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Opinion

Justice in the Street

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Justice in the street is not a given. Dignity, too, through justice, is not where it might be, in the air or on the ground. This comment arises from the article by Tassie Seneviratne (TS) in The Sunday Times 20th Sept 2020 over a person sworn in as an MP, despite a criminal conviction record.

Oath of public office: The swearing in and the oath administered, and witnessed, raise questions as to its validity in law and on its effect on Justice and Dignity of public office. Mainly, the question is the purpose whether it has serious intention of the oath, not reduced to a plain utterance. Even the oath of office, as for justice and dignity ,is now in effect empty. Oath without dignity does not bind. Killing is not a disqualification for public office as legislators. It is contemptible to even think of such disqualification to hold public office in the Police, the Public Service, and the Judiciary. Even a questionable reputation of a remote distant relation of a candidate to public office was unacceptable to hold office. Promotions in public service depended much on the reputation of the aspirant, apart from some conviction. The reason is that their social background was important to swear an oath, in law and in society. It is impossible to think of killers, bribe takers and wastrels, in our public and police service, to pledge their word, since they cannot discharge their functions with such a murky character background. Only the clear could take their oath. With MPP there is little let or hindrance to take oath from unclear social background. Oath of public office is therefore not easily administered.

Oath of public office and the Law. It is even said the oath can be sworn as a ghost may swear. The effect of law on the oath of office is now, perhaps, only little beyond nominal. Legality and morality are also at odds with justice on the streets, as one sees. But sight again is only as one sees. Many have seen it one way and are shocked. To many others as they see, it is business as usual with some profit thrown in, in the while. Legal arguments are a waste of time if the return is good. Moral public concerns are still trying their utmost best, in Parliament and outside, even with less profit and takings. This is however the drama unfolding to hold the public in the pay off.

Many questions yet arise which reflect on administer of the oath and the validity of its attestation. These may be legal issues which may be explained away in various ways; that the words and the action are separate and hardly related to each other. These arguments will soon be forgotten. Where the law which is for justice does not help, one may then look to religion, at least for the reason that the oath is vowed with a religious intonation.

Oath of public office and Religion. Oath is subscribed to solemnly with a religious intonation. Religion too may then lend its claims and enter the fray but, apparently, does not help dignity of office. Many an oath is administered in the cloak of religion that is yet not worth the breath exhaled. Such is also the matter of everyday life experience of oath taking in medicine, in ethics, in many other professions, even law, and now in Parliament. Yet religion is spread through far and wide for other good effect in this country. Somehow religion barely matters to push dignity. Religious preaching is not at a loss, not less, though its effect is doubtful. If religion speaks to promote dignity in public life, the reality in Parliament and outside, may do much to help dignity in public office. The fault is still not with religion, but with those who may use religion otherwise. Public life nonetheless goes on, that even religious places may, perhaps, have uses that serve them better.

Oath of public office with conviction and with previous conviction. Into this void of a legal and religious effect of the oath, comes a social video, just at this time. Bribery and corruption took place there, the video said, before the very eyes of the dignitaries in those identical precincts dedicated to law and justice. In another sense, the market place has come into Hulftsdorf with transactions in and around the very pillars of justice. They were all involved, leaving no exception. They all are those who had subscribed to a solemn oath for justice and dignity with conviction, with no previous conviction. For every turn then of the administration in the law offices, taking extracts, moving files, and in the myriad interactions among these who alone are admitted to these premises, the exchanges are transactions, the video said. These are reduced to commodities for exchange at a price. The video says this clear and loud in the presence of police and other dignitaries who held a stoic face.

Oath of public office in the market. A market place, as described, in these hallowed precincts, is therefore yet another exercise to deal with. A form of market society has perhaps taken hold where much is up for buy and sale exchange, notwithstanding oath of public office. This scene in the area of the halls of justice, around the pillars of justice, is not easily countenanced with. The wigs, the robes, the pinstripes, the khaki, the flowing white banian, the variety, they did not cover that within. And all this is but some distance away from the Pettah market. Many would shoot the messenger who brought it to the public eye, the video compeer, as the only means they can think of to contend with reality.

Sworn to public office. Law does not help. Religion probably has other purposes. Can the public service, the public office, then steer through this morass? That has been the recurring problem diagnosed variously as problems of life; of a structural, of a systemic nature, of that between those in the public service and those who consider themselves beyond those niceties, the MPP, none of them resolved.

