For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
January 5, 2011, 12:00 pm
Minister Douglas Devananda’s statement in Parliament on Tuesday that the incidence of crime was very high in the North as well as his strident call for urgent action to curb it is a damning indictment on the government which rests on its laurels having won the war, doing precious little to restore law and order.
The northern people who have gone through hell for nearly three decades deserve a much better deal. It is regrettable that the government has failed to create some democratic space for them to live free from fear of being murdered or robbed or kidnapped.
The government cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for the deteriorating law and order situation in the North and the resultant suffering of the people who are struggling to rebuild their lives. Nor can Minister Devananda for that matter as he is part of the incumbent regime and some of his cadres stand accused of their involvement in criminal activity. He cannot get away by just lamenting the situation and calling for action. He, for his part, must rein in his violent cadres with a criminal track record. Nay, he must be made to do so. The same goes for Pillayan or S. Chandrakanthan, the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, who, too, keeps armed cadres.
Opposition and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe made a sensible suggestion in Parliament on Tuesday that an all party delegation be sent to the North so that parliamentarians could see the situation there themselves. That is one way of helping tackle the problem and reassuring the northern people who have been rendered voiceless. There is no reason why the government which sends all sorts of buffoons including MPs and provincial councillors overseas in droves on expensive pleasure trips, cannot arrange for a group of lawmakers to visit the North as a matter of priority.
Unless the government accedes to his request, the Opposition Leader should take a delegation of his choice to the North himself and meet the people in distress. He is duty bound to do so because he was also responsible for prolonging their agony under his watch as Prime Minister (2001-2004); he appeased and grovelled before the LTTE, which committed heinous crimes against civilians. He should be urged to use shank’s mare on the A-9 highway by way of penance. (However, it will be advisable for him to wear a helmet or gal thoppi all the way as Military Intelligence (MI), which the UNP accused of carrying out attacks on the media personnel during Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s tenure as the army chief, is now doing political work for the government. JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti, who, a few weeks ago, had the shock of his life in Jaffna allegedly at the hands of some MI personnel who bludgeoned him and some others with impunity, will be able tell the Opposition Leader what precautions he should take, if he is to visit the North on his own.)
It is unfortunate that the government which knew how to win an ‘unwinnable’ war does not know how to manage victory and distribute dividends of peace among people, especially the war affected civilians. It seems to believe that infrastructural development is a substitute for democracy and people’s rights and freedom. New roads mean nothing to a hapless populace whose survival is threatened.
The government cannot keep its head buried in partisan politics charged with patriotism forever. The time has come for it to grasp the nettle and take action to improve the northerners’ lot. It has tens of thousands of troops, a large number of police personnel and a massive intelligence network at its disposal in that part of the country. If it cannot ensure public safety by curbing the crime rate, which is on the march, it is not worth its salt.