SPECIAL REPORT : Part 315March 31, 2020, 12:00 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Actor-turned-politician, former lawmaker Ranjan Ramanayake, received an opportunity to contest the 2020 parliamentary election. UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa accommodated Ramanayake on the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) Gampaha District list (symbol telephone) despite him facing a heap of litigation, especially those pertaining to serious charges of interfering with the judiciary. Having barred Ramanayake from leaving the country, the UNPer was granted bail by the Nugegoda Magistrate’s Court on Feb 26, 2020. Often shooting his mouth, with no fear of any consequences or treading where angels would fear to tread, Ramanayake was arrested on January 14, 2020 and remanded over charges of exerting influence on judges.
Ramanayake’s controversial interventions came to light following the leaking of over a dozen audio and video clips. The releasing of audio/video recordings exposed several judges, as well as Sri Lanka’s 46th Solicitor General, Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe, PC, who previously functioned as the Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC). At the time the audio clip featuring Ramanayake and Wickramasinghe was released, through social media, the latter was interdicted over her previous telephone conversation with Avant Garde Chairman, retired Major Nissanka Senadhipathi, secretly taped without her knowledge and leaked by the aggrieved ex-army commando. The Public Service Commission (PSC) interdicted her, in Sept 2019.
The somewhat mysterious leakage of Ramanayake’s audio and video clips (though he soon owned up to them) took place as the UNPer was facing contempt charges over criticism of the judiciary.
In spite of Ramanayake and fellow UNP lawmaker, Hirunika Premachandra, humiliating Sajith Premadasa and his wife, Jalani, through such private discussions (again secretly taped by the celluloid hero), the SJB leader obviously had no qualms in fielding both from the Colombo District. For Sajith Premadasa, making a determined bid to take over the UNP leadership, fielding candidates hopefully capable of winning the parliamentary poll, was the deciding factor.
Pradeepa Kudagamage last October presented the writer with the Sinhala version of ‘Hold Me in Contempt’, an explosive memoirs of CJ 43 Dr. Shirani A. Bandaranayake. Due to Covid-19 forcing temporary suspension of the printing of newspapers, the writer was able to peruse Uththarithara: Dhoshabiyogaye Athulanthaya dedicated to unforgettable memory of Dr. Bandaranayake’s late parents, Flora and Wilson.
A book launch ahead of 2019 prez poll
The 272-page memoir, a Sarasavi publication, launched in late September, ahead of the November 2019 presidential election, depicted the sorry state of affairs or disgraceful deterioration of the executive, legislature and the judiciary in full view of the public as never before. Dr. Bandaranayake, had, in no uncertain terms, whipped the highest level of the judiciary, unmercifully. Perhaps, one of the most distressing revelations made by CJ 43 is that her colleagues (judges of the Supreme Court) declining her plea to take on the then government’s challenge. Having invited the majority of 10 Supreme Court judges, Dr. Bandaranayake twice requested them not to accept anyone appointed in her place under any circumstances. Supreme Court judges spurned her request. She reveals that her colleagues didn’t even bother to respond to her when the request was made on the second occasion. However, the Supreme Court judge who testified against her hadn’t been among those who were invited by CJ 43 to discuss the developments. Dr. Bandaranayake questioned the integrity of her colleagues. (Pages 220 and 221).
Had Ramanayake read CJ 43’s memoirs he could have certainly used the knowledge to his advantage. It would be interesting to know whether Sinhala and English versions of the explosive memoir were available at the parliament library. There had never been an instance of a judge of the Supreme Court, let alone a CJ, having discussed the judiciary so candidly, though albeit from entirely her angle. CJ 43 asserts how betrayers in the judiciary and their followers deprived the judiciary of the independence it could have achieved if the members took a righteous stand. Dr. Bandaranayake asserted that like in other institutions, the judiciary, too, had betrayers. The account of the unexpected suspension of a Colombo-based judge, on Sept. 11, 2012, by a three-member Judicial Service Commission (JSC), headed by CJ 43, is certainly a juicy part in her story. JSC consisting of CJ and two other judges of the Supreme Court acted on accusations made by members of the judiciary and a senior member of a major law firm. Accusations included failure on the part of the judge concerned to settle debts amounting to Rs 20 mn (pages 76 and 77).
Actually, overall accusations therein must have compelled the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) to set up a committee to explore ways and means of taking tangible remedial measures. CJ 43’s memoir must have been mandatory reading for members of the BASL. She launched her memoirs a few months before Ramanayake’s controversy. Ramanayake’s audio/video clips and the subsequent statement in parliament caused media frenzy with the focus on the UNPer’s racy conversations with model Piyumi Hansamali. Unfortunately, CJ 43’s startling revelations didn’t receive the much needed coverage, possibly due to the perception her revelations are the result of ‘thieves falling out’.
