Victor Ivan

Victor Ivan is Sri Lankan journalist. He was the Editor of the controversial Sinhalese newspaper Ravaya. He served as the Editor of the Ravaya for 25 years consecutively since its inception. Victor is an investigative journalist, political critic, a theorist, social activist and also an author of several books.

Sri Lanka: What will be the end of the crisis?


The object of this article is to point out an important aspect that has been ignored in analysing the crisis facing Sri Lanka, and also to explain what the end of the crisis could be, which I venture to do from the perspective of a critic who has foreseen the impending crisis in advance and had cautioned the authorities and the public about it repeatedly.  

A person who has gone too far on a wrong track may find it difficult or even impossible to get back to the right path even if he realises lately that he was trekking on a wrong track. This doctrine applies equally to social institutions, administrative machineries and states, albeit with some variations. The Heads of State who assumed the power after the establishment of a presidential system of governance in Sri Lanka, and the rebel leaders like Wijeweera and Prabhakaran, who attempted to usurp the political power through violent rebellions, can be considered as leaders who have proceeded so far on wrong paths that it was not easy for them to turn back. 

Even a machine may soon become unusable and ineffectual if it is continued to be used when faults occur, without rectifying them. The same principle applies to the state as well. If the state does not follow a consistent policy of rectifying the errors which may occur from time to time and maintaining the state machinery well, the state too, might become a dilapidated entity, ultimately ending up being a failed state.

Monitoring the functioning of the state 

Many countries adopt and maintain special institutions to monitor the performance of the state. The neighbouring India maintains a permanent commission called “Sarkariya Commission” for that purpose. The Sarkaria Commission was set up by the central government of India against M. Karunanidhi, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, when he clamoured for more autonomy for the state government. The Sarkaria Commission’s charter was to examine the central-state relationship on various portfolios and suggest changes within the framework of Constitution of India. 

The commission has been named after Ranjith Singh Sarkariya who was appointed the Chairman of the commission when it was established in 1983. He was a retired Supreme Court judge. I had the opportunity to meet him in a workshop held in New Delhi to discuss about the functioning of the judiciary in the SAARC, The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, which I attended as a participant. Ranjith Singh Sarkariya was the chief guest of that workshop. A group of judicial officers and a group of lawyers nominated by SAARC countries also participated in this work. It was organised by the UNESCO branch in India. 

Apart from me, Sinha Ratnatunga, the editor of the Sunday Times who was also a lawyer and Asanka Welikala, a prominent personality in the field of constitutionalism also participated in it. I, who was neither a lawyer nor a judicial officer, was invited to attend the workshop to elucidate the facts about my struggle against Chief Justice Sarath Silva. I must state that it was the presentation I made that received the most attention of the judicial officials and lawyers who participated in the workshop. My presentation included the factors that led to the conflict with Chief Justice Sarath Silva, and an analysis on how that conflict was continued. 

One of the points mentioned at the conclusion of my speech led to an emphatic discussion in that workshop. When considering the crisis of Sri Lanka, that particular point I had raised in my presentation could be described as an important factor that has been completely ignored by Sri Lanka. I concluded my presentation by stating that the Parliament had moved two impeachments on two separate occasions against the corrupt chief justice to remove him from his position, but the president prorogued the parliament ending the session of the parliament in the first instance to protect his colleague and on the second occasion the parliament was dissolved by the president. 

At the end of my presentation, a senior lawyer of India who participated in the workshop stood up and asked what the Sri Lankan Bar Association did to remove the corrupt Chief Justice from his office when the attempts to impeach him by the Parliament failed, while explaining the policy followed by the Bar Association of India in a similar situation.

Identifying the culprits

As explained by that lawyer, an impeachment against two judges of the High Court of India on corruption charges was presented to the Parliament, but due to some reason, the Parliament was not able to take the impeachment to a logical conclusion. Since then, the Indian Bar Association followed a policy of boycotting the appearance for cases heard before the two judges concerned. In the end, he said that the two judges were compelled to resign from their positions to avoid humiliation. With that, he asked as to why the Bar Association in Sri Lanka did not follow a similar policy. 

