Editors Note: The following is the text of a statement by The Friday Forum, an informal group of concerned citizens in Sri Lanka pledged to uphold norms of democracy, good governance, the rule of law, human rights, media freedom and tolerance in our pluralist society.
The crisis that prevailed in the country over the last two months has been overcome, consequent to the decision of the Supreme Court that was handed down on 13th December.
While the situation was instigated, carried forward and exacerbated by various political interests, Friday Forum notes the irony in the claim of all these individuals and entities that they were acting in the best interests of the country and in order to uphold the sovereignty of the people. The responses from the public and civil society made it abundantly clear that people had ceased to have any confidence in the political establishment, of whatever colour, and continuously called all parties to account during this period, demanding a return to democratic governance and the rule of law. The government should not be under any illusion that its popularity has increased. In the last few weeks, people fought to uphold democracy, not any political party.
Largely due to an independent judiciary, and the vehement responses from the public and civil society to political manoeuvring, the status quo ante has been restored and the legitimate Prime Minister re-appointed. However, Friday Forum reiterates that we are not out of the woods, politically or economically. The government holding office pre-26th October has been given one more chance to make good on the promises that brought it to office in 2015, and to rectify errors that contributed to the crisis in governance. It has a short period of time in which to do so.
We wish to record our protest that persons who were earlier compelled to resign from the Cabinet due to public loss of confidence over their alleged implication in financial frauds and issues of conflict of interest, have now been re-appointed and given Ministerial posts. This undermines the democratic values that civil society constantly fought for, and especially in the past few weeks. We ask that these persons not be permitted to hold public office until these issues are sorted out. The availability of other competent MPs who can serve as ministers makes such appointments all the more unacceptable.
Friday Forum calls upon the government to ensure that:
- Expedite investigations into and take necessary legal action regarding atrocities including the murders of Lasantha Wickrematunge, Wasim Thajudeen and Prageeth Ekneligoda.
- Take immediate and speedy action against all those accused of corruption and financial crimes including all those implicated in the government Bond Scam. The government must recover the looted assets.
- Investigate the thuggery and bribery that Parliamentarians engaged in during the past few weeks and take legal action against those identified as having committed offences.
- Take immediate measures to address the dire state of the economy which will soon plunge the country into desperate crisis. This requires immediate austerity measures which will need to be borne by everyone. Those in positions of power and privilege must abandon their profligate lifestyles at state expense, including international travel for themselves, their family and friends, huge costs for security, unjustifiable remunerations for privileged posts, and the use of state resources for travel and other purposes. Those in privileged positions cannot overlook the poverty that prevails among a high proportion of our people, whose situation will become more critical in the coming months.
We also ask that the role of the President in the crisis of the past few weeks be carefully and dispassionately evaluated. In any event it has been demonstrated that the abolition of the Executive Presidency has become again a matter of extreme urgency.
We demand a transformational change in our political culture. Promises for justice and reconciliation must not be forgotten and must be carried forward expeditiously. The constitutional reform process must continue in an open and transparent manner with the full and timely participation of civil society. It should not take place behind closed doors.
Mr. Faiz-ur Rahman and Mr Prashan de Visser
For and on behalf of:
Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Dr. Geedreck Usvatte-aratchi, Mr. Chandra Jayaratne, Dr. A.C.Visvalingam, Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare, Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Prof. Camena Guneratne, Prof. Ranjini Obeyesekere, Prof. Gananath Obeyesekere, Mr. Daneshan Casie Chetty, Ms. Manouri Muttetuwegama, Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda, Ms. Shanthi Dias, Prof. Savitri Goonesekere, Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka and Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris.