A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. UNP MP Ranjan Ramanayake, who claims that he is waging a lone crusade against corruption and for social justice recorded incriminating phone calls he made to top cops, judges and the former director-general of the commission probing the allegations of corruption, without the knowledge of his callers. If that was not embarrassing enough, he had them copied to CDs. Probably, the country might have missed a sensational mega scandal if MP Ramanayake had commonsense to pay two dollars or so for a month for i cloud or a google drive storage.
Why he recorded his conversations is not yet established. He says it was to use as evidence if anyone backtracks on their claims. He even goes on to rationalise his action: “When we call the customer service hotline of a telephone company, our call is recorded to give better service”.
Only that you don’t call Dialog or Sri Lanka telecom to discuss locking up the government’s opponents.
A three-wheeler driver reportedly found a stash of these unencrypted CDs, left in the back seat by one of MP Ramanayake’ aides. Now their content is making rounds in the prime-time news and social media.
True to his cinematic persona ‘One-Shot’, Mr. Ramanayake has single-handedly destroyed many things. The credibility of the judiciary, which was painstakingly cultivated during the past few years is now in tatters. Yahapalanaya, rightly so, is exposed as a farce. The United National Party, factionalised, weak and lacking in leadership is given another crippling blow. Even the only few good things that happened under the Yahapalanaya, primarily the empowering of the independent institutions, are now being projected as a travesty.
Mr Ramanayaka’s tapes are almost comical, incriminating and embarrassing.
Massive social engineering efforts that were undertaken since the independence and especially after 1956 empowered the overall population
There, a high court judge, Padmini Ranawaka is heard pleading with MP Ramanayake to get her a promotion to the Appeal Court. As her credentials fitting the new posting, she claims she heard the case of Duminda Silva, former UPFA MP who was sentenced to death (and was upheld by the Supreme Court) over the murder of another UPFA stalwart Baratha Lakshman Premachandra.
Another top cop overseeing investigations into the leaders and coterie of the former Mahinda Rajapaksa administration is heard discussing on-going investigations and sharing dossiers related to investigations. In order to dissuade over-enthusiastic Ramanayake talking too much about investigations, effectively undermining them, top cop SSP Shani Abeysekera is heard as offering to run errands at Ramanayake’s home for six months in return for his silence.
In another leaked tape, Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe, the former Director General of the Bribery Commission is heard discussing what would otherwise be considered as the confidential details of ongoing investigations with Mr. Ramanayake.
MP Ramanayake is now facing disciplinary action from the UNP. He would probably face legal action by the Attorney General’s department. He even deserves to be interviewed by a psycho-analyst and its recordings saved for posterity for the ego-fuelled idiosyncrasy of this magnitude is a rare thing.
But, he should also be credited for ripping off, though inadvertently, the farcical façade of the legal system.
There are two takeaways in Mr Ramanayale’s tapes.
First is the shocking lack of personal and professional integrity of the top-notch officials, who were supposed to be the country’s best, and were often projected as paragons of virtue. That the rot in the top of the crop is just random bad apples is not much of a convincing defence. On the other hand, blaming all would lead to a total loss of confidence in the system.
There happened to be orientalist often racist stereotype that viewed the life in this part of the world with a condescending disdain. Though not all, some were based on patterns and are not totally out of touch with reality.
Probably it is harder for an orientalist civil servant to refuse a request for an undue favour from a friend than their peers in the West. That may be why the top judges, cops and corruption busters, who ought to have shunned Ramanayake for the obvious conflict of interest, gleefully chatted with him. Those conversations have now effectively delegitimised the investigations.
The politicised nature of their appointments were also a problem. Investigating corruption of the former administration was an election promise of the Yahapalanaya. Subsequent investigations did not escape the politicised flavour. Their sheer failure in terms of successful convictions might be due to politicisation.
Sri Lanka’s public service is sorely lacking in the real talent. Certain historical factors have contributed.
Massive social engineering efforts that were undertaken since the independence and especially after 1956 empowered the overall population, but in order to make once elitist services accessible to all, the standards of recruitment were also lowered. Over time, public service is overpopulated by sub-par talent. Those subsequent generations were also proved to be more sycophantic than their predecessors.
However, blaming the past for the current ills is not the solution. If Sri Lanka’s independent institutions are to be truly independent, the country should cultivate professionalism in the holders of all positions. That those at the pinnacle of the judiciary, police and other state institutions were lacking in the bare minimum of professional conduct is a sad indictment of the Sri Lankan state.
The second takeaway is that it is exactly due to this overall degeneration of the policy elites that Sri Lanka needs independent institutions. Instead, behind the sound waves of Mr. Ramanayaka’s scandalous recordings, there is an effort to slander the 19th amendment which established independent commissions.
The Ramanayake tapes are now being used as a tool to usurp the powers of the state and subordinate the independent institutions to the whims and fancies of the executive presidency.
Some jokers are also advocating for a one-man rule, citing the travails of the parliamentary democracy and checks and balances.
Why Sri Lanka needs to empower its independent institutions if its officials are fallible. Replacing the current lot with the President’s pet poodles would not solve the problem. Judiciary of the Rajapaksa regime was a lot worse than during the Yahapalanaya. If the average folks were not shocked at the sycophancy of the judges then, that was because it was the norm then.
Ramanayake tapes highlight the importance of stronger institutions and checks and balances. If the government misreads it as a signal to dismantle them, some people in power would soon be making a lot of phone calls to judges and cops, with real consequences for not complying with them.
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