society organizations that were active during the last presidential and parliamentary elections take this matter up and push through these essential reforms.

My purpose in this short essay is, to urge the men with wisdom drafting the new Constitution, to boldly write an unambiguous provision into that charter, preventing such blatant misuse of public funds by anyone including the President, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers, who are but paid servants of the people. This provision should be in the Constitution and not relegated to a mere regulation in a Government Gazette. It is the right of the people to expect that funds belonging to the people are used wisely for the benefit of the people. Civil society organizations that bore the brunt of the struggle to effect a change of government on the Eighth January 2015 should strongly pressurize our lawmakers to include this provision into the new Constitution.

Ananda Wanasinghe
Project Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist

Aug 04

When the Sirisena-Wickremasinghe partnership had exercised the powers of government for 260 days, the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) identified a list of nine pluses and eight minuses that could be applied to their achievements during this period (www.cimogg-srilanka.org).  After a further 70 days, their performance showed a noticeable deterioration and we expressed our sense of betrayal at the turn of events.  Now a further 240 days or so have passed and the time is ripe for another look.  As before, only a few key items are examined below.  The order in which these matters are commented on has no significance.

CIMOGG has already said that the President (MS), “who gave the welfare of Sri Lanka first priority at the beginning of his incumbency, has now relegated it to a lower status and promoted his party to the No.1 position in his list of prime concerns”.  Regrettably, there is no change to be seen here.

Whereas the MS does not suffer from the egomania that his predecessor exhibited by having “Mahinda Rajapaksa” (MR) added to the names of all important infrastructure items, MS’s staff seem to be stuck with their old habits.  Before 9 January 2015, whenever a significant piece of infrastructure was built on publicly owned land, using revenue collected from the people, public servants were in the habit of issuing publicity material and designing plaques which said that the MR had “vested” such infrastructure in the public, implying that it was he who had paid for all those things out of his own pocket.  These public servants should be dissuaded by MS from continuing with this type of self-serving servility.  Vesting government land in a farmer or land and a building to a non-profit-making institution would, of course, be different; it would be a gift to the recipient – not from the President but from the State.

Notwithstanding the strong measures which PM Ranil Wickremasinghe (RW) threatened to implement, the poor attendance of a large number of MPs, amounting to gross dishonesty, continues.  The permanent threat of MPs jumping from one political group to another plainly acts as a constraint on RW in his efforts to instil discipline.  Is there no way out?

The media continues to enjoy a high degree of freedom notwithstanding the somewhat justifiable but undiplomatic displeasure shown by RW.  It is no secret that certain sections of the media, mainly in their search for sensationalism and the interests of their own agendas, exaggerate the government’s shortcomings and, at the same time, fail to give generous positive coverage to its constructive achievements.  However, drastic confrontations will undoubtedly harm the government more than the media.

Many of our own economists, international lending agencies and, lately, Professor Razeen Sally have said that the economy has not been managed well recently.  Meeting the cost of the extravagant promises made to public servants and the public by the government is no less a burden than servicing the capital and interest repayments on the enormous loans obtained by the last regime to build several uneconomic or negative-return projects.  There are hopeful signs that the Central Bank will now be able act more independently to do its part to help re-establish economic stability.

As previously feared, the delays in getting on with the construction of a large coal or LNG power plant will force the CEB to go behind the private sector “diesel operators” to meet the shortfall in power that is now inevitable from mid-2017 onwards.  To quote ourselves:  “The private sector must be rubbing its hands in delightful expectation of windfall profits to fill the power deficit, which would be at mouth-watering rates that border on the extortionate”.  The government has continued to do little or nothing to minimise the losses and suffering that will be caused over the next several years.

The Bribery Commission (BC) is now taking energetic action in respect of the hundreds of files which the former BC deliberately suppressed.  The Police, too, find themselves unshackled from most of the constraints that were obviously placed on them previously to stop them from investigating crimes committed by innumerable favoured persons.  The Attorney-General’s Department is also beginning to show a little greater speed in processing the files sent to them by the Police.  We have to be grateful to MS and RW for initiating these changes.

The resolution of horrendous crimes like the murders of Lasantha Wickrematunga, Thajudeen and Ekneligoda has shown some forward movement.  Dealing with these serious offences must rightfully be given priority.  However, there are vast numbers of similar but lower-profile crimes that, too, need to be investigated and justice delivered.

The public has for long been disgusted with the slow pace at which trials proceed after indictment.  Nor is there any an indication that the rate of conviction has been improved over the 4% that has been the norm for years.  The dispensation of justice in Sri Lanka is always grossly delayed.  It is time that the efficient procedures followed in the more advanced countries are adopted here.  The late Mr Felix Dias-Bandaranaike did try to do something to speed up litigation but his abrasive personality and the greed of the vast majority of the legal profession did not allow for any improvement.  This government must give priority to rectify this deplorable situation.

