Although it is said that it had been conducted within the ambits of the Constitution the government handling of the CJ’s impeachment has raised many eyebrows here and abroad. Despite its ‘conclusion’an aura of abeyance lingers…
Parliamentary businesses were conducted both day and night on December 8. The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) that probed the charges against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake decided to work even at night to wrap up its proceedings and compile the report to be handed over to Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa on the following day.
Sixteen in the drama
In its exertion to complete the probe and compile its report, the ruling party members of the PSC summoned 16 officials to collect evidence regarding charges against the Chief Justice.
Among those who gave evidence are Supreme Court Judge Shirani Thilakawardane, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, Supreme Court Registrar Duminda Prabath Mudunkotuwa, Colombo Chief Magistrate Court registrar Amitha Chandrasekara, Chief Executive Officer of Trillum Residencies Ltd., Janaka Ratnayake, Public Notary Aroshi Perera , Chief Executive Officer of the National Development Bank Rassel the Mel, Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Director- Legal of Trillum Residencies Mrs. D.K. Abeygunawardane, Commissioner of the Inland Revenue Department Gen. Mallika Samarasekara , National Savings Bank General Manager H.M. Hennayake Bandara, Deputy General Managers of the People’s Bank K.B. Rajapakse and M.A.B. Silva, Acting Deputy General Manager of the Bank of Ceylon D.M. Gunasekara, Immigration and Emigration Controller Chulananda Perera and Judicial Services Commission’s Secretary Manjula Tilakaratne.
They all gave evidence until 9.00 pm on the day, and the PSC assisted by the parliamentary staff, worked until 7.30 am of the following day in the compilation of the report. After a break the members of the PSC returned for a meeting scheduled with the Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa.
The task had been so exhausting PSC Chairman Anura Priyadarshana Yapa nodded off in his chair during the meeting with Minister Rajapaksa. He even snored in confirmation! Housing Construction and Engineering Services Minister Wimal Weerawansa, a prankster among the members, used his mobile phone to take a picture of the sleeping Minister Yapa perhaps to add to his collection of photos of politicos in impromptu poses!
The report incorporating the PSC findings that found the CJ guilty of charges including the failure to declare nine bank accounts and interfering in a case loosely associated with her sister’s real estate transaction was eventually handed over to Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa.
The PSC that started meeting on November 14, concluded its proceedings on December 8 found the Chief Justice guilty of charges 1, 4 and 5 mentioned in the impeachment resolution. According to Standing Orders , the report has to be kept with Parliament for one month, after which it can be taken up for a debate to be followed by a vote in the House. Once the motion is passed with a simple majority, it has to be sent to the President to decide on the future the Chief Justice.
Four walk out
The government members had to carry out the proceedings of the Select Committee in the absence of the four Opposition members namely Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga, United National Party MP Lakshman Kiriella, Tamil National Alliance leader R. Sampanthan and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna MP Vijitha Herath. These participants of the committee walked out from the session earlier during the day on December 8 as an act of protest against the manner in which the proceedings were conducted.
The parliamentary process involving the examination of the charges levelled against the CJ captured attention of the general public right throughout the month. And the dust has not settled on the public excitement generated by the affair. On a regular basis, new chapters are being added on to the extraordinary episode. Lawyers have started flexing their muscles against the government on what has been proclaimed an ‘infringement of the independence of judiciary by acting against the topmost of judicial entity of the country’.
Lawyers flex muscles
The lawyers of Galle, Matara and Jaffna flagged off the boycott , of court proceedings as a mark of protest. Later, lawyers from Colombo and other parts of the country followed suit. The main opposition the United National Party and small political entities and organizations aligned with it, took to the streets exerting pressure on the government. The Janatha Vimukthi Pereramuna (JVP) is opposed tooth and nail to the hasty conclusion of the PSC process without, as they said ‘giving a fair opportunity for hearing the lawyers of the Chief Justice. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) supported the JVP stand-point.
