The ‘profit motive’ and national security

Their lack of faith in courts and institutions of justice to remedy these clearly illegal actions was palpable. Even though strong legal precedents based on the public trust doctrine have been articulated by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in ruling against arbitrary land acquisitions that violate the right to natural justice, these precedents have no real value in the predicament that people find themselves in currently.

l by Kishali Pinto Jayawardene

(December 11, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Recently, in a discussion with ten to fifteen village elders who had travelled to the Divisional Secretary’s office in the central highlands to contribute their perspectives on improvement of the functioning of local level public administrators, one grizzled former school principal said bluntly that the level of politicization of their village systems was now so great that ‘it would need a catastrophic event in Sri Lanka to bring matters back to an earlier level of relative normality.’
Significance of ‘pockets of resistance’
In the heartland of the South, similar dire predictions are evident, stemming from the endemic corruption that is now evident at the local, provincial and national level. A slow rise in public anger is apparent even though it may not put the Presidency at the centre of responsibility just yet. As a friend remarked some weeks later, these may only be ‘pockets of resistance’ to the current government’s arbitrary and highhanded way of governance or non-governance as the case may be.
Nevertheless, the significance of these opinions should not be minimized. Taken at its flood and if viable political opposition is evidenced, (one may be allowed to hope after all), the consequences may well be quite unpleasant to a seemingly impregnable administration.
In the North and East, the concerns remain personal security and entitlements, a large part of which relates to land rights and is aggravated since it is largely the minorities who are in issue. However, considerable anger coming from people of majority ethnicity in other parts of the country is also concentrated on this very question of land rights. Veritably this is poised to be the battleground in which the integrity of the administration will be tested to its utmost during the coming year.
Land rights, the new battleground
This was best summed up in that earlier conversation with the central highlands village elders who remarked sarcastically and with much emphasis that it is now the practice to resurvey and re-demarcate land boundaries ‘by air’. This observation was applied particularly to a recent event which had incensed them, whereby the boundaries of land belonging to villagers for generations were ‘redrawn’ so as to encompass them within land defined as belonging to the government.
This was done not through careful scrutiny of deeds and practical on-the-ground verification but through the action of powerful political personalities who had surveyed the area literally from the air, traveling in a helicopter. Though these village elders were not personally affected, their anger in being witness to clear injustice being visited on neighbouring villages was clear.
Their lack of faith in courts and institutions of justice to remedy these clearly illegal actions was palpable. Even though strong legal precedents based on the public trust doctrine have been articulated by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in ruling against arbitrary land acquisitions that violate the right to natural justice, these precedents have no real value in the predicament that people find themselves in currently.
This is just one incident of the denial of land rights but countless others are evidenced all over the country. Some attempts are foiled by the spirited resistance of communities, (though these may not reach the pages of Colombo’s newspapers or the news bulletins), while others succeed. What is common however is a sense of burning fury which may be channeled democratically if there is an opportunity for legitimate dissent. Otherwise, we may accustom ourselves to the spilling of this anger onto city and village streets and culverts and manifesting itself through attacks on police stations and institutions of justice which are perceived to have failed the people. Already we have seen simmering signs of this severe discontent. It can only get worse as this overwhelming sense of injustice deepens.
Dangers of one party rule
One party rule, in local councils, Provincial Councils and in Parliament is dangerous for the precise reason that it lacks check and balances and ultimately provokes public anger through its needless authoritarianism. This increased risk factor is well seen in the overriding of constitutional provisions that confer authority in provincial councils in specified matters, including land.
In November 2003, the United National Front (UNF) administration sought to do away with certain restrictions attached to grants and transfers. Its Bill was successfully challenged in the Supreme Court and declared unconstitutional in that it had been referred to Parliament without it being first referred to every Provincial Council duly established under the Constitution and was therefore inconsistent with Article 154(g) 3 of the Constitution read with item 18 of List 1 of the Ninth Schedule (the “Provincial Council List) Appendix 11.
This was the same basis on which the Supreme Court recently determined that the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill needs to be referred to Provincial Councils. The Bill was withdrawn by the government a few days ago. However the referral to and approval by the Provincial Councils, unlike in 2003, will certainly be a technicality in the present political setup. Without substantive discussion on the merits and demerits of such a move, what we will have is hurrah men who will vote with the government.
Similarly, in 2003 as well as now, two different political dispensations wished to do away with the hundred percent tax imposed on foreigners owning land in this country. Then it did not succeed as the UNF government was not basking in the heady glory of a defeat over the LTTE unlike the Mahinda Rajapaksa Presidency post 2009. So the dynamics now are very different to that which prevailed earlier. At risk will be the human needs and of sustainability of rural agricultural livelihoods. Thousands of people will be at the mercy of corporations seeking to get rich in post war development and greedy politicians getting their share of the profits.
A clever juggling trick
Suffice to say that two and a half years after the war ended, perhaps the cleverest juggling trick pulled off by this administration is to mask an evident profit motive accruing to a select few under a convincing façade of national security. Post military defeat of the LTTE, even to speak out against the overpowering militarization of the country, even though the rationale and the logic was manifestly thin, became a good way to earn the label of ‘traitor.’
This convenient demonization of dissent was aided by a compliant media, government as well as private, which contributed wholesale to the crippling of protest and then hypocritically expressed bewilderment when the government in turn, became overbearingly authoritative and impervious to any form of criticism.
It must be said in no uncertain terms that the Sri Lankan media must bear its unique responsibility for the state in which this country finds itself today.

  Share:

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

Sri Lanka Guardian has been providing breaking news & views for the progressive community since 2007. We are independent and non-profit.