| by Milinda Rajasekera
( April 16, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka gives immunity from law suits under Article 35 only to the President of the country. But now it appears that there is a lot of politicians and others enjoying this privilege with protection and patronage offered by institutions and individuals wielding power. This privileged category of people operating in various fields of activity in this country indulges in all sorts of illegal and unethical activities with impunity. They commit crime, misuse state property, abuse power, defame and threaten people, humiliate and ridicule opponents, market drugs and indulge in unfair trade practices. In short, they have become a law unto themselves.
There is a combination of forces that permits, connives or assists them in conducting themselves in this contemptible manner. Political protection comes first. It is under the protective political umbrella they generally operate. This protection is not offered by any political party as such but by certain powerful persons in political parties who extend such support to these unscrupulous persons in return for assistance they get from them particularly for their political activities. The other supportive force is the police. The police provide this immunity either at the behest of political authorities or on their own volition for various favours received by them. It is the political power they depend on for obtaining undue promotions and unfair transfers.
Sections of the public come next to lend support for such unprincipled persons. These sections support either because they are genuinely impressed by constructive work they do or because of personal favours received from them. Even sections of religious leaders tend to support these politicians ignoring all the illegalities they indulge in. This tendency indeed is very unfortunate and ironical because it is the religious leaders who should be in the forefront to eradicate evil in society. Whatever good these delinquent politicians do cannot absolve them from punishment for committing acts against society. The fair-minded sections of the public often refrain from acting or making their voice heard against them for fear of reprisals.
Some sections of the public believe that it is necessary to give the devil his due. These devilish politicians, either because of their genuine concern for the people’s problems or for the purpose of getting public support for their wrongdoing come forward to intervene on behalf of the people. They often pose as people’s heroes by sponsoring public causes. They try to give the impression that they are determined to wipe out fraud and corruption. They sometimes succeed in nabbing wrongdoers left undetected by the police.
Apart from politicians there are public officers holding responsible positions that enjoy immunity. They, not only refrain from carrying out their assigned duties but make use of their office for personal gain. No arm of the law is long enough to reach them. Warrants and orders issued by courts for their alleged offences have no effect. Their circle of guardians ensures that any move against them is thwarted. Wide cover of immunity seems to be in operation for those responsible for disappearances and killings that have reached scandalous proportions.
Fraudulent and deceptive persons exploiting religious and superstitious beliefs of the people are operating freely in all parts of the country. Some of these humbugs are protected by powerful persons and institutions deriving benefits from their activities. For instance, recently a media institution exposed the corrupt and deceptive manner in which a certain ‘religious’ place was operating. But the place thrives to this day with patronage and support from another media institution that provides wide publicity for the ‘meritorious and charitable’ deeds of the person who runs the place. Several similar exposures of deception were made by the Neth FM radio channel in its popular ‘Belungala’ programme. Lack of response from the authorities to such exploitation, prompted people to stage protests and compel authorities to bring the frauds to justice.
The great harm and inconvenience caused to the public by unfair and unethical trade practices of the business sector is clearly evident. Some sections in this sector that provides essential goods and services to the people show no concern for the need of the people to get safe and quality goods and services. In their desire for maximizing profits they indulge in several unfair trade practices. Hotels, restaurants, eateries, snack bars and other places that provide food for the people show scant regard for the health of the consumers. They resort to various methods to increase their margins of profit. While some of these places are raided others are left alone as they enjoy unofficial immunity.
Manufacturers of goods, even medicinal items, supply shoddy and substandard products. They carry on with these unethical and illegal activities because they have the ability to keep law enforcement sections at bay through the patronage obtained from powerful persons occupying important positions.
It is therefore the responsibility of the authorities to take quick and meaningful steps to end this system of conferring unconstitutional immunity to unscrupulous persons. The people, meanwhile, have to be so vigilant and careful as to avoid falling prey to machinations of these persons and institutions. They should also assist the authorities in whatever way possible to bring the knaves to book.