qrcode.30889285Tarzie Vittachi’s ‘Island in the Sun’ is perhaps the best piece of political satire written in this country. It has graphic desctiptions of the politicians of the nineties, with Sir John Kotelawala for instance being the Rogue Elephant and Dudley Senanayake the Tired Tortoise. J R Jayewardene was the Seethala Kotiya, a description that perhaps would not fit his nephew, familiarly known as ‘Poos’ in the family, a milder member of the Cat family.

But there is another description that fits Ranil well too, given the strange goings on at the Central Bank. Tarzie suggested that R G Senanayake could not move straight even when that was the easiest thing to do. So now we find that, what might have been an understandable – if capital friendly – change of policy was not done direct as a principled man like Eran Wickremaratne might have done. Rather there was clandestine activity which, in a Watergate style operation, has been concealed so that the ugly truth emerges only gradually.

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qrcode.30826356In my book on Political Principles and their Practice in Sri Lanka, which Cambridge University Press in Delhi published a decade or so back, I wrote that ‘Undoubtedly, the most important function of a government is to ensure the security of its people.’ People needed to ensure their safety from external threats, and they also needed security from others within the community. For the latter they needed laws to govern relations internally, with mechanisms to defend against attacks from outside – though initially these were not subject to law.

Among the most essential functions of government then are security (external and internal) and justice. So in many countries amongst the most important members of the cabinet are the minister of defence and the minister of justice. The former looks after the armed forces and sometimes the police as well, although in some countries there is a separate Ministry for this purpose.

The Ministry of Justice regulates the courts and ensures that those who break the law are brought before the law. In certain exceptional cases, as in the United States, where the doctrine of Separation of Powers is implemented thoroughly, the courts are independent of the cabinet and come under a chief justice. However, there too, there is an attorney general in the cabinet who has to ensure that the laws are implemented and those suspected of criminal acts prosecuted in the courts.

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qrcode.30761940In the second section of chapter 8 of my book on this subject, I look at how the initially peaceful agitation for devolution turned to violence. This was despite a measure of autonomy finally being granted to elected bodies at local levels during the eighties.

District Development Councils and their Shortcomings

In the 1970s, the various Tamil parties came together to form a Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). They fought the next election by asserting the right of Tamil-speaking people to self-determination, with reference in particular to the northern and eastern provinces.  Initially, the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), the party of the Indian Tamils who worked on the plantations in the centre of the country, was also part of the TULF. The TULF won an overwhelming majority of seats in the north and the east in the 1977 election, and emerged as the major opposition party. The constituent parties of the USA, having parted company in 1975, were decimated.

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qrcode.30756486Seeing all the posters asserting that ruggerite Wasim Thajudeen was murdered, I was struck by the similarity to the allegations made when Chandrika Kumaratunga was President regarding Batalanda. The Sunday Leader in December 2001, soon after the UNP won the election she had called, wrote

The legacy of evil that Kumaratunga has left behind is so rich that she is driven to defend her turf with all the tenacity she can muster. This is in part the genesis of her evil rhetoric in recent days, with talk of murders, plots and killing’.

The Sunday Times had the same idea about President Kumaratunga, and highlighted three occasions on which she came out with very harsh allegations about her then great enemy, Ranil Wickremesinghe. In August 2010 it noted that ‘Even those with short memories will recall that it was only a few weeks prior to the presidential election in December 1999 that the Batalanda Commission report was released to the media’.

Ranil-ChandrikaThat report was very hard on Ranil Wickremesinghe, but President Kumaratunga did nothing about it. This may of course have been because of the terrible injuries she suffered at Tiger hands just before the election. But by the time of the parliamentary election in October 2000, she was ready to resume the charge. In August of that year the Times reported the return of Douglas Peiris who had given evidence against Ranil as follows – ‘The ‘arrest’ of Peiris will surely be a prelude to major onslaught on Ranil Wickremesinghe linking him to the alleged atrocities committed at the so-called torture chamber in Batalanda.

The language is interesting. I have no idea whether Ranil was responsible in any way for what happened at Batalanda and would prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt, knowing how readily Chandrika jumped to conclusions and then found evidence to support her prejudices. One has only to remember her claim that it was the UNP that killed Vijaya Kumaratunga, which paved the way for her to enter into an alliance with the JVP, an alliance that now seems to have been renewed, though the common enemy now is the SLFP rather than the UNP. But even assuming as I would like to do that Ranil was not guilty of the atrocities at Batalanda, there is no doubt that atrocities did occur there, the death of Wijeyadasa Liyanaarachchi being only the most prominent amongst many horrors.