What happened in Sri Lanka is fundamentally different from what happened in India. There only a small group of lawyers followed a policy of rising against the Chief Justice, which brought the judiciary into a humiliating state. A large number of people took maximum advantage of the situation by adopting a policy of defending the corrupt Chief Justice. There were other types of dancers who joined the procession. The owners of the mass media organisations that had lawsuits got their cases settled in their favour by adopting a policy that gave maximum protection to the Chief Justice in this crisis, through their publications and channels. Some politicians and certain political parties also took maximum advantage of that crisis by adopting a policy that supported the Chief Justice. Two political movements came forward to defend the corrupt Chief Justice and to safeguard his survival at that difficult moment, and for that, they obtained in return, judgments from the Chief Justice that added to the fame and reputation of their movements. 

According to what I learnt later from a university teacher who was attached to one of the political movements and also had participated in discussions held with the Chief Justice occasionally, they had received instructions from the Chief Justice on how to file court cases which are of interest to them. It was the Chief Justice who drafted the Fundamental Rights petitions for them. The irony was that the panel of judges who heard that petition was chaired by the Chief Justice himself, who has drafted the petition. The extent of the pathetic and comic situation into which the judiciary and the political system of the country had fallen into, even at that time, could be discerned from this incident. 

It is not only the misconduct or corrupt activities of the people who commit errors that can make a democratic political system weak and dilapidated. Even those who support the offenders when wrongdoings are being committed, and also those who are responsible for preventing such occurrences, but refraining from doing so, and letting the mistakes pass unheeded, should also be treated as active partners of such offenses. 

It can be further explained as follows. If the individuals who had supported the corrupt Chief Justice had abstained from doing so and stood up against him, and the opposition political parties and the Bar Associations which had the responsibility to act against the corrupt Chief Justice, had fulfilled their responsibilities properly, the Chief Justice would have been compelled to give up his position. When we requested the Supreme Court to conduct an investigation into the corruption charges levelled against Attorney General Sarath Silva, all the judges of the Supreme Court except three judges expressed their agreement to conduct an investigation. This shows that if others had fulfilled their responsibilities, there was a real possibility of ousting Sarath Silva, who was later appointed as the Chief Justice. 

Had it been the case, the country would have had a better judiciary than the existing one, and perhaps the country would not have fallen into a state of failure. Same principle is equally applicable to all serious mistakes that have been committed in the political level of the country. 

Another illustration that can be cited to explain this situation is as follows: According to the ‘78 constitution, a member elected to Parliament from a recognised political party couldn’t change the party without losing his/her seat. But when President Chandrika wanted to strengthen her government by persuading a group of opposition MPs to join the government, she was able to create a situation with the support of the judiciary (Chief Justice Sarath Silva) in which the MPs defected from the opposition could join the ruling party without losing their seats. It can be considered as an instance that led to distorting the Constitution severely. But the main opposition party in general or any other political parties represented in the Parliament refrained from protesting against this horrible violation of the Constitution. Consequently, this system introduced in violation of the Constitution has become a common feature of the political system. This situation has not only weakened the opposition parties but also led to distort the political system and accelerate its collapse. Along with that the Constitution, the supreme law of the country became an object of ridicule. 

Sri Lanka: Professionalism – Missing Links


The right to rectify the wrongdoings occurring in the country or the right to be elected as public representatives should be granted only to those who are committed to discharge or have already discharged the responsibility assigned to them in the respective scope of work or the little professional world they represent and had committed themselves in maintaining a good, clean and orderly state in their particular fields by correcting and remedying the wrongs that may occur in them.

Many positive changes would occur in the political system when the political parties and their leaders are composed of people, who could claim for such a record in addition to having their merits limited only to educational qualifications. However, it is obvious that many people who have become members of conventional political parties of our country as well as those who have entered the political stream newly, are not those who could claim such a record.