An alleged attempt on CJ 43’s life
CJ 43 alleged an attempt to drive her car off the Kandy-Colombo road, soon after she passed Kadugannawa, on the night of Dec 08, 2012. Dr. Bandaranayake had been returning to Colombo with her husband Pradeep and son when the alleged bid was made. Having quite confidently asserted that an attempt was made on her life, Dr. Bandaranayake declared that it was her fate to be impeached in January 2013 than dying in Dec 2012. Did CJ 43 ever lodge a complaint with law enforcement authorities? However, the head of the judiciary had absolutely no faith in the police.
She had no qualms in saying so. CJ 43 cited quite a number of examples to paint an extremely negative picture of the police. Dr. Bandaranayake highlighted the failure on the part of the police to arrest those responsible for the attack on Manjula Tillekeratne, Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission, on the morning of Oct 7, 2012, near S. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia (page 91). The author examined the incident against the backdrop of her proposal to name Tillekeratne as the Acting Secretary of the JSC immediately after receiving the appointment on the morning of May 19, 2011 at Janadhipathi Mandiraya. Dr. Bandaranayake skillfully dealt with her meeting with the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The author questioned the presence of a person among the President’s entourage who may have had a hand in her troubles, finally leading to her impeachment in 2012-2013 (page 29). Why did CJ 43 refrain from naming the person? Claiming that the person in question desperately tried to be friendly with her and was in touch with several judges, Dr. Bandaranayake gave a clue to identify him. The dubious character had been present on more than 11 occasions, either at Temple Trees or Janadhipathi Mandiraya, when Dr. Bandaranayake took oaths as the Acting CJ, between 2004 and 2011, and he was present at the May 19, 2012 oaths taking ceremony. Certainly, an interesting observation on the part of Dr. Bandaranayake, who, by instinct, suspected the role played by the unnamed person. At the end, Tillekeratne didn’t receive the post. Instead, the then senior most judicial officer there Sudath Gopallawa received the appointment. She described the apparent defusing of tensions as the JSC overcoming a hurdle.
Dr. Bandaranayake made another startling reference as regards the person who had been with President Rajapaksa when she received the appointment as the CJ on May 19, 2011. CJ 43 revealed the possible connection that person had with some shocking information/claim which couldn’t be verified under any circumstances for want of a written complaint. CJ 43 obviously suppressed that particular episode for reasons best known to her (pages 33 and 34). It would be pertinent to mention that the reference to unidentified person was made against the backdrop of CJ 43 receiving complaints that a person identifying himself as the Secretary to the JSC intervening in court cases. The author didn’t make it clear whether the person, at Janadhipathi Mandiraya, when she took oaths as the CJ, and the one interfered in court cases, is the same. Dr. Bandaranayake should have avoided ambiguity there.
A controversial parliamentary process…
Perhaps, one of the most thought-provoking sections dealt with those lawmakers representing the then UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance), who created an environment required to impeach CJ 43 at the behest of their political masters.
CJ 43 was accused of altogether 14 charges, including financial impropriety and interfering in legal cases, all of which she has denied.
Dr. Bandaranayake found fault with Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa for including Ministers Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and Rishad Bathiudeen in the 11-member Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) that inquired into allegations. The author quite rightly questioned their inclusion against the backdrop of a three-member bench, headed by her, dismissing a fundamental rights petition filed by Dr. Senaratne’s wife and high profile clash between Bathiudeen and the judiciary over attack on the Mannar Magistrate court on the morning of July 18, 2012 and threats directed at the Mannar Magistrate Anthony Pillai Judson (pages 55, 56, 69, 70).
The ex-CJ lamented the failure on the part of the then government to take tangible measures against Bathiudeen in spite of Mannar Magistrate Judson reiterating that he received threatening calls on July 17 and July 18, 2012. Judson alleged Bathiudeen intervened on behalf of thugs, who destroyed a fishing settlement at Madalwadiya on July 13, 2012. However, the Minister’s brother claimed he used his brother’s hand phone to contact Mannar Magistrate though he denied ever threatening him. CJ 43 didn’t forget to include swift intervention made by the Mannar-based military when Magistrate Judson called for their assistance to save the Mannar Magistrate court from those rampaging mobs at Bathiudeens’ command. The Mannar incident can be reexamined against the backdrop of Ranjan Ramanayake phoning judges.