The public service, the police and many others, have therefore only to depend on themselves, as best or otherwise as they may. The issue with them still remains one of Justice, Public good and Morality. Dignity of public office goes with it. With it, dignity governs the conduct of public officers. This is the continuing problem for Public officers who occupy public office. Public servants have even to discharge their duties in courts where his duty makes a high call on his dignity. As a witness in court, the public servant’s dignity comes to the fore in the reception of his evidence. The public servant’s dignity then stands on its own. MPP have their speeches in Parliament untested in any manner. They are delivered with some narcissi glee and glow.

MPP as Legislators hardly consider themselves to thus hold public office. Such constraints and niceties do not stay them. Inappropriate dress offends MPP dignity. Conviction for murder does not offend MPP sense of dignity. So there is confusion along the way, when dignity is, when dignity is not. The confusion is quite useful to some that there is space for manoeuvre to confuse many, of the validity of the oath, of their attire and much else, against dignity of public office. For much flows from dignity than from law and religion, and much else, now shows. Dignity of public office yet stands though it can be bulldozed away as one incident showed. The mangrove incident at Negombo showed the clash of the two interests and of the dignity of their respective offices. The dignity and the career of the public officer with the mangrove were razed away. The politician got his promotion.

Bribery and corruption are collectively the malady in the absence of justice and dignity. Waste and defalcation all follow in its train. In fact a series of other forms of misdemeanour have been vindicated in the political life of many in Parliament. None of the MPP stood up to protest their innocence or be exposed, when so challenged in Parliament. Dignity can wait the MPP said. But none of this rubbed on the body of the legislator. In Parliament all is different. Questionable conduct is even a proud distinction; it is a qualification. This apparently is the reason that none of the MPP who were dared to, did stand up and risk their conduct being exposed in Parliament. They only kept their seats wearing only a sheepish grin in contempt of the accusers. Speeches in Parliament are not restrained by oath or fraught by problematic social background, MPP are spared quandary.

Oath of public office then and now. Could an article, as this, have been written 50, 40, 30 years ago, then? Politicians, Judges, Lawyers, Police and Prison Commissioners, University dons, Election Commissioner (singular) Public servants, then, all were of repute and dignity. Do names need to be mentioned? What then and whence was the difference? Many reasons, now, are ascribed for the breakdown. The replacement of social values by market values in about 2008/09 with the financial crisis is given as the breaking point. That breakdown was ,however, coming, in slow change, before the crisis. Social institutions, political and religious organisations, law associations and traditions and much else, none excepted, were caught in the throes of this silent revolution. Money now mattered. None are clear. This opinion cannot be dismissed.

A matter of regret, then, is that much that is awry including law and order can be accounted so for this collapse. The dysfunction of law and order process has quite well set in now. Much of the malfunction though freely termed ‘laws delay’ is now, as in a market society, described even as a way of life! If one applies this same analysis around that is equally applicable to all.

Justice and dignity are yet in the street, not in the Hall.

 

Frank de Silva

Narahenpita.


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Opinion

Take Human Rights seriously, not so much the council or office

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By Dr Laksiri Fernando

The 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council started on 22 February morning with obvious hiccups. The Office, to mean the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, finally decided to hold all sessions virtually online, only the President of the Council and the assistants in the high table sitting at the UN Assembly Hall in Geneva. The President, Ms. Nazhat Shammen Khan, Ambassador from Fiji in Geneva, wearing a saree, was graceful in the chair with empty seats surrounding.

In the opening session, the UN General Assembly President, UN General Secretary, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Head of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland (as the host country), addressed remotely the session. In fact, there was no need for Switzerland to have a special place, as the UN is independent from any host country. Switzerland is fairly ok, however, if this tradition is followed, the UN General Assembly may have to give a special place to the US in New York.

 

Initial Addresses

UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres’ address could have been quite exemplary if he gave a proper balance to the developed and developing countries. He talked about racism and fight against racism but did not mention where racism is overwhelmingly rampant (US and Europe) and what to do about it. Outlining the human rights implications of Covid-19 pandemic, he made quite a good analysis. It was nice for him to say, ‘human rights are our blood line (equality), our lifeline (for peace) and our frontline (to fight against violations).’ However, in the fight against violations, he apparently forgot about the ‘blood line’ or the ‘lifeline’ quite necessary not to aggravate situations through partiality and bias. He never talked about the importance of human rights education or promoting human rights awareness in all countries.

