"Our Prime Minister knows me well and he knows my strengths and weaknesses." - Thalatha Athukorala

Just because you open a file to investigate corruption, the Attorney- General’s Department cannot file charges said Justice Minister Thalatha Athukorale.

 

Q. You are the first female to be appointed as the Justice Minister. What are your thoughts on it? 

A. As the leader of the party, the Prime Minister rendered his utmost cooperation to increase female representation in parliament. In fact he was the one who initially specified that there should be at least one female in the representation list and gave women that chance in 2006.Our Prime Minister knows me well and he knows my strengths and weaknesses.

In this instance however, both the President and Prime Minister have placed their trust in me and given me this ministerial portfolio. Hence upholding that faith and trust they placed in me, is my earnest desire and to carry out my responsibilities in a manner that is fair to all and ensure the safety and justice to all citizens alike irrespective of their social or political standing.

This minister is one that represents the safety of all citizens of this country. I believe that I am capable of carrying out the task entrusted to me.

Currently I have to work under numerous controversial and complex circumstances in order to uphold the sovereignty of the judiciary. Having brought in good governance and having come together by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, I intend to carry out my duties in fairness and trough impartiality. I will definitely work to uphold the faith and trust placed in me by the country’s leaders and people.

Q. You mentioned that your ministry is a controversial ministry. What do you intend to do to change this situation? 

A. I said my ministry was a controversial one based on the present happenings. Had the institutions under the Justice Ministry done their assigned tasks independently and productively, this ministry could have upheld its reputation just as in the past. Our responsibility is to look into the administrative responsibilities within the judicial system.

It is a well known fact that there is a delay in cases being filed and heard. Therefore, what we can possibly do to expedite this, is, perhaps provide the infrastructure facilities required to expedite the process. We are now ready to provide that assistance.

I intend to follow a totally different policy  to that followed by the previous minister. The Attorney-General’s Department too is under this ministry.

I must do a full study of the issues pertaining to the judicial sector and see what improvements can be made. Everyone has the right to complain or file a case. Let's work together and see what improvements can be made.  

Q. The whole country is disgruntled with the government over the delay in initiating legal action against perpetrators of the previous regime. Now they are gloating that these allegations were all false. The big wigs are still scot free while it is the small fish that are being targeted. Do you believe that these big wigs could be brought to justice? 

A. That is what the judiciary is there for, not the ministry. Well I have just taken over as the Justice Minister, and let’s see what can be done in the future. Action will have to be taken based on the evidence available. Anyone can claim that justice is delayed. However, there is first a great deal of work that the Police have to compete. It is only after the police have done their investigations and handed over the relevant files to the Attorney- General’s Department that they can take appropriate action. It is only if the evidence presented is sufficient to file charges that such a step would be taken. The Attorney- General simply cannot initiate legal action against anyone based on his whims. 

Q. If what you say is correct, why was Wijayadasa Rajapaksha sent home and was he not ousted because he went against a prominent UNP member?

A. I say that he had to go home because he defied the collective decision taken by the Cabinet. It is irrelevant to us how the media or other political parties chose to interpret this situation. What I know for certain is that he defied the collective decisions taken by the Cabinet. This government proceeded with the Hambantota port agreement based on the recommendations of the Attorney- general. In that instance just one person cannot take full responsibility. While the previous government sold off lands to foreign countries, they are now trying to compare them selling lands with leasing of lands. These people cannot understand the difference between leasing and selling. Wijayadasa Rajapaksha had publicly stated that Hambantota was sold and this caused tensions between him and the President and Prime Minister. It was a breach of trust.

Q. At the time of his departure, Wijayadasa said for the first time in history he was ousted from his post as there was no pressure on the AG’s Department and that he was removed in order to cover up the Treasury Bond issue. Do you fear that you too might have to face challenges pressuring you to influence the AG’s Department?

A. If I am accused of something, I must understand because they have the right to do it. It is up to me to accept it. No matter what anyone says regarding the Treasury Bond issue or the AG’s Department, I think it is a matter that should be determined by the judiciary. The judiciary should have the right to function independently. I don’t know if the AG’s Department was being influenced or not but the Treasury Bond issue is being investigated by a special Presidential Commission and they cannot either cover up nor bring out issues.

Q. There are around 83 files that have been handed over to the AG’s Department, yet some of the investigations have not been completed by the FCID.. Your thoughts?

A. As soon as a file is opened the AG’s Department cannot file charges. It must be studied. The mistake Wijayadasa Rajapaksha made was that he held onto around 80 files over a long period and did nothing about it.Sometimes when certain people are in front of a mike they can say anything.Moreover, I can speak about what I have said, or the President or Prime Minister has said, but I cannot speak on behalf of others.  

Q. Even the President accepts that there is such a problem.

A.  Where has the President said this? In response to a question raised by the media the President said the AG’s Department is working very independently.

Q. But everyone admits that there is a delay…

A. If we are to improve on their productivity, then considering the number of cases the staff should be increased and infrastructure facilities should be improved. However, we plan on moving forward by addressing the practical issues systematically.

Q. The Joint Opposition alleges that there are allegations against you as well…

A. Anyone can level allegations. The Joint Opposition group are a band of rogues who are trying to take the country back to the roguish past. They are blaming us We are blaming them. They started with some top ten charges and went to the Bribery Commission and complained against many of us. Anyone has the freedom to go and complain but these should be investigated to ascertain if these allegations are false or true.   

Q. Wimal Weerawansa alleged that you had agreed to send around 10 ministers of the previous regime to jail. What is your view regarding this allegations?

A. These are the things that they did. It was they who decided who’s house to break , who to murder and which journalist to abduct. It was their leaders that spoke to the judges on the phone and got them to follow their orders. They are a bunch of rogues and as such they think that everyone else too comes to politics to rob.

Q. The former President had said that he is watching how you conduct yourself…

A. Well, I am very glad that he is watching me. 

- AshWaru Colombo

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