The professionals are at the helm of all important sectors in the country. If the professionals had functioned strongly and unreservedly to eradicate corruption and rectify other faults extant in the areas which were under their control, certainly Sri Lanka would not have fallen into such a big mess and disaster it has faced today. We know that politicians are rotten with corruption. Similarly, the role of professionals in Sri Lanka is also not in good shape or in ideal condition. There are many examples that can be cited to substantiate this observation. The programs that have been implemented for a long time to digitise the affairs of the state are one such example.

Digital solutions contribute immensely to improve the affairs of the state, facilitate better communication between citizens and government agencies; it will improve the efficiency of the functioning of government institutions and enable minimising of corruption and waste. For a long time now, despite a substantial investment been made for digitisation, it has not been possible to make a discernible progress commensurate with the cost incurred. However, the progress achieved in digitisation by companies like John Keells in the private sector, is huge.

For example, despite having a digital system, the allegations levelled against the Department of Registration of Persons and the Department of Immigration and Emigration are serious. A situation prevails in these two departments where, apart from obtaining genuine ID cards and passports, it is possible to obtain fake IDs and passports as well, by paying a large amount of money underhand. It has been identified that there exists a situation where computer data could be altered in some institutions that have adopted digitised systems.

It is alleged that a mafia of electrical engineers is operating in the Electricity Board. There are accusations that the electrical engineers are making undue wealth by abusing their authority, and also discouraging or not paving the way for moving to a policy that emphasises the use of renewable energy sources due to vested interests they seem to have in the use of thermal power plants in generating electricity. It can be said that the dishonest practices in the field of accountancy and the audit have also affected the decline in the financial sector. If the accountants and auditors had fulfilled their professional responsibilities properly, the incidents of fraud and corruption in the financial sector in Sri Lanka would not have escalated to a level which the society could not bear. Such degeneration could not have occurred in the financial sector.

The lawyers as well as the judicial officials are presumably responsible for the breakdown in the rule of law of the country. Similarly this accusation can be made against the other professionals as well. Although there is a national Organization of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka, which is a body of professionals presently belonging to 52 member associations catering to 32 disciplines with a total membership of over 50,000, apparently it has not been able to adopt a disciplinary control to govern its members and win the trust of the people about the organisation.

Correcting yourself before correcting the nation

Isn’t it important that the professionals should work strongly towards making the respective fields of their professions efficient and free of corruption, and earn the public trust, before they engage themselves in rectifying the entire system of the country? Shouldn’t they become leaders capable of solving national problems only through the launch of such programs? For example, the lawyers interested in entering politics, could initiate and run a campaign for necessary reforms to establish an independent judicial system with the power of judicial review, in addition to making a positive change in the legal profession itself. They can demand for the setting up of a regulatory authority with considerable powers to regulate the performance of lawyers.

Like in some Western countries, the legal career can be made into a profession that operates under a license system combined with a full professional indemnity insurance scheme that needs to be renewed every few years. In case of damage to the client and when compensation is due to be paid, it can be compensated by the indemnity insurance. Also, it would be possible to introduce a system for regulating the fees payable to the attorneys at law. Also a system could be set up so that the nature of the case, the law applicable, the client’s entitlement, the fee to be paid, the manner in which the payment should be made and the regulatory authority to be referred to in the events of misconduct or professional negligence could be indicated to the client in writing when a case is undertaken by the attorneys at law.

Also, action may be initiated to bring about positive and desirable changes in the Bar Association as well. Along with this, suggestions for an independent judicial system that would lead to earning respect of the public for the judiciary, as well as introducing a system that prevents delays in litigation can be made. Such a program will certainly create a strong platform to make far reaching changes in the field of legal profession and the judiciary as well, and offer an opportunity for the lawyers who appear for it, to earn a greater acceptance of the public while creating a strong background for them to enter politics.

