President Maithripala Sirisena in the wake of ordering a probe over a recent brawl at a Colombo nightclub, also took the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) to task for what he alleged was their political inclination to cause harassment to victims.
President Sirisena’s comments hitting out at the three organisations expressing his extreme displeasure and disgust were in reference to former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and a trio of former commanders of the Navy being investigated in relation to their involvement in the ongoing case concerning the Avant Garde (floating weapons armoury) charge filed by the CIABOC.
According to Sirisena, he could not agree with how the foursome had been taken to Court and that the procedure followed was unacceptable to him. He said investigations should be transparent and absolutely impartial.
President had further added that all concerned of good governance and in the judicial processes should ensure that members of the tri-forces should not be made victims of politics and that anyone patriotic should not be practicing such a conduct.
President had raised his concerns with the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet. He had warned that stern action would be taken against the CIABOC, the CID and the FCID if they functioned to a political agenda. Sirisena had further declared that those unaware of national security, military administration and management were taking various wrong decisions without exercising any judgment and added that top officials of the respective institutions including independent commissions and other investigative bodies looking into acts of fraud and corruption had a responsibility to inform him of these matters and developments for which according to him there were procedures and methodologies to be followed when conducting an investigation. He had concluded stating that he did not wish to remand or imprison anyone unjustly.
Dep. Min. Karunaratne Paranavithana – UNP
United National Party Deputy Minister Karunaratne Paranavithana said that he would be speaking to President Sirisena about the matter.
Minister Mahinda Amaraweera – UPFA
General Secretary of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said that the statement by the President did not reflect a split within the stakeholders of the government.
Speaking to weekend Nation, Amaraweera pointed out that the President had expressed his opinion and made certain observations. “No. This does not in any way mean that there is a division or a split in the government,” he said.
Minister Sarathie Dushmantha
Stating that various persons expressed different opinions over President Sirisena’s declaration, Deputy Minister of Justice H.R. Sarathie Dushmantha said that he (Sirisena) would have made the statement based on his analysis of the information from the opinions he received.
If such statements are based on individual facts and in accordance with the law, there is no issue, he said.
“Court actions are in accordance with the law of the land. The law applies equally to all. There could have been problems in the manner in which those responsible were brought to Court. We must act carefully only after thoroughly inquiring into the matter,” he said.
The civil society including organizations such as the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) founded by the late Maduluwawe Sobitha, a proponent of good governance and the Puravesi Balaya (PB) vehemently condemned President’s statements in this regard.
Member of the Main Committee of the NMSJ and Co-Convener of the PB, Saman Ratnapriya pointed out that such statements made without any understanding of good governance adversely impacted on the rule of law and the independence of the law enforcement agencies and investigative bodies with the end result being that investigators would be discouraged and hampered while thieves and murderers would be positive of evading the law.
Ratnapriya recalled that the people had voted for President on the assurance of action against the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, the Reconstruction and Development Agency case, the murder of rugby player Wasim Thajudeen and the Avant Garde case. He added that what President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe should do is to create an environment conducive for investigations to be conducted.
He added that investigators need not have to consult President and Wickremesinghe to conduct their investigations. They (investigators) must be free to do so, he noted.
“We have problems with these statements. We oppose them. The CIABOC filed the case against Avant Garde and charged (Gotabaya) Rajapaksa and the former Navy Commanders because they were involved in the matter and therefore are relevant to the case. The four of them were main employees of the Avant Garde and they received salaries from Avant Garde. Without calling for tenders for maritime security, through Rakna Arakshaka Lanka, the contract was given to Avant Garde. There is evidence to support it. To bring these matters to justice is the right of the relevant investigating officers,” Ratnapriya explained.
The Anti-Corruption Front (ACF) said that Sirisena’s remarks were symptomatic of the widening gap between the parties to the incumbent government.
Advisor to the AFC Rajith Keerthi Tennekoon said that the FCID had been merely following procedure and explained that investigations into corruption are clearly being interfered with. He added that if military officers who had gone to war had engaged in abuses when holding different positions following the end of the war, legal action should follow.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna issuing a press release on President’s statement demanded that he refrain from issuing statements which weakened legal actions and moves taken against crimes. The JVP also challenged President to reveal whose political agenda was being followed by members belonging to these three accused organizations. The politicization and undermining of such organizations is not a matter to be taken lightly, the JVP remarked while adding that President should not intimidate these investigative authorities as it would only lead to more corruption and crime.
Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) had condemned President Sirisena’s comments, adding that as per the provisions of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, Commissions established were independent from the Executive. Therefore, President Sirisena cannot interfere with their activities, Chairman of the TISL Attorney-at-Law Lakshan Dias said. Calling for the withdrawal of the President’s statement, Dias pointed out that the statements made with regard to the CID and the FCID too were unjustifiable.