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Why do buses burn?

An editorial in a state controlled newspaper last week came out strongly against 'Mob Justice' when commenting on the burning of a bus by the irate public of Anuradhapura following an accident between the bus and a three wheeler, where the driver of the three wheeler was killed.

Mob justice, any time anywhere, should be condemned but there are reasons why normally peace-loving people take the law into their hands and decide to execute instant justice. The editorial did beat about the bush as to the causes such as: 'the knowledge that the offenders may go scot free or be let off lightly by the court which may fuel their desire for vengeance,' 'our penal system lacks teeth to effectively deal with such offences,' but failed to identify the fount of this lawlessness, which we will identify later in these comments.

Rage of impotence

The people who have taken to attacking vehicles that kill people on the highways are usually peace-loving citizens who have remained calm when accidents happen and help the victims by rushing them to hospitals, even at their expense. Why should they be assaulting or even killing members of bus crews and setting the vehicles ablaze?

These are people who virtually live by the wayside - pavement hawkers, small boutique keepers, sweep ticket sellers and the like. These monstrous vehicles rush past them, not caring for human or animal life or limb, at tremendous speeds and not giving a damn to what are called the laws of the land. And they appear to be immune from any kind of prosecution by the police.

It is the rage at the impotence of the law enforcement authorities to bring justice to these 'terrorists' behind wheels that leads to arson. Even in the Wild West criminals were lynched when the sheriff was not present to bring the criminals in.

What the public usually see is traffic policemen with their white bands hiding behind traffic lights, usually under the shade of a tree, nabbing drivers who have jumped the amber light or crossing double lines. Certainly, not obeying traffic lights and crossing double lines are offences but what of the more serious offences like driving at breakneck speed on narrow, crowded highways making pedestrians jump into drains and other vehicles to swing aside to avoid collisions?

Mobile traffic policemen are visible but not seen going after the miscreants. They are often seen dropping their wives at work or children at school. That is only natural when much higher placed officials and officers of all state services are seen doing the same thing.

Cop rot

The police force, though grown in strength in recent times, is no longer a disciplined and efficient force. Some senior police officials are not hesitant to admit it. It has been a process of deterioration down the years. The Inspector General of Police is usually held responsible for the state of the police force. But should he?

Police chiefs given extensions of service have become puppets of the all powerful Executive President who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the police and all armed services. Though this is the law, today under the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, the power of appointing the IGP stems from the Constitutional Council. 

Constitutional Council stalled

The President in not appointing a member to represent minority parties to the Constitutional Council is thereby stalling the functioning of the council and the appointment of independent commissions for the police, public service, judiciary and the Elections Department. Instead, he as President has been making appointments that are the responsibility of the Constitutional Council and the independent commissions.

Having taken over powers of the Constitutional Council he has to bear the responsibilities for the appointments and the functioning of those services - police, public service, judiciary and the Elections Department. This has gone on for two long years and the present state of the country could be attributed to stalling of the independent commissions from functioning.

Responsibility

Thus when buses burn on the streets due to utter lawlessness and the police can't or don't do anything about it, the responsibility should lie with our Executive President, Mahinda Percy Rajapakse.

Whether this chaos and disorder is in accordance with the Mahinda Chinthana, the apostles of the faith should inform us. The UNP has at last awoken to the need for the implementation of the law that has already been enacted and is now threatening to impeach President Rajapakse on the issue. Many NGOs including the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) too are demanding its implementation. Will Mahinda Percy and his brothers who rule the country oblige?

Today, the non-implementation of this all-important constitutional amendment has imposed severe burdens on the people.

Residents in the suburbs and even Colombo have to employ watchers or security guards to prevent daylight break-ins. It costs at least Rs. 10,000 a month to employ such a person at a time when the cost of living is going through the roof. Kidnapping, abductions and murders continue as never before in the country. Little wonder some in the international community are saying: 'If you can't protect your people we could.'

Bribery Commission

The President is contributing much to the image of lawlessness in the country. The transfer of Piyasena Ranasinghe, the director general of the Bribery Commission without giving any reasons, and also the transfer of ASP Premashantha, the officer-in-charge of the Assets Division of the Commission has contributed much to the image of an emerging order of rule by presidential decree.

Ordinary people too are affected by this chaos and disorder. When we drive along the Nawala-Nugegoda road which has turned out to be a race track, we see monstrous buses   hurtling towards us with pious expressions such as 'Budhu Saranai, Devipihitai' (Blessing of the Buddha and protection of the gods) or 'Jesus Saves' written boldly across windscreens. We have been inclined not to place our trust in the spiritual and divine at such moments and instead frantically swung our vehicles to the side of the road running the risk of knocking down pedestrians andgoing into deep drains. We need help from terra firma more than spiritual or divine assistance. Can Mahinda Chinthana save us?

 


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