You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2021.

This post looks at further meetings in the North where the navy also helped me in some sighseeing. I was also happy to find that Mrs Navaratnam’s house was being given back to her.

I went on too to the East, to check on the grossly neglected Sinhala villages in the North of the Province as well as Mutur. On the way back I spent the night at Aluwihare and then, to end this post on a personal note, I went to Yala for Ena’s  90th birthday. The first picture is of that occasion, the rest from 2012 northern visits at the period.

Northern Island meetings  and a visit to Nagadipa

On the 16th of October, after seeing Jeremy and attending a discussion at the BMICH on Peace and Health, I went up to Vavuniya, and set off next morning for a meeting at Kopay, dropping in en route at the Chavakachcheri Police Station to check that all was going well with clearing Mrs Navaratnam’s house.

In the afternoon my meeting was at Velanai, the island beyond Kayts. It was from there that one took a boar to Nagadipa, the historic Buddhist temple on a small island, and the navy obligingly took me there in the evening. We were able to see the temple and the kovil and the old site, before getting back, to Palaly where the army put me up at the White House there. Two officers came before dinner to brief me on the land the army held and what they planned to return, which seemed reasonable though I did point out a few bulges which they granted were not essential for defence purposes.

Next day I had a meeting at Pallai in the Kilinochchi District in the morning, and went on to Pooneryn on the other side of the A9 for the afternoon meeting before getting back to the Thampa. And the next day I went on to Morawewa, a Sinhala Division in the north of Trincomalee District which I had first visited soon after the war, happy to note that the Sinhalese who had arrived there were in fact from the area, having had to flee the LTTE many years earlier. The situation was the same now, though I was sad that they were less well off than others who had returned with regard to education as well as basic services.

In the afternoon I had a meeting at Mutur, and then got to Aluvihare to spend the night at my aunt Ena’s. And after I went to Colombo the next day, Saturday the 20th, and on to my cottage, I left early on the 22nd for Yala, to celebrate her 90th birthday. A few of those who had had such great times with her in Yala in the eighties were there, and we had a great time, though it was sad that she did not insist on going on morning and evening drives in the park and more as she had done in the old days. We saw lots of elephants and also a leopard, and the birthday cake Madanayake had brought was in the shape of an elephant. 

I note here my efforts to introduce structural changes in local government to promote better consultation of the people, an initiative I took up after the Minister, Mr Athaullah, asked for my assistance with drafting of a new act.

I note also the work of Jeremy Liyanage, from Australia, who had decided at my suggestion a couple of years earlier to use the aid he was able to arrange from Australia in just one area, Mannar, which I said was in danger of being neglected. He was doing great work there.

And I also note some sightseeing I was able to do, the Doric House which the first British Governor, Frederick North, had built at Arippu near to the pearl fisheries which were a great source of wealth then for government.

I start with pictures of the Doric House though taken at a later date, before adding the sensible Muslim Minister Mr Athaullah and the idealistic Jeremy Liyanage.

Efforts at structural change

My primary school building was opened on the 1st of Ocober and then on the 2nd I met Mr Athaullah, the relatively positive Minister of Local Government regarding reforms for he had asked me to advise regarding amendments to the act. The following day, after a meeting with Yves Giovannoni of the ICRC I went up to Vavuniya for meetings the next day at Thunukkai in Mullaitivu and then in Kandaveli in Killinochchi. After that night too at the Thampa I went to Mannar for breakfast with Maithri Dias and the new Vavuniya Commander Boniface Fernando, to whom Maithri reported, before seeing Sarath Ravindra and the Mannar Town Division meeting.

From there I went to Musali, but on the way visited Arippu fort and the house the first British Governor of Ceylon, Frederick North, had built for himself. It was designed as a Doric building and its beautiful lines are still apparent though it is in ruins. In Musali it seemed to me that a reasonable compromise had been reached about the land the navy wanted and access to the sea for fishermen, and in general resettlement seemed to have gone well – though the Muslim population were as critical as the Tamils had been about Rishard Bathiudeen, whose grants of land they claimed had not been for the most needy.

