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Jt. Opposition not speaking for people, only for Mahinda - Peopleís Intellectual Assembly Jt. Secy

The Peopleís Intellectual Assembly has been formed by professionals, academics and activists from a wide cross section of society with the primary objective of offering an educated and rational response to national issues. Joint Secretary of the PIA, lawyer Chrishmal Warnasuriya in an interview with the Sunday Observer said, their immediate intention is to act as a pressure group and make sure that the Government they helped to form, is on the right track.

Chrishmal Warnasuriya

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: What is the reason for forming the Peopleís Intellectual Assembly (PIA) and why do you think the Government is on the incorrect track?

A: The reason for us to come together was the meeting of several intellectuals who got on the streets to help bring the incumbent Government to power. At a time when the people were scared even to talk of the previous regime, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, Ravaya Editor K.W. Janaranjana and I, were the first to come forward and rally round the banner saying, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot contest for a third term. We wanted to change the nepotistic and cruel system where one family was ruling. Having done that we donít want this Government to lose track of the peopleís revolution. It was the people who made the January 8 silent revolution, while the media also played a pivotal role. We made all the sacrifices as we thought there should be a peopleís government. Now, several unpleasant things are happening, such as, the influence brought upon the Central Bank Governorís appointment and the Auditor General being summoned. We donít want what used to be a family rule, and those around the family sharing the wealth to be transferred to an elite set of friends in Colombo, and allow them to continue the same power. Then we have changed only the faces, not the system. We are responsible to the people because we asked the people to change that regime. Now, the people are asking us what we are doing and why we are silent. We all need to take this Government on to the correct track. Otherwise, we are going to lose the peopleís victory. Politicians appear to be getting more and more corrupt and are only interested in themselves, their perks and budgetary allocations. As academics and professionals, we should critically analyze it. Unless we change the thinking of the people, we canít change the system. That is why we came together.

Q: If the Government is not on the correct track, what are the alternatives you suggest?

A: We want to act as a pressure group. That is our immediate intention. For example, on the Auditor Generalís issue, we want to convene gatherings like this and try to find ways of getting our message to the people in terms of law, regulations and democratic governance. As academics and professionals, we donít see this is the right way to proceed. The other aspect is direct intervention. If there is a public agitation or the need to write to relevant officials, we will do it. At present, we donít have a vibrant Opposition in Parliament. Democracy means, you must have a cogent Opposition. In England, we say, the Opposition should be breathing down the neck of the Government. Do we have an Opposition like that in our country? We have something called the Joint Opposition who only want to bring back former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to power. The so called Opposition that Sampanthan is heading is silent on national issues, and are only talking of the ethnic issue and the law. We donít have a constructive Opposition in Parliament, which is a major constraint. We want to give a voice to the people. As the PIA, we would educate the public to do the right thing. At a subsequent stage, if we see that these people are not going to follow the proper governance process, we might even think of directly intervening in the political process and giving the people a third choice. We might do that. Right now we want to act as a pressure group and make sure the Government that we helped to form is kept on the right track.

Q: If the law is not equally applied to everyone, what is your suggestion to improve the judicial system, assuring its independence?

A: First, we need an overhaul of the whole system. We havenít discussed it in detail at our committee stage. We should reform the overall system and make it more user friendly so that the people make use of the courts. Now people tell us as lawyers, to find them ways to avoid going to courts, which shouldnít be the case. We have to make litigation more cost effective and address the lawís delays. These delays take a lot of time and the people are losing faith on the Judiciary.

Q: Do you think a Code of Conduct should be introduced for Ministers and Deputy Ministers, some of whom apparently think they are above the law?

A: We need to bring a more concise Code of Conduct that applies to all public officials, including Parliamentarians. Everyone who is paid by the public funds should follow a Code of Conduct. In regard to judges and the judiciary, there is something called the Bangalore Code of Conduct which most of our citizens are not even aware of. Justice Weeramanthry who became the Vice President of the International Court of Justice chaired the committee on the Bangalore Code of Conduct for Judges with an international resolution. Except for Sri Lanka, many countries including Bangladesh have ratified the Bangalore Code of Conduct for Judges. We need to bring sweeping reforms which we promised to the people in January 2015. The Code of Conduct should not be restricted to Parliamentarians. Some public officials also think they are above the law. Each time a government changes, they change all heads of Departments, board of directors and chairmen. People think if one keeps on praising a Minister he can stay in office. According to the Constitution, all public servants take oaths to serve the Republic, not Ministers. The Republic is above the people. The Constitution says the sovereignty of the Republic is with the people, not with Ministers.

Q: Why do you think the investigation on corruption is slow? Could there be some sort of deal to either stop or mitigate the investigations? What are your suggestions to expedite these investigations?

A: Corruption should be immediately tackled. We need to go fast behind these acts of corruption. I donít think the Government is doing it the right way, they are just using it as a political reason. This Government is using the threat of punishment for political advantage, which is more dangerous. Sometimes, they send out a news item saying they are going to arrest a certain person. Then they use that threat to gain political advantage by either getting some bill passed in Parliament or getting that person to cross over.. We want corrupt persons to be punished. We donít want them to cross over to the Government. It is not what we promised to the people.

Q: Do you think the peopleís expectations have been shattered by the government giving so many ministerial portfolios, and buying hundreds of new vehicles for Ministers, despite their promise to reduce the number of Ministers and Deputy Ministers?

A: Absolutely. Not only reduce, we said we would to limit the numbers. The first draft of the 19th Amendment had provisions limiting the number of Ministers and Deputy Ministers. Later on, they made a provision that if they form a joint government, the number will be increased. At that time I posed a question as to how it could be done. If 18 or 19 million people in the country need 25 or 35 Ministries, what is the rational of increasing the number of Ministers? If Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera who led the National Movement for a Just Society was alive, he would have been shocked at the breaches of promises taking place.

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