His final assault was on Myanmar. Although he did not call ‘genocide,’ he denounced the treatment of Rohingyas as ethnic cleansing without mentioning any terrorist group/s within. His call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders undoubtedly should be a common call of all. However, he did not leave any opening for a dialogue with the military leaders or bring back a dialogue between Aung San and Min Aung, the military leader. With a proper mediation, it is not impossible. Calling for a complete overhaul as the young demonstrators idealistically claim might not be realistic.

High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s address was brief and uncontroversial this time without mentioning any country or region. It is clear by now perhaps she is not the real author of the Report against Sri Lanka, but someone probably hired by the so-called core-group led by Britain. Her major points were related to the coronavirus pandemic trying to highlight some of the socio-economic disparities and imbalances of policy making that have emerged as a result. The neglect of women, minorities, and the marginalized sections of society were emphasized. But the poor was not mentioned. As a former medical doctor, she also opted to highlight some of the medical issues underpinning the crisis.

Then came the statements from different countries in the first meeting in the following order: Uzbekistan, Colombia, Lithuania, Afghanistan, Poland, Venezuela, Finland, Fiji, Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Equatorial Guinea, Vietnam, Belgium, and Morocco. The obvious purposes of these statements were different. Some countries were apparently canvassing for getting into the Human Rights Council at the next turn perhaps for the purpose of prestige. Some others were playing regional politics against their perceived enemies. This was very clear when Lithuania and Poland started attacking Russia.

But there were very sincere human rights presentations as well. One was the statement by the President of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. He outlined the devastating effects that Afghanistan had to undergo during the last 40 years, because of foreign interferences. The initial support to Taliban by big powers was hinted. His kind appeal was to the UN was to go ‘beyond discourse to practice’ giving equal chance to the poor and the developing countries to involve without discrimination.

 

Controversial Presentations

China’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Wang Yi, made his presentation almost at the end of the first day. This is apparently the first time that China had directly addressed the Human Rights Council. Beginning with outlining the devastating repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic he stressed that the world should face the challenges through ‘solidarity and cooperation.’ He broadened the concept to human rights solidarity and cooperation. His expressed views were quite different to the others, particularly to the Western ones.

He frankly said that what he expresses are the views of China on human rights without claiming those are absolute truths or forcing others to believe or implement them. There were four main concepts that he put forward before the member countries. First, he said, “We should embrace a human rights philosophy that centres on the people. The people’s interests are where the human rights cause starts and ends.” Second, he said, “we should uphold both universality and particularity of human rights. Peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom are common values shared by all humanity and recognized by all countries.” “On the other hand,” he said, “countries must promote and protect human rights in light of their national realities and the needs of their people.”

“Third,” he said, “we should systemically advance all aspects of human rights. Human rights are an all-encompassing concept. They include civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights.” He then emphasized, “Among them, the rights to subsistence and development are the basic human rights of paramount importance.” Fourth, “we should continue to promote international dialogue and cooperation on human rights. Global human rights governance should be advanced through consultation among all countries.”

It was on the same first day before China, that the United Kingdom launched its barrage against several countries not sparing Sri Lanka. The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, delivered the statement from top to bottom attacking alleged violating countries on human rights. But there was no mentioning of Israel for the repression of Palestinians or the systemic racism rampaging in the United States, including the 6 January attacks on the Capitol by extremist/terrorist groups.

His first sermon was on Myanmar without acknowledging the British atrocities or mismanagement of this poor and diverse country during the colonial period. He was quite jubilant over implementing sanctions and other restrictions over the country. Many sanctions, in my opinion, are extortions. Undoubtedly, Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders should be released, and democracy restored. This is a task of the whole council and when one or two countries try to grab the credit, there can be obvious reservations of others.

His further scathing attacks were against Belarus, Russia, and China. Some appeared factually correct but not necessarily the approach or the motives genuine. The following is the way he came around Sri Lanka. He said,

“Finally, we will continue to lead action in this Council: on Syria, as we do at each session; on South Sudan; and on Sri Lanka, where we will present a new resolution to maintain the focus on reconciliation and on accountability.”

‘Action’ to him basically means repeatedly passing resolutions, of course imposing economic and other sanctions. He said, “as we do at each session”; like bullying poor or weak countries at each session. Can there be a resolution against Russia or China? I doubt it.