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qrcode.30693280An ambassador who seems to understand this country well said recently that he thought the greatest mistake this government had made was to let me go. I have to admit though that that was probably more flattering than accurate.  One can see rather that the greatest mistake was to ignore completely the manifesto on which the President had won the election, and instead assume it was about two things and two things alone – the abolition of the Executive Presidency and having an election after 100 days.

Unfortunately now the government will be remembered for just two things, one the laudable reduction in the authoritarian powers of the Presidency, the second the Central Bank Bond Scam. But there was much else in the manifesto that could easily have been implemented in the almost six months which the government had before Parliament was dissolve.

I have already looked at the seven broken promises with regard to reform that were mentioned in the 100 day programme, viz

1)      Electoral Reform

2)      Amendment of Standing Orders

3)      The Right to Information Act

4)      The new Audit Act

5)      A Code of Conduct

6)      A Cabinet of not more than 25 members representing all political parties in Parliament

7)      A National Advisory Council including all political parties in Parliament

The last three of these did not require a Parliamentary majority, and three of the others could have been passed with a simple majority. But the failure to develop consensus on issues of common national interest, and instead concentrate on Ministries for one party, and the perks that went with these, led to disaster.

Those blunders are obvious. For the next couple of weeks I shall look at some of the excellent ideas in the manifesto that were completely ignored. The total failure of this government to entrench better systems of government, based on ideas that had been canvassed for a long time but which had not been taken forward, must be registered, and I hope the government elected in August will move swiftly on such matters.

One of the most innovative ideas in the manifesto occurred in the section entitled ‘An advanced and responsible public sector’.  The second bullet point there read, ‘The Divisional Secretariat will be made the chief unit that performs the priority tasks of the area. It will coordinate all activities such as skills development and supply of resources pertaining to the development of the economic, social, industrial and cultural sectors of the area.’

Though I used the word innovative, in fact this represents a recognition of reality. A hundred years ago, when the British began to think of appointing Sri Lankan Government Agents, the Province was obviously the practical unit of administration. But as populations grew and the business of government expanded, the District became more important and accordingly Government Agents were appointed to Districts too. Now however, with so much more to do and for so many more people, it is the Divisional Secretariat that has to initiate and oversee action in most particulars. Unfortunately we are still stuck in hidebound systems, and Divisional Secretaries do not have the decision making powers they need. In addition, many government departments are not well represented in the Division, which leads to long delays with regard to action, let alone decisions.

After the problems I had noted in the North and East, I discussed the matter with those with experience in the field including the immensely knowledgeable Asoka Gunawardena and the Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration, Mr Abeykoon, who is now the Secretary to the President. We then approached the UN, which set up a consultancy, and last year we got a comprehensive report from Asoka on ‘Improving Service Delivery in the Divisions’. Unfortunately, when the election season set in, the Secretary put the matter on hold. Though Karu Jayasuriya was initially keen to take things forward, it turned out that he was not the responsible Minister, given the manner in which Public Administration had been carved up. I did mention the matter to the Minister responsible, but such reforms are not really his concern, and in the mad rush for elections the matter had been forgotten.

After the election I hope a concerted effort will be made to move forward in this area. It is important to make sure however that this is done with provision to consult the people, something the last President pledged which was not done. Mr Abeykoon had set the process in motion, through a circular that instructed Grama Niladharis to chair the Civil Defence Committee meetings in their GN Divisions, but this has not really taken off. Clear instructions are needed as to how the ideas brought up at consultative meetings should be taken forward (something that can be improved in Parliament too, where minutes are not promptly circulated and action points rarely recorded). This was planned, but elections intervened.

At the last meeting of the Home Affairs Consultative Committee in Parliament, this being the Ministry entrusted with District and Divisional Administration, I brought the matter up, only to find that the Minister and the new Secretary knew nothing about this. They had not been briefed, but the Minister promised to look into the matter, and I hope that he will find some time during electioneering to at least ensure that a position paper is prepared for him, or for his successor.

Meanwhile, nothing has been done in the last couple of years with regard to the other area of governance that is closest to the people. I refer to the work of elected officials, namely the Chairman of the Pradeshiya Sabha and his team. At present their functions are confused, because there have been significant changes in the manner in which these are organized – utilities for instance are supposed to be their responsibility, but both water and electricity require much central government involvement.