Amongst meetings that month before my next visit North was one with the Army Education Corps, but the officer who saw me, though very nice, Brigadier Nugera, did not seem energetic and indeed nothing came of that effort. I also saw Jeremy Liyanage, a youngster from Australia who had come to Sri Lanka after the war ended, keen to help. I had told him it was best to pick one small area and devote any resources to that, and I had suggested Mannar because I knew it would be comparatively neglected – the Wanni which had obviously suffered in the war would command support but there would also be lots to Jaffna because of the clout its people and politicians, and its diaspora, commanded.

Jeremy had developed excellent contacts in the area and worked very well with the officials, in particular Mrs de Mel. He would drop in on me at intervals to report, and to ask for support if needed, and usually this was easy to provide since I was able usually to overcome the suspicions of officials about a foreign national.

I move towards the end of 2012 in this account of reconciliation work, and refer to the work I was doing with the UN and the building I put up with my decentralized budget in the Ratnapura District which was opened by the local head of UNICEF, the very sympathetic Reze Hosseini.

And I note the beginning of what was to prove disastrous for the government, its impeachment of the Chief Justice, following a judgment she gave which upset Basil Rajapaksa. But initially the President seemed sensible, anxious to ensure procedural reforms – which indeed I had been pushing for – and I did not then register the extremes to which government would go. Meanwhile the net was beginning to close on us in other ways, following the resolution in Geneva the previous March when India no longer shielded us from the assaults of the West, led now by the United States.

I have pictures here of people who were particularly helpful, the UNICEF Head Reza Hossaini and the UN Resident Coordinator. But I begin with two pictures of the abaci I put up in Lakmahal at this time, and end with the most concrete of my achievements as a member of Parliament, a building for the junior school at Karandana.

Intimations of Disaster

I was back only on the 16th of September from my visit to Pakistan, after a break in Thailand on the way back too, and then had too much to do for the rest of the month to travel to the North or East. Some of this was personal, setting up Ena’s abaci at Lakmahal and settling into the house I had done up at the Getamanna estate. But I continued my work with the UN, not only with OCHA regarding aid projects but also to develop better systems of local government and accountability.

Doug Keh had left but I worked more closely now with the UNDP head Subinay Nandy. And there were also international media interviews, with the BBC and Al Jazeera, for the resolution of March that year was beginning to take effect. Sadly there was still no recognition at senior levels of government that we needed to move swiftly with positive measures for reconciliation as well as firm rebuttals of the charges against us which now seemed to have international recognition.

Instead, there began this month the process that led to the foolish impeachment of the Chief Justice, though at the meeting the President summoned, on September 27th he seemed of the view that what was needed was not punitive action but streamlining of processes and ensuring that the Judicial Service Commission responded to national needs and did not act as a law unto itself.

In October I had the opening of the new building I had put up with my decentralized budget at the Karandana Junior School a few kilometres from my cottage. As noted, I used half my budget in the north and half in the south, in the Ratnapura District. The head of UNICEF for Sri Lanka, the Iranian Reza Hossaini, came for the opening and had breakfast beforehand along with my father at the cottage. And I was delighted that the Principal had arranged a programme beforehand that included dances representative of both the Sinhalese and Tamil communities in the area.

I note here a meeting with the very committed Justice Thilakawardhana who had done much when Milinda Moragoda as Minister requested reports on required legal reforms. Unfortunately, with a new Minister, the callous Rauff Hakeem, nothing more happened. And more importantly my efforts to get the Secretary of Defence to take on more training seemed as if they might bear fruit.

The pictures are of the Peshawar army school which I wanted Gota to emulate, and then of Milinda Peiris then and now Vice Chancellor of the Kotelawala Defence University. Then there is the other Milinda who was a thoughtful Minister of Justice and initiated reforms which the energetic Justice Shirani Thilakawardana took forward. But with the lethargic Rauff Hakeem taking over, the initiative collapsed.

Pushing the Secretary of Defence

Next day I met Shirani Thilakawardhana who Jeevan had told me was much more concerned than the Chief Justice about Human Rights and indeed I found her admirable. I found out more from her about the excellent work Milinda Moragoda had done as Minister of Justice, with a range of reports on reforms needed in different sectors, but all his work had been ignored after he lost the 2010 election and the impossibly lazy Rauff Hakeem became Minister of Justice,

I had two meetings in the next ten days with Yves of the ICRC and another for a delegation at the Ministry, two meetings with Lakshman Hulugalle, a meeting at the Japanese ambassador’s with special envoy Akashi, another seminar at the Kotelawala Defence University and one organized by the Observer Research Foundation, the Indian thinktank to which the Indian journalist Sathiyamorthy belonged. And then on the 26th I went up to Vavuniya for another round of Divisional meetings.

