From human rights violator to animal rights protector

| by Gamini Weerakoon

(September 18, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The irrepressible Mervyn Silva committed another unprecedented act of breaking the law in Chilaw last week. He is said to have removed a variety of animals brought to the much revered temple of Hindus and Buddhists, the Munneswaram temple, for sacrifices to the gods at the annual event going back into time immemorial, in tractors which he had brought along with a crowd of supporters.

The animal saviour

This was indeed a high-handed act and violation of laws both in regard to possession of property and protection of religion. Whether animal sacrifices are good or bad in law is for the courts to decide and not for Silva to act as judge, jury and executioner.

The Chilaw Courts had issued an injunction on animal sacrifices before the incident occurred but another motion requesting the earlier injunction be set aside was pending

Is Silva an authority on the interpretation of Hindu religious rights? He is reported to have said he had not antagonised Kali Amma the deity of the Munneswaram temple and appears confident that he would go unpunished by the deity but worshippers at the temple have vowed to bring down the wrath of Kali Amma on Silva.

Terrestrial power

Silva, however, is protected by a very powerful terrestrial power and as usual has not been touched by the guardians of the law.

Enthusiastic animal rights activists have cheered Silva. This writer too is against animal sacrifices but protecting animal rights by violation of the law through flexing political muscle complemented with those of street toughies is surely not the way to go about it. But Silva once again goes untouched by the law.

He is also reported to have said that he would ‘arrange’ to have all animal slaughtering places in the Gampaha District (he is MP for the district) closed and severely punish those who do not comply with his orders. This pledge, if not carried out legally, could have widespread repercussions in the district with electorates well known for meat eating.

Silva’s better known record is that of a human rights violator and not an animal rights protector. He has treated human beings as animals and is now attempting to be humane to animals. Physical threats on TV news directors, media institutions and their personnel including the much lamented instance of tying up of a bureaucrat who had not complied with Silva’s orders – as if he was a stray animal – to a mango tree are the horrendous blotches he has made on the Rajapaksa regime’s record on democracy.

Sri Lanka’s animals, both wild and domesticated need protection. But they deserve a better patron.

The billion rupee bombshell

Former UNP MP Mohamed Mahroof dropped the bombshell of the week when he declared at Temple Trees during his crossing-over ceremony to the SLFP, that he had made two donations of Rs 500 million each to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe for elections. He did not say when he made these contributions or whether it was for Wickremesinghe himself or for the party. He only said that UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickreme was present when he made these donations.

Naturally he got prime time on state TV and other pro-government channels to make these allegations in an apparently emotionally charged short speech after he was not made UNP’s mayoral candidate for Colombo. The UNP leader had not made any comment till the end of the week (at the time this column is being written) and Malik Samarawickreme’s comment to a morning daily was that Mahroof ‘must have been dreaming’ and that he should reveal how he got the one billion rupees.

Certainly one billion rupees is not peanuts or Arabian dates and Mahroof should reveal how he made this money. Whether he had revealed his donation to the Income Tax Department is also not known. Mahroof is known to be a businessman and he may be able to provide good reasons for the alleged donations but he must, as a politician, reveal to the public and the Income Tax Commissioner how this colossal amount was made.

In this age of ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’ when deals, contracts and transactions are spoken in terms of millions and billions such revelations should be considered a standard norm for politicians.

This transparency and accountability is called for purely on ethical grounds and sense of fair play even though there appears to be no law in Sri Lanka governing donations to political parties and individuals. While in most Western democracies there are laws governing contributions to parties and individuals, in most Third World countries the law of the jungle prevails during election campaigns. It is an open secret that donations are made to political parties especially on the eve of elections and at times the donors back ‘both ways’ as a kind of insurance.

Principled politics

The only principled refusal we have heard of such an offer from impeccable sources is that Sirima Bandaranaike during one of her last election campaigns when her party was in dire financial straits. A Southerner who had made it from rags to immense riches after going through the rough and tumble of life had offered her a donation despite being an UNPer. Bandaranaike had refused saying, ‘How can I accept money from a person who sold the pistol that killed Solomon’ (her late husband). However, she may have not been that squeaky clean about accepting election donations from others. Even her son, Anura, during one of those mother-son political squabbles, alleged that ‘money bags’ were left outside her doors at Rosmead Place at night on the eve of an election by a foreign embassy.

However, some others have not been squeamish in embracing killers of their loved ones – not for election donations but for political gain.

Can a law help?

Even though there are elections laws conferring power on the Elections Commissioner regarding newspaper and TV publicity, political appointees of the all powerful state media thumb their noses at the Elections Commissioner and blast ruling party propaganda to their satisfaction. Quite often this propaganda which runs into millions of rupees is not paid for. But who cares? After a major election if the ruling party is returned, the deficits are covered up in dubious ways but if the ruling party loses, the state propaganda commissars will be sacked the day after elections for a myriad of other offences!

Whether a law governing contributions to political parties and politicians could help elections to be cleaner is highly doubtful. In this day any law governing elections can only help the ruling party.

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