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AustraliaI am pleased to have been asked to speak at this event, because over the last few years I have grown increasingly conscious of the strength of our friendship with Australia. Perhaps the most intelligent new friend I made in the last couple of decades was one of the Australian High Commissioners to Sri Lanka. I also found enormous sympathy and support from the last two High Commissioners. The first of them, Kathy Klugman, who had been Deputy to my great friend in the nineties, was the first foreign envoy to categorically condemn the Tigers, when the rest of the Western oriented world was being mealy mouthed about them. I still recall her telling me, soon after she came here, early in 2008, that she thought the Sri Lankan government would have cause for satisfaction in the first press release she was going to issue. She was quite correct.

Her successor brought the relationship to the two countries to a new height, at a time of increasing international difficulty. Indeed she suffered for this, in the onslaught on Australia that took place earlier this year by the new government. But, as she put it in a mild but anguished defence (unlike the more forthright criticism of her Deputy), she and her government had not compromised on issues of Rights and Reconciliation. I had recognized this when, at the time of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Colombo in 2013, which Tony Abbott attended, I wrote – ‘We should also make clear our appreciation of countries such as India and Australia, which others were trying to dragoon into opposition to us, but which, without compromising on suggestions as to how we could do more to promote Reconciliation, maintained and asserted their confidence in our capacity to improve things for all our people.’

Grateful though we should be to Tony Abbott for coming to Sri Lanka in 2013, I have to admit that I have no regrets about him being toppled, inasmuch as he was replaced by someone I shared a house with nearly 40 years ago in Oxford. Malcolm Turnbull was indeed kind enough to spare a lot of time for me when I was last in Australia. At the time – having been replaced by Abbott as leader of the Liberal Party in yet another of the interminable internal coups that seem to characterize Australian politics in recent years – there seemed no chance of him getting into power. But I was delighted to find him as iconoclastic as ever. He regaled me with tales of the Spycatcher Trial in which he had taken on the British establishment in the interests of Freedom of Information, a value we should – as pledged in the President’s manifesto – be doing much more to uphold. Read the rest of this entry »

qrcode.30602779I am writing in response to the letter from Mr Kamal Nissanka which appeared in the columns of the Sunday Island on July 26th. He claims in an email sent to other party members that this was in response to an article that appeared on the 19th. In fact the Island rang me up with regard to a press release he had issued, which makes it clear that bringing this matter into the public domain was a strategy employed by Mr Nissanka for reasons that should be obvious.

His latest letter is replete with inaccuracies and half truths. It is possible that his memory is faulty, but fortunately there is email evidence to the contrary with regard to his claims.

1. Mr Nissanka said that ‘I handed over Dr Rajiva Wijesinha’s nomination application to Mr Susil Premajayanha at the Ministry of Education at Battaramulla’. However, though the party had suggested my name be put forward, Mr Nissanka had also put forward his own name. When I met the President I asked him about a candidacy for the Liberal Party, at which point he said ‘Who is this Nissanka whose name has been given? We want you on the List.’ I did not mention this to Mr Nissanka at the time, but I discussed this with him later, and he did not deny this.

2. Contrary to what Mr Nissanka is now claiming, there was no great discussion in the Party about the 18th Amendment. There was no need for pressure from the party for me not to vote for the impeachment of the Chief Justice, since my reasons for not doing so have been explained by me very clearly. I should note that, in discussion, there were a couple of lawyers from Kurunagala whom Mr Nissanka had introduced to the party, who were in favour of the impeachment.

3. He claims that ‘My political relationship with Dr Wijesinha began to sink as he resigned from the state minister post without informing the party.’ On the contrary it began to sink because I did not appoint him to a position in the Ministry. The several emails he sent in this regard make the position clear.

The first was sent on the very day I assumed duties, with another immediately after.

Kamal Nissanka <kamalliberal@yahoo.com>

Jan 13

to Ananda, me

They expect me to have some position in the Rajiva ministry. I think in political type positions priority should be given to me and Stephen. Our ultimate goal is to go to parliament through NL or district contest. Party expenses are also vital. If we have political type positions we can contribute to the party.

