A deplorable incident | Daily News

A deplorable incident

Public representatives are supposed to be bound by a Code of Conduct both in and out of Parliament or similar institution. They should be well disciplined and always guided by the principle of dedicating their time and energy for the benefit of the public. They do have a private life, but even that is shaped by their public life. They must necessarily be on a higher moral pedestal than their constituents to set an example to the latter.

This is why the Government should lose no time in investigating the havoc caused by a State Minister and his drunken friends at Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons. He is reported to have harassed both prison officials and prisoners. This is a massive black mark on the country at a time when the eyes of the world are on Sri Lanka vis-à-vis the UNHRC Sessions in Geneva. Incidents of this nature are readily exploited by sections inimical to Sri Lanka in the international community to tarnish the image of the Government and the Sri Lankan people. Indeed, several personalities in the UN system have already tweeted about this incident.

It is therefore vital to get to the bottom of this ugly incident and take stern action against the State Minister concerned without undue delay. In the meantime, he should be either asked to step down from his duties or be temporarily suspended from his portfolio to ensure non-interference with the probe. As this was being written, it was reported that he had tendered his resignation, which the President has accepted.

The Government has so far not hesitated to take action against some of its lower level politicians for various offences and this should be no exception. For example, the Government dealt firmly with a mayor who interfered with the duties of doctors at a vaccination centre in Moratuwa recently. Such concrete steps are vital to assure the public that no one, however connected and powerful he or she may be, is immune from investigation and prosecution for dire offences of this nature.

The law cannot operate on two standards – one for politicians of any hue and one for the common masses. The law must apply equally to all. In other countries, politicians – even Presidents and Prime Ministers – have been sent either to prison or early retirement for far lesser offences. In Sri Lanka, there is a general tendency to “shape” things up when politicians engage in various misdemeanours while lesser mortals go to jail for the same offences. This should no longer be the case. In fact, the Government’s Policy Statement makes it very clear that everyone will be treated equally before the law.

One redeeming factor we can take heart in is that Sri Lanka has a fiercely independent Judiciary. Just last week, a Judge in Moneragala ruled against a ruling party Local Government Member who had bribed his way to voters’ hearts and instead awarded that seat to a representative of an Opposition political party. This gave an explicit message to all politicians that the Judiciary would not tolerate vote buying, voter intimidation and other such offences.

But we cannot always blame individual politicians alone. The public has an onerous duty to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to people’s representatives. Time and again, the public is urged to send educated, qualified and disciplined individuals to Parliament, Provincial Councils and Local Bodies, but to what extent they do so is open to question, judging by the many unsavoury characters we have in all these bodies.

Part of the fault lies with the political parties too – why they prefer to give nominations to known ruffians at the expense of educated, professional candidates is beyond comprehension. One factor could be that these unsavoury characters retain a fair degree of popularity, not to mention a considerable amount of money for big political campaigns. Party leaders have come to rely on them for winning seats and so the vicious cycle goes on. Some of them hardly speak even a few words in their political body on behalf of the people, negating the very purpose for which they are selected by the party and elected by the people.

The latest incident serves as a reminder to political parties and the public that such elements should be firmly rejected at the ballot box. Drunken behaviour, thuggery and intimidation are not the qualities we expect from a people’s representative. This is also why we need more women in politics at all levels. Currently, most professionally qualified women with no family connections to politics are reluctant to enter a field rife with male candidates, many of whom employ strong arm tactics against their rivals. In this context, it is also vital to bring in tougher finance campaign laws under new electoral reforms so that candidates cannot splurge on their campaigns without a limit. There should be an equal opportunity for all candidates to take their message to the people. The people, in turn, must assess carefully the merits and demerits of each candidate and elect only those who will behave in a civilized manner at all times.

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