The system works here in Hong Kong, Sir; it is the system operators that have failed in Sri Lanka — a reply to a presidential advisor 

One of the advisors to the Sri Lankan president went to Vavuniya last Saturday (February 25) to talk to the people displaced by ‘the war’ and was interviewed by a BBC correspondent. The presidential advisor told the correspondent that the displaced people in Vavuniya had not received as much benefit as the people in the same situation of Jaffna as those in Jaffna are educated and are able to make demands, while those in Vavuniya are not able to do the same. He was questioned about the complaints of the civil servants who also aired their grievances at the meeting stating that they do not have the basic facilities and means to do their jobs. To this the presidential advisor replied that the administration that the British left does not work anywhere and that is the problem.

The statement that the system left by the British does not work anywhere is certainly not true of Hong Kong. Here are some examples to show that the system does, in fact, work though of course, no system is perfect.

The Chief Executive of Hong Kong is not above the law and may be questioned by the courts if this any reason to do so. His immunity is limited to those aspects where impunity exists in any democracy or rule of law system.

The courts in Hong Kong are independent and there are no hand-picked judges and the system of selection, promotion and the dismissal of judges is the same that exists in a democracy and a place where the rule of law system is respected.

The people of Hong Kong do not fear their police. There was a time before 1974 when the situation was very different but by effective reforms the police function has been brought under proper control and the system, indeed, works. That the Sri Lankan police system has collapsed is a fact admitted by even the government itself. If a police officer in Hong Kong tortures a suspect he is sure to be taken to task within the shortest possible time.

Bribery is a thing of the past and the Independent Commission against Corruption is an institution with capacity and supplied with the necessary resources and is able to take action without fear of reprisal. That is not the case with the Commission against Bribery and Corruption in Sri Lanka, which is just a farce and which does not have the means and the capacity to ensure the elimination of corruption.

The people of Hong Kong get what they want from their civil service and there are effective mechanisms to complain if there are any failures. To ensure the proper working there is the freedom of the press and the people do take advantage of that freedom.

No journalists have been abducted, killed or disappeared in Hong Kong while, as you know, the very opposite is true in Sri Lanka.

Free and fair elections are conducted in Hong Kong by the relevant authorities and there are no complaints heard in public about any interference into the working of the system. In Sri Lanka an independent election commissioner does not exist and there are public doubts about the manner in which the system works.

Forced disappearances and white van abductions are things that the people of Hong Kong do not experience while, now in Sri Lanka a week does not pass without a report of such things happening.

There is no fear of the night. The women, including foreign migrant workers travel freely at any time of the day or night and parents have not fear of their young daughters studying in universities or other institutions and returning home late in the evening. That, you know, is not the situation in Sri Lanka.

With effective measures the sexual harassment of women in public transport is a thing of the past, which is not the case in Sri Lanka.

This list can go on much longer but to come to the heart of the matter, Hong Kong’s basic law, which is its mini-constitution, is based on the acceptance of the rule of law and the strict entrenchment of basic human rights. The problem in Sri Lanka is the country’s own constitution which has removed all the checks and balances and created the monster called the executive president, displaced all the public institutions and diminished the power of the judiciary. There was some minimum attempt to overcome the defects of that constitution by way of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution but that was displaced by the 18th Amendment.

The truth, Sir, is that whatever system the British left at the end of the colonial period has now been displaced by the constitution and it is that political folly for which Sri Lankans are now paying a heavy price. The people in Hong Kong, in their wisdom, kept what is good and are making improvements to suit the contemporary needs, thus enabling them to maintain stability and prosperity.

You may argue that, well, we had a civil war and there in Hong Kong they haven’t had one. The truth is that by 1997 when there was the transfer of sovereignty, a large section of the population had obtained visas and passports to migrate to other places if they feared a change in the system. However, to the credit of the people of Hong Kong and the mainland Chinese authorities they were able to come to a sensible agreement on the manner in which Hong Kong should be governed. This capacity for arriving at sensible political compromises saved the people from the political turmoil which could have otherwise resulted. It is this very capacity for sensible political compromise and political commonsense that is missing in Sri Lanka and is the cause of the existing mess.

Blaming the administration left by the British is another example of the political hypocrisy that prevails. Instead, if we had the capacity to look in the mirror and recognise our problems for what they are, Sri Lanka would have had a greater chance for prosperity and peace.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-013-2012
Countries : Hong Kong, Sri Lanka,
Issues : Administration of justice, Rule of law,