What would be the purpose of presenting a resolution against Sri Lanka? As he said, “to maintain the focus on reconciliation and on accountability.” This will satisfy neither the Tamil militants nor the Sinhalese masses. But it might satisfy the crafty Opposition (proxy of the defeated last government). This is not going to be based on any of the actual measures that Sri Lanka has taken or not taken on reconciliation or accountability. But based on the ‘Authoritarian and Hypocritical Report’ that some anti-Sri Lankans have drafted within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This what I have discussed in my last article.

In this context, successful or not, the statement made by the Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena, in rejecting any resolution based on the foxy Report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in my concerned opinion, is absolutely correct.

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Opinion

President’s energy directives ignored by the Power Ministry: Another Point of View

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Dr Tilak Siyambalapitiya

Dr Janaka Rathnasiri laments (The Island 19 Feb 2021) that the Power Ministry has ignored the President’s directive to draw 70% of energy from renewable sources by 2030. I saw the approved costs of electricity production for 2019, published by the Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL).

PUCSL has also approved the prices to sell electricity to customers. Although various customers pay at various “approved” prices, the average income from such “approved” prices in 2019 was Rs 17.02 per unit. It is not only the Ministry, according to Dr Rathnasiri, ignoring the President; PUCSL is also breaking the law, which says prices and approved costs should be equal.

So there is already an illegal gap of Rs 21.59 minus 17.02 = Rs 4.57 per unit of electricity sold. If electricity prices are not to be increased, as stated by many in the government and PUCSL, let us say the following: Distribution costs should decrease by 0.57 Rs per unit. Generation costs should decrease by Rs 4.00 per unit.

PUCSL also published the approved cost of purchasing or producing electricity from various sources for 2019. The actual energy values were different to what was approved, but let us stick to PUCSL approved figures:

I suggest Dr Rathnasiri fills-up the following table, to show how much electricity will cost in 2030 to produce and deliver, if the President’s 70% target is to be achieved and for PUCSL to abide by the law. Let us assume that electricity requirement in 2030 will be double that of 2019.

Since PUCSL has to save Rs 4 from 13.92, the average selling price for energy should be Rs 13.92 minus 4.00 = Rs 9.92. With a target network loss of 7% (in 2019 it was 8.4%), the average cost of production has to be Rs 9.27 per unit. Eight cages have to be filled-up by Dr Rathnasiri.

In 2012, PUCSL approved the energy cost of electricity produced from coal power to be 6.33 Rs per kWh. In 2019, PUCSL approved 9.89 (56% increase). For renewable energy, it was 13.69 in 2012, and 19.24 in 2019 (a 40% increase, but double the price of electricity from coal fired generation). In 2012, rooftop solar was not paid for: only give and take, but now paid Rs 22, against Rs 9.89 from coal. There seems to be something wrong. The price reductions of renewable energy being promised, being insulated from rupee depreciation, are not happening? Either Sri Lanka must be paying too little for coal, or it may be renewable energy is severely over-priced?

On coal we hear only of some corruption every now and then; so Sri Lanka cannot be paying less than it costs, for coal.

 

Enough money even to donate
vaccines

Another reason for the Ministry of Power to ignore the President’s directive may be the Ministry’s previous experience with similar Presidential directives. In 2015, the President at that time cancelled the Sampur coal-fired power plant, and the Ministry faithfully obliged. That President and that Prime Minister then played ball games with more power plants until they were thrown out of power, leaving a two-billion-dollar deficit (still increasing) in the power sector. Not a single power plant of any description was built.

Where is this deficit? You do not have to look far. In the second table, replace 24.43 with 9.89, to reflect what would have happened if Sampur was allowed to be built. The value 12.79 will go down to 8.55, well below the target of Rs 9.27 per unit to produce. Not only would CEB and LECO report profits, but the government too could have asked for an overdraft from CEB to tide over any cash shortfalls in the treasury. All this with no increase in customer prices. Producers of electricity from renewable energy could enjoy the price of 19.24 Rs per unit. And that blooming thing on your rooftop can continue to enjoy Rs 22 per unit. The Minister of Power, whom Dr Rathnasiri wants to replace with an army officer, would have been the happiest.