The meeting at Nedunkerny however was not successful for it had been arranged at short notice and there was hardly anyone present but I waited until there were enough in attendance to make it worthwhile. Then I saw Mr Vedanayagam in his office in Mullaitivu before the Maritimepattu meeting. Back to Vavuniya for the night, I had a meeting at the Vavuniya South Division next morning and then dropped in at the Murunkan Police Station where the Inspector, Herath, confirmed that they had checked the encroachments of the unsavoury monk. I had lunch then at 642 Brigade with Brigadier Codipilly and went on to Nanattan for my last meeting that month before going on to Colombo.

I had been trying to persuade the Secretary of Defence to take on a role with regard to training and, after first telling me that he did not want to incur more criticism, he told me I should proceed. I told him that I could do nothing without his officials, and so he initiated discussions with the KDU, where I found the Commandant keen to proceed. Unfortunately that University had civilian personnel in charge of areas such as services where I thought the forces could do much for ancillary services, and they were still stuck in a traditional mindset that could not conceive of a graded approach to vocational work that would allow for diplomas leading to degrees.

In September I had an opportunity to see more of what the forces could do in education for I had been invited to a seminar in Pakistan. That was on economic development but I asked our High Commissioner there to arrange for a visit to the army schools unit where I learnt a lot about different interventions, for ordinary schools and cadet schools and also vocational training. I did a paper on those for the Secretary when I got back, but by then the government was running out of steam and nothing innovative could be taken forward.

I continue here with my hopes for streamlining aid activity with the support of the UN which was tracking this but found the Sri Lankan side incapable of using the information they supplied, so as to target aid better. And I record the resumption of Reconciliation meetings at Divisional Secretariats, with several in the East in the month of August.

But I also note the efforts of the then South African High Commissioner to promote reconciliation, which he had to do direct with the President since he found the Foreign Minister, G L Peiris, quite unsympathetic.

The pictures are of the High Commissioner Geoff Doidge and of Roelf Meier. But then I thought more pictures of incompetent Sri Lankans would be less interesting that a couple of sea scenes such as I enjoyed on these trips, notably from the terrace of the Welcome Hotel in Trincomalee.

Support from the UN and South Africa

In June I had met officials at the local UN office for humanitarian assistance and found they were disappointed that the data they were providing was not being made use of by government. Lakshman had asked me to deal with them, and I suggested how their data could be streamlined to highlight what was being done in each division, which would be a useful tool for government to then direct aid agencies to those that were relatively neglected. In July then I met both Diva and Lakshman to suggest guidelines for better coordination, which they both welcomed. Lakshman even wanted to give me an office in the building he occupied, which was an attractive proposition for it was the building in which the British Council had operated when I was a child and I had spent many happy hours there. But I told him we would see how things went before I took on more responsibilities.

Other meetings continued, for education, with regard to women and children, and with the papal nuncio about the reconciliation policy, before I left on July 25th for a week in Thailand. Then, at the beginning of August there was a dinner by the Japanese ambassador to consult media groups about the reconciliation policy, the Defence Seminar where the Ministry tried to make clear its achievements, and a meeting with a South African delegation including the highly competent Roelf Meier which their indefatigable ambassador Geoff Doidge had brought along to help us with reconciliation. He had found G L Peiris useless and dealt direct with the President, who seemed to rely on me for he wanted me to go on the delegation to South Africa though he had specified that it should be principally SLFP members.

Then, on the 13th of August the Divisional meetings began with one in Pottuvil in the morning and another in Kalmunai in the afternoon. I stayed at the Bridge Hotel in Batticaloa and saw Mrs Charles in the morning before meetings at Eravur and Valaichenai the next day, proceeding to the Welcome Hotel at Trincomalee for the night, on the seaside route via Kinniya.

