Law of the land should prevail

It is not often that we editorialise on a given issue for two weeks running, especially when it concerns one individual, but this week, we feel we must, as President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government moved to rein in maverick politician Mervyn Silva, stripping him of his ministerial post and suspending his membership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

Last week, we posed the question as to why Silva was being treated as a sacred cow, and was allowed to act with impunity, bringing Parliament, the Courts of Law and the Police into disrepute. We also asked whether one law applied to Silva and another to lesser mortals, the average citizens of this country.

We pointed out that, allowing Silva to continue in the manner that he sees fit, was seriously eroding the credibility of both the government and the President. In that sense, the President’s actions this week, were welcomed by the right thinking segments of society although, we must note that there are still those who are willing to stage demonstrations asking for Silva’s re-instatement!

This week, we make haste to point out that the ‘punishment’ meted out to Silva, hailed as it is in this country, as a first step on the difficult road to good governance, would be a mere formality in most other nations. Nevertheless, it is an important stride in the correct direction, and must be recognised as such.
The opposition has of course, pooh-poohed the latest development, saying it is an eyewash, and predicting that Silva would be restored to his former glorified state, in the course of time. While the opposition makes haste to condemn, we would refrain from arriving at such judgments prematurely. However, we daresay that such notions have arisen only because there are precedents of such a nature.

May we also point out that, although the decision to strip Silva of his office and suspend his party membership is welcome news, these are incidental events in the entire episode, where the maverick former minister resorted to tying a Samurdhi official to a tree, for allegedly being absent at a meeting convened to discuss the eradication of dengue in Silva’s political domain, the electorate of Kelaniya.

The essence of our argument last week was that the Rule of Law should be upheld, and that Silva should be dealt with according to the Law, just as the average citizen of this country would be, had he committed a similar offence. To date, we have not heard of any such developments.
It is argued that every individual in this country must have equal protection from the Law. By the same token, the Law must prosecute every individual with equal zeal, if they are believed to have broken the Law. We can elaborate our argument with three ready examples: Mervyn Silva, General Sarath Fonseka and Kumaran Pathmanathan, alias ‘KP’.

Silva, until last week, appeared to enjoy untold liberties with the Law, as we have discussed in these pages. General Sarath Fonseka, the country’s most decorated war hero until a few months ago, is now on trial. KP, a criminal wanted by Interpol and the financial kingpin of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), is now in detention, but the authorities have yet to charge him and put him on trial.

We are not for a moment suggesting that General Fonseka is above the Law, just because he commandeered the Army at a time it crushed the LTTE. Indeed, if he has committed offences in the process, he should be brought to justice. But the Law should pursue and prosecute the likes of Mervyn Silva and KP with the same alacrity. When that does not happen, the confidence in the ‘system’ is eroded, and the government is accused of dispensing justice in an arbitrary and selective manner.

Of course, many would succumb to the temptation of prejudging Mervyn Silva. He runs the risk of being found guilty until proven innocent, because his reputation precedes him. That is a price he will pay for the alleged sins of his past, and because the overwhelming body of evidence stacked against him.

These are times when the spotlight has been focussed on the government, vis-à-vis its commitment to human rights and good governance. Taking action against Mervyn Silva maybe only a speck in the larger canvas of international affairs, but it does send a message to the world at large, that the powers that be in this country are alive to the concerns that are being expressed regarding the perceived violations of civilised norms.
In this process, we hope Mervyn Silva is not a mere sacrificial lamb. Instead, we would want it to be a giant leap in the attitudes of this administration, even if it is only a small step against a small man.