Books/Modernization vs Militarization: Ethnic Conflict & Labour in Sri Lanka7. The emergency and the workers' movement
leader of the trade union federation and central committee member of the labour-based LSSP, Batty Weerakoon, explained how the continuation of the emergency affects the trade unions to a correspondent from Yukthiya:
You are a leader of a trade union federation. Could you give example of the bad effects of the emergency from that [trade union] point of view?
Weerakoon: I will give you a very good example. The government is now going to bring in a new act to abolish the provident fund, but it says a pension scheme is going to be created. As a lawyer I have read this [act] from beginning to end and [I] know that this is not the truth. To this proposed retirement scheme the government does not contribute a cent. Only the accumulated money of the provident fund from 1958 will be used for this. That is a large amount of money-36,000-million rupees. What the government wants now is to use this money as rupee shares for foreign investment. As a result workers lose about 100,000 rupees [each] that they would otherwise get when they retired.
This [act] is very different to the pension schemes of some sections of government. There the basic wage is 750 rupees. As a person who has been engaged in trade union politics for the last 35 years, I know that many workers used it [the provident fund] to start businesses or build houses.
What is going to happen now is a great injustice. However, the working class has been tied by the emergency regulations. The memories of the period of terror are renewed. As a result, a strong Programme of action against this [act] does not arise from the workers. The [government] Programme called 'Temple, School and Police' is to establish a similar type of repressive situation as exist in the workplaces, in the villages.
What it does is to consolidate the power of the police, who were a partner in creating the terror in recent times in villages. Through the police the power of the politicians is spread.
The executive presidential system introduced a new structure of power in the country, by empowering the ruling party members to interfere in every aspect of the life of the people. As the party members living in various localities had to rely on the local police, new relationships involved the police as well. The police, having been assured of the p>oitical patronage, used the situation to heir advantage almost everywhere, often using the politicians as their clients rather than their masters. Politicians who sought favours from the police to eliminate political opponents, or even to settle disputes with enemies, were effectively silenced from speaking out against police excesses. Police officers thus often became the keepers of great secrets which, if revealed, would not only ruin political careers, but lead some into criminal trials. What keeps the new bond cemented between the police and these politicians is the operation of emergency regulations.
When the emergency regulations cease to be valid, the executive presidency will find it difficult to survive. Whether it is the executive president that pulls the strings to maintain the state of emergency, or whether he himself is a victim of that system, is a matter that is no longer very clear.
In this regard one could say that former president J. R. Jayawardene, who had been the most vocal propagandists against communism in Sri Lanka, imitated the Stalinist approach to ruling more than any other chief of state in Sri Lanka. Ironically, Sri Lanka is saddled with harsh aspects of state apparatus that these countries have already discarded.
The 1978 constitution incorporated the Public Security Act. Human rights articles are trapped in limitations restricting their scope and application. This approach needs to be radically changed if extra-judicial executions, the cruelest forms of torture and other gross violations of human rights are to cease to be a permanent feature of the Sri Lankan way of life. If such a radical alteration is achieved, even the executive presidency will be less harmful Without such limitations even parliamentary democracy could be equally dangerous.
The emphasis on public security has not br9ught about a more peaceful time. The last fourteen years have been more chaotic than any other time. The abuse of easily available sweeping powers has contributed greatly to bringing about that situation.
The predominance of certain constitutional provisions over the public security laws ought to be clearly established. Even in games there are certain unalterable rules. For example the side that scores more points wins. Under the guise that rulers could do anything other than making a man a woman, even basic rules are changed for the temporary convenience of some persons who act as the executive. The closest parallel to Sri Lanka in this regard is the style of rule of General Ne Win in Burma (Myanmar). There the rules were so changed that an opposition which won over 90 percent of the parliamentary seats was not allowed to take power and the country is ruled under a regime of terror and brutality by those who lost the election.
In the Sri Lanka constitution, the means to achieve such predominance may be to entrench some provisions in the same way that minority rights were entrenched in the Soulbary Constitution so that these provisions cannot be changed even by a two-thirds majority in parliament.
Even the British rulers recognised the proneness of the local police to misuse their powers, when they introduced Section 27 of the Evidence Ordinance limiting the evidenciary value of statements made to them. Experience in recent times confirmed the folly of leaving the sword with the monkey while one is sleeping.
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Published on: 2002-11-17 (664 reads)[ Go Back ]