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I looked last week at Nalaka Godahewa’s account of why Mahinda Rajapaksa lost, which he attributed to the excessive influence of eight people who ‘were not listening to the voices of the grassroots anymore’. Though an intelligent analysis of some aspects of the last years of the Rajapaksa administration, the article failed to distinguish between positive influences and those who contributed heavily to the defeat.

I was happy though that Godahewa was complimentary about Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and I wished he had also noted how effectively P B Jayasundara and Nivard Cabraal had contributed to the economic wellbeing of the country, certainly in comparison with the current mess. And I felt too that there was more to be said for Lalith Weeratunge, though he failed to exercise his undoubted influence productively.

With regard to the four others Godahewa identifies, I feel he is generally right, though there again the analysis could have been less perfunctory. And I was sorry he left out two characters who I felt did more than anyone else to destroy the President, though again neither has been accused of financial misdemeanours.

One was G L Peiris, whose influence Godahewa belittles in asserting that ‘Sajin Vas Gunawardena was a huge influence in the External Affairs Ministry, though officially … Peiris was in charge’. That does not reduce Peiris’ culpability for disastrous foreign relations, and his failure for instance to go to America to meet Hillary Clinton when she invited him, to reply to Man Mohan Singh’s letter when the Indians were debating which way to vote at the Human Rights Council in March 2014, to move on matters which were agreed with the TNA when we were negotiating with them and the President told us to proceed. Read the rest of this entry »

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‘Surrounded by cronies and not listening to those who mattered’ is the explanation Nalaka Godahewa gave in an article in Ceylon Today on why Mahinda Rajapaksa lost. I found it most interesting, with added value from the fact that Godahewa was close to the former President, and indeed came to his rescue when both Indrani Sugathadasa and Tilak Karunaratne resigned as Chairs of the Securities Commission.

Since it had been made clear that both thought there was excessive political interference, I had my worries at the time about Godahewa whom I did not know at all. I have since made his acquaintance, and believe that he was a capable man who did not make money for himself. He had a more political orientation than his predecessors, which was also true of other technocrats who served Mahinda Rajapaksa. Two of these, P B Jayasundara and Nivard Cabraal, Godahewa cites as being amongst the eight influential people in the Rajapaksa administration. But I would hold that those two, like Godahewa himself, were people who did matter in terms of the contribution they made. The desperate efforts of the current government to find dirt on both Godahewa and Cabraal, and their abject failure to succeed in that nefarious effort, even while trying to protect Cabraal’s appallingly corrupt successor, make it clear that Rajapaksa did very well to have such capable people working for him.

Comparing what is now happening to the Stock Exchange with what Godahewa achieved, just like comparing the development of the economy under Rajapaksa compared to the current disastrous situation, makes it clear that economic and financial policies were not the reasons for Rajapaksa losing. In this regard I found Godahewa’s article disappointing, since it failed to distinguish between Rajapaksa ‘cronies’ who served him and the nation relatively well, and the destructive corrupt ones. Read the rest of this entry »

bring it downAs we move towards the end of the dispensation that came in with the Presidential election of 2015, I feel immensely sorry for the President. It is true that many of the problems he now faces he brought on himself, but this was because of weakness, and because he relied on those who had no interest in ensuring he succeeded.

Chief amongst these was Chandrika Kumaratunga, and I write today on the subject of how Sirisena lost the plot because last week I was told of how willfully she betrayed the interests of the SLFP. When Sirisena won in 2015 he entrusted his section of the governing coalition to her, as he told me in explaining that she had been in charge of allocating executive positions to those not in the UNP.

Naturally she looked after only those who owed allegiance to her, the youthful Mr Dissanayake and the aged Mr Goonewardena, neither of whom could serve the country or the President with distinction. She failed to fulfil the commitment in the President’s manifesto with regard to me and Mr Radhakrishnan, to have us in the Cabinet, and she viciously betrayed Vasantha Senanayake by claiming he had joined the UNP, though she knew very well that he had done nothing of the sort. Ironically he is now perhaps the closest in thinking to the President of UNP Ministers – and though only a State Minister, he has to function as virtually a Minister given Tilak Marapana’s lack of interest in the subject.

