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The following responses were given by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, as former Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, to Lakbima News with regard to lessons from the recent disasters in Japan

* In the aftermath of the massive quake and tsunami that struck Japan early this month, what sort of an effect will it have on Sri Lanka, from a disaster management perspective?

I think this simply underlines what we learnt from the 2004 tsunami, that we must develop appropriate systems to prevent and mitigate disasters, as well as streamlining relief operations when unavoidable disasters take place. I should note that we have already done a lot of work in this regard. When I became Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, I found good systems in place, and constantly improving themselves, in particular through

a)      the Department of Meteorology, to ensure early warning systems, making use of developing technologies – with regard most obviously with regard to wind and rain problems, but also others

b)      the National Building Research Organization, which had become the focal point with regard to landslides – which are the most frequent cause of sudden disaster, but where better early warning systems can be developed

c)      most importantly the Disaster Management Centre with its regional networks, to ensure what is called last mile dissemination of warnings, and well as mitigation and relief measures

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The following interview was conducted by Nik Gowing on the BBC Hub Programme, on 24th November 2010. This was well before the revelation on Wikileaks that Mr Miliband had made it clear to American diplomats that electoral considerations governed his approach to Sri Lanka.

 

RW: Your assessment of a savage indictment suggests that you haven’t actually looked at the real figures. There were several journalists murdered in the 90s as you said very clearly. In fact it (a list) was published last week, and then a great many were killed in the first half of this decade, for reasons which I won’t go into but which I have explained in other writings, I don’t know why you don’t actually look at those occasionally. But the simple fact is that the press is really very free and very critical of the government. The Tissainayagam case that you refer to is actually particularly interesting. I mean my Minister – I am no longer Secretary – but my Minister actually visited him the day he was arrested, made sure that his wife could see him, and as you know he was pardoned, and I myself wrote at the time that we really needed to sympathise with someone who was the victim of a lot of pressures. But the simple fact is that, as the Indian journalist Subramaniam Swamy put it, and I quote, ‘A lot of what he wrote was simple LTTE – pure LTTE propaganda.’ Now the really sad thing is a lot of this stuff was funded by the British government and (Nik keeps interrupting) look Nik, I think you really should try to investigate what the British government was doing on this

 

NG:    Let me come back at you because you said that he was pardoned, but the fact is a journalist like Tissa was jailed for 20 years (this was perhaps unwitting carelessness, he may have meant to say 20 months), he was pardoned the following year. He then – therefore – spent a year inside for being accused (again carelessness, or sleight of hand, he was actually found guilty, and given the minimum sentences for each charge, his lawyers failing to ask that the sentences be concurrent) of writing things which were politically motivated. Journalism is about freedom of expression.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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