Today, both Dr. Senaratne and Bathiudeen are with Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) led by UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa. They switched allegiance to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in the run-up to January 2015 presidential election. Having served the Maithri-Ranil yahapalana administration, they recently signed nominations to contest, 2020 parliamentary poll, under Sajith Premadasa’s leadership.
Exploitation of political power
The author meticulously explained the circumstances under which the PSC exploited overwhelming political power enjoyed by the Rajapaksa administration, to its advantage, to achieve its primary objective - get rid of CJ 43 for not toeing the line. The author revealed the then Justice Minister’s last ditch attempt on Oct 30, 2012 to arrange a meeting between CJ 43 and President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Dr. Bandaranayake, however, refrained from naming SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem as the one sent by the President to invite her. The meeting was sought the day before the SC sent its interpretation as regards Divineguma Bill to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa. The impeached CJ asserts that her refusal to meet President Rajapaksa shocked and frightened Hakeem. Hakeem, too, having served the Rajapaksa cabinet for many years, switched allegiance to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in the run-up to the January 2915 presidential election. Like his cabinet colleagues, Dr. Senaratne and Bathiudeen, Hakeem, too, joined Sajith Premadasa’s SJB. Isn’t it really interesting?
The author used two articles written by Mandana Ismail in the now defunct The Sunday Leader in Feb 2012 and Tisaranee Gunasekera in Sri Lanka Brief on January 25, 2013, to explain how she earned the wrath of the then administration. CJ 43 justified the writers’ assertion that the government pounced on her over the Supreme Court interpretation of Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill not Divineguma Bill as widely alleged. Dr. Bandaranayake quoted Thisarani Gunasekera as having stated that three persons, namely Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, then North Central Province Chief Minister the late Berty Premalal Dissanayake and then Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pilleyan lost their positions within 14 months. Pilleyan, a senior LTTE cadre and an associate of Karuna, cooperated with the military during Eelam War IV (2006-2009).
Dr. Bandaranayake also blamed her woes on politically sensitive fundamental rights case filed by the Lanka Guru Sevaka Sangamaya together with 16 students who sat for the August 2011 GCE Advanced Level examination. The case that had been filed on Feb 10, 2012 according to the powers that be required a political settlement not a proper court ruling, CJ 43 asserted, having explained the unchallenged political power enjoyed by the Rajapaksas. She blames threats to her family due to her decision to hear the case regardless of the consequences.
The impeached CJ dealt with her husband Pradeep’s predicament beginning with receiving a telephone call from the CIABOC in August 2012 regarding an investigation into his conduct as the non-executive director of the National Savings Bank (NSB) in the move to acquire The Finance shares under controversial circumstances. Pradeep’s episode is one of the most exciting in CJ’s 43 explosive memoirs. Perhaps CJ’s husband shouldn’t have accepted that government offered position in the first place - a position he quit in May 2012 amidst simmering controversy. Pradeep was eventually found guilty by courts during the last UNP regime. The chapter that dealt with Pradeep is one of the most interesting particularly due to the speed in which the powers that be moved against him. She expressed disbelief the way CIABOC inquired into the accusations directed against her husband. Having recorded Pradeep’s statement in August 2012, the CIABOC moved court against him in Sept 2012. Interestingly, CJ 43 hadn’t been aware of this until she heard the investigation officer appeared in court in January 2018. The court had been moved within 72 hours after the investigation officer submitted his report. It was also pointed out how those responsible side-stepped the Legal Section of the CIABIC when initiating the court process (pages 91 to93).
Dr. Bandaranayake discussed how her stand adversely affected her husband and nearly 22-year-old son with the latter too coming under surveillance. At the time, her son had been working at an office, situated at Union Place, feared for his life and the family had been convinced that there was no purpose in seeking police protection. CJ 43 recalled how she leant to drive with the help of her father Wilson when the family was based in the North Central Province decades ago. She had been 18 years at that time and really loved speeding and had the habit of looking at the side mirrors and the car mirror, hence she quickly recognizing she was being followed. She had been under constant surveillance leading up to the initiation of the parliamentary process to sack her. The alleged attempt to drive the vehicle carrying CJ 43, her husband Pradeepa and son Shaveen on their way to Colombo, off the Kandy-Colombo road at Kadugannawa, should have been inquired, properly. (pages 93-97)
Although this column is carried on Wednesday due to unprecedented disruption caused by the monstrous coronavirus, it may not be possible to carry it next Wednesday April 08. Covid-19 delivered a deadly blow to political projects of all in the run up to 2020 parliamentary election. With Covid-19 forcing the Election Commission to put off the parliamentary poll scheduled for April 25, political parties will have to rethink their strategies. The voter-turnout at the next parliamentary election is likely to be low with the entire country in an unprecedented depressing mode.