Similar programs can be implemented in all other professional sectors. For instance, the professionals of the ICT Engineering (the Information and Communication Technology) could probe into the faults and drawbacks in the implementation of e-Sri Lanka projects in government institutions, which is an integrated approach to promote e-governance, and submit proposals to rectify the errors and implement them correctly at a low cost. It would be possible to make the professional association one belongs to, a catalyst against corruption that prevails in that particular sector, and also it can be made an exemplary institution where a proper code of discipline is maintained in regard to the conduct of the professionals of the association. If such a program can be implemented in almost every professional sector, it will undoubtedly lead to produce professionals who work with a deep sense of social responsibility in all professional fields, and through them to set up professional movements and create a vision that will contribute towards rectifying serious mistakes that had occurred in the fields of those professions.

The most important outcome of this process, in the sense of politics, will be that it will pave the way for laying a strong foundation for a distinguished group of professionals who have gained a certain amount of political maturity, practical experience and won public recognition in consequence of their involvement in fighting against and for rectifying the wrongs that happen in their own little worlds, to enter the national stream of politics. 

Sri Lanka: Beckoning the devilish anarchy


Since the ending of the internal civil war, I have been vehemently vocal on the need for directing Sri Lanka towards a profound reform program. Following the Black July of 1983, Sri Lanka remained in a bizarre state of persistent bloodshed for a long time, until the end of the internal civil war in 2009. The people of the country were compelled to live in an atmosphere overwhelmed by the fear of death during this long period.

The insurrections launched by the Sinhala and Tamil youth had resulted in the death of a large number of young people. The entire society was rendered more or less dead spiritually, by the brutality unleashed on the society by the Sinhala and Tamil rebels as well as the security forces that suppressed the riots. Though the security forces had succeeded in defeating the Sinhala-Tamil insurrections, both the victorious security forces and the State suffered serious damage from those insurrections.

Many things were destroyed in this ugly socio-political environment, and the things that escaped from being destroyed completely had become distorted and corrupt. This particular socio-political environment had caused to corrupt and distort the politicians of the country and the state including the government officials and the entire institutional system of the state. This situation had plunged the entire state into a dilapidated level.

My role

Introducing necessary reforms without delay, for rectification of the decline and the distortion occurred in the socio-political system and the state had become an essential condition for the very survival of the state and the social system. I used the 25th and 30th anniversary of the Ravaya held in 2012 and 2016 respectively, which were participated by the leaders of major political parties of the country, to point out to them the urgent need for having reforms introduced to overcome this situation.

But when it appeared that the political leaders of the country do not have a genuine interest or commitment in making necessary reforms, I reached the conclusion that, in the absence of essential reforms, the country will inevitably plunge into a great destruction, and consequently there will be a great collapse in the state and the social system, and eventually the country will be pushed into a state of economic bankruptcy and political anarchy.

In order to explain the situation, I wrote and published two books in Sinhala titled “Lankawa Galawaganima” (Rescuing Sri Lanka) and “Jathiye Kedavachakaya” (The Tragedy of the Nation). The number of scholarly articles authored and published by me in this respect could be hundreds. Besides these, I founded an organisation called the “Punaruda Vyaparaya” (Revival Movement) to enlighten the public about the great collapse destined to occur, and nearly 300 public discussions were held raising the public awareness on the impending downfall. I wish to assert that I have always appeared in favour of a profound transformational reform program implemented within a comprehensive framework centred on wide public participation.

I can be considered as one who was able to foresee and predict in advance with a considerable degree of certainty that Sri Lanka will soon fall into this abyss unless appropriate remedial measures were taken to arrest the trend. I was able to make such a prediction because I had focused my keen attention on this question long before it was going to happen. In fact, I had a deep intellectual involvement and emotional relationship with the crisis in Sri Lanka. It was due to the knowledge and discipline I had acquired through perceiving and evaluating the crisis well in advance that I was able to analyse it and make suggestions as to how it should be overcome as soon as Sri Lanka fell into the abyss.

