Prof. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole, is a member of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka and was appointed by the President Maithripala Sirisena for a 5-year term in November 2015. However he successfully challenged President Sirisena’s move to dissolve Parliament before the Supreme Court by filing a fundamental rights petition.
Prof. Hoole, B.Sc. Eng. Hons Cey, M.Sc. with Mark of Distinction London, Ph.D. Carnegie Mellon, DoB, retired as Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering from Michigan State University in the US. For his accomplishments in electromagnetic product synthesis the University of London awarded him with its higher doctorate, the D.Sc. (Eng.) degree in 1993, and the IEEE elevated him to the grade of Fellow in 1995 with the citation “For contributions to computational methods for design optimisation of electrical devices.” His paper on using his inverse problem methods from design for Nondestructive Evaluation is widely cited, as is his paper on neural networks for the same purpose.
He has authored 6 engineering texts published by Elsevier, another by Elsevier now carried by Prentice Hall, Oxford, Cambridge (India), WIT Press and CRC Press.
Prof. Hoole has been Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna in Sri Lanka, and as Member of the University Grants Commission, was responsible with six others for the regulation of the administration and academic standards of all 15 Sri Lankan universities and their admissions and funding. He has contributed widely to the learned literature on Tamil studies and been a regular columnist in newspapers. Prof. Hoole has been trained in Human Rights Research and Teaching at The René Cassin International Institute of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France, and has pioneered teaching human rights in the engineering curriculum. He received the coveted Gowri Gold Medal from India’s IETE in 2015 for his work on Professional Ethics. His latest book “Ethics for Professionals: An Internationalist Human Rights Perspective” was published in 2018 by Cognella Press, USA.
Following the landmark seven-member Supreme Court judgment against the dissolution of the Parliament.
The interviewed Prof. Hoole during which he spoke about the fundamental rights petition and other issues relating to country’s current situation.
Q Professor, you were one of the petitioners who filed a case against the gazette issued by President Maithripala Sirisena dissolving Parliament. Was this case filed in your capacity as one of the three Election Commission Members or was it personal? What was the reaction of the commission on your move?
It was done in both capacities, but primarily as a Member of the Commission. This was reflected in the Petition. When I told Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya, he simply shook my hand without saying anything. I interpreted it as a positive encouragement. My colleague Nalin Abeysekere has consistently maintained that we must never disagree in public even if we all do not agree. He therefore regards my action as unethical. I respect his position, but note that it does not leave room for wider debate on important issues and could lead to a tyranny of the majority. We moved from Election Commissioner to a Commission of three through the 19th Amendment so that we may have diversity of ideas.
"The Supreme Court found that period is four and a half years at a minimum. To ask that Government to go away is not only a violation of the people’s franchise, but also of our Constitution"
Q What made you to file this petition?
The Gazette ordering elections was surely misbegotten and unlawful. Not even the President has the authority to order something so brazenly illegal. If I had gone along with conducting the election, it would have been a betrayal of my office and the responsibilities that come with it. And how can I agree to acting against my conscience in doing something I saw as so clearly illegal?
The President’s reading of the Constitution as confirmed by court was selective. Article 33(2) (c) said the President had the power to dissolve Parliament. Article 62 (2) said the normal period of a Parliament is 5 years, but it may be dissolved sooner. Article 70 said any dissolution by the President can only be after the first four and a half years or after a resolution by 2/3 of members.
Instead of looking for a harmonious interpretation, the President looked only at the 33(2)(c) clause. It reminded me of God’s command to Abraham in Genesis 12.1: “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you’.” Obviously leaving relatives did not mean leaving his wife. For, in another part of the Bible, Mark 10:7-9, Jesus says “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ […] Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate.”
A harmonious reading of the Bible meant Abraham taking his wife with him. However, a free-church minister I know left his wife in Negombo and moved upcountry where he took a new wife, justifying his adultery based on Abraham’s call from God to leave his kinsfolk to serve Him elsewhere.
Such was an obviously flawed, pathetic, self-serving interpretation offered by our President. It challenged the rule of law and challenged reason itself. I was duty-bound to challenge this scuttling of the Constitution.
Many Tamils are disturbed over nothing having been done since August 2015 to solve our problems
Any collaboration between the TNA and the UNP will be used by Tamil opponents of the TNA to say they are being played for suckers again
The military occupation and colonisation of the little part of the country where we are safe during riots must stop
Leaders lead and do not hide behind excuses
Private lands under military occupation have no justification especially after we have eschewed military methods and have agreed to live in a united country
Q Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the SLPP are of the view that going for a General Election and giving the people the option to decide on a government is more democratic. Mr. Rajapaksa even went to the point of expressing that the Supreme Court’s decision prevented an election. What is your opinion?
They are spinning to keep their followers energised. That is politics. However, the people should be wise enough not to be so easily manipulated. The right to vote-in a Government flows from our primary law, the Constitution. It specifies when elections are to be held and for what period the newly elected Government’s mandate is. The Supreme Court found that period is four and a half years at a minimum. To ask that Government to go away is not only a violation of the people’s franchise, but also of our Constitution. The right to franchise is like a driver’s licence. It gives one the right to drive a car, but that right is circumscribed by laws such as on speed limits, driving on the left, etc. Like the court noted about the AG’s claim on the President’s unfettered power, there is usually no such thing as an unfettered right either – even the right to life has exceptions.
"The Gazette ordering elections was surely misbegotten and unlawful. Not even the President has the authority to order something so brazenly illegal. If I had gone along with conducting the election, it would have been a betrayal of my office and the responsibilities that come with it"
Q Now that the main Tamil political collective the TNA has supported Ranil Wickremesinghe to prove its confidence on the premiership in the parliament, parties backing Mahinda Rajapaksa are initiating a propagandist campaign that the UNP is in a ‘deal’ with the TNA. How would this affect the TNA’s popularity among the Tamil community?
