Much attention was focussed on the appointment of the new Inspector General of Police (IGP). This week the Constitutional Council, after interviewing the three nominees forwarded to them by President Maithripala Sirisena, recommended Pujith Jayasundera as the country’s top policeman.
The opposition has been up in arms over the issue. They claim that the Constitutional Council is only empowered to confirm or reject a nominee from the President. They argue that President Sirisena has no authority to nominate three names and the Council has no business to go about ‘interviewing’ applicants.
The opposition – in this instance, the so-called ‘Joint Opposition’ – also complain that the senior most applicant, Senior Deputy Inspector General S.M.Wickremesinghe has been overlooked. They are also unhappy that Minister Champika Ranawaka, a member of the Council voted in the selection process when there is an on-going investigation against him which is being directed by Jayasundera.
All this hullabaloo is quite similar to the fuss made about the recent appointment of the Attorney General (AG). In that instance too, President Sirisena, instead of nominating a person for the post, sent the names of three contenders to the Constitutional Council from which the Council made their choice.
So, gone are the days when we learnt of the President appointing the AG or the IGP of his choice and we knew about it in the evening news bulletin or the next day’s newspapers. The new process maybe more protracted and slightly cumbersome but surely, isn’t it also more democratic?
Even if there is no provision to nominate several individuals for a high post, there is also no ruling barring that. And, when there are contenders of almost equal merit it does make sense to nominate all of them to a wider body which has diverse opinions, so it could make a more informed choice.
The opposition has no business complaining that the senior most contender was not chosen. When the Joint Opposition’s de-facto leader Mahinda Rajapaksa was in office, it was blind loyalty to the President, and not seniority that was the sole criterion in being chosen for high office. Remember Mohan Peiris? Now, he was not chosen as Chief Justice on seniority, was he?
It so happens that in this instance, the Joint Opposition’s favourite nominee for the top Police job, Senior Deputy Inspector General S.M. Wickremesinghe, who was former President Rajapaksa’s head of security for many years, also happens to be the senior most contender. Hence the clamour to appoint the most senior man for the post!
The only valid argument the opposition has forwarded is that Minister Ranawaka should not have participated in deliberations to select the IGP. Yes, there is a clear conflict of interest and as a politician with a previous reputation for transparency and integrity, Ranawaka has done himself a disservice by attending the Council meeting and voting to choose the IGP.
By doing so, he has only provided his detractors – most notably his erstwhile colleague Udaya Gammanpila – with an opportunity to hurl accusations of impropriety at him. Had he opted out of the meeting, Ranawaka could have taken the moral high ground and the final outcome wouldn’t have been much different anyway.
Of course individuals in the Joint Opposition saw nothing wrong when Rajapaksa hired and fired people at his pleasure; there was no discussion, debate or dissent allowed about who was appointed to the top positions in government.
Now that the doors for public debate on these matters have been thrown wide open, the Joint Opposition is crying foul and protesting about technicalities. That is hypocrisy at its best but it is also their right under a government which promised ‘yahapaalanaya’. So, there is nothing wrong with the opposition making a hue and cry too.
We hope that new IGP Jayasundera will not be distracted by all this. He has a reputation as an officer and a gentleman. He is the country’s first IGP appointed by the Constitutional Council. He will know that the whole country is watching with anticipation to see how impartial he would be. For the country’s sake, we must hope that he will be able to live up to the trust placed in him by the Constitutional Council.