One would certainly be surprised to hear that the Chief Minister of Northern Province, C.V. Wigneswaran who is said to be fighting for the democratic rights of the Northern Tamil people has issued a circular depriving the same people of one of their key democratic rights - the right to information. He has sent out the circular days ago to the Jaffna media that they should not make any attempt to contact him at his office or residence.
He has said that he would inform the media beforehand if he needs any publicity. He has also told them they should not cover any event where he meets with foreign or local dignitaries nor should seek interviews with him.
One would also wonder as to what would have prompted the Chief Minister to impose such a blackout all of a sudden. Was it done out of a want of cover-up of some corruption or fraud as happened in other parts of the country? Or out of a perception that the media is a nuisance as felt by many who had ascended their way up using the same media? Or was it sheer arrogance?
The respected former Supreme Court judge seems to be frank and open in his unwarranted aversion to the media whereas other politicians and officials in the North as well as in the South dodge the scribes with shameless utter lies made by their secretaries, who always used to say that their boss was at a meeting or not in office or gone abroad or they would call back later. But he has conveniently forgotten through his latest decree that he is denying his own voters the right to know what their chief representative is going to do to solve their burning problems or how their hard earned tax money is going to be spent.
One does not need to teach Wigneswaran who was well known for his honesty and integrity during his tenure as a judge the importance of the right to information of the people.And one of the key allegations that were levelled against the government by the Tamil leaders during the war was that the government had denied the right of the people to know what was going on in the war theatre. They called it a war without witness.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) under which Mr. Wigneswaran contested and won the election for the Northern Provincial Council has long been fighting for the promulgation of a Right to Information Act (RIA), along with several other opposition political parties. In the recent history the United National Party (UNP) has attempted twice to introduce a Right to Information Act through private members’ Bills in parliament and on both occasion the TNA, Mr. Wigneswaran’s party had extended its fullest support to the effort. But on both occasion the government scuttled it.
Once it was presented to parliament by Karu Jayasuriya who was then one of the two Deputy Leaders of the UNP and was withdrawn following the assurance by the government that it would present an official Bill, which never saw the light of the day. And again it was presented by Mr. Jayasuriya himself in June 2011 and was defeated at the voting on it and Mr. Wigneswaran has to be reminded that his party voted in favour of the Bill.
The TNA sent a letter to the member countries of the UNHRC during the UN body’s 19th session in which the first US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka was adopted and the TNA leader, R. Sampanthan in that letter had referred the Right to Information as one of the several positive recommendations made by the LLRC.
Most importantly, on this year’s World Press Freedom Day which fell on May 3, three weeks before the Chief Minister issued his unwarranted circular, the TNA joined hands with other Opposition Parties that gathered opposite the Fort Railway Station to launch a petition calling the government to bring in a Right to Information Act. It is a pity that one leader of the TNA was imposing a ban on media in Jaffna, while another TNA leader, M.A. Sumanthiran was among the political party leaders who had attended the launch of a campaign for a Right to Information Act in Colombo.