Government entangled in a faceoff with the Judiciary

| by Ranga Jayasuriya

( December 30, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian)  Last week, Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, the chairman of the much disputed Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) was at pains to make his case. The PSC he chaired became a chicanery and his own government is now entangled in a faceoff with the Judiciary, partly because the PSC members of the government had been ever too eager to impeach the chief justice, come hell or high water.

Now the Appeal Court has sent notices to the Speaker and the PSC members to appear before the Court on January 3. The opposition members say they have not received notices, but should the notices be served, they would consider attending.

JVP MP Vijitha Herath said he would most likely comply if he is served with a notice. Should the opposition comply with the Appeal Court ruling, the much hyped speaker’s statement, which disregarded an earlier Court directive would no longer be the unanimous position of Parliament.  

Now the million dollar question is whether the government would accept the Appeal Court ruling – or the Supreme Court ruling on three FR petitions which challenged the impeachment.
It was only a week ago that the three member panel of judges of the Appeal Court stated: “This Court is of the view that any steps taken in furtherance of the findings and/or the decision contained in the report of the 2nd to the 8th Respondents marked P17 would be void if this Court after the hearing of this application issues a writ of certiorari to quash the said findings and/or the decision of the PSC. Therefore the relevant authorities should advise themselves not to act in derogation of the rights of the Petitioner until this application is heard and concluded, since any decision disregarding these proceedings to alter the status quo may lead to a chaotic situation.”

Would the government accept the Supreme Court ruling, if the Court rules that the PSC is a nullity?

It is the question Anura Priyadarshana Yapa repeatedly evaded at the media briefing. The front organisation that arranged the press briefing on behalf of the government was rather misfittingly called ‘Peoples Movement for Justice.’  Seated by the head table, to Yapa’s right was another dubious personality, Rohitha Bogollagama, the former foreign minister whose tenure was tainted by allegations of corruption, including one that he used public funds amounting to a staggering Rs4.5 million to throw a birthday bash for his daughter in the US.

 However, unlike the Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandarana- yake, Bogollagama, despite mounting allegations of abuse of public funds served his full term, but he lost his seat in the General Elections in 2010. Yapa was at pains to stress that the proceedings of PSC were fair.
Following is an excerpt from his responses:

    On why the CJ was not given opportunity to cross examine the witnesses.

Actually, when charges were given to us we realised that actual charges rest on documentary evidence. We have not called outsiders. We only want to authenticate those sources. We have called the CEO of the bank (NDB), the President’s Secretary, the Governor of the Central Bank, one Supreme Court Judge Shirani Thilakawardene. There was no problem. That was the procedure of Parliament and that was not a court house. We have used a system and we have adopted it.

    On why the government was adamant on pushing ahead with the impeachment of the CJ without a fair trial.

Actually speaking, they left; if they had stayed on they could have asked us to bring such and such people. They just left without staying. What can we do? We did not ask them to go.

    Are Standing Orders the law? If the Supreme Court says the Standing Order 78 A is not law, would you accept it?

In every country, proceedings in Parliament are considered as law. Even in the Constitution – I cannot remember the exact phrase – it says Laws and Standing Orders. I don’t want to answer your other question.

    (When he was pressed again with the same question...) If the Supreme Court says that the PSC is a nullity, then what will happen?

Has it been determined yet. I don’t want to answer that. We all operate within the limits of our boundaries. 

    Were the PSC members in a panic situation? Is that why they hold separate media conferences?

There is no panic or chaos. Once the proceedings of the PSC were over, it is necessary to answer the remarks made about it. There is no panic.

    On the derogatory remarks made at the chief justice at the PSC proceedings.

I read media reports about that. PSC did not talk to the chief justice. Romesh de Silva, PC, (her counsel)  answered on behalf of the chief justice. There was a situation when we tried to verify matters with him. The members raised questions and there had been an argument. But nowhere during the sittings were any derogatory words used. There are no records of such words in the PSC reports.

However, notwithstanding Anura Priyadarshana Yapa’s defence of the PSC, Lakshman Kiriella, an opposition member of the committee has said that no insults were recorded in line with the normal practice with regard to the Hansard.

According to the parliamentary procedure, the remarks that are insulting and offhand are expunged from the Hansard.

“We were at these sittings and we heard every word that was said. The Chief Justice and her lawyers also heard every insulting remark,” he was quoted as saying.

Sri Lanka is heading towards a bitter confrontation between the Judiciary and the Legislature, which has now become the rubber stamp of the executive. That was partly Yapa’s making. He was too eager to please his bosses that he has finally given a nightmare to Mahinda Rajapaksa. Should the government disregard the Judiciary rulings, and thereby flouting the Constitution, it would do so at its own peril.

( Ranga Jayasuriya is the editor, Lakbima News, the Colombo based weekly)
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