Must we hang our economy?

If 21 April and related events thereafter sounded the death knell for a business community battling to survive amid a multipronged assault due in large part to ineffective governance, then His Excellency’s stubborn resolve to take a few lives to teach drug offenders a good lesson is paving the way for the slow death of the dim hopes we had of bringing those tourists and investors back and getting our economy back in order.

So much of our economic performance now hinges on restoring our image as a nation with potential, a safe and happy destination, an intelligent people who deserve better than the hand they’ve been dealt.

But here we are; a country whose trigger-happy first citizen has signed four death warrants 43 years after the last recorded execution and the consequent moratorium on capital punishment.

Surprisingly, except among a handful of Colombo-based activists, there’s been little public outcry about the development. Perhaps people are just jaded and weary and have far greater things to worry about.

Or, a lot of them think the death penalty is a good thing, but just don’t want to be seen supporting it.

There is a rising dichotomy of personal and public opinion – with a dangerous tilt to extreme and rigid thinking in private but overtly expressing tame and friendly views that better fit the nuances of propriety. A good example is the covert racism that has arisen post-Easter Sunday, shrouded often in kind condescension towards minorities.

Businesses too have chosen silence. But why should businesses care? A responsible business must fundamentally, also be responsible towards the communities that fall under its sphere of influence. And capital punishment is not likely to create a safer place for the community. If, according to our President, the ultimate objective of the death penalty is a safer country, then businesses can and must use their voice and their reach to encourage far more effective and sustainable ways of ensuring safety and reducing crime. From instilling better values among children, improving employability of youth, creating better livelihood opportunities, and even promoting health, wellness, and mental well-being, there is so much that businesses can come together to do.

For capital punishment to be effectively carried out, it must exist within a judicial system that functions as it should, with minimal opportunity for miscarriages of justice. Ours is a derelict one fraught with corruption and wracked by abuse, where money talks louder and firmer than any human right does; where those wielding political power may wantonly destroy a life, if they so choose, and get away with it.

This column alludes repeatedly to the crisis of accountability our nation now faces. Each week, our politicians make a farce of the responsibility we’ve vested them with. Just this past week, a former defence secretary and sitting IGP were thrown in jail (from their “sick” beds) for their parts in the Easter Sunday tragedy. But what of those holding far greater political power who, at the least, are guilty by omission? Clearly, they will save themselves and each other. In a system that works this way, implementing capital punishment is a scary prospect that may well end lives of scapegoats while the real offender roams free.

There’s no undoing capital punishment; there’s no righting a wrong there. Exoneration after the fact cannot bring a man back from the gallows.

We’re better than this medieval eye for an eye justice.