The importance of speaking in one voice

Government leaders seem to be speaking in many voices in dealing with important national issues. Not only the various constituent political parties in the ruling coalition, the UPFA, but also the leaders of the main party in the coalition, the SLFP make differing public pronouncements.

Interestingly, the media too do not seem to have taken those opposing remarks by the players of the same side of the political divide seriously, apparently because this has been routine in Sri Lankan politics for some time.

For instance, the AFP reported two weeks ago that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had cited constitutional immunity and refused to go before a US court where he is being sued for $30 million over the killing of a Tamil man. It quoted Justice Ministry Secretary Suhada Gamlath as saying that under Sri Lankan laws, the President has immunity and the country doesn’t have to respond to such summons. “I have written to the District Court of the Southern District of Columbia of our legal position last week,” Gamlath had said.

Mr. Gamlath was responding to a question about a case filed by a US-based Tamil lobby claiming damages from the President as commander-in-chief of the armed forces for the alleged killing of a Tamil man, Raghiar Manoharan. However, later a local newspaper quoted the same official as stating that the Attorney General’s Department will retain a lawyer to oversee the President’s interests in the US Court which had issued the summons on the President.

This contradiction may be due to a mind change by the Government following perusal of the situation. However, sometimes more acute divergent opinions on same issues could be witnessed among the members of the ruling party. Among them is the question about the video footages that have been shown recently by the Channel 4 of the UK on the alleged war crimes.

Many Government leaders had out rightly rejected this film claiming that it had been doctored by the channel. But at the same time, some groups within the Government contested the claim by the channel 4 that a journalist called Isipriya had been killed by the Sri Lankan security forces and contended that she was a trained LTTE cadre.

Needless to say that these two claims were contrasting and one may question as to why should one contest only one scene in the film, if the whole film had been doctored.  In the meantime the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a constituent party of the UPFA has come up with a new stance on the highly controversial issue.

Power and Energy Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, who is also the public face of the JHU, in his weekly column “Doramandalawa” in the Sunday Lankadeepa last week had to say this. “We do not know whether the scenes in the Channel 4 video film were authentic. However, one cannot say that unlawful killings, abductions, torture, and rape did not take place in the course of anti-terrorist struggle. The policy that we have to follow in this regard is the one that was pursued following the Premawathie Manamperi murder during the 1971 insurrection and one following the killing of students in Trincomalee. That is to penalize the perpetrators.”

President Rajapaksa during his meeting with the media heads on Tuesday made several remarks that run counter to what many ministers profess. He said that he would accept any solution to the ethnic problem that would be recommended by the Parliamentary Select Committee that has been proposed. However, Government Ministers have been talking about a solution that would go beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Minister Dinesh Gunawardene said in March that the Government would present a fresh Right to Information Bill to Parliament and demanded the Bill on the subject presented by UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya be withdrawn. But the Government did not keep its promise. When it defeated the second Bill on the matter by the UNP last week Ministers again said that they would bring their Bill later. However, President told the media heads that there is no need for such a Bill as people in the country have access to information. People do not seem to question these differences of opinion within the Government as they apparently think that it is futile in the face of the popularity of the Government. Also Opposition parties can be shouted down using the two-thirds majority power the Government enjoys in Parliament, if the Opposition questioned the contradictions within the Government. However, with these contradictions being increasingly apparent Government’s credibility would gradually be eroded locally and internationally.       

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