I had dinner with the Governor that night but missed the GA next morning, before my meeting in Kinniya. I was delighted to see there Mr Cassim who had taught for me on the pe-University GELT progamme many years ago, and then joined the Liberal Party and become a Vice-President. My afternoon meeting was at Suriyawewa from where I drove all the way back to Colombo.

In addition to noting travel in August 2012, this account looks at efforts to promote judicial reform. Because of the indefatigable efforts of Jeevan Thiagaraja, of the Institute or Human Rights, which worked through practical support rather than critical advocacy, the Human Rights Commission visited the prisons. Unfortunately there was no sensible follow up.

There were some positive developments with Japanese aid, and I also had hopes at this stage of contributing more to coherent use of aid because Lakshman Hulugalle, who had been put in charge of the NGO Secretariat but knew nothing of the subject, asked if I could help him.

The pictures are of the Kinniya bridge and of lovely scenes from visits to the East, plus Justice Priyantha Perera who then chaired the HRC, and Jeevan.

Further dimensions of reconciliation

There were no more Divisional Reconciliaion meetings before I went abroad in the last week of July. But efforts in Colombo continued, including a visit to the Prisons with the Human Rights Commission which brought home to us how appallingly overcrowded they were. We had proposed a remedy in the Action Plan, but I had not been able to get the Chief Justice to issue guidelines to reduce custodial sentencing and unnecessary remanding. And the Chairman of the HRC, Priyantha Perera, instead of addressing such problems that could be resolved, concerned himself afterwards with those sentenced to death since he felt they should not be detained indefinitely.

I was horrified to find someone who had been junior to me at school amongst the long term prisoners, having been convicted of child abuse with regard to his daughter on questionable evidence, the girl indeed having admitted to having been coached by her mother who was getting a divorce. The man had been pardoned but then the pardon had been withdrawn, the President it seems panicking about that he might have been criticized. I took up the matter but nothing was done and I feel that perhaps I should have done more. Jeevan Thiagarajah, whose indignation at injustice was unrelenting kept trying but could not get any traction.

One area in which I did achieve much was with Japanese aid, for their dedicated Deputy Ambassador Mr Ishizuka was constantly looking to where he could make a difference, and I put him in touch with Arjuna Hulugalle of the Gandhi Centre who was doing admirable work in strengthening the capacity of local communities. The Japanese helped his projects which developed livelihood in several villages in Mannar and Vavuniya.

I was also at this stage asked to help him by Lakshman Hulugalle who had been put in charge of the NGO Secretariat but confessed he had no idea what to do. I was reminded then of the lack of coordination with regard to NGO support at the Northern Task Force which was run by Mr Divaratne. He had done nothing with the reports I had prepared for him on how, while some projects were excellent, others just squandered money. Though he was very competent he had no support at the Task Force worth speaking of, and Lakshman had a similar problem since none of his staff could read the NGO reports which were written in English.

I go on today to the southern districts of the Eastern Province which I visited on the same trip described in the last post. Sadly I found that Mrs Charles had been transferred suddenly, I think to get her out of the way. That had been proposed earlier but I had argued against it and the President had listened, but now the forces ranged against her prevailed.

The pictures are from 2012 but from which particular trip I cannot be sure. The scenery was one reason I travelled so intensively.

Batticaloa and Amparai

I spent the night in the army guesthouse by the lagoon and had meetings next day at Madhu and then at Chettikulam, dropping in at the police station on the way and finding them too disillusioned with the monk at the Murunkan temple, having previously according to the army taken his side.

From there I went all the way to Batticaloa, changing the one policeman I now took as security at Medawachchiya for this was a long stint for them away from home. In Batticaloa I stayed at the Bridge View Hotel to which Nirmali had introduced me two years earlier when she was engaged in an English teaching project soon after the war.

It had no view of the bridge unless one leaned far out of a window, but it was a lovely place with a very amiable proprietor who had moved to England but now come back to try to make this a going concern. He had the most helpful if not very competent waiters, and the kitchens produced devilled cuttlefish which I loved. And outside my room there was a long balcony to which the police would in the early days send men to stay all night for my protection though I did not think this essential.

