SRI LANKA: Moral dilemmas involved in the Sakvithi incident 

After the arrest of Sakvithi many persons from the more affluent sections of Sri Lankan society are demanding the money which they have invested in his illegal business. This raises many issues regarding the relationship between the Sri Lankan middle class and the crisis of rule of law.

According to reports, there are many who have invested up to a few million rupees in the illegal business carried out by Sakvithi who promised to give higher interest than they could receive by investing the money in the banks. Those persons who invested their money in this manner had no scruples about their own actions in investing in an illegal business. All these person who had enough money to invest also had enough intelligence to know or enough means to get advice to know the type of business in which they are investing their money.

This lack of scruples in engaging in illegal actions, so long as it is convenient, is a characteristic of the Sri Lankan affluent and educated groups. Defrauding of taxes and engaging in any illegal activity for gaining of profits does not create any problems in conscience in this group of persons. In fact Sir Ivor Jennings noted these characteristics in the Sri Lankan middle class when he made a submission to the Police (Justice Soerztsz) Commission to inquire into the nature of the Sri Lankan policing system in 1946. He noted their ambivalent attitudes regarding lawlessness.

Had Sakvithi succeeded in granting the interest as promised, these Sri Lankan affluent classes would not have considered him a criminal. However, now that his business has failed and he is unable to carry out his promises he is treated as the worst of criminals. No doubt he deserves to be treated that way. However the question is that he should have been treated that way from the very start of his business.

Will the investors have the courage to examine their own conscience and to express their grief and regret about the illegality that they themselves have been involved in through this business? In fact, many of them are not even willing to reveal their identities. This reluctance of the investors to reveal their identities is in itself a manifestation that they are fully aware of the unacceptability of their actions. That in turn is a manifestation of the knowledge of their guilt.

However, the state is not investigating into this kind of investment nor is the state legislating to prevent the possibility of this kind of investments in the future.

Sri Lanka’s affluent groups accept illegality so long as it is convenient and profitable for them. This is not only in the area of investments but also in all areas of social importance. These groups agree on the correctness of the police and the executive in killing people after arrest. This practice of killing people after arrest is known in Sri Lanka as forced disappearances. Victims of this kind of action, in the south, north and the east amounts to many tens of thousands of people. The protection that the people should have received after arrest was never a matter of concern to these affluent groups. They agreed with the state policy of the extermination of anyone by illegal means as an acceptable method of dealing with whatever they thought as social insecurity; the concept that the end justified the means was applied in the most extreme sense to mean that the law and international law is a matter concern to nobody. Such killings were quite acceptable to them.

Sri Lanka has today has descended to a lawless place due to this ability to accept illegality as a normal way of life by Sri Lanka’s affluent and educated groups. Now, they have themselves become victims of this sea of illegality. Sakvithi exploited the situation and is now blamed only because he was unable to carry out the promises he made.

Sri Lanka’s instability is one that has been caused by the country’s more affluent and more powerful groups. They are willing to accept lawlessness, whether is it a breaking of the law of the country itself or international laws so long as the result is convenient for them. Sri Lanka is a lawless nation because the country’s affluent classes and those who can exert influence on the social policy have no scruples about being lawless when it is to their advantage. The Sakvithi episode is a manifestation of the contradictions of the beliefs of this class of persons. It should be a time for a critical examination of the causes of Sri Lanka’s instability and Sri Lanka’s inability to deal with that instability.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-165-2010
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Rule of law,