There should be a dividend to the great sacrifice for the party.

On 15 Jan, 2015, at 7:50 pm, Kamal Nissanka <kamalliberal@yahoo.com> wrote:

Considering all these development I suggest that when positions are offered in Rajiva ministry priority should be given to me and Ananda Stephen. I have no opposition giving to other members of the committee thereafter.

In fact Mr Palitha Lihinikumara requested me tio get the “Post of Adviser- Student Affairs”. He said somebody who has an understanding  in present day radical student politics should be in charge on that.

I suggest Ananda Stephen be given “post of coordinating Secretary”. If not we cannot face our support base. I hope all of you agree with this parameter and suggestions. Fruits should be tasted by those who planted the trees.  

I explained at the Committee meeting we had a few days later that I would be happy to make appointments to cadre positions at my disposal for those able to work full time. Mr Stephen, the Deputy Secretary General, said he was willing to work full time but none of the others was able to do this.

I also explained that the post of Student Advisor had been created by a special Cabinet Paper prepared by my predecessor. With the change of government that had lapsed. I said I was not like my predecessor and did not think it proper to create new positions. I do not think it a legitimate use of government funds to help the party.

Despite this the claim was reiterated in an email of January 25th –

Kamal Nissanka <kamalliberal@yahoo.com>

Jan 25

to me, Ananda, Shalini

I have emphasized that I should be given suitable position at least for the next six months until the next parliament comes and depending on how we face elections. I thought the “Student Area” is the best for me where I could develop new relations. If possible I think Peradeniya, Rajarata, Wayamba Jaffna, Eastern, could be one area {plus or minus Sabaragamuwa and Uva) or any different arrangement. 

It should be noted that numerous ex-party members and our recent political friends are also expecting various favors through me from you and. In some cases not jobs but maybe a letter or other help. (This is the nature of Sri Lankan politics).

My view is that those who worked for the regime at the last election should not be given any position in the ministry and that would discourage us and will create an ongoing conflict. (I am not going to interfere with existing members)

And then attacks on my leadership began after what can only be described as a bitter sign off.

Kamal Nissanka <kamalliberal@yahoo.com>

Mar 27

to Ananda, me, shalini, Roshan, ravindra.abeyw., rkottageapo, Sarath, drnewtonpeiris, dunstan53, Upali, Adikari, Dr, Romesh

Some of the active members of  Rev Sobitha group pushed me to get “Student Advisor” postfrom Rajiva. I also being a mad guy eating (sic) the dead rope suggested (to) Rajiva that I should be given “student advisor”. What was Rajiva’s response? “I am not going to act like SB in appointment(s). That is the end of LPSL secretary asking favours and position from Rajiva ministry. I don’t want to be the leader o the party at this juncture. So there is no leadership struggle but I am dead sure that Rajiva can’t lead the party. For the betterment of the party he should not be the leader, we need an alternative. I thought this would be “leadership council”

4. He is talking nonsense with regard to the attempt to dismiss me, because that happened in December, and my case was very ably handled by Mr Harsha Amerasekera with no input whatsoever from the Party.

5. Finally, with regard to the vexed question of an MoU, the party decided at its January meeting to write to the UPFA about an MoU. Mr Nissanka took some time over this but he finally did so. Towards the end of March Mr Susil Premjayanth sent an MoU and wanted it signed and sent back urgently. I signed it but before I could send it, Mr Nissanka and the Deputy Secretary General said that Mr Nissanka should sign it. I had no problems with this but did worry about the delay in him getting to Colombo to sign it. Mr Nissanka had not attended the Committee meeting in February and we did not have one in March.

However he did sign the MoU finally at the meeting held on April 11th. I gave this to Mr Premjayanth, but he has not as yet given me back a copy of the document signed also by him.

