Staff members of Parliament, security officers, MPs and journalists were excited inside the Parliamentary complex last Friday. They were all awaiting the arrival of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake to appear before the Parliamentary Select Committee that is to probe 14 charges mentioned against her in an impeachment motion.
The committee chaired by Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa was about start proceedings for the first time in the presence of the Chief Justice. Initially, the committee wanted the Chief Justice to be present without her lawyers first. But, there was objection from her side. Eventually, she was allowed to be present along with her lawyers including Romesh de Silva, Nalin Ladduwahetty, Saliya Peiris and K. Neelakandan.
The impeachment motion against the Chief Justice has been backed by 117 MPs of the ruling coalition. But, some opposition MPs had dissenting voices over this action. They made it a point to approach the Chief Justice upon her arrival in the Parliamentary complex and greet her. MP Ajith Kumara who defected from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and joined the Frontline Socialist Party( FSP) went and had a brief chat with her . He apparently expressed his solidarity with her. Followed by MP Kumara, it was UNP MP Rosy Senanayake who briskly went into the room where the Chief Justice was, and talked to her.
In the Select Committee process, a tougher time is ahead for the parties involved. The Committee is slated to start probing those 14 allegations against the Chief Justice one by one on December 4, 2012. Seven ruling party members and four opposition members of the committee are currently studying these charges mentioned against Mrs. Bandaranayake so they can grill her at the next sitting. During the days ahead, the Legislature and the Judiciary are likely to lock horns. There are cases pending before court against the Select Committee, and in the meantime, the Select Committee has decided to go ahead despite any court ruling.
The answers filed by the Chief Justice against 14 charges have been released to cyber space despite warnings by the Legislature that the proceedings of the Select Committee should not be reported in the media. According to the answers, she has categorically said there was not even an ‘iota of truth’ in the charges.
The crisis between the Legislature and the judiciary will worsen in this context. Legislators of the ruling party even warned last Friday that the judiciary should not interfere with their work in this exercise. Senior Ministers such as John Seneviratne, S.B. Dissanayake and newcomers such as Arundika Fernando are among those who have become the defenders of Legislature against the Judiciary. On Friday, shortly after the Select Committee proceedings were over, these government legislators had a press conference to justify their action against the Chief Justice.
The main opposition United National Party (UNP) has nominated its senior members John Amaratunga and Lakshman Kiriella to the Select Committee. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is represented by its leader R. Sampanthan and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) by its propaganda secretary Vijitha Herath.
However, it is learnt that UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake has requested party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to nominate him to the Select Committee by removing one already nominated. Yet, Mr. Wickremesinghe has refused to do it on the grounds that there are court cases pending against Mr. Karunanayake.
TNA off to South Africa
While the government is involved in a tug of war with the judiciary, the TNA is trying to muster the support of the international community to prevail upon the government of Sri Lanka to evolve a political solution.
The party is now planning to undertake a visit to South Africa to interact with the leaders of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). Right from the beginning, the TNA used to believe that a lot of insights could be derived from the South African experience in bringing about reconciliation here. After South African tour next month, the party is set to go to the United States for a major political mission in January, next year. The visit lies ahead of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) next session scheduled for March. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay is expected to submit a report on Sri Lanka to the next session of the UNHRC. The US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka was adopted at the last session of the UNHRC. The resolution, clearly, calls for the government of Sri Lanka to implement the constructive recommendations made in the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and to address accountability issues during the last stage of the war.
The TNA is planning to brief the US authorities about the action taken in this direction by the government of Sri Lanka. The TNA is having a constant dialogue with the US on this issue. According to the unfolding circumstances, the western world is closely monitoring the situation here, and there seems to be a tough time ahead for the government in the international arena. The TNA appears to be reliant only on international action. They are least perturbed over the present stalemate in political dialogue with the government. They do not make any major outcry against the stalled talks. It means the party waits patiently in the hope that the international community will come to their political rescue at one point of time.
Deputy Education Minister Gamini Vijith Wijayamuni Zoysa was in the news last week because of alleged misconduct inside one canteen within the Parliamentary complex. Angered by the lack of seating arrangements at the dining hall for officials accompanied by him, the deputy minister involved himself in an argument with the official in charge of the place. According to media reports, he behaved aggressively, and even slammed a phone.
The incident made headlines in mainstream newspapers, and then only, the deputy minister realised the gravity of the case. He was soon to raise a privilege issue, and call it media hype.
“I was only making inquiries from that official about the lack of seating arrangements. Accidentally, a telephone that was on the table fell down. The media have exaggerated the whole incident and tarnished my image,” he said in Parliament.
However, there are eye witnesses to the incident. It is learnt that the deputy minister has been rapped by the top brass of the government over the incident. He has also been embarrassed before people in his electorate of Bibile in the Moneragala district.
During the committee stage debate of the Foreign Employment Promotion Ministry, UNP MP Ranjan Ramanayake and Subject Minister Dilan Perera locked horns with each other. MP Ramanayake even slandered the Minister on personal matters.
“You have divorced thrice now. None of your relatives work abroad as far as I know. Therefore, you do not understand the problems of expatriate workers,” he told the Minister.
The Minister responded to the UNP MP in his speech, “I want to correct you. I have divorced only twice, not thrice. People of my electorate in Badulla know it well. I have nothing to hide.”
Also, he said he had not violated only one of the five precepts preached in Buddhism.
“I have observed only the precept of Adinnadana . I have violated all the four others,” he said.
The five precepts are abstaining from the destruction of life, abstaining from taking that which is not given, abstaining from sexual misconduct, abstaining from falsehood and abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness.
Minister Perera had abstained from taking that which is not given, he said.