I am writing in response to criticism of me contained in Dr Saravanamuttu’s article in your newspaper this morning, arising from some reports in the Sunday Leader. His main criticism is that I took no action on the note about Sarath Fonseka I was given at the British High Commission, which he reports without adding the reasons I gave, which even the Leader was kind enough to mention.

I agree with Dr Saravanamuttu that the incident does raise moral issues, but taking action in such situations is never simple. Passing on such a note means that one takes on responsibility for the communication, and implies that one believes it should be acted upon. It was in this context that the Irudina for instance asked if I would be prepared to testify in a Court of Law once the matter was publicized, and I said that if asked to, unquestionably I would agree. I could of course only testify to what had happened, but any responsible authority would have asked my views on the contents of the note.

In such a context, it seems to me inappropriate to have taken such action on an anonymous typewritten note. In any case rumours to that effect were in circulation, and Dr Saravanamuttu would doubtless have heard them and perhaps contributed to their dissemination. It would not have been correct for a Government official to have taken such rumours further – and indeed my own belief that the British High Commission official concerned thought the note worth passing on to me suggests that, if I had passed it on myself, I would have been assumed to have been in the same position.

Apart from this facile critique, understandable perhaps in someone who has exercised only power without responsibility all his life, Dr Saravanamuttu takes a number of characteristic swipes at me. He is harsh about my memory, whereas I knew only too well that I was Secretary to the Ministry when the incident occurred, and he could have found out more details had he bothered to call me, as the Leader and Irudina did. He obviously does not appreciate honesty in the face of uncertainty, though in this regard he was perhaps misled by the Leader failing to register what I told them, that I could confirm the date of the incident when I was back in Colombo. I did so on the very evening I returned, and it was in fact January 12th 2009, which confirms the memory I had, that the incident was connected with the killing of Lasantha Wickramatunga – though again I should stress that the British did not claim they had hard evidence about this, as opposed to the anonymous note.

Typically, Dr Saravanamuttu, who evidently believes such notes should be acted on, does not criticize the British High Commission for not conveying the note to the police, or to the Foreign Ministry, which would have been the proper channels had they thought the note merited further action. But one cannot criticize one’s paymasters, especially given the enormous amounts from which he has benefited.

Finally, he engages in what can only be called triumphalism in asserting that ‘It is perhaps fortunate that the professor’s note- taking competence let him down in terms of further advancement within the regime and yet let him off from even being appointed monitor of the external affairs ministry. This singular honour has gone to Sajin Vaas Gunewardene.’ I am not sure what his strange use of two phrasal verbs implies, but there is no reason except perhaps his own predilections for him to assume that I should have been thought of with regard to an appointment to the foreign ministry. As I mentioned on Rupavahini, when I was asked before being appointed to Parliament, as to which area I thought I should work in, I mentioned that my preference would be for Reconciliation.

Contrariwise, it has been fondly assumed amongst some NGO activists that Dr Saravanamuttu had hopes of being appointed Foreign Minister if Ranil Wickremesinghe ever returned to power. With his reputation as a superb wordsmith strengthened by Rama Mani’s recommendation, a former Vice-President of the Liberal Party to boot, who better to have stepped into the footsteps of Lakshman Kadirgamar would surely have been the view of his associates and funders, if not himself as well.

But this little bout of acidity does make me wonder now about the source of a rumour which was conveyed to me early in 2010 I think (I hasten to add  that I can provide the exact date if he wishes, by consulting my diary of the time) by the then Swiss Ambassador, who said she had heard I was to be made Foreign Minister. I have no idea who suggested that to her, but I suspect it must have been someone on the NGO circuit which was close to her at the time. It could not have been a friend, for so absurd a supposition for a new entrant to Parliament could only have been calculated to attract resentment.

I wonder now, having noted Dr Saravanamuttu’s triumphant assumption that I have been let down in terms of advancement, whether he spread the rumour at the time. Many years ago my student, Nalanda Ellawala, wrote an essay for me which ended, ‘I am small and thin, but I am content with myself.’ Reading it I could see generations of large Ellawala rugger players breathing down his neck, but the boy knew what he wanted. Similarly, I can see hosts of my former colleagues in NGO work, in the days before it became fashionable and lucrative, now wondering why advancement as they understand the term has eluded me.

I am sad that they cannot understand that one can be quite content, though unfortunately not thin, doing a lot of writing. It is also useful to learn about Parliamentary procedures and committees and contribute to innovations that have already led to COPE looking at more institutions in the last year than ever before. I believe too that I can claim some credit for the Human Rights Action Plan now reaching finalization, though of course more credit goes to the Attorney General for reviving the work we had done, which lay in abeyance last year. Developing better policies with regard to accountability and responsibility, as well as promoting reconciliation in innovative ways, seems also well worth doing, and to seek positions as Dr Saravanamuttu thinks essential has always seemed to me vulgar.

Daily Mirror 21 April 2011

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