Groundviews

Independent Commissions a Huge Hoax

Picture from protest last year calling for independent commissions, courtesy SriLankaBrief

The first resignation of a member appointed to an independent commission was reported yesterday (26 October) with Lionel Fernando tendering his resignation within a week, reportedly for “personal” reasons. His name appeared as appointed to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) by the President on 22 October. Yet to go on public record is the information that Justice Salam has allegedly rejected his appointment. He was initially recommended to the Constitutional Council (CC) as one of the 03 members representing civil society, but instead was appointed to the Public Service Commission (PSC).

What is happening with independent commissions justifies the claim”…. It was the pledge to have a government that would be transparent and accountable that made the people elect you as President in January and this present government in August.…… It is with much regret that we note here, the whole process of establishing the very important independent commissions lack any transparency,” made by a collective of concerned citizens (myself included)  in a letter addressed to the President with copies also sent to the Prime Minister, Speaker, Leader of the Opposition and all CC members. The letter, signed by the collective under the name “DecentLanka2015″continues, “This silent approach in appointing independent commissions seems to replicate the Rajapaksa method that politicised the entire State machinery.”

Unfortunately, it seems that independent commissions are turning out to be a big fraud not only for the people who voted for the promise of “Yahapalanaya” only to end up with this unprincipled coalition in office, but for all citizens as well. There are serious allegations against the people appointed and in how the appointments were made thus far to the 04 Commissions established. Two members appointed to the Police Commission are far too old to be efficient and credible members in any public commission with very heavy responsibility. In fact one is alleged to have been accused in a bribery case during the period when Ms. Nelum Gamage was Director General of the Bribery Commission. Another appointee to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABoC) itself is questionable say lawyers at Hulftsdorp.

Another issue is the appointment of lawyer Gazali Hussain to the HRCSL. Gazali was the lawyer for former Eastern Province Chief Minister and TMVP leader Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan better known as Pillayan. The issue is not about the right of Pillayan to retain a lawyer of his choice and that of a lawyer to appear on behalf of any client he or she wishes to in his or her professional career. The issue is in appointing a lawyer to the HRCSL who appears for clients accused of violating law, human rights and investigated for extra-judicial killings, when there are enough men and women in the profession who have been defending human rights, appearing for victims of violation of law, torture and rape and are thus “persons of eminence and integrity who have distinguished themselves in public or professional life and who are not members of any political party” as detailed in 19A Chapter VIIA.

There is also the allegation that some who were appointed were not those nominated to be appointed by the CC. According to the 19 amendment, the President cannot appoint any person he wishes. The names have to be received by him in writing as informed by the CC. If persons other than those nominated by the CC have been appointed as some media reported, then President Sirisena has violated the Constitution in the most arrogant manner the former President Rajapaksa did.

All this goes to prove this Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government is not serious in having independent commissions that will run the State independent of them and their political interference. It goes to prove these are mere tokens in keeping their fan club satisfied. Gestures to make the world know independent commissions are now in place. That seems the purpose in establishing namesake commissions by President Sirisena, consented to by others in the CC, 07 of whom are all parliamentarians including Leader of the Opposition and JVP MP Vijitha Herath.

The worst, therefore, is the loud silence of opposition MPs in the CC. The TNA, to be more precise the ITAK leadership in a compromise with the government that I would not accept, will not be pulling up on these, in their calculated walk to bargain other issues they feel are more important to their people than these independent commissions. But that seems the type of politics now engaged by the ITAK leadership. That is not how the anticorruption agitators in the JVP are expected to behave. But they too keep mum on all these public allegations against independent commissions. Why should JVP have its representative in the CC to go along with these appointments that are seriously questioned in public? What is their responsibility as a member sitting in the CC?

Far worse is the role of the 03 members, A.T.Ariyaratne, Ms.Radhika Coomaraswamy and Justice Shibly Azeez, who have taken up their appointments as members of the CC to represent the people. They were no doubt selected and nominated by the political hierarchy of this government and were appointed by the President as required by the Constitution. But they agreed to take up those appointments as representatives of the people and not as political appointees. They do have collective responsibility in having the CC function efficiently. Yet that collective responsibility does not run as far as that of the cabinet of ministers, if they honestly wish to differ. For their first responsibility is to the people they have Constitutionally accepted to represent in the CC.

People also have a right to know from these 03 members in the CC if the allegations made are true or not. It is their sole responsibility to tell the people the truth about all appointments made thus far and those they would be nominating for the rest of the independent commissions. It is their responsibility too, to answer the queries raised by “DecentLanka2015” collective in their letter addressed to the President with copies to all 10 members in the CC including them.

People have a right to know and as three members representing the people they have the responsibility to inform society-

  1. whether persons so far appointed to independent commissions are all nominees sent in writing by the CC to the President
  2. who proposed those names and why they were accepted as eligible by the CC to hold the positions they were nominated to
  3. if there are in fact persons appointed outside the written nominations sent by the CC and who they are
  4. names and details of nominations for remaining commissions including names of those who proposed them

I do not expect much from the JVP member in the CC for the JVP has settled well into this comfortable politicised system and would not rock the boat too much, except for survival. However, the three members in the CC who are Constitutionally there to represent the people cannot be that. If they choose to remain silent on these issues, it only goes to prove they have agreed to be rubber stamps for the big hoax played out by this Sirisena-Wickremesinghe hybrid government and would be willing partners in dumping the 19A in cold storage.

Yet the question then is, what next and how can society seek a better option? We are once again back to square one, as I see how things keep rolling under “Yahapaalanaya“.