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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Sri Lanka needs rule of war, public service: lessons commission

(LBO) – Sri Lanka has to re-build an independent public service and restore rule of law to give freedom to citizens, a commission of inquiry on lessons learnt and reconciliation following the end of a 30-year civil war has said.  “A democracy must assure a fair system of governance under the Rule of Law rather than the rule of men,” a final report published by the commission of inquiry said.

 “Respect for the rights and freedoms of the citizens of a country is the very essence of the concept of the Rule of Law.”

Sri Lanka has had three civil wars since 1970, but the commission of inquiry dealt mostly with war between Tamil Tiger separatists which ended in May 2009.

The commission report said the re-establishment of rule of law was essential to reconcile different communities.

The commission said representations were made that a “large number of persons having political patronage had committed offences” but they escaped the law the political pressure exerted on law enforcement authorities.

“Along with an independent Judiciary and a transparent legal process a strict adherence to the Rule of Law is a sine qua non for peace and stability which is of the essence, if there is to be any meaningful reconciliation,” the report said.

“The Commission reiterates that the lack of governance and non-observance of the Rule of Law would result in the creation of tension between communities.”

Sovereignty of people

The commission said over a period of time public institutions “vital to the functioning of democracy thereby eroding the sovereignty of the people.

“The political culture of the country has made the general public powerless and helpless to a point that they have become dependent on politicians to obtain many services and amenities they are entitled to,” the report said.

“The politicians and the political elite exercise the power of the State to the detriment of others.

“This has led to a high degree of corruption undermining the rights of the citizens. This naturally has had an impact on minority grievances, which would ultimately affect the process of reconciliation.”

The commission noted that in an apathy by the state in not protecting minorities as was the seen in 1983 violence against Tamil citizens will create the impression that the “the State either approves or condones the state of lawlessness unleashed by private individuals or groups against them.”

There were many armed groups in former war zones in the north and the east.

“There is apprehension in the minds of the people living in the North and the East, due to continuing acts of extortion, and other criminal acts such as abductions, disappearances, robberies etc. by armed groups,” the report said.

“It was alleged that a number of politicians operate on the fringes of the law. Due to their interaction with criminal elements in society they subvert the course of justice by the undue influence exerted on the police resulting in the politicization of the police.”

The commission noted a shooting in Colombo where two ruling party politicians were involved.

Public Service

Other analysts had pointed out that Sri Lanka rule of law and public institutions started to weaken especially after the constitutions in 1972 and 1978 abolished a civil service commission and the office of permanent secretaries.

The power of appointment, transfer and disciplinary action of ministry secretaries shifted from the independent civil service commission to the cabinet in 1972 and then to the President in 1978 commission.

Permanent secretaries who had security of tenure to act justly kept the entire public service just and the people free, under a system of administration inherited from the British stopping arbitrary rule by rulers that undermined freedoms of citizens, activists have said.

“An alarming phenomenon that was brought to the notice of the Commission was the high level of interference by politicians of the ruling party with regard to appointments, transfers etc of public officials,” the report said.

“This is the very antithesis of good governance.

“The Commission strongly recommends the establishment of an Independent Public Service Commission without delay to ensure that there is no political interference in the public service and that recruitment and promotions in the public service are in conformity with the equality provisions in the Constitution.”

A recent 18th amendment to the constitution destroyed an attempt by a 17th amendment to re-build a just public service through a series of independent commissions, including the police, which deal with criminal justice.

The lessons report said the police should be separated from the military and an independent mechanism set up.

“The Commission is of the view that an independent permanent Police Commission is a pre-requisite to guarantee the effective functioning of the Police and to generate public confidence,” he report said.

“Such a Commission should be empowered to monitor the performance of the Police Service and ensure that all Police officers act independently and maintain a high degree of professional conduct.”


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