It was towards the end of 2012 that I began to feel that my shelf life was in a sense over. After 20 years of working for one or other government organization, there was no more that I would be able to do in terms of public service. It seemed then that the Mahinda Rajapaksa government would go on for the foreseeable future, but after what I felt was effective service, ever since he had unexpectedly asked me to head the Peace Secretariat, in 2007, it was clear that I was no longer wanted.
I should perhaps have sensed this in 2010 when I was not made a Minister. But I had after all been put into Parliament, which I thought then meant something. Though he had not kept the Peace Secretariat going, to work in Reconciliation as I had suggested, I thought that was the result of different persons with greater influence in government having other ideas. But then he had appointed me as his Adviser in Reconciliation and, after the emerging threat became clear, with the publication of the Darusman Report, he had put me on the team to negotiate with the TNA.
He had also asked his Secretary to put me on the Committee to implement the interim recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee. But Lalith Weeratunge had been persuaded by Mohan Pieris not to make the appointment. But Lalith did fall in with my suggestion that I monitor the work of that Committee, and this was duly put into my terms of Reference as Adviser on Reconciliation (which finally arrived in the middle of 2011, Lalith having managed to twice lose the terms of reference I had previously drafted, when the appointment was made earlier in the year).
All that should have made me realize the stage was darkening, but Mohan Pieris, with consummate hypocrisy, did feed me crumbs from his table, to indicate that he was making some progress with regard to what he saw as the important recommendations of the LLRC. The number of those in detention, which had come down from over 4000 to 2000 during the period when, as Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, I chaired the relevant committee, had been reduced to quarter that figure eighteen months later.
And the President still seemed to want my services, for in September 2011 he asked me to go to Geneva. This was when the Americans, through the Canadians, first sought to bring a resolution against us at the Human Rights Council. I refused, and then refused again in March, though I finally agreed when he asked me a second time on that occasion. But the chaos I found in Geneva, where our Permanent Representative, the potentially very effective Tamara Kunanayagam, had been sidelined by the enormous circus taken to the Council by those advising the President on strategy, made me realize nothing could be achieved there.
And in Colombo Sajin Vas Gunawardena had effectively shut me out from any meaningful role in the negotiations with the TNA. He not only claimed I was the TNA representative on the government side but conveniently forgot too to tell me about meetings. And he obviously had the ear of the President, for the latter called me when I had been mandated to negotiate with Sumanthiran about land issues, to tell me that I should not give away too much. This was without seeing our draft, whereas Sumanthiran told me that his peers, notably the lawyer Kanag-Ishvaran, having seen the draft, had chided him for conceding too much.
But the last straw was when the draft National Reconciliation Policy I had prepared – with the participation of Sumanthiran and Eran Wickremaratne, as well as Jeevan Thiagarajah and Javid Yusuf and Vasantha Senanayake, with the efficient Salma Yusuf to support our work – was completely ignored. The President told me he had passed it on to Lalith for comment, but Lalith said he had not got it. When a second copy I sent was also ignored, I got the message.
I did continue to work, I think helpfully to the people in the North and East, through the Reconciliation meetings I conducted at Divisional Secretariat level. This had indeed been suggested by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, whom I had approached about sending representatives of the armed forces to such meetings in Colombo and in the Districts. He suggested I should go to the grass roots and, though later he told me that the forces should not formally take part, representatives did attend meetings in several Divisions, and were generally helpful. I still recall the officer who told me in Kilinochchi that they had already decided to return the houses that had been commandeered during the conflict period – but had delayed till these could be handed over in the presence of Namal Rajapaksa. I realized then how dangerous were the ambitions of those wanting to take political advantage of any measure, since positive steps were often delayed indefinitely to suit their convenience.
The same went for what were termed Divisional Development Committees, which rarely met. These were supposed to be chaired by government politicians, usually Ministers, who would postpone them at will. Rishard Bathiudeen, to whom his then patron Basil Rajapaksa had entrusted much of the North, was particularly bad, and I found that no meetings had been held in most Divisions for months and months. Thus in many places my meetings were the only forum at which the people could raise problems, and I was assiduous in following up with letters to the decision making authorities.
I was disappointed at how few of these answered, but some – Maithripala Sirisena and the Ministry of Health being amongst the best – did and the people were pathetically grateful, at the next meeting, for these few signs of concern. And in any case the opportunity to vent grievances was useful. I was struck too at how many seemed still to have faith in the President for, while they were in despair – including Muslims who were not his supporters – about Rishard, they seemed to think that the President would be sympathetic if problems were conveyed to him. The manner in which Mahinda Rajapaksa, by handing over all authority to Basil and his acolytes, squandered this advantage was tragedy – as indeed can be seen from the fact that the UPFA did reasonably well in local government elections in the Wanni in I think 2011, but after that lost all favour.
So there was some work to be done, and I also set up Vocational Training Centres in five Divisions in the North, and was heartened by the enthusiasm of both staff and students. I had requested that these be in schools, since I thought this the best way of introducing the culture of practical training to school students. I found the school principals too cooperative, in a context in which there were so few opportunities for youngsters in Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi. Meanwhile Basil was only pouring cement in, building a grand centre in Mullaitivu for instance, which had very few students. Indeed, even now that Centre has only a few staff members, whereas efforts should have been made to make it a hive of activity to promote employment in the area.
These training centres followed on from the project on which I had used half of my decentralized budget in my first couple of years as a Member of Parliament. I had entrusted a company called Business Consultancy Services with conducting entrepreneurship programmes for combatants under rehabilitation, and the youngsters had responded well. But because the office of the Commissioner General had no mandate for Reintegration – which we had also proposed in the policy document drawn up when I was Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, but that was ignored – there was no proper system to track them when they went back to their homes. And my effort to set up a loan scheme for small enterprises – for which one of the Banks I approached agreed to put up matching funds – collapsed when Mohan, having agreed to draft articles of association for the Trust, told me after months of delay that Gota had thought it would not be a good idea. Knowing now the way Mohan operated, I suspect he had not put the idea to Gota at all.
Still, I was heartened by some of the work the forces did, in particular General Uday Perera in Kilinochchi, where several young ladies were enrolled into the army and seemed quite content when I went to see them following allegations of abuse. I had taken these seriously because they were put to me by Cyrene Siriwardena, whose commitment on rights issues was not to be doubted, and I arranged for her too to see what was going on, and she came back convinced of the bona fides of the army.
I did indeed put up a paper to Gotabhaya about the forces doing more about education and training, but he dismissed the idea saying he did not want to incur more blame. But I had formulated the proposal in a way that established civilian control, and he should have realized that such practical support, in partnership with educational institutions and the people of the area, was the way forward. The forces certainly could have done a great job, but sadly they were not prepared to engage in such schemes, and it was clear that the perspectives I brought to reconciliation would not be fulfilled.
Ceylon Today 5 July 2016 – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20160321CT20160630.php?id=3059