Politicians come and go, but while they are in power they seem to believe they are above the law. The fact that in 2012 alone legal action is being taken for 42 politicians alone shows the level of degradation that governance is undergoing in Sri Lanka and presents a powerful case for accountability.
From allegedly killing a tourist to raping a 13-year-old and beating a 72-year-old, an increase in crimes committed by local politicians begs the question whether they are serving the public or harassing them. The alleged crimes vary from killings, rape, assault, harassment, land acquisition, treasure hunting, unruly behaviour, soliciting bribes and ransom, and obstructing the Police from discharging their duty.
The overwhelming number of provincial level politicians who are breaking the law raises two questions. On one hand it is positive that at least some offenders are being brought to book, but on the other this is undoubtedly also only a fraction of the politicians abusing their powers at provincial level. The second is whether the legal punishments that they are dealt with are adequate and if the measures actually ensure justice for the victims.
Over the last few weeks many organisations have pointed out that politicians from the ruling party are often not reported to the Police as people fear reprisals. Indeed in a country governed more by political whims that the rule of law, this is a just fear but without a solution.
Last month, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) expelled from the party a number of local politicians involved in crimes that included the alleged killing of a British tourist in Tangalle on Christmas Eve last year and the alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl in Akuressa this year.
The politicians included Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman W.P. Sampath Chandra Pushpa, Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha member Anjana Kusumruwan, Akuressa Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman S.H. Sunil and Akuressa Pradeshiya Vice Chairman Sabha Munidasa Gamage. The United National Party (UNP) likewise has promised swift action against any offenders but the burning question of “is this enough?” remains.
The political hierarchy of all political parties must step up and lead by example. Politicians become unruly because they have power and it is up to the political party leaders to take this power away from them and provide power to those who have earned it by serving the public. In today’s twisted party politics that promote thug politics and then cover it up to protect the party image, the idea of serving the public disinterestedly has all but disappeared. The unethical tactics used by the most powerful of politicians have given the rest the idea that they too are above the law.
Of course the people suffer from this, for the most part silently. In a country with no provisions for witness protection and a strongly politicised Police force, people prefer to turn the other cheek rather than depend on the law for justice and protection.
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has repeatedly stated that there is no crime wave in the country and that Police have been given independence to act. Yet these words will retain no credibility for the people unless powerful offenders are treated equally under the law. At the very least it will reduce the crime rate and restore confidence in the justice system – lofty goals indeed.