In this whole exercise, the government tarnished its image among right thinking people. It has to be accepted that that the set of procedures followed by the government abide by the conditions in the Constitution for the impeachment of the Chief Justice or any other judge of the Supreme Court. Yet, the hurried conclusion of the process within a period of less than a month will leave scope for anyone to interpret the process as an exercise of smacking a witch-hunt against the Chief Justice. Though any select committee is required to submit its finding to Parliament within a period of one month from its Institution, Standing Orders provide for the Speaker to extend its term if a request is made by the chairman of the committee. Apparently, the ruling party was not interested in such an extension as requested by the lawyers of the Chief Justice and the opposition members. Also, it would have been prudent to have avoided the circumstances that led to the walkout by the Chief Justice and her lawyers from the proceedings on December 5. These two factors may place the government in a disadvantageous position when the case is analysed from a moderate point of view.
Besides, UNP MP Lakshman Kiriella who is a member of the PSC argues that the charges should have been referred to an independent panel of jurists to determine whether the charges levelled against the CJ qualify for impeachment or not.
“I made this suggestion to the PSC on the very first day. Sub section 4 of Standing Order 78 (a ) enables the chairman to suggest such references. The PSC chairman did not agree to it,” Kiriella said.
In addition to the UNP member, three allies of the government the Lanka Samasamaja Party of Minister Prof. Tissa Vitarana, the Communist Party of Minster D.E.W. Gunasekara and the Democratic Left Front of Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara. also made the same suggestion
The government argues that there are international elements waiting in the wings to pounce on Sri Lanka. Arguably, it is clear that such lapses on the part of the government only provide fodder for those forces either here or abroad.
Later, government and opposition MPs who were engaged in heated arguments during the budget debate for over a month , were exchanging pleasantries and enjoying food and drinks ironically at the party organized by Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa at his official residence.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was also present, sat next to Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga at one table. Both made jovial remarks at each when they were approached by UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekara.
Mr. Jayasekara remarked, “Sir, as we probed the charges against the Chief Justice within less than one month, shall we take steps to speed up hearing cases pending before various courts and dispense with them as soon as possible?”
The President responded, “Yes, yes, we have to do that.”
MPs representing all the parties except the JVP were entertained with Sinhala songs by MP Jayasekara, UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa and Minister Wimal Weerawansa.
Mr. Weerawansa sang songs of the late Gunadasa Kapuge whereas Mr. Premadasa sang ‘Malata Bambaraku Se’. The song ‘Me Jeewanaye’ was sung by Mr. Jayasekara.
Seated at one table and enjoying the pleasantries were Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Fisheries Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and Petroleum Minister Susil Premajayantha together with a few others.
TNA troops at logger-heads?
The four parties of the TNA met during the weekend to discuss matters pertaining to the registration of the TNA as a separate political party with the decision making power being shared among the alliance partners. Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) , Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). Ilankai Tamil Arashu Kachchi (ITAK) to which TNA leader R. Sampanthan belongs, did not attend this meeting.
The four parties discussed the way forward for politics in the politics of the North. Their major allegation was that the ITAK was not interested in registering the TNA. They even discussed the possibility of registering themselves as a political party, without the ITAK.
Policy differences among the members of the TNA alliance are likely to take their toll on its unity ahead of the Northern Provincial Council election being planned to be conducted next year. There is a common allegation by these parties that the ITAK secured a high number of slots for its candidates on the TNA ticket to contest the Eastern Provincial Council Election. In the event the ITAK persists in being allocated a similar number of openings at the election in the North, the TNA will probably split up as the other allies are strict on securing an adequate number of slots for their own candidates.
Meanwhile, attempts are underway to revive the political dialogue between the government and the TNA. The two sides are expected to meet with the once external affairs minister Prof. G.L. Peiris. A top level United Nations delegation was also in town recently. They held talks with all the stakeholders to ascertain how far the government has progressed in the implementation of recommendations by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). They also assessed the degree to which the government has progressed in implementing the measures outlined in the US resolution adopted at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Did Rosy have a puncture?
Minister Rajitha Senaratne and UNP MP Ms. Rosy Senanayake had a verbal duel in Parliament last week. The Minister faulted the UNP MP for not being in the House at the commencement of the question time.
“We, the Ministers, are always faulted for not being present. Today, this MP was not present during the first round. I came in a hurry to Parliament to answer a question to be directed at me by her. Yet, she was not there during the first round,” the minister charged.
Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa responded, “Like you, she would also have come in a vehicle. Who knows whether the tyre burst on her way here?The minister shot back at the Speaker, “It seems that Ms. Rosy Senanayake enjoys special patronage from the Chair. I have never seen such a phenomenon since I became an MP in 1994.”
The Speaker retorted: “It is the nature of everybody.”