We have previously asked the government to tell the people of Sri Lanka what has become of the huge stock of gold and foreign currencies accumulated by the LTTE, not to mention the bank accounts, ships, properties etc which were under the guardianship of “KP”.  The present government would be no less culpable than the previous one if it continues to hide the truth regarding these vast secret assets.  We may be forgiven for speculating whether a new set of robbers has persuaded the old set of robbers to share the spoils.  Is that why no action is being taken against KP?

The admission by Minister Lakshman Kiriella that he has given employment to about 65 of his supporters, with the glorified title of “consultants”, to supervise road building, about which most of them obviously know little or nothing, is quite shocking.  He has justified his nepotism or bribery, whichever might be the more appropriate term, by saying that the previous government gave far more jobs without benefit of cadre openings, minimum qualification requirements and competitive selection.  Does Kiriella need to be taught that two wrongs do not make a right?  The nation has to be grateful to the JVP for the yeomen service it is rendering by exposing this and every other kind of irregularity.

The Thevaraperuma drama to get school admission for nine or ten children ended up by MS intervening personally to secure the required places for them.  Previously, too, there had been a number of protests outside various schools, which, too, had been “solved” by the relevant Ministers or MPs.  The questions that we should like to ask are “What prevented the Directors of Education for the areas concerned from having these children admitted initially to these vacant places?  Do MS and RW want politicians to solve problems that administrators are empowered and paid to do?”

One of the things that was quite disturbing about MR’s reign was the scale of the resources he was using and misusing to earn divine blessings to strengthen his own political position.  The amount of public money that was spent, the time and other resources wasted by government employees of every description, the media, and the cost of disruptions to the life of the public who were affected by the various restrictions of their movement would have added up to several billions.

There does not seem to be any reduction in the scale of these direct and indirect expenditures being incurred currently for the personal benefit of MS. The contribution made by Dr Usvatte-aratchi in your sister newspaper, THE ISLAND, on 30 July 2016, covers this same subject under the title “Public Funds for Private Ends”.  In brief, he rightly asserts that, whilst people are free to practise their religion any way they wish under the law of the land, they are not entitled to do so at public expense. We urge, therefore, that drastic cuts should be made in these selfish public exhibitions of piety so that the time and resources thus saved could be used to relieve the sufferings of hundreds living in dire poverty, especially as a result of natural and man-made calamities.

Dr A.C.Visvalingam
President, CIMOGG
email:  acvisva@gmail.com

Jun 14

CIMOGG has constantly emphasized that it is the duty of the State to punish, without discrimination, citizens who commit criminal offences, subject to the general principle that all relevant steps are carried out in strict accordance with the law by duly authorised institutions and agents.  This view is undoubtedly supported by all law-abiding citizens.  Consequently, the public cannot understand why a situation has been permitted to develop in the universities, where using threats and physical force to rag freshers, often in the most cruel, demeaning, and physically and emotionally injurious manner, is tolerated or excused. It is no secret that scores or even hundreds of victims, being unable to cope with the physical and psychological assaults perpetrated on them, were driven, with great bitterness and anguish, to give up their hard won places at the universities.  Some even committed suicide because the trauma was more than they could bear. A few were murdered.

If a group of citizens outside the universities were to inflict on anyone what the seniors at most of our universities do to new entrants, they would be liable to be imprisoned for unlawful restraint, assault, rape, attempted murder, murder and similar criminal offences.  Hence, it is saddening and disappointing that the academic staff of the universities as a whole have not taken strong enough collective action to eradicate this monstrous cancer from their midst.  Too many of them remain passive, outwardly justifying the horrible practice of ragging on the grounds that they, in their time, had also been ragged and that this is a good way of establishing close camaraderie between freshers and those who had entered the universities earlier.  We do not know what initiation ceremonies were practised when such academics were freshers but there is no doubt that the cruelties inflicted during ragging have progressively become ever more sadistic and barbarous.

We give below a selection of some egregious cases connected with ragging.  Brief descriptions of the horrendous treatment meted out to freshers, attacks on those who oppose ragging, some academic opinions, and a few tragic consequences are set out below from information published recently in the Press by several responsible sources.

1.      In 1975. a Peradeniya student leapt off the second floor of her Hall to avoid a candle being forcibly inserted into her vagina.  She was paralysed and eventually committed suicide.

2.      In 1993, a Ruhunu student died as a result of unbearable ragging.

3.      In 1997, a female Ruhunu student committed suicide after severe sexual harassment.

4.      In 1998, a Peradeniya student died from the ragging injuries inflicted on him.

5.      In 2001 or 2002, anti-ragging leader Samantha was murdered at Jayewardenepura.

6.      In  2011, a female Ruhunu student became semi-paralysed in one limb by the severe ragging to which she was subjected.

