Philosopher Edmund Burke has said all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good and sincere people to say or do nothing. The legendary American civil rights activist Martin Luther King often lamented that what hurt more was not the sword of the enemy but the silence of the friend.
Sri Lanka is going through a crucial period in its history, with the Supreme Court reflecting on a vital constitutional issue. The Court will give its opinion on Monday on whether President Mahinda Rajapaksa has the right to call an early presidential election during his second term and whether he has the right to contest for a third term. Former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva – blamed by many for the alleged deterioration of the judiciary– is now speaking out strongly against Mr. Rajapaksa’s right to call an early presidential election and seek a third term in office. Yet, for more than three years after the 18th Amendment was enforced, the former Chief Justice remained silent and is speaking out only now. When challenged as to why he said or did nothing for more than three years on an issue of vital significance, Mr. Silva says that if he had acted or spoken earlier, the president could or would have taken counter-measures.
A similar silence has been seen in Parliament which is supposed to be the supreme body through which the voice of the sovereign people is heard. Yet, some have noted with concern the silence of veteran ministers while major though arbitrary measures are pushed through.
For instance, the ageing and ailing Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne this week presented an amendment – one of the understatements of the year - to the 2015 Appropriation Bill, seeking the approval of Parliament, to increase the Government’s expenditure by Rs. 356 billion and to increase the borrowing limit by Rs. 440 billion. In terms of this, the Government’s 2015 expenditure is to be increased from Rs. 1,812,292,718,000 to Rs. 2,168,292,718,000. The word used for this Rs. 356 billion change was “delete.” The borrowing limit of the Government will also be increased from Rs. 1,340 billion to Rs. 1,780 billion. Responding to this, the main Opposition United National Party’s parliamentarian and economist Dr. Harsha de Silva said he was hearing alarm bells as to why the Government was trying to increase the budgetary allocations made to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development by Rs. 256 billion less than two weeks after the 2015 Budget was presented. He said the UDA carried out mega projects but money had not been allocated for it. So it was borrowing more money to continue its projects.
The reaction came from the Chief Government Whip, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena – the son of the Boralugoda Lion Philip Gunawardena who roared when he enacted historic laws such as the Paddy Lands Act. Dinesh Gunawardena said it was quite in order for a statutory institution to take loans. Often on the same silent mode are Sri Lanka Freedom Party veterans like Maithripala Sirisena and Nimal Siripala de Silva with socialist veterans such D.E.W. Gunasekara, Tissa Vitharana and Vasudeva Nanayakkara often distorting or making a mockery of the socialist vision for equality and an equitable distribution of wealth and resources.
Sages have often told us that silence is golden but what is often seen now in politics is the silence of the graveyard.