The TNA is not a party but an alliance. It faces many internal tensions. That aside, there is nothing wrong with making deals. Even Mahinda Rajapaksa offered a deal to settle problems of the Tamils, but refused to set it down in print. Many Tamils are disturbed that nothing has been done since August 2015 to solve their problems. If there is a deal to solve the problems of the Tamils and given that it is honoured, I would jump up in joy. The TNA and Sampanthan face criticism that many deals like the BC pact, the Dudley-Chelva Pact, the District Council arrangement, the Thirteenth Amendment, and the Good Governance Commitment were reneged upon. The difference with the Good Governance Commitment is that it was to all Sri Lankans rather than just to Tamils. That fact gives me hope that something can be salvaged before Parliament runs out. Any collaboration between the TNA and the UNP would be used by Tamil opponents of the TNA to say they are being played for suckers again. The UNP therefore owes it to all Sri Lankans to honour its deals. Dishonouring these commitments will politically decapitate Sampanthan – leaving no one to negotiate with, and leading the way again to calls for separation and calls for a referendum like in Kosovo and East Timor.
Q Do you think that the TNA engaging in national issues is a positive sign on the part of the Tamil people and other minority communities?
Indeed so. As Sri Lankans we owe everything to Sri Lanka’s well-being and development. However, it does not stop there. The military occupation and colonisation of the little part of the country where we are safe during riots must stop. The merger of the North and East Provinces which can be simply done must be done to afford us a sense of security. The constitutional right to use Tamil in administration must not be denied. I have been to courts in the North several times and found the police prosecuting in Sinhalese in violation of the Constitution. The Government cannot so violate the constitution and demand that we sign an oath to uphold the Constitution. Tamils in court are forced to rely on lawyers for this reason and incur expenses. The police basically stop us on the A9, speak haughtily in Sinhalese and expect payment. The law, rather than protecting us, becomes a curse.
"The TNA is not a party but an alliance. It faces many internal tensions. That aside, there is nothing wrong with making deals. Even Mahinda Rajapaksa offered a deal to settle problems of the Tamils, but refused to set it down in print"
Q As Tamil politics seems to be divided under separate leaderships, its looks like the TNA would not be able to secure more seats at a future election. How would this situation could affect the Tamil community?
Not well. However, you must excuse me from saying more as a member of the Election Commission. I do, however, usually comment as in some of my comments above, because voter education and strengthening the right to franchise are part of our Commission’s mandate.
Q You had told the media that the Tamil community is despondent in the manner in which the 2015 Government behaved and many of its promises given to the Tamil community weren’t fulfilled. You even said that it feels like the Tamils have been cheated again. What could have the Maithripala-Wickremesinghe Government done to avoid this situation?
I have addressed this in part above. Even prior to undertaking a Constitutional revision, there is much that could have been done if there is true goodwill. For example, the full implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment giving us our language rights, and police and land powers. Doing this would have given Tamils much of the assurance we need that this is truly one united law-abiding country. A part of that sense of safety we seek is in the temporary merger of the North and East. The Supreme Court judgment that demerged the provinces points to how a temporary merger could be effected again through agreement between provinces. There are political prisoners without trial for periods well beyond what any court would have sentenced them to if they had been tried and found guilty. Keeping them locked up shows that the Government is heartless and communal. This needs urgent rectification. Private lands under military occupation have no justification especially after we have eschewed military methods and have agreed to live in a united country. The delay in repealing the PTA is inexcusable. The attempt to replace it with a law that replicates some of its same draconian features shows the inherent racism of a Government always up to trickery. War criminals and necrophilliacs are not national heroes. They must be tried to show that Tamil lives are as important as those of any other.
"The merger of the North and East Provinces which can be simply done must be done to afford us a sense of security. The constitutional right to use Tamil in administration must not be denied. I have been to courts in the North several times and found the police prosecuting in Sinhalese"
Q Don’t you think that in a backdrop where certain Sinhala nationality based political parties are using the ethnic issue as a trump card to gather Sinhala majority votes, it is hard for any liberal thinking Sinhala Government to survive in the vote game?
There is some truth in that, but it is not the complete truth. Even after the 13th Amendment the UNP has won elections. I expect leadership from our politicians. I think Buddhists want respect for Buddhism and do not insist that it is superior to other religions. We also want that same respect for our religions. Unless you assume that the Sinhalese are unreasonable communalists – I don’t – I am confident that communal objections can be overcome with reason. Leaders lead and do not hide behind excuses.
Q Once you unsuccessfully tried to promote education in the North by introducing an engineering faculty to the University of Jaffna. Don’t you think now that the war is over Tamil academics and investors should visit the North and help education and development?
I was chased off by threat of arrest. The then Government working through quislings made it difficult to do anything serious. They have put up an engineering faculty in Kilinochchi where standards are terrible. The university refused to employ me after I returned saying I am unqualified. They fear quality. Worse, they openly said that being a Christian I cannot be recruited. The University Grants Commission (UGC) even undermined my wife’s appointment based on an illiterate UGC Circular by which after three years of processing her application, they said the advertisement was wrong so no recruitment may be made. The University Services Appeals Board declared that students have been deprived of two good academics. No one cares, not least the UGC.
So yes, there is scope for using service industries, particularly university education, to develop Jaffna. However, the system has to change for good academics to return. The UGC must stop hiding behind autonomy to allow unqualified favourites to staff our universities and endorsing religious discrimination.