7.      Also in 2011, three Peradeniya students were arrested for sexually assaulting a fresher.

8..     In 2013, a group of freshers were stripped naked and forced to perform indecent sexual acts.

9.      In 2014, a male student left Peradeniya because he could not bear the ragging; and then committed suicide.

10.    In 2015, a female student at Sabaragamuwa committed suicide because of the unbearable ragging.

11.    This year in Kelaniya, a female student was verbally abused, beaten and threatened with sexual abuse because she insisted on wearing jeans.

12.    Freshers have been compelled to do exercises without stopping, to the point where their muscles break down and they have to be treated for renal failure.

13.    Untold numbers of them have been forced to have cold showers at midnight, or to stay immersed all night in ponds containing dirty water, or to have their testicles inserted into a drawer which is then closed, and so on.  They have been terrorised into eating stale food from bins, lick toilet bowls, consume foods in which cockroaches have been mixed, or crawl through a makeshift tunnel after being soaked with a bucket of liquid consisting of a mixture of outflows from drains and sinks, urine and sewage infested with worms.

14.    This year, some university lecturers at Kelaniya were assaulted for trying to stop ragging.

15.    There can be no doubt that those who managed to survive their humiliating initiation ceremonies, without being driven out, injured badly, or murdered, total many thousands over the years.  There are bound to carry mental scars that cannot be erased and are too humiliating to recall.

A Chairman of the University Grants Commission has expressed the view that most of the worst ragging is sexual in nature.  A Head of Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Peradeniya has opined that ragging is a complex psychological issue with elements of mob mentality, thirst for power, student politics etc.  It is a sub-culture which is also violent and gender-based.

We respect greatly the lecturers at Kelaniya University who opposed ragging but were assaulted for their initiative.  It is gratifying to learn that about ten students will face criminal prosecution in this connection.  If a sufficiently large number of academics join hands in this same spirit to oppose ragging, the government will be obliged to decide that taxpayers’ money should not continue to be spent on humouring a bunch of perverts in our universities.

An Anti-Ragging Act was passed in 1998 but the terror instilled into the minds of freshers makes them fearful of coming forward to give evidence.  Similarly, most teachers in the universities obviously prefer a life of safe inaction to one of righteous activism.  It is an utter shame that such bright minds have not felt motivated to devise and promote a reasonably foolproof system to enable victims of ragging to help identify and convict their tormentors without endangering themselves.  How heartless and cowardly it is to continue to look the other way!  If the academic establishment wishes to claim that it is inactive because it is powerless, it should hand over the responsibility to the government and call upon it to set up a strong Police presence in the campuses and outside hostels, with adequate intelligence-gathering units to which freshers may furnish information, even anonymously, to facilitate the monitoring and elimination of ragging activities.

The mere presence of the Police in and around the campuses, initially in large numbers, should be sufficient to make it more difficult to rag.  The few who may be caught red-handed may be indicted and will lose their chance of completing their studies.  Of course, it is vital that the Police should not adopt their often heavy-handed methods but use more subtle techniques to get the cooperation of the vast majority of students who are not criminally deviant.

We are bound to be told by some academics that the real culprits are usually the Ministers of Higher Education, who do not like to cross swords with violent student organisations which sponsor ragging for their own ends.  Is it too much to ask academics to join hands in large numbers and protest in a non-violent manner by insisting that they will not carry out their teaching responsibilities if Ministers do not tackle the problem of ragging?

In any event, the Constitution requires that all citizens should be treated equally and that no one group shall be given privileged treatment.  It is, therefore, a major violation of the Constitution that the law of the land is not enforced only within university premises.  If students act in a violent and unlawful manner, the Police have an inescapable duty to intervene.  It is unacceptable that successive Ministers of Higher Education have interfered with the Police and given in to the lawbreakers.  They must not be allowed to continue to ignore the glaring crimes that are being perpetrated on thousands upon thousands of helpless students who merely want to get on peacefully with their studies.

We need to remind ourselves that university students, with rare exceptions, have lived off their parents or guardians from birth until they enter university.  Thereafter, they receive free education and, in many cases, financial assistance.  It is the indirect and direct taxes collected from the poorest citizens to the richest wage earners and other taxpayers of this country that pay for these privileges.  This being so, how is it that university students, including some who are attached to various religious orders, are given the right, once they have completed their first year of studies, to break the law with impunity whereas, in similar circumstances, the citizens who pay for the education of these students would be subject to the full might of the law?

We call upon the government to ensure that the law will be applied in an independent and fair manner in all sectors of our society without conferring special privileges only on university students.  We urge all political parties to declare clearly and unequivocally that they stand for the Rule of Law and that they will support whatever government is in power to rid ourselves of the small number of criminals and psychopathic monsters masquerading as students.  We most earnestly request the academic establishment to work actively to protect the human rights of all members of the university community.

Dr A.C.Visvalingam
President, CIMOGG