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Is Avant Garde probe turning to be a witch-hunt?

15 November 2015 07:00 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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aw and Order Minister Tilak Marapana resigned last week after an uproar in the Cabinet, over his perceived pussyfooting on the ongoing investigation into the floating armoury of the Avant Garde Maritime Service Limited (AGMSL).

Mr. Marapana’s only ‘offence,’ it appears, that he earlier told Parliament that the considered opinion of the Attorney General was that there was no considerable and admissible evidence to institute a legal case against the weapons that were found in the ship, MV Mahanuwara during a police raid. The docked ship was raided at the Galle Harbour soon after the Presidential election in January this year. (Last month, a second ship, MV Avant Garde was raided when it returned to the Galle Harbour after a voyage in the Red sea)

Mr. Marapana who himself was a former Attorney General and leading lawyer stood by the AG’s department, while some of  the boisterous members of his Cabinet and several others outside appeared to suggest that the AG should cater to their whims and fancies.

It was not Mr. Marapana, but his opponents, who were interfering with the case and by their action, trying to influence the AG’s department.

Now, emboldened by their ‘success,’ those very individuals want Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe removed, again because the latter too had stood by the AG’s department.



A rather interesting spectacle of washing dirty laundry in public is now taking place as the government ministers Rajitha Senaratne, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and former Army Chief Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka trade flimsy allegations with each other.

However, the most disturbing of all, was a reported attempt to summon the Attorney General before Parliament to explain why his department decided not to institute a legal case against the weapons found in the Avant Garde’s floating armoury.

AGMSL was involved in a joint venture with the fully state-owned Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited (RALL) to provide weapons and sea marshals for the ships against maritime piracy.

The AG’s department, after considering evidence submitted by the CID and observations made by the Defence Ministry and Sri Lanka Navy, has decided that there was no ground to take legal action against the AGMSL under the Fire Arms Ordinance, Explosive Act or the Prevention of Terrorism Act. CID has been advised to submit any evidence of corruption related to the management of the company to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption. A separate probe into alleged corruption and money laundering is now being undertaken by the Bribery Commission.

AGMSL was providing private maritime companies with weapons, which were issued to it by the RALL. Those weapons were to provide security to ships against maritime piracy. Sri Lankan Navy provided the service until 2012, until it handed the business to AGMSL.
Now the government has decided to revoke the monopoly of the AGMSL. The Navy has taken over the provision of weapons to private maritime security companies. Under government orders, RALL has decided to discontinue its engagement in maritime security.
Private Military Companies (PMC), a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide, are not new to Sri Lanka. In the 80s, when much of the world shunned us after the Black July, South African PMCs trained some specialized units of the army. Maritime security firms have recently become a thriving industry as despondent Somalies make sea piracy a multi-million dollar business.
 


"If the AGMSL and any government officials have flouted the law, it needs to be investigated. However, the Attorney General has decided that there were no admissible grounds for legal action. Under the normal circumstance, the controversy which has become an embarrassment for the new government would have been laid to rest."



If the AGMSL and any government officials have flouted the law, it needs to be investigated. However, the Attorney General has decided that there were no admissible grounds for legal action. Under the normal circumstance, the controversy which has become an embarrassment for the new government would have been laid to rest.

However, this case is an exception due to the involvement of one man: Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
A few of his opponents want to hound him - no matter the legal grounds for such an action.
Therefore, mutual recrimination within the government ranks over the Avant Garde probe is not just a power game among a few politicos. It is now becoming a witch-hunt, which threatens to undermine the independence of institutions that the government pledged to foster, one of which being the judiciary.

Last week, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka raised concerns over what it described as “a spate of and growing vilification and personal attacks” on the members of the judiciary and Attorney General’s Department, and the attempts to summon the AG before Parliament.

Sri Lankan politics is cheap. It has not changed much under the Yahapalana government. The danger is that some politicians, in the government, in the opposition and outside Parliament, tend to think that the Attorney General should kow-tow to them.

Their attempts to vilify independent institutions and their office holders bode ill for the future of our democracy. In fact, we should celebrate the new found sense of independence in our judiciary. That the judiciary now rules by the law, and not by the dictates of the self-interested politicos is an admirable sign.

 

"A rather interesting spectacle of washing dirty laundry in public is now taking place as the government ministers Rajitha Senaratne, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and former Army Chief Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka trade flimsy allegations with each other."



Therefore, the top leaders of the government have a responsibility to rein in their own ranks. The greatest feat of the new government, so far, has been resurrecting independent institutions. Its leaders should not allow its ranks to roll back that process. The integrity of those institutions should not be weakened to achieve petty political and personal ends. It was not long ago that a Chief Justice was impeached because she refused to issue rulings in favour of the regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Some of the recent critics of the judiciary and AG’s department, in fact, placed their signatures in that infamous impeachment motion - though many of them regret it now. Some of them, may have a low esteem towards those independent organs of the State. Their remarks betray those sentiments.

Of course, the public expect the government to investigate allegations of corruption, excesses and abuses of power blamed on the previous regime. However, that should be done through the due process of law, and not through kangaroo courts – or by influencing the judiciary and other independent institutions.
After all, if we need Kangaroo courts, we could well have kept the former regime in power. It was pretty good at it. We should celebrate the new found independence of the judiciary – and tell the self-interested naysayers to be quiet!
 

Follow Ranga Jayasuriya @ Ranga Jayasuriya on Twitter 

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