Because of all this a new Local Government Act was being prepared, and with the blessings of the Minister, the Secretary gave me a copy of the draft for comment. I found it a great improvement on what we have now, but thought there should be entrenchment of consultation procedures, with the advisory committees to local bodies being composed of representatives of community organizations, not appointees of those in political authority.

The Secretary, one of the brightest of our Civil Servants, Mr Ranawaka, took the ideas on board, but he was then entrusted with other responsibilities and the Act seemed to have been forgotten. But if good governance is to become a reality, the next government should study the current situation, with the help of Asoka Goonewardene’s comprehensive report, and set in place systems to ensure that people have ready access to the services government should provide at local level.

qrcode.30675367The last conference I attended was in the North East of India, where the topics encapsulated in the title of Prof. Hettige’s book loomed large. The same issues that bedevil development questions in this country were apparent there, and could be summed up perhaps in one word, namely consultation.

I was asked, earlier this week, to speak on the ‘Nexus between Development and Governance; a Sri Lankan Perspective’ at the launch of Prof. Siri Hettige’s latest book, ‘Governance, Conflict and Development in South Asia: Perspectives from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka’. This is in fact a collection of essays, co-edited by Prof. Hettige, bringing together the proceedings of a series of discussions on the subject.

I must confess that I went through only the essays on Sri Lanka, which is a shortcoming, but I should add that I thought it best to concentrate on this country, given the crisis we are going through. Prof. Hettige made some admirable points, though he did so with the detached dignity of an academic, whereas in the current context there might have been a case for a more aggressive approach. But since the essays were written some time back, and the book was a record of what had taken place, I must grant that it would have been difficult to be creatively topical.

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qrcode.30640274In the last few articles in this series, before we know whether or not the Reforms this country needs will be taken forward or not, I will continue to look at the pledges in the President’s manifesto which have been ignored. The most important had to do with structural and political reforms, and of these the Government only bothered about one, leaving half a dozen undone.

But there were also very practical measures, which are equally important if we are to develop as our people deserve. Way back in the seventies the Economist I think described us as the only underdeveloped country that was still under-developing, and in 2001, the then Australian ambassador said he had never known a country go backwards so quickly, as we had done, during the period he had been here. That was one reason that motivated me to vote for the UNP in the December Election, though the way the LTTE ran circles round the government that took over soon caused worry. Still, I think it was a good thing we had a change then, since I think it also put the SLFP, in its PA incarnation which then changed to UPFA, back on its toes.

Development, when he experienced it, came largely through construction, as with D. S. Senanayake and his dams, the Mahaweli in JR’s time, and then the devotion to infrastructural development in rural areas under both Premadasa and Mahinda Rajapaksa. But while we must continue grateful to the last, both for bringing us security, and for his development programmes, in the last couple of years it became clear that not enough was being done with regard to Human Resource Development.

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qrcode.30602779I am writing in response to the letter from Mr Kamal Nissanka which appeared in the columns of the Sunday Island on July 26th. He claims in an email sent to other party members that this was in response to an article that appeared on the 19th. In fact the Island rang me up with regard to a press release he had issued, which makes it clear that bringing this matter into the public domain was a strategy employed by Mr Nissanka for reasons that should be obvious.

His latest letter is replete with inaccuracies and half truths. It is possible that his memory is faulty, but fortunately there is email evidence to the contrary with regard to his claims.

1. Mr Nissanka said that ‘I handed over Dr Rajiva Wijesinha’s nomination application to Mr Susil Premajayanha at the Ministry of Education at Battaramulla’. However, though the party had suggested my name be put forward, Mr Nissanka had also put forward his own name. When I met the President I asked him about a candidacy for the Liberal Party, at which point he said ‘Who is this Nissanka whose name has been given? We want you on the List.’ I did not mention this to Mr Nissanka at the time, but I discussed this with him later, and he did not deny this.

2. Contrary to what Mr Nissanka is now claiming, there was no great discussion in the Party about the 18th Amendment. There was no need for pressure from the party for me not to vote for the impeachment of the Chief Justice, since my reasons for not doing so have been explained by me very clearly. I should note that, in discussion, there were a couple of lawyers from Kurunagala whom Mr Nissanka had introduced to the party, who were in favour of the impeachment.