It is odd that Mr Nissanka does not mention that he signed an MoU

Ananda Stephen

Jun 30

to Kamal, me, Roshans, Shalini, Sarath, dunstan53, Upali, Newton, Romesh, Adikari, tilak, Dr, ravindra.abeyw., bakmeewatta, Anura

Dear Kamal, 

Thanks, what happened to the MOU which we signed few months back ?????? initially Rajiva was planning to signed  and subsequently you signed .I strongly feel that we should ask for a meeting within next couple of days with UPFA to discuss this issue. If they don’t give us nominations the only other option is UNP, no other, we have to act fast.

6. Subsequently both Mr Nissanka and Mr Stephen, following correspondence with HE the President, sent in applications to Mr Premjayanth for nomination to District lists. They were not called for interview, and then declared, at the meeting of our Committee on July 7th that they did not wish for nomination. However the minutes as written by Mr Nissanka noted that ‘committee did not want to sabotage if any member of the party further negotiate with President regarding nominations. Dr Rajiva volunteered to discuss with President Maithreepala Sirisena regarding a national seat nomination and a district nomination for Kurunegala’. In fact I asked for a mandate from the party for this. The district nomination was a reference to the application of one of our Pradeshiya Sabha Members who had also sent in an application, and who perhaps tactlessly I had said was potentially our best candidate since he had already proved himself.

It should be noted that he had supported the candidacy of President Rajapaksa in January, and I believe the reference to not giving positions to those ‘who worked for the regime at the last election’ in the January 25th email was to him, even though he had been unanimously co-opted to the Committee at the previous meeting.

7. I should add that I am astonished that the Secretary General, without any authorization from the Committee that met on July 7th, put forward four lists off his own bat for the election. The leader of the Colombo list told me that he had found us on a website, and that he had previously contested with Dr Wickramabahu Karunaratne – whose political stances have been light years away from those of our Founder, Dr Chanaka Amaratunga.

http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=129279

The Editor

Colombo Telegraph

Thank you for sending me notice of the article in Colombo Telegraph regarding the current difference of opinion in the Liberal Party. I had not thought of myself putting such matters in the public domain, but I assume you want an answer to the various allegations made in the statement you have carried.

I can do no better than to send you the text of the letter I sent the Commissioner of Elections, and also my response to Mr Nissanka’s letter to me informing me that he off his own bat declared I was not a member of the Party.

I attach too the letter I copied to the Commissioner in which, in January this year, Kamal affirms that I am the Leader of the Party contrary to the claim in his statement. I should note that Kamal’s resentment developed because I did not make him Student Adviser in the Ministry of Higher Education as he wanted – see the following extract from an email of January 15th =

Considering all these development I suggest that when positions are offered in Rajiva ministry priority should be given to me and Ananda Stephen. I have no opposition giving to other members of the committee thereafter

In fact Mr Palitha Lihinikumara requested me tio get the “Post of Adviser- Student Affairs”. . He said somebody who has an understanding in present day radical student politics should be in charge on that..

I had no objection to appointing anyone willing to work full time to cadre positions but I told Kamal that I could not create positions as had been done previous. He was not happy.

Letter to Commissioner of Elections

Dear Commissioner

I have had a letter from the General Secretary of the Liberal Party claiming to declare that I have ceased to be a member of the Party. There is no basis for this decision at all, and the Secretary General has no powers to make such rulings.

I have replied as in the attached. I should also note that he casts doubt on my position as Leader of the Party, on the grounds that the meeting of the Committee that took place immediately after the National Congress last December was invalid. This again is a nonsensical position, since the first Committee meeting always takes place after the Congress. The Leader has been elected on that occasion ever since we changed the constitution to have the Leader elected by the Committee.

Unfortunately the General Secretary did not produce typed minutes of that meeting at the next Committee meeting in January. He has since refused to give us copies of what I believe was a hand-written document he read out, which recorded what had occurred.

I should note that he did give me a letter in January making it clear that I was the Leader of the Party. A copy of this is enclosed. However a couple of months later he decided otherwise.

I would be grateful if, in view of his arbitrary and almost lunatic behavior, you do not take cognizance of communications from him, but instead await a formal decision from the Committee as to the status of party officials.

