07 October 2012

No 'easy' takes on Manjula Tilakaratne attack

It is easy to condemn an attack on anyone.  It is typical for there to be widespread condemnation the more public visibility that a victim has.  It is easy for relevant ministers (and politicians in the opposition too) to visit the victim.  It is easy for the executive to add to condemnation a directive to investigate.  It is easy to say ‘innocent until found guilty’. 

There are lots of easy things in this world.

The Secretary of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Manjula Tilakaratne was assaulted by four unidentified men in Mount Lavinia this morning.  It is easy to say that it is too early to ascertain the ‘why’ and ‘who’ of the attack and of course the ‘who was behind it’.  It is also easy to point out that rivers have sources and trees have roots, as Himani Banerjee once said. It is easy to trace statements made by Tilakaratne over the past few weeks and to lay out patters pertaining to the relationship between executive and judiciary.  Let’s do that now.

Over the past few weeks, many allegations have been leveled in the media against Tilakaratne and the JSC.  Tilakaratne has insisted that these were ‘malicious and baseless’ and opined that they may have been prompted by a media statement issued by him on the directive of the JSC criticizing alleged intervention in the judiciary by the executive.

The allegation followed a meeting between the President and the Chief Justice and two judges of the Supreme Court.  The word ‘summoned’ has been used.  The President at meeting with media heads recently denied this and in fact stated that he has not and does not intend to interfere with the work of the judiciary. 

The speculation follows a Supreme Court determination that the ‘Divi Neguma’ bill presented in Parliament needed approval by the Provincial Councils.  Detractors of the Government have claimed that this may have irked both the Minister of Economic Affairs and the President’s brother, Basil Rajapaksa, and perhaps the President himself. 

All this is pretty vague.  What is not vague is that friction between executive and judiciary is not new.  ‘This is My Nation’, the regular Sunday editorial page column outlined that history on September 30, 2012 (‘Wisdom of the judiciary should be respected’). 

Thus the long history and the short of executive-judiciary relations cast an inevitable shadow on Sunday’s attack.  Other shadows too, for example countless examples of assault on known critics of the Government with law enforcement agencies failing to bring perpetrators to justice. 

It is easy to order investigations, but we must take into account that consequent to the abrogation of the 17th Amendment (or rather its replacement by the 18th), effectively compromised the independence of the Police Department.  On numerous occasions, political hands have moved to tie Police hands or else the Police, recognizing possible and unhappy repercussions of carrying out its duty, has foot-dragged and looked askance. 

It is easy to say a lot of things. It is difficult to do. J.R. Jayewardene did not throw stones or hoot judges. Someone else did.  Where did those hooligans obtain the guts to take on the courts?  The same questions can be asked right now.  If, as alleged, Tilakaratne is guilty of wrongdoing, there’s an established way of investigation and punishment. 

Those who support the Government and the President must hope that this attack had nothing to do with the histories outlined above.  Given the manifest absence of checks and balances in the overall structure of governance, including the lack of transparency and accountability, the truth is that over the past several years trust in law enforcement has been severely compromised.

Tomorrow the Mt. Lavinia Police might arrest a suspect or two or all the assailants.  That would not erase what is most likely to be the general response to such an eventuality: ‘framed’. 

There’s a culture that’s been nurtured for quite a while now.  It is malignant.  That’s easy to say.  Sometimes, though, truth is the easiest thing to say.  And truth is what makes and breaks structures of power.  That too is easy to conclude.  



Patta Pal said...

Truth is what makes and breaks structures of power - Well said.

I just wish we can educate our readers/people to understand that, and identify how we may go about evaluating what is seen, heard, and read to determine what really is the truth.