With a presidential committee probing the worst ever tragedy in Sri Lanka’s fishing industry, and ministries or departments blaming each other for the troubled waters over fishing, we wish to focus today on a serious threat to democracy in the aftermath of this calamity.
Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and a party delegation were visiting Balapitiya to meet the families of victims, when Mr. Wickremesinghe was attacked by some goons who were allegedly organised or provoked by some powerful politicians in the ruling party.
The UNP’s Senior Vice President, Lakshman Kiriella told a news conference that the powerful politician Sajin Vaas Gunawardena was the man behind the attack while other reports indicated that the goons who were led by the Balapitiya Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman were responsible for the attack. Mr. Wickremesinghe was not physically injured but his car was stoned and two UNP members of the Pradeshiya Sabha were injured. Mr. Vaas Gunawardena who is also the monitoring MP for the External Affairs Ministry and usually accompanies President Rajapaksa on his foreign trips is reported to have threatened he would not allow opposition politicians to visit the storm-affected areas or the homes of the dead or missing fishermen. This reminds us of the obnoxious Attanagalle doctrine where the then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike warned that opposition politicians who entered her electorate could be attacked by the people.
It is also regrettable that an MP who is supposed to monitor external affairs has so badly tarnished Sri Lanka’s image among the international community. He needs to be thrown out hook, line and sinker, although the way things are deteriorating, he may be given a more powerful post.
The attack by political goons on the UNP leader in Balapitiya is another sign of the breakdown of the rule of law, accountability, transparency and the checks and balances that are vital for democracy.
Centuries ago, just before the French revolution the infamous King Louis XVI when asked about the rule of law shot back and said “I am the law.” Opposition leaders and independent analysts are expressing concern that Sri Lanka is also crash landing towards such a catastrophe.
While the people have a dialogue on the UNP’s draft for a new constitution to abolish the Executive Presidency and save democracy, the Rajapaksa regime needs to focus attention and take effective steps to prevent another fishing disaster. Government institutions are blaming each other and the Disaster Management Minister has even offered to resign, but such lofty ideals have gone with the wind and most people consider them as a jokes that brings tears, because of what has happened to families of the fishermen who were killed, seriously injured or still missing.
If the blame game is like pouring water on a duck’s back, a more meaningful step would be to provide life jackets and other safety equipment to fisher folk and to ensure that any storm warning would be communicated to them early.
The Meteorological Department - which is under heavy fire now and therefore may be issuing rain warnings one after another - needs to be given more funds to equip itself with the latest technology instead of money being dumped on projects to boost the ego of VIPs.