Yours sincerely

Letter to Secretary General of the Liberal Party

Dear Kamal

Thanks for your letter dated July 15th, which I received yesterday by Registered Post. I am bemused by the contents, and the constant shifts in your position. It is also totally unacceptable that you should interpret Section 21 of the Liberal Party Constitution as allowing you to do whatever you want. All it says is that the Secretary General ‘shall be the Chief Executive Officer of the Liberal Party. The Secretary General shall be responsible for the office and staff of the party’. I cannot understand how you interpret that to mean you can declare that I have ceased to be a member of the Liberal Party by Operation of Law.

The Minutes of the last meeting, which you yourself drafted, though deeply flawed, do not at any stage indicate that the Party wanted lists of its own to be put in for the current election. They indicate that you had followed up on the party decision for an alliance with the UPFA by writing to the President. In accordance with the reply received, three members, including yourself and the Deputy Secretary General, had sent in applications for nomination for the coming election.

You and the DSG indicated that you no longer wished to be considered but it was noted that ‘committee did not want to sabotage if any member of the party further negotiate with President regarding nominations’.

Your draft claims I volunteered (in fact I checked if I had a mandate from the committee) ‘to discuss with President Maithreepala Sirisena regarding a national list seat nomination and a district nomination for Kurunagala’.

Despite this you arbitrarily decided to put forward four lists and only informed the committee subsequent to nominations having closed. Having done this without authority from the committee, you purport to dismiss me from the party on the grounds that my National List nomination, made in accordance with our requests and the MoU that you signed, ‘causes much political hardships to the candidates of the Liberal Party’.

This is an illogical position. Under the circumstances I continue to see myself as a Member of the Liberal Party, and will act as such.

I note that the meeting of the National Committee scheduled for August 19th at the previous meeting has been suddenly cancelled by you. This has happened with regard to previous meetings this year. This time, after I was invited, you sent a note indicating that I was not welcome, and therefore did not inform me of the cancellation.

Yours sincerely

KN letter

Letter to Daily Mirror 15 Feb 15The Editor

Daily Mirror

Dear Champika

I am writing with regard to the article in your columns today about the situation in the Ministry of Higher Education. While your reporter has tried to describe the situation, there were some elements that were not quite accurate.

  1. The Cabinet Minister of Higher Education had told me he asked the Chairman of the University Grants Commission to resign because of pressure from FUTA. The Prime Minister told me – as I mentioned to your reporter – that resignations had been requested from all officials in state institutions, and I could reappoint anyone if I wished. But that was not the way the Cabinet Minister had presented his orders to the UGC, having instead invoked the authority of His Excellency the President. This morning he reiterated that he had been under pressure from FUTA
  2. I did not say I had been told the President had informed the Cabinet Minister of anything.  The Cabinet Minister told me the President had asked him to resolve the issue. He said that he would gazette Higher Education functions under me, but I pointed out that he had earlier told me he wanted me to run things since he would be busy with elections, and then had succumbed to pressures when approach by others. He then said he would request the Prime Minister to appoint me as Cabinet Minister, but it turned out that he had not spoken to the Prime Minister on Thursday evening as promised.
  3. I did not try to contact the Prime Minister at all. It was the Prime Minister who called me on Saturday evening, after his adviser, Mr Deva-Adiththiya, requested me to wait until he had resolved the situation, since he felt strongly that my services were needed in this position. The Prime Minister had been out of communication for two days, which is perhaps why the Cabinet Minister had not got through to him, but he did call me even while still out of Colombo. The Cabinet Minister told me that the Prime Minister had indeed spoken to him on Saturday, and said he would resolve the situation, but he had no idea what happened after that.

Yours sincerely,

Rajiva Wijesinha

10 Jan 2015The most important issue facing the new President is to restore confidence in the governmental process.

For this purpose it is necessary to establish systems that work according to the Rule of Law, and with full accountability to the people. In this respect it is vital that Parliamentary control of legislation and finances be restored.

This does not mean strengthening an Executive based in Parliament, but rather strengthening Parliament to be an effective check on the Executive. This means strengthening the power of ordinary members of Parliament, both government and opposition.