3. He claims that ‘My political relationship with Dr Wijesinha began to sink as he resigned from the state minister post without informing the party.’ On the contrary it began to sink because I did not appoint him to a position in the Ministry. The several emails he sent in this regard make the position clear.

The first was sent on the very day I assumed duties, with another immediately after.

Kamal Nissanka <kamalliberal@yahoo.com>

Jan 13

to Ananda, me

They expect me to have some position in the Rajiva ministry. I think in political type positions priority should be given to me and Stephen. Our ultimate goal is to go to parliament through NL or district contest. Party expenses are also vital. If we have political type positions we can contribute to the party.

There should be a dividend to the great sacrifice for the party.

On 15 Jan, 2015, at 7:50 pm, Kamal Nissanka <kamalliberal@yahoo.com> wrote:

Considering all these development I suggest that when positions are offered in Rajiva ministry priority should be given to me and Ananda Stephen. I have no opposition giving to other members of the committee thereafter.

In fact Mr Palitha Lihinikumara requested me tio get the “Post of Adviser- Student Affairs”. He said somebody who has an understanding  in present day radical student politics should be in charge on that.

I suggest Ananda Stephen be given “post of coordinating Secretary”. If not we cannot face our support base. I hope all of you agree with this parameter and suggestions. Fruits should be tasted by those who planted the trees.  

I explained at the Committee meeting we had a few days later that I would be happy to make appointments to cadre positions at my disposal for those able to work full time. Mr Stephen, the Deputy Secretary General, said he was willing to work full time but none of the others was able to do this.

I also explained that the post of Student Advisor had been created by a special Cabinet Paper prepared by my predecessor. With the change of government that had lapsed. I said I was not like my predecessor and did not think it proper to create new positions. I do not think it a legitimate use of government funds to help the party.

Despite this the claim was reiterated in an email of January 25th –

Kamal Nissanka <kamalliberal@yahoo.com>

Jan 25

to me, Ananda, Shalini

I have emphasized that I should be given suitable position at least for the next six months until the next parliament comes and depending on how we face elections. I thought the “Student Area” is the best for me where I could develop new relations. If possible I think Peradeniya, Rajarata, Wayamba Jaffna, Eastern, could be one area {plus or minus Sabaragamuwa and Uva) or any different arrangement. 

It should be noted that numerous ex-party members and our recent political friends are also expecting various favors through me from you and. In some cases not jobs but maybe a letter or other help. (This is the nature of Sri Lankan politics).

My view is that those who worked for the regime at the last election should not be given any position in the ministry and that would discourage us and will create an ongoing conflict. (I am not going to interfere with existing members)

And then attacks on my leadership began after what can only be described as a bitter sign off.

Kamal Nissanka <kamalliberal@yahoo.com>

Mar 27

to Ananda, me, shalini, Roshan, ravindra.abeyw., rkottageapo, Sarath, drnewtonpeiris, dunstan53, Upali, Adikari, Dr, Romesh

Some of the active members of  Rev Sobitha group pushed me to get “Student Advisor” postfrom Rajiva. I also being a mad guy eating (sic) the dead rope suggested (to) Rajiva that I should be given “student advisor”. What was Rajiva’s response? “I am not going to act like SB in appointment(s). That is the end of LPSL secretary asking favours and position from Rajiva ministry. I don’t want to be the leader o the party at this juncture. So there is no leadership struggle but I am dead sure that Rajiva can’t lead the party. For the betterment of the party he should not be the leader, we need an alternative. I thought this would be “leadership council”

4. He is talking nonsense with regard to the attempt to dismiss me, because that happened in December, and my case was very ably handled by Mr Harsha Amerasekera with no input whatsoever from the Party.

5. Finally, with regard to the vexed question of an MoU, the party decided at its January meeting to write to the UPFA about an MoU. Mr Nissanka took some time over this but he finally did so. Towards the end of March Mr Susil Premjayanth sent an MoU and wanted it signed and sent back urgently. I signed it but before I could send it, Mr Nissanka and the Deputy Secretary General said that Mr Nissanka should sign it. I had no problems with this but did worry about the delay in him getting to Colombo to sign it. Mr Nissanka had not attended the Committee meeting in February and we did not have one in March.

However he did sign the MoU finally at the meeting held on April 11th. I gave this to Mr Premjayanth, but he has not as yet given me back a copy of the document signed also by him.

