SRI LANKA: A Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Ministry

By Basil Fernando

At the moment, the general discussion in Sri Lanka is about the formation of a new Government. Practically speaking, that is the most immediate and urgent task. As there are many views expressed on that issue, we will not comment on it, and we assume that this issue will be resolved soon.

However, an issue that is not yet discussed is this – what will be the foremost priority of this new Government once it is agreed upon? We suggest that in order to address the most vital issue at the moment, which is to create the conditions for the proper functioning of the economic system with a view to resolving the consequences of the debt crisis, bringing about stability within the society and in the political system is the foremost priority.

However, that is not just a mere matter of political agreements or the establishment of a new Government. To achieve the stability that is needed, it is essential to re-establish the rule of law on a firm grounding and also to ensure the effective implementation of measures to eliminate corruption. If these two objectives are not achieved, the Government that is to be newly established will suffer the same popular distrust and protest as faced by the Government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Therefore, we suggest that one of the most important ministries that should be established under the new arrangement should be the creation of a Ministry for the strengthening of the rule of law and for developing immediate capacities to eliminate corruption altogether.

The tasks of this Ministry

Within the shortest possible time, the Ministry, with the help of experts from the relevant fields as well as with feedback from the people themselves, should declare a clear policy on the need to strengthen the above mentioned two objectives. The articulation of a policy for this purpose and the promulgation of that policy for the whole country is the foremost task of such a Ministry.
In the development of this policy, it is essential to consider the following factors.

The system of administration of justice has suffered enormously under the administration which started with the 1978 Constitution and which gradually corrupted and weakened the entire system of law enforcement and the respect for the rule of law in the country. All the law enforcement agencies have been subjected to this process of serious weakening. What is worse is that some of these public institutions have functioned to its opposite by being agents for defeating the purpose of the rule of law and also defeating the measures that are required by the law for the elimination of corruption.

It is the gravity of this problem that has spread so deeply into every aspect of governance and also social management that defeats all other attempts to achieve anything. Therefore, a comprehensive policy statement on how to take immediate measures regarding this matter is essential.

The next step needs to be to clearly identify where things have gone wrong in the system of policing and in fact in the system, particularly of investigating crimes. This involves the workings of the Criminal Investigation Department itself. The distortions that are being created in the process of ignoring the basic philosophy and the principle of the rule of law have affected these institutions in an extremely negative manner. These problems should be identified through discussions from within the policing system itself, as well as with the other agents of the administration of justice, and also involve the public.

Following from that are the practical measures that should be declared, as those will be implemented within the shortest possible time to achieve the reforms. Such reforms could be categorised into immediate and urgent reforms, intermediate measures for further stabilising the system, and permanent and long-term measures that should be implemented as a matter of policy by any Government that will come into power in the future.

All this would involve the allocation of funds for achieving such measures, including the capacity to formulate a national policy plan in this regard and also for measures that are needed for the immediate implementation of these measures. Although this may involve extra financial and other resources, given the fact that the country as well as international bodies that are involved at the moment in dealing with the economic crisis are all agreed on stabilising the rule of law and the elimination of corruption as the primary objectives on which to proceed, it is very likely that much resources will be allocated by these agencies if there is a firm commitment by the new administration that they are willing to act in good faith and to take all measures in order to achieve these objectives.

Sri Lanka is facing major problems concerning stability from two fronts. On the one hand, the State and the system of governance need to be stabilised in order to begin to function efficiently. On the other hand, the people should be given the assurance of genuine attempts to resolve such so that their interventions by way of protest and other means could be kept within the framework of the rule of law and within the basic ethical and moral norms, which are the very foundations of a civilised and stable society. At the moment, both on the front of governance as well as from the point of view of mass interventions, there are threats to the very survival of Sri Lanka, as not only the survival of Sri Lanka’s economy, but also the society as a whole is at stake.

There is clearly a civilisational crisis. The Prime Minster complained about the burning of his house as well as books and other artifacts that were in the house. On the other hand, we recall the burning of the Jaffna library, which was one of the most uncivilised acts ever performed by any government. No attempt at all has ever been taken to properly investigate or to ensure justice on this matter.

Going into the past, the killing of persons after arrest has become a common practice in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is among the countries which has the highest number of enforced disappearances in the world. Enforced disappearances simply mean the killing of persons after arrest. Such killings after arrest are considered among the worst of crimes under any civilised society.

Coming into the most recent times, we recall the massacre that happened on Easter Sunday, where the attacks were directed towards people engaged in peaceful worship. Regarding that crime also, there had been no credible investigations and the ensuring of justice. These are just a few instances; this list could go on and on. Sri Lanka has reached a stage where its survival is threatened on the one hand by the worst economic crisis that it has ever faced, which is likely to bring about in the immediate future even massive starvation, malnutrition, and a food-related crisis, and on the other hand, Sri Lanka is also facing the worst civilisation-related crisis in terms of a completely lawless society.

Therefore, the establishment of a Ministry with a mandate and also resources to deal with this crisis is an unavoidable aspect of any comprehensive plan to set the country in a direction to resolve these problems.

If these measures are taken, it will also affect the nature and the manner in which elections are conducted and political life is conducted in the future. Things can decisively change if decisive actions are taken.|

A crisis that engulfs the country now could be used as one of the greatest opportunities if with foresight, proper measures are taken in order to resolve the deep rooted problems that are faced in the country. In doing so, the suggestion made in this statement for the establishment of a Ministry for the reestablishment of the rule of law and for the effective elimination of corruption is an unavoidable and essential part.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-023-2022
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Administration of justice, Corruption, Institutional reform, Rule of law,