Around a fortnight ago, when I interviewed for public television Gomin Dayasiri, I asked him about Minister Mervyn Silva’s public threats to tear apart the limbs of and kill human rights activists. Mr. Dayasiri, a senior lawyer and a well-known supporter of the present government, expressed his confidence that the Police would investigate Minister’s most recent hysteria. Time did not permit me to ask Mr. Dayasiri about the fate of the many Police investigations in the past against Minister Silva’s odious violence and revolting public statements. Given the Minister’s revealing asseveration – not once denied by the President or government – that he derives his power and legitimacy directly from the President and the Rajapaksa’s, it’s hardly surprising they went nowhere. Par for the course then to read reports in the media last week that disciplinary action by the SLFP against the Minister’s most recent hate speech were stalled “because of the lack of support from the party hierarchy for such action”.
The story is interesting for another reason. It notes that because no action can be taken against Minister Silva – acknowledging in other words, that he is above the law – complaints relating to corruption, fraud and violation of party regulations against party members, SLFP members of Pradeshiya Sabhas, Urban Councils, Provincial Councils and Parliament could not be acted upon, even “though a majority of these complaints were well substantiated”. So essentially, even though violent, corrupt and cancerous elements within the ruling party have been identified, nothing can or will be done against them because of the impunity a single individual enjoys.
I cannot believe I am the only one who finds this incredible, outrageous and untenable. The President and trenchant voices in his government never tire calling human rights activists and NGOs traitors, doing and saying things against Sri Lanka. But the level of impunity Minister Silva so publicly enjoys, and worse, shamelessly trumpets, escapes similar reproof. Even within government, this hasn’t gone unnoticed, though no one wants to be named on it. One exception is Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, who noted recently that he was “of the view that no intelligent person could have failed to realise that such pronouncements were immensely damaging to the government, and to the President personally” and that intelligence which he thought basic “could not be expected of Minister Silva”. He goes on to submit that his expression, along with sentiment that violently rejects the West as detrimental to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty is “emphatically a minority viewpoint, and not shared by the vast majority of those in government”.
Prof. Wijesinha may like to believe this, just as much Mr. Dayasiri would like to believe in credible investigations into Minister Silva’s public threats. Both choose to ignore a more disturbing, and indeed, deeply embarrassing reality – the President, for whatever reason, protects Mervyn Silva. In protecting Minister Mervyn Silva – and what is in fact indefensible and possibly illegal – the President in effect projects the Minister’s voice and violence over and above the official policies and practices of government. That neither the President nor his powerful brothers have uttered a single word of condemnation against the Minister strongly suggests they condone his behaviour, and in fact, give him the freedom and legitimacy to continue with it. And seemingly no one, not even high ranking members of the SLFP, will put their name to efforts to hold the Minister in check, even though news reports clearly suggest they have been “embarrassed by the untoward actions and controversial remarks of maverick Minister” and find themselves “extremely helpless” to explain his behaviour. However, it’s not just the Minister. The Secretary of Defence, the President’s brother, has on a number of occasions and with equal impunity, employed a similar violent expression, and during the war years, along with someone now languishing in jail, incited public hate against independent journalists and human rights activists. Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and “kudu Duminda” were not so long ago, leading lights of government.
I take no happiness in noting that contrary to what Prof. Wijesinha submits, it is violence in deed and word that sharply defines this government. Minister Silva is just one of many. This is a systemic problem. We may deserve those we elect, but surely, is this the face of a country – that is and can be more cultured and civil – we want to project to the world, especially post-war? Shouldn’t patriots be worried?
Published in The Nation, 22 April 2012