Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, a National List MP of the ruling Party, who along with a group of government parliamentarians wrote to President Mahinda Rajapaksa warning about possible economic sanctions, said in an interview with Ceylon Today, extremists within the government ranks are ‘determined to destroy country’s credibility.’
He also said the External Affairs Ministry has been forced into the ‘mute submission of the extremist agenda.’
Q: You were one of the six government parliamentarians, including four ministers, who sent a letter to the President regarding the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution. What was that letter about?
A: That letter was intended to draw attention to the dangerous situation the country was in, which we felt had not been conveyed accurately to the President.
Q: What did you urge the President to do? What did you warn him about?
A: We urged him to address international concerns strategically and have informed discussions to develop a counter-strategy to address what would be raised in Geneva this month. We need to convey systematically the work done by the government since March 2009 towards uniting this country, using competent communicators able also to deal with questions.
We need to recover the lost friendship with our neighbour India, not least because it is difficult to obtain the wholehearted support of Asia, the Non-Aligned Movement and the larger Third World, without having its support. We need to strengthen the relationship with Japan and China since we cannot ignore some recent statements made by them, which suggested the importance of moving swiftly through our own mechanisms on fulfilling our commitments in the area of human rights. We also need to work with African and Latin American States.
Most importantly, we suggested that we need to ensure credibility by fast forwarding implementation of the LLRC recommendations, and having a dedicated agency for this purpose, which acts transparently and responds promptly to concerns and queries.
We warned him about any international investigation and possible economic difficulties after sanctions and boycotts that could be imposed unilaterally. Above all, we warned against increasing hardening of stances that will prevent swift resolution of political problems within Sri Lanka and increasing international intervention in this regard.
Q: Why didn’t you invite the Opposition Members in Parliament to sign the letter as well, which would have made it a bipartition approach?
A: It was thought that concerns should be conveyed swiftly to the President, so those who initiated the letter simply got signatures that were available immediately. This was meant to make clear the concerns of those in the government, the vast majority of those who are aware of the situation I believe, since the basic moderate internationalist approach of the SLFP, which had excellent relations with India and the rest of the Third World, has been eroded by the crude nationalism of the 1980s UNP when Cyril Mathew called the shots.
Q: The President has said he had notreceived the letter. How did that happen?
A: I was not here when the question of a letter was raised, but from the news reports I think the query confused this letter with matters that were raised by other ministers at a meeting organized by Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara. I don’t think those ministers and MPs sent a letter, though a report was given to the President, at his request I believe, on the matters raised. I was not present but I believe a number of SLFP members of the Parliamentary Group raised their concerns forcefully.
Q: The President, in fact, appears to be angry that some of his parliamentarians had the temerity to write a letter critical of his government’s foreign policy. Have you got a feel of the President’s reaction?
A: I gathered from those who delivered the original letter that the President had been most appreciative of them raising their concerns, even though he did not at the time seem to take the concerns seriously. Subsequently, I was told by a very sympathetic ambassador that he had been extremely worried about what was happening in Geneva, and had encouraged other initiatives to limit the damage.
Q: Some of the government’s ministers of nationalist disposition have been critical of the letter. It seems their conduct is endorsed by the President and his coterie. Do you feel that you are at the receiving end?
A: I think those extremists within government, who seem determined to destroy our credibility and the reputation of our armed forces, by insisting on a state of denial even of the obligations the President freely undertook, will be critical of anything that is rational and measured. Unfortunately, though they have managed to terrify the Minister of External Affairs into mute submission to their agenda, the President is more sensible and knows he has to keep all options open instead of alienating our friends.
Q: Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Minister of National Languages and Social Integration, has lamented that the President had ignored the letter. Isn’t it obvious that the government and the President are not prepared to amend their ways?
A: I am not aware that Vasudeva has said the President ignored the letter. What he said was at the time the President seemed to think all was under control. But, the President has been falsely reassured in the past, for instance in early 2013, when some in the Ministry of External Affairs were claiming that the United States was satisfied with what had been done and would not introduce another resolution. This time I fear that the extremists are trying to convince him that an adverse resolution would be a good thing, since then he can win local elections with a thumping majority but, as I pointed out at the last government group meeting, we should not sacrifice the future of the country for supposed electoral gains.
Q: It seems the room for civilized debate within the government is shrinking, making it a mirror image of the country at large. The President’s reaction to your letter is proof. Do you agree?
A: On the contrary, if what I heard about the meeting organized by Minister Vasudeva is correct, and it was with the full blessings of the President, who had been very happy for Dayan Jayatilleka to speak there, the room for debate has increased. The problem is that the majority in the SLFP is generally silent, not least because there are elements in the Ministry of External Affairs determined to denigrate them and cry traitor when they reassert traditional SLFP values. But, the President has been in the mainstream of SLFP politics, and is not a renegade from either the UNP or the JVP. He has never left either his Party or his country.
Indeed, it seems the President has suggested more consultation, because at the last group meeting it was decided to have a meeting to discuss the situation when the minister is back. Sadly, the Consultative Committee has only talked about Geneva when Ravi Karunanayake raised the issue at the meeting he attended in February 2013. The minister has never reported on the resolutions passed in Geneva to the Committee.
I can understand why the minister would not want me on the Committee, but I am sorry that my colleagues in Parliament do not use the Committee for the purpose for which it is intended. The only government members who have attended, apart from the two deputy ministers who functioned there in turn, and once Sajin de Vass Gunawardena (before he was virtually put in charge of the place, though never after that), were Ministers Fowzie and Hakeem and Amunugama, and Dr. Fernandopulle. Characteristically, there was no meeting at all of the Consultative Committee in 2011, when the Darusman Report came out, and the President recalled our then envoy in Geneva, only to elevate her to even greater heights back home, to pursue the same disastrous strategies.
The Chief Government Whip did try to promote discussion through groups of parliamentarians who would study different areas, but the minister put a stop to that too by insisting that he be present, and then failing to make himself available. But I suppose all this is of a piece with the complete devaluation of Parliament that has taken place in the last few decades. I have tried to correct this through amendments to the Standing Orders but, since the Parliament Administration disobeys Standing Orders, the motion has not yet come before the House. The Chief Government Whip, who is extremely conscientious, assures me that the Speaker will call a meeting of the Standing Orders Committee, but this has not been done now for over three and half years. But even the opposition has not raised this matter, so you can see why, day by day, Parliament is becoming merely a rubber stamp.