The next day I found Mrs Charles at the kachcheri, disappointed that she had not been given a short extension so her son could finish his Ordinary Level Examination. But she had decided to make the best of it, and in fact did excellent work there, including something only she might have thought of, a survey of all government buildings in the District that were not being used. She understood very well that politicians, local and national, wanted to spend much money on constructing new buildings whereas many of these could have been rendered serviceable at a modicum of the cost.

I had a District meeting that morning, attended by Bishop Swamipillai whom I knew and also the new Bishop, Ponniah, for the Diocese was to be divided up with Trincomalee becoming a separate see. After lunch by the lake I had a meeting at the Town Division, and then spoke to the police about reinforcing their Women and Children’s desk. And I then, having not been in the East for ages, treated myself to a drive, impressed at the strides in infrastructural development in the last couple of years.

The next day I went to the Mahaoya Division in Amparai District for a meeting in the morning, and then met the GA in Amparai. This was Neal de Alwis who had replaced the long serving Mr Kannangara who had achieved much during the war. But Neal too was very able, and as harsh as Ranjan about the crooked politicians in the District.

In the afternoon I had a Reconciliation meeting at Aladivembu Division, a place I had never heard of before, and then went that night down to my estate at Getamanna via Pottuvil.

This account of reconciliation work notes a visit to Fr James Pathinathan, who I gathered today passed away in 2019. The Tamil Guardian claims he suffered injury in 2009 because of army bombing whereas it was the LTTE that tried to kill him because he was trying to protect youngsters who had sought protection in his church from forcible conscription. After I met him and heard his story I dedicated one of my books to him for, while deeply critical of government excesses, he tried to maintain a balance and paid the price.

But having been evacuated to safety and care in a government hospital – though the youngsters he was trying to protect were taken away – he served again in the little orphanage I was privileged to see.

Also in this post I have pictures of perhaps the most beautiful journey I took in the North, as the sun was setting on the road from Trincomalee to Horowupatana and Kebetigollawa.

The East and a visit to Fr. James Pathinathan

I understood after I saw Minister Punchinilame in action why the people so much appreciated my visits, for I listened to them whereas he just held forth about what he had planned, to a massive audience so that when he asked for comments they were trivial and went largely unheard. Discussion with those who were affected by the plans was not on his agenda at all.

I was thankful then that I could leave early for a meeting at the Trinco Town Division, before heading off to Vavuniya.. I went via Horowupatana and Kebetigollawa, a road I had wanted to take years back when I was engaged in educational work in the area. But that was when the war was raging and I was advised against it even though in theory the area was under the control of our forces.

The next morning I met Fr James Pathinathan at the orphanage he ran in Mankulam. He had stood up for his people against the forces, but even more against the LTTE during its last stand at Mullaivakkal, and they had tried to kill him for his pains. He told me he had no doubt at all that the shell that had fallen on his house at the Valayanmadam church complex. He had to be then evacuated to a hospital in the south, which meant the LTTE had forcibly taken away those who had sought refuge in the church whom he had refused to let them conscript.

He was a lovely man, doing enormous good in his orphanage, and it was good to see the many children he cared for. I then went to the Mankulam main school and the education office to check on the services being provided, before going to Manthai East for a reconciliation meeting. Having checked in at the police station I went on to Manthai West in Mannar District, but for the first time found limited attendance and the Divisional Secretary missing. It turned out that the notices sent out had specified the morning, but I had previously been impressed by the efficiency of the DS so did not take this amiss.

I begin here with some comments on the problem government created for itself by putting Basil Rajapaksa in charge of everything in the North, though I also note that he was at least better than Ranil Wickremesinghe, also a control freak, in that he could at least get some things done.

But then I move onto work in July, after a trip to England in the latter part of June, and my first Reconciliation visit to the East.

The pictures are of two excellent administrators from the military and then two self-concerned politicians, and finally the French ambassador during the war who was very positive about us. The capacity of Ranjith de Silva and Mohan Wijewickrema is why I am less worried than most about what is described as militarization, but I hope the President does not get carried away and makes very clear the need for accountability in a civilian context.

Starting in the East

The desire to control everything was a trait Basil Rajapaksa shared with Ranil Wickremesinghe, but neither was capable of coherent planning, and assumed that expanding the activities under their own purview would take the country forward.