Measures to ensure this were the principle component of the Standing Order changes I had proposed last year, changes which the Speaker ignored in contravention of the existing Standing Orders. My main purpose was to strengthen Committees of Parliament by streamlining them and ensuring that they were not chaired by members of the Executive. In the case of the Finance Oversight Committees, the PAC and COPE, the chair was to be a member of the opposition.

But ensuring open discussion in committees is not enough. It is also necessary to give them teeth, and for this purpose we should ensure that the Executive either follows their recommendations, or else gives reasons in writing as to why this is not desirable or possible. The same would apply to the petitions committee, the directions of which are now simply flouted by the Executive.

I would take this principle further, to promote consultation as well as accountability at local levels. The Local Government Act should be amended to ensure involvement of People’s Representatives in Committees of Pradeshiya Sabhas and Local Councils. I have already suggested amendments in this regard to the Secretary of the Local Government Ministry who had consulted me about the Act. It will also be necessary to define clearly the areas of responsibility of local government bodies, and to give them powers to work effectively in these areas.

In addition, given the number of administrative decisions made at Divisional Secretariat level, there should be consultation mechanisms at Grama Niladhari level, with mandatory feedback at the decision making level. This is the Divisional Secretariat, and I am glad that Mr Sirisena’s manifesto declares the centrality of this level, and the need to ensure coordination of services. With regard to this I have been working together with several Ministry Secretaries on a UNDP Project to improve delivery of services, and I hope the next government studies the excellent report produced by Asoka Gunawardena and implements its recommendations. Certainly we must get rid of the ridiculous system introduced by Basil Rajapaksa, of handing over development funds to Members of Parliament to spend virtually at will, with no coordination and little reference to the plans of the Line Ministries.

Line Ministries should be strengthened, and this requires reducing the size of the Cabinet in accordance with clear rationales, as pledged in the opposition manifesto. We cannot have many ministries dealing with similar subjects, and we cannot have ministers doing what they want – and in particular accepting unsolicited bids for projects, which has become a feature of the way the present government runs things – without adherence to well developed plans. It is imperative that a Ministry of Policy and Plan Implementation be set up, and given teeth on the lines of the suggestions the Secretary to that Ministry and I forwarded to Mr Lalith Weeratunge at the end of 2009.

I have stressed governance issues, because these seem to me the most important in terms of safeguarding democracy and promoting equitable development. For this purpose it is also essential to pass the proposed Freedom of Information Act, and to give it teeth through ensuring public accountability at all levels of government. In addition I hope we will also introduce the Bill of Rights which was promised in the 2005 Mahinda Chintanaya, and which the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights had got drafted by the end of 2009, but which has since been ignored. Read the rest of this entry »

ht-home-logoThere were many firsts in the election of President Maithripala Sirisena in Sri Lanka: An incumbent president was defeated; parties specifically representing different races and religious groups —  the Jathika Hela Urumaya for the Sinhalese, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress along with the All Ceylon Muslim Congress — came together on a common political platform; corruption was a major issue in the pre-poll campaign; and now a specific timeframe has been set for reforms.

However, the most important responsibility of the new government will be settling the national question. While the country owes him a debt of gratitude for eliminating terrorism from the country, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa did nothing about the commitments he made in 2009 to ensure inclusive peace.

inclusive governanceAs a member of the Liberal Party, I urged Rajapaksa to implement the 13th Amendment, which created Provincial Councils in Sri Lanka, but met with no success. I understand that there could have been problems about some aspects of the amendment but those could have been resolved through discussions.

When we negotiated with the TNA, MA Sumanthiran and I found a solution to what had previously been considered the vexed question of powers over land. We met stakeholders, asked them about their apprehensions and assuaged those fears.

Unfortunately, two members of the government acted in bad faith, one even refusing to fulfil instructions the president gave us to act on what had been agreed with the TNA.

Reaching consensus on these matters is a priority and the new government should set a time table for this. Successive Sri Lankan governments failed because they allowed talks to drag on without any purpose.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2017
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