Frenetic activity has been triggered following the incarceration of two public officials, over the misuse of public funds, with the Joint Opposition seizing the opportunity to whip up mass hysteria, for cheap political gain. Both, messrs. Lalith Weeratunga and Anusha Palpita were sentenced to prison terms and heavily fined by a court of law in Sri Lanka after the High Court judge found them guilty for acting against the laid down law. However, JO stalwarts are going to great lengths to portray this episode as a blatant act of victimization and are even attempting to compare the Bond scam and the disproportionate punishment meted out to the Weeratunga-Palpita duo, juxtaposed with the so-called Central Bank heist maha banku mankollaya, in the words of JO stalwart Bandula Gunawardena.
What is more, Mahinda Rajapaksa has gone to the extent of faulting the High Court verdict, arguing that Weeratunga used the Rs. 600 million to purchase sil redi on his orders and that the distribution of same did not take place during an election period but in pursuance of a government policy and that if public officials are prohibited from implementing government policy, they (officials) will be placed in a huge predicament in the future.
Rajapaksa, no doubt, would have been closely following the court proceedings in relation to his one-time Secretary and thus could not be unaware of the contents of the testimony of the Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya that the sil redi in question bore the picture of the UPFA Presidential candidate of the January 8, 2015 poll. What then could this be but a blatant election bribe, as eloquently declared by Colombo High Court judge Gihan Kulatunga, in delivering his verdict? Isn’t this a clear case of the former President trying to throw dust in the eyes of the public by dragging in religion into the equation? A lot of brouhaha is also being made by the JO on the issue of the massive fine imposed on the Weeratunga-Palpita duo for distributing a religious item such as sil redi, with Bandula Gunawardena making bold to declare that JO parliamentarians would donate Rs 100,000 each towards the payment of the fine, while also roping in Provincial Councillors and Pradeshiya Sabha members who are each called upon to fork out Rs. 50,000 and 25,000 each, respectively.
Here, we have a situation where the country’s law makers, who should know better, holding a court verdict in contempt and treating the due implementation of the law with mock derision. Not only that, they have also co-opted the services of all the temples in the country, with Mahinda Rajapaksa, no less, declaring that special pin ketayas will be opened in all temples, to augment the ‘fine kitty’. Here is an instance where the innocent public have been dealt with a double whammy. Already being defrauded of Rs. 600 million, they are now called upon to voluntarily part with another Rs. 104 million (the Rs. 50 million imposed on each of the convicts, as compensation to the TRC, and the additional Rs. 2 million, each, as fines). This is reminiscent of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign to collect Rs. 1 each from the supporters of the SLFP to pay the court costs imposed on Sirima Bandaranaike after the latter lost her Election Petition filed against President Premadasa.
In another instance at obfuscation, Bandula Gunawardena was attempting to contrast the alleged payments made to the LTTE, from public funds, by President Premadasa, with the money released to purchase sil redi. He goes onto say that Paskaralingam who authorized such payment was sitting pretty while Weeratunga has been thrown behind bars. This same allegation was made against the UNP, at the 2001 General Election that followed the premature dissolution of the parliament, but the UNP succeeded in carrying the southern electorate with it. Perhaps, the public was wise to the fact that money released, if ever, by President Premadasa, to the LTTE, was in order to fight the IPKF, who was viewed as a greater threat to the sovereignty of the country than posed by the LTTE.
However, the money given to the LTTE by Mahinda Rajapaksa, through the agency of the RADA, headed by a wheeler dealer businessmen, still in the bosom of Rajapaksa, was for an ulterior purpose, viz to undermine democracy, by halting the voters in the North and East from exercising their franchise, which robbed Ranil Wickremesinghe of victory, at the 2005 Presidential Election.
Be that as it may, the government should take necessary steps to protect the dignity of the country’s courts from the juvenile acts of politicians. As it is, our courts have suffered enough insults by marauders in saffron robes. Contempt, for court verdicts, have already been on show, with politicians displaying bravado by raising their manacled hands following a court verdict. Making a big song and dance by mobilizing members of the public and the Sangha to pay the court fines on behalf of two individuals, convicted of misusing public funds to the tune of Rs 600 million, do doubt, will be seen by many, as the ultimate insult to the country’s judiciary.