In the absence of Sampur (PUCSL’s letter signed by Chairman Saliya Mathew confirmed cancellation and asked CEB not to build it), PUCSL approved electricity to be produced at Rs 21.59 and sold at Rs 17.02 per unit. The annual loss would be Rs (21.59 – 17.02) x 15,093 = Rs 69 billion per year of approved financial loss. Sri Lanka has a Telecom regulator, an Insurance regulator, a Banking regulator, who never approve prices below costs. Sometime ago the telecom regulator asked the operators to raise the prices, when operators were proposing to reduce prices amidst a price war. But the electricity industry regulator is different: he approves costs amounting to 27% more than the price, not just once but, but continuously for ten long years !

That is 370 million dollars per year as of 2019, the economy is spending, and for years to come, to burn oil (and say we have saved the environment). Did the Minister of Health say we are short of 160 million dollars to buy 40 million doses of the vaccine? Well, being a former Minister of Power, she now knows which Presidential “order” of 2015 is bleeding the economy of 370 million dollars per year, adequate to buy all vaccines and donate an equal amount to a needy country.

Prices are the production costs approved by PUCSL for 2019. The selling price approved by the same PUCSL was Rs 9.27 per unit.

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Opinion

Confusion on NGOs and NSOs in Sri Lanka

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If you listen to politicians and journalists here, you will hear of that curious creature rajya novana sanvidane, a Non-State Organization (NSO). Where do you get them? In the uninstructed and dead minds of those who use those terms. In the real world, where politicians and journalists have developed minds, there are Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO). The United Nations is an organization set up by state parties, not by governments. It is true that agents of states, governments, make the United Nations work or fail. Governments may change but not the states, except rarely. When Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia, a new state was formed and was so recognised by the United Nations. However, the LTTE that tried to set up another state was crushed by the established state that it tried to break away from, and the UN had nothing to do with them.

This entirely unnecessary confusion, created out of ignorance, is so destructive that organizations completely loyal to the existing state, are made to be traitorous outfits, for they are ‘non-state organizations’ within the state. There are citizens of each state, but no citizens of any government. Government is but an instrument of the state. In most states there are organizations, neither of the state nor of government: religious organizations including churches. But none of them is beyond the pale of the state.

Those that speak of rajya novana sanvidane give that name partly because they have no idea of the origin of non-governmental organizations. NGOs came into the limelight, as donor agencies, noticed that some governments, in East Africa, in particular, did not have the capacity and the integrity to use the resources that they provided. They construed, about 1970, that NGOs would be a solution to the problem. Little did they realize that some NGOs themselves would become dens of thieves and brigands. I have not seen any evaluation of the performance of NGOs in any country. There was an incomplete essay written by Dr. Susantha Gunatilleka. NGOs are alternatives to the government, not to the state.

Our Constitution emphatically draws a distinction between the government and state, and lays down that the President is both Head of Government and Head of State (Read Article 2 and Article 30 of the Constitution.) It is as head of state that, he/she is the Commander of the Armed Forces, appoints and receives ambassadors and addresses Parliament annually, when a prorogued Parliament, reconvenes. He/she presides over the Cabinet as head of government. The distinction is most clear, in practice, in Britain where Queen Elizabeth is the head of state and Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister and head of government. However, in principle, Johnson is the Queen’s First Minister appointed by the sovereign, and resigns by advising her of his decision to do so.

In the US and in India the term ‘state’ has special significance. In India there is a ‘rajya sabha’ (the Council of States) whose members represent constituent States and Union Territories. Pretty much the same is true of the United States. In the US, executive power is vested in the President and heads the administration, government in our parlance. The Head of State does not come into the Constitution but those functions that one associates with a head of state are in the US performed by the President of the Republic. The US President does not speak of my state (mage rajaya) but of my administration, (mage anduva). Annually, he addresses Congress on the State of the Union. Our present President must be entirely familiar with all this, having lived there as a citizen of the US for over a decade. It is baffling when someone speaks of a past state as a traitor to that same state. It is probable that a government was a traitor to the state. ‘Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their (States’) enemies, giving them aid and comfort’. That a state was a traitor to the same state is gobbledygook.

Apart from probable confusion that we spoke of in the previous paragraph, it is probable that a president and other members of a government, including members of the governing party here, find it grandiloquent to speak of his/her/their state (mage/ape rajaya), rather than my government (mage anduva) or Sirisena anduva’ and not Sirisena state; it was common to talk of ‘ape anduva’ in 1956; politicians in 1956 were far more literate then than they are now.

When translating from another language, make sure that you understand a bit of the history of the concept that you translate. A public school in the US is not the same as a public school in the UK.

 

MAHADENAMUTTA

 

 

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