At the time when the country has fallen into a state of bankruptcy and a massive public unrest had emerged in the form of the Aragalaya launched by the youth against president Gotabaya, I appealed to the protesters to take the Aragalaya into a constitutional framework without allowing it to be thrown into an anarchic state; and, at the same time I ventured to meet president Gotabaya and point out to him the importance of directing the country towards adopting a reform program that would make a profound change in the system which is corrupt, and handed over to him a list of reforms required to be introduced together with a methodology that could be adopted in implementing the proposed reforms.

What ought to be done?

I am not a political follower or a protagonist of Gotabaya. During the presidential election, my stance was that Gotabaya was not a suitable person to be appointed the president of the country because he remained indicted with serious allegations. Despite my stance regarding Gotabaya, in the face of the country falling into a state of bankruptcy, I ventured to meet him with my reforms proposals, not with the intention of gaining undue advantage, but with the view to persuading him to direct the country to a reform program without delay, and thereby reduce the possible destruction to the country. Not only did he express his agreement with my proposal, but also he had enlightened Ranil Wickremesinghe about it when the latter was appointed the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister also spoke to me about the proposal. It is interesting to mention that I had held two rounds of talks previously with Ranil Wickremesinghe about a reform program even before the country went bankrupt. Late Mangala Samaraweera also participated in those discussions. Three of us knew that the country was heading towards a big crisis. We had a rough idea about the need for intervention at an appropriate time and about the reforms to be introduced.

When Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe assumed the presidency, I felt that the opportunity had arisen to lead the country to a reform program. For that purpose I decided to extend my voluntary support to President Ranil Wickremesinghe without expecting any payment or personal benefit. After all, it is an essential condition to create a common consensus among the parties representing the legislature for launching a profound program of reforms. To achieve that purpose, we (the People’s Movement for Reforms) met the leaders of major political parties and discussed this issue with them.

The list of political leaders whom we met and discussed is as follows: Sajith Premadasa, the leader of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), Maithripala Sirisena, leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), Anura Kumara Dissanayake, leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Rauff Hakeem, the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Basil Rajapaksa, National Organiser, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), M.A. Sumanthiran, media spokesperson of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Mano Ganesan, leader of the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA), Douglas Devananda, leader of the Elam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and Champika Ranawaka, leader of the 43rd Brigade.

The purpose of discussing with all of them was to explain the need for having a profound reforms program and the importance of creating a common consensus for adopting a framework which is acceptable to all of them, and would not allow anyone to act arbitrarily in implementing the reforms program. The need for having a profound reform program was accepted by all the leaders. It must be said that the time spent by some leaders for these discussions ranged from two to three hours.

It was evident from some of the statements published in social media that the discussion held with Basil Rajapaksa, the National Organiser of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), has caused great anger in some people. It is not difficult to understand that it was a special situation that has been created and maintained purposefully and systematically rather than being a natural or spontaneous reaction. Many of those who have commented had demonstrated amply, the negative characteristics such as poverty of their knowledge, sometimes their stupidity, political bigotry and their lumpen heritage. The failure of a country is not only an indicator of the failure of politicians and officials alone, but it should also be considered as an indicator of the failure of academics and the professionals of the country as well.

The black market economy of the country is larger than the formal economy. The size of the lumpen social group in the country is also unusually large. It can be said that the lumpen-style debase rowdy language has become the accepted linguistic usage of the revolution and the revolutionary academia. Due to political bigotry or bias, some are inclined to think that the crisis in the country is a matter to be solved by a government elected of their choice and not through the reforms implemented by the incumbent government. Also, they seem to think that whatever may be the reforms to be introduced, they should be implemented in the absence of those representing the Pohottuwa party.

Could the country survive without solving this crisis until the next government comes to power? What will happen to the country if no one gets enough power to form a government in the next election? Since the ruling power rests on the Pohottuwa party, a reform program cannot be implemented without the support of that party. If the Pohottuwa should not be involved in the reform program on the basis that it is corrupt and has committed serious mistakes, then, the same accusation can be levelled more or less against every party that has ruled the country and represented the parliament. Sri Lanka has received a golden opportunity for introducing profound reforms. If this opportunity is not utilised properly, there is no doubt that the nation will be compelled to pay a big compensation for missing it.