It did not take me long to realize that Basil was incapable of conceptualization. But, to give him his due, he achieved much in many areas and it was only after he was replaced by Ranil Wickremesinghe that I appreciated his good qualities, none of which Ranil possessed, getting increasingly incompetent with age even as he tried to control more and more himself.

In the latter part of June I went to England and only got back home on July 3rd. Interestingly the French Deputy ambassador came to see me at home that day to say how he felt the French government had got the situation in Sri Lanka all wrong, and that the Minister had indeed admitted as much to the ambassador Michel Lummaux who had been much more positive about us.

What was very sad was that our Foreign Ministry could not consolidate our position, and indeed the next day I had further evidence of how hopeless G L Peiris. After the Darusman report the government parliamentary group had decided to set up committees to work in various areas of the world. But Basil Rajapaksa having suggested I draw up position papers, I was not allocated to any of the areas I wanted to work in. Instead I was allocated Russia and Eastern Europe, but G L did not allow even that committee to function, claiming he needed to be present and then not making himself available.

That Sunday I went up to Trincomalee to start meetings in the East, staying that night in the Welcome Hotel with its lovely view over the harbour. The GA was General Ranjith Silva, who had done a great job in getting the administration going when it was suffering from LTTE threats before government reasserted its writ in the East. He was a very honest man and though he was accused of prejudice against Tamils his strongest dislikes were of government politicians he thought crooked.

I went first next morning to the office of the Governor, Admiral Mohan Wijewickrema, another efficient worker, to meet his officials, and then to the kachcheri for an introduction to the proposed reconciliation workshop. After lunch with Ranjith I went to the Urban Council where the Minister in charge of the District, Mr Punchinilame, had called a meeting to discuss development activities.

I noted in the last post how I had begun to write not just about particular problems but also with suggestions as to general measures that could be taken. It was sad that some ministries simply did not respond, though as I note below Health was an exception. That predisposed me towards Maithripala Sirisena when he stood for President, but he proved so incompetent that I realized it must have been the professionals who held high positions in the Ministry who worked to a system. But the other subject with which I was concerned, Education, was a disaster, at secondary and tertiary levels. And unfortunately, with the Ministry of Planning abolished, there was no coherence about what was done.

The pictures are of the Ministers who failed to innovate, and of the then Minister of Health who seemed an exception. When he became President however he proved quite incapable, perhaps proving that exceptions to the rule that developed in the eighties, of Ministers being ignorant about their portfolios, had hardly any exceptions.

Trying to promote health and education

Health was very different from Transport in that, while there too much had been done so that basic health services were generally good, the Ministry seemed to be doing more all the time. Vacancies were constantly brought to my notice but the Ministry filled these up and though some doctors were unwilling to stay in difficult areas, many did their best and were much appreciated. And by now personnel for primary health care were available almost wherever there was need.

Though schools functioned, albeit with shortages of teachers in many subjects, the case was very different with regard to vocational training, which was even more essential given the many youngsters who had been deprived of schooling when the Tigers held sway and forcibly recruited them as cannon fodder.

Sadly the Minister in charge of the subject, the amiable Dullas Allahapperuma, was incapable of action though he was charming when we discussed the subject. Initially I had been pleased he had been given the portfolio of Youth Affairs because I thought him very able, and perhaps he was, but he had a hopeless secretary and was quite unable to develop any initiatives.

After the meetings in May I had written that ‘The fact that in some areas for instance there is hardly any Vocational Training, and that there has been no systematic effort to build up skills as well as organizational capacity for the construction that is planned on a large scale, is symptomatic of the lack of planning.’. When Dullas got a new Secretary and instructed him to consult me, I found that the various agencies under him in Colombo had no idea what was going on, and were startled when I pointed out that their centres had very few students and were not conducting short courses in areas where there were jobs going, obviously construction but also mechanical engineering.

Unfortunately the Government was not seriously concerned with planning. The Secretary to the Ministry of Policy and Plan Implementation and I had, before the 2010 elections, done a paper about how to enhance its role. We had given this to Lalith Weeratunge but when the new Cabinet was sworn in in May, that Ministry had been abolished. Instead Basil Rajapaksa, as Minister of Economic Development, was supposed to be in charge of Planning.

Rajiva Wijesinha

Archives

%d bloggers like this: