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Of that ‘golden’ and ‘smart’ MP

Of that ‘golden’ and ‘smart’ MP

26 May 2023

The news that Puttalam District Muslim National Alliance Parliamentarian, Ali Sabri Raheem, who was detained by the Customs at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake on Tuesday (23) for the possession of undeclared gold and smartphones, and was released after a fine, attracted mixed responses from the public. While the fact that the MP was arrested and fined regardless of his MP status was welcomed by many, how a person that tried to smuggle such a large amount of undeclared taxable goods was released with a fine almost immediately has caused controversy.

Whether we like it or not, Sri Lanka is a country where it is accepted as its bitter reality that lawmakers, or MPs, get away with offences easily. While that is what the public thinks, this notion stems from many incidents involving MPs. In such a context,it is a progressive sign that the law was implemented against MP Raheem, yet, it should not be just another incident that the public could simply be satisfied about, but a lesson from which Sri Lanka learns. A group of MPs have in fact requested the Speaker of the Parliament, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana, to take strict action against Raheem, and for the sake of the Parliament’s dignity, the Speaker should do the needful.

Raheem claims that the seized goods are not his, and that the fact that he was arrested, fined and held accountable is not just. While the veracity of his claims is yet to be investigated and verified according to the information that is available, lawmakers not knowing the law, or acting as if they are ignorant about the law or ignoring the law, is unacceptable in every sense of the word. Customs officials discovered 3.39 kilos of undeclared gold jewellery and gold biscuits worth approximately Rs. 74 million, and 91 mobile phones worth around Rs. 4.2 million were also found in his luggage. How an MP does not know that he was carrying such an enormous amount of goods for which he should pay taxes is a question, and the immediate conclusion any layperson would arrive at is that he was trying to smuggle those goods into the country.

For goods worth around Rs. 78 million, Raheem was fined only Rs. 7.5 million. Even though legal actions were taken against him, the fact that a person is able to get away with being in possession of such an amount of goods provides a very negative and misleading example. If a person could pay only around 10% of the value of the smuggled goods as a fine and be released, that does not really show a law that is capable of deterring the smuggling of goods illegally.

For Raheem’s incident to be a lesson, the Government should pursue this incident. While legal actions are being pursued, in addition to those, the Parliament should make it a priority to remind lawmakers of their responsibility of being lawful and not insulting the main law making institution, i.e. the Parliament, by ignoring the law. In fact, certain statements made by Raheem following his release made matters worse. He told the media that since he is not the owner of the seized goods, the Government should have protected him. He went on to make a statement to the effect that since the Government did not do that despite his requests to the heads of the Government, he took a decision to vote against the resolution to oust Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka Chairman Janaka Ratnayake during the Parliamentary vote regarding the same.

The fact that Raheem expected the Government’s support is questionable even if he was not in the wrong. If he is not guilty, especially in a context where he has been lucky enough to be released almost immediately after being arrested, he should have no issue taking the right path of providing evidence to the Police to prove his innocence. Seeking the Government’s support, which is not really a lawful act, should not even be an option. Therefore, this incident should be taken seriously by the Parliament and it should take necessary measures to remind lawmakers of their duties, responsibilities and roles. 

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