The winding journey the impeachment motion against the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka has taken, does not look likely to straighten out any time soon.
The latest ‘public’ position assumed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa – that he had made a decision to appoint an independent committee to study the report – not only subjects the ‘findings’ of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to utter ridicule, but also throws a new and slightly plausible last straw for the drowning independence of the judiciary of Sri Lanka.
The President’s declaration, made during a ceremony to open a new building for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Colombo, slammed by opposition parties as ‘grandstanding’ to appease the growing resentment, contains a few glaring contradictions.
He cautions everyone not to rush to judgment, ignoring that it was precisely what the PSC did on Saturday, 8 December 2012. After hearing the case ex parte, consequent to both the Chief Justice and the Opposition Members of the PSC withdrawing from the hearings, the Committee rushed to issue the report and in a wild haste, handed the report to the Speaker of the House of Parliament in less than twenty hours of the hearings being ‘concluded’.
The President’s public assertion that he would not agree with the stance adopted by the parliamentarians, who initiated the impeachment motion, is a tremendous blow to the ‘independence and impartiality’ of the PSC, which he has taken great pains to ensure, has acted both impartially and independently. That is another contradiction.
The between the line nuances of Tuesday’s declaration, has the President almost echoing the sentiments of hundreds of thousands of fair-minded citizens of this country. But just committed is President to appointing the independent committee and more importantly who will be in it?
The President’s unwillingness to ‘comment’ about the report of the PSC and the constitutional cop out that there is a one-month period before the report is taken up for debate in Parliament, for such abstention from comments, is curious to say the least.
The government provided itself with bargaining/negotiating time with the allowance of this one-month period. The haste that was the hallmark of this gripping saga was thrown out of the window and most surprisingly, the government applied brakes to the hurried journey towards conclusions. It was wildly rumoured that in the wake of the Chief Justice’s ‘walk-out’ of the PSC proceedings, some telephone calls were exchanged between the government and an attorney associated with the Chief Justice.
It is also being whispered that these telephone conversations included, among other things, a possible quid pro quo arrangement, which the Chef Justice had not consented to. Then the obvious change of mind on the part of the government and its expression by none other than the President himself is most revealing and interesting. This offers much scope for thought for the intellectually-curious.
The legal fraternity in the country is still shocked and stunned by the most one-sided judgment rendered by the Government Members of the PSC. They are more stunned by the fact that of the seven Government Members, four are lawyers and their apparent betrayal of the very integrity of the profession, which earned their first pay cheques. The depths into which our society has collapsed seem beneath contempt. In such a context, the President’s announcement is indeed a fresh wind that blows across the stale and malodorous atmosphere that hangs upon the country’s polity.
The President has asserted that he did not want to undermine the Judiciary mainly because he is a lawyer himself. The main purpose of his speech seems to create space between the findings of the PSC members and himself. “The independent committee appointed by me will look into all aspects of the matter and on that basis, I will take my decision on the issue,” the President said.
But these are contradictory words. For, as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP’s) Parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake, stated, “The President is the one who coordinated the impeachment and no matter who laid the egg (referring to the impeachment), the President clucked.” Such words are most disturbing.
In an environment in which the ‘rule of law’ seems to be fast-vanishing, and in a scenario, where even international legal bodies have expressed concern about inappropriate procedure and lack of fairness in the manner in which the impeachment proceedings were carried out, the question arises, how seriously should one take the words of the President?