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Ruling party politicians are a law unto themselves

4 June 2014 07:57 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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An ugly incident that shocked the country has put a little known deputy minister of the government firmly under the spotlight this week, once again raising questions about the state of law and order in Sri Lanka.

The politician in question is Hemal Gunasekera, Deputy Minister of Co-operatives and Internal Trade. He has been accused of alleged involvement in an incident where a police officer serving on the Southern Expressway was assaulted and his vehicle set on fire by a group of unidentified people.

Two weeks before the assault, the police officer, Suminda Saman had imposed a fine on the driver of the minister’s vehicle for speeding on the Southern Expressway. The event was not without incident, with the deputy minister reportedly informing the police officer who he was and requesting a waiver.
The police officer had refused to relent and the deputy minister had paid the fine. Gunasekera claims that in this interaction, the police officer was rude to him. The police officer claims that the deputy minister made threats to have him transferred.

Last Friday, the 34-year-old police officer assigned to duties at the Kottawa Exchange of the Southern Expressway was followed by four men in a vehicle while the officer was driving for work and assaulted at Dodangoda, near a rubber estate. The assailants set fire to the officer’s vehicle and fled.
The injured officer, who is receiving treatment in hospital, has told the media that the deputy minister was abusive when he issued the ticket to his driver and says he believes the attack on him is related to the incident. Suminda Saman claims he now fears for his life.

Gunasekera, who represents the district of Matara in Parliament, has claimed that he is not involved in the assault. “I am a total vegetarian. I never commit any wrong. It is wrong to claim that I am behind the assault” Gunasekera has said.






Last Friday, the 34-year-old police officer assigned to duties at the  Kottawa Exchange of the Southern Expressway was followed by four men in a  vehicle while the officer was driving for work and assaulted at  Dodangoda, near a rubber estate. The assailants set fire to the  officer’s vehicle and fled.


The incident has attracted widespread media attention. Gunasekera’s claim that the police officer had concocted the incident to seek asylum in a foreign country has been ridiculed. The Police Department has also not been very energetic in their inquiries, not having questioned the Deputy Minister as yet.

Many interesting facets have contributed to public interest remaining focussed on the incident. The police officer has claimed that his version of events will be corroborated if closed circuit television cameras are inspected. He also claims he made several official entries regarding the incident.

The official stance of the Police Department is that inquiries are being pursued by three different teams. Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Ajith Rohana has only stated that all aspects of the incident are being probed but has declined to link the Deputy Minister to the assault.

Prior to this incident, 54-year-old Wickremeratne Hemal Gunasekera was one of the lesser known parliamentarians among the many dozen representing the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance and a Deputy Minister in a government that has more than one hundred ministers.

Gunasekera, educated at St. Sylvester’s College Kandy began his political career more than twenty years ago when he was elected as vice-chairman of the Weligama Municipal Council. That was to be a stepping stone to provincial politics.

Gunasekera successfully contested the Southern PC Elections in 1994 and was appointed as the Minister of Agriculture, Land, Irrigation and Animal Products of the Council. In the 2009 election to the councils, he polled over 63,000 preference votes, the highest for his party.

He was appointed as Minister of Highways and Media in the Council but he was to soon stand down to contest the 2010 general elections. He was fifth in a list of six parliamentarians elected from the Matara District headed by cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya. Gunasekera polled just over 51,000 votes.

Gunasekera was appointed as Deputy Minister of Co-operatives and Internal Trade in October last year, along with eight other parliamentarians that included Jayasuriya and another controversial politician from the Southern Province, Nishantha Muthuhettigama.

Since then, Gunasekera has maintained a relatively low profile, hardly attracting any media attention or indulging in controversy. Last week’s incident however has placed him under intense scrutiny with many searching questions being raised about his integrity.

Gunasekera is certainly not the first ruling party parliamentarian to be allegedly involved in a dubious incident. Recent controversies surrounding ministers Mervyn Silva and Rishard Bathiudeen, parliamentarian Duminda Silva and Hambantota Mayor Eraj Ravindra Fernando are testimony to this.

In all of these incidents, the primary issue that was raised was whether the rule of law applies equally to ruling party politicians and other citizens of the country. There have been accusations that when government politicians indulge in questionable acts, the Police have been slow to react.

Indeed, while Duminda Silva and Bathiudeen faced some consequences for their alleged actions, Minister Silva and Mayor Fernando have escaped scot-free despite their antics sparking accusations from the Opposition that there was no law and order in the country. Not only have the government politicians escaped sanctions from the law, they have also managed to evade censure from the ruling party hierarchy. As a result, the party leadership has been castigated for tolerating, if not condoning such behaviour.

This has led to concerns even at the international level, after lower level ruling party politicians have been accused of serious offences such as the murder of a British tourist. That incident led to representations being made to authorities in Colombo by the British Government.

The incident relating to Gunasekera’s speeding fine and the subsequent assault on the police officer is most certainly not in that league but the underlying concern remains the same: that ruling party politicians are a law unto themselves and that this has led to a growing culture of impunity.
Because of this, the outcome of the police inquiry into the incident will be eagerly looked forward to. Hemal Gunasekera may have had his fifteen minutes of fame last week, but it is the kind of publicity that any politician could probably do without.
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