It is odd that Mr Nissanka does not mention that he signed an MoU

Ananda Stephen

Jun 30

to Kamal, me, Roshans, Shalini, Sarath, dunstan53, Upali, Newton, Romesh, Adikari, tilak, Dr, ravindra.abeyw., bakmeewatta, Anura

Dear Kamal, 

Thanks, what happened to the MOU which we signed few months back ?????? initially Rajiva was planning to signed  and subsequently you signed .I strongly feel that we should ask for a meeting within next couple of days with UPFA to discuss this issue. If they don’t give us nominations the only other option is UNP, no other, we have to act fast.

6. Subsequently both Mr Nissanka and Mr Stephen, following correspondence with HE the President, sent in applications to Mr Premjayanth for nomination to District lists. They were not called for interview, and then declared, at the meeting of our Committee on July 7th that they did not wish for nomination. However the minutes as written by Mr Nissanka noted that ‘committee did not want to sabotage if any member of the party further negotiate with President regarding nominations. Dr Rajiva volunteered to discuss with President Maithreepala Sirisena regarding a national seat nomination and a district nomination for Kurunegala’. In fact I asked for a mandate from the party for this. The district nomination was a reference to the application of one of our Pradeshiya Sabha Members who had also sent in an application, and who perhaps tactlessly I had said was potentially our best candidate since he had already proved himself.

It should be noted that he had supported the candidacy of President Rajapaksa in January, and I believe the reference to not giving positions to those ‘who worked for the regime at the last election’ in the January 25th email was to him, even though he had been unanimously co-opted to the Committee at the previous meeting.

7. I should add that I am astonished that the Secretary General, without any authorization from the Committee that met on July 7th, put forward four lists off his own bat for the election. The leader of the Colombo list told me that he had found us on a website, and that he had previously contested with Dr Wickramabahu Karunaratne – whose political stances have been light years away from those of our Founder, Dr Chanaka Amaratunga.

http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=129279

CA

Chanaka Amaratunga died 19 years ago, on the 1st of August 1996. He died a disappointed man, for he had not entered Parliament, which had been his dream. Only Chanaka, imbued in the Westminster style of Liberal Democratic politics, could have written an article entitled ‘In Praise of Parliament’ at a time when the Executive Presidency was well entrenched in Sri Lanka, and the tradition of the independent Parliamentarian long lost.

qrcode.30571558He had hoped to enter Parliament in 1988, when he was on the SLFP National List, but the defeat of the SLFP then had led to the sidelining of Anura Bandaranaike, who had been his great friend. He told me that, when he went to Rosmead Place on the day after the election, Sunethra had met him with the claim that the only hope for the party now was to bring Chandrika back. He had said this was nonsense, and that perhaps put paid to his chances. After her defeat, Mrs Bandaranaike too felt that the policies Anura had promoted had been a mistake, and moved back to the left.

Anura still had residual support, but he was soft-hearted to a fault, and gave up the Secretaryship of the party when he was appointed to the post on a split decision. The newspapers at the time reported that his mother had stormed out of the room, and he had followed her, and agreed to a compromise whereby Dharmasiri Senanayake became Secretary. The latter worked for Chandrika, and as we know she came back and took over. By then, though, it should be noted that Sunethra was supportive of her brother and when, forgetting the change that had taken place, I asked her what her sister was up to, she told me that she was trying to throw ‘my darling brother’ out of the party.

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qrcode.30541069Today, the electorate is at a crossroad with twice-president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, launching a new movement to form a government, at the Aug 17 parliamentary polls. A confident Rajapaksa launched his parliamentary polls campaign at Anuradhapura where he vowed to overcome the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combination. The pledge was made at the largest ever gathering in the historic city, where Rajapaksa recalled ancient kings had defeated foreign invaders. The war-winning leader alleged that the present Yahapalana government had destroyed, within six months, what his administration had achieved since the conclusion of the war in May, 2009. The former President asked what would have happened if the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration had continued for five years. Since the change of government, in January consequent to Rajapaksa’s defeat, some of those, who had switched their allegiance to the then common presidential candidate, Maithripala Sirisena deserted the new administration. Having joined Yahapalana project, late last November, Liberal Party Leader and State Minister of Higher Education, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, quit the administration in March. The UPFA included Prof. Wijesinha, in its National List submitted to the Elections Secretariat on July 13, hence making him a key element in Rajapaksa’s team.

Continued from July 22

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Rajiva Wijesinha

August 2015
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