Chandrika was nasty about Vasantha when I expostulated with her about how shabbily he was treated, but I now wonder whether she was not also motivated by a desire to build up the UNP. Around that time she told a friend who was interested in politics that there was no place in the SLFP for sophisticated people like him, unlike in the days when she led the party. She said Ranil was now much better than in the days when they had been bitter rivals, and she advised him to join the UNP instead. Of course it was precisely such people that Maithripala Sirisena needed if he was to lead an SLFP capable of running a government on its own, but doubtless Chandrika feared anyone else with international standing being in the party where she was now flexing her flabby muscles. Read the rest of this entry »

UntitledI was asked last week by the European Union to an exhibition about ‘Celebrating Partnerships’, and attended, though I left early when the speeches began. I was not sure why I was asked, since the invitation was for development partners and the TVEC was not involved in the project.

But as I looked round the exhibition, I realized that, as Charles Ryder put it in Brideshead Revisited, ‘I had been there before; I knew all about it’. And it brought back fond memories of the last public service I performed successfully, before (as I put it in Endgames and Excursions, memoirs of the last five years which Godage published), ‘I began to feel that my shelf life was over’.

I have written about how I helped the UN resurrect the project in the 6th chapter of that book. Though I start by saying that it seemed clear in 2013 that ‘there was no hope of stopping Mahinda Rajapaksa rushing headlong into disaster, given that so many of those around him, while pursuing their own agendas, had lulled him into a false sense of security’, the way he responded to my appeal indicated he still genuinely cared about the country and the development programme he had embarked on.

In late 2013 I had been told about proposals prepared at District level for a UN project to be funded by the European Union. This had been agreed with the government, after Basil Rajapaksa suggested modifications including that it be extended to areas outside the North and East too. But then suddenly he clamped down and said it could not proceed. Read the rest of this entry »

CaptureWhile there is much uncertainty now about what will happen to the country, certain certainties are assured. Chief amongst them is the headlong destruction of his reputation that Ranil has precipitated in the last three years.

I do not refer only to his unashamed capers with regard to the bond scam, the continuing defence and harbouring of Mahendran and now Ravi, the snide attacks on the Auditor General and Nivard Cabraal without substantiating them, the blithe disregard for the massive loss the country suffered not once but thrice. What is also clear is his complete ignorance of economics, even though he used to masquerade as an expert in the field.

Indeed way back in 2003, when I begged him to stop the collapse of the English medium experiment that had begun in 2001, he said he could not work on that now since he had to concentrate on putting the economy right. He claimed then that no one else had the capacity to institute reforms, a position he seems to have moved on from now, with his recognition of the capabilities of the boy genius Akila Viraj.

But economics he thinks must continue as his preserve, and he has such confidence in the brilliance of his geriatric pet shop boys (plus Mahendran and Ravi) that he has not even bothered to find a permanent secretary for the Ministry he uses, in Basil style, to assert his control over everything and everybody.

Now however he has had to grant there is a crisis, which he claims is because of adverse weather. He fails to admit that, before the weather too turned on him, employment dropped between 2014 and 2016 (8.5 to 8 million), the surplus on Balance of Payments became a massive deficit (plus $1,369 million to minus $500 million), the trade deficit rose (from $8,287 million to $9,090 million), Foreign Direct investment dropped by nearly a third (from $1,635 million to $1,079 million), and our international credit ratings plummeted. We have sunk in indices with regard to the Ease of Doing Business and Global Competitiveness and Corruption Perception as well as the Rule of Law. Read the rest of this entry »

CaptureI was a bit startled to find on Saturday that those who had been arrested at Gintota a couple of weeks back, and then remanded on November 18th until the 30th, had then been remanded again. No one was allowed bail, and they have been put back in prison for a further two weeks. Sadly, I could find no reports of this in any newspaper, nor any worries by the usual run of human rights activists about what seems arbitrary detention.

Given the problems in the area two weeks back, I can understand the police engaging in a trawl and putting people in jail to prevent any possibility of a recurrence of the violence. But now that the situation has settled down, it seems unconscionable that, without charges being made, all those arrested then should continue to be incarcerated.

The usual run of activists will not I suspect worry too much, because they will doubtless think it a good thing that there should be prophylactic detention as it were when there is any risk of racist attacks. But those same activists would not allow the same leeway with regard to the risk of terrorist attacks. Though I will write this week to the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission to ask what they are doing, and to the UN Resident Coordinator to ask that these persons also be visited by the UN Group on Arbitrary Detention, I suspect there will be no urgency about redressing the situation.

Some years back, when I was Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, I had some responsibility for such matters, though I had to accept that my authority was limited while we were under terrorist threats. But soon after the war ended, I was able to agitate more. What transpired is best illustrated by an extract from my second book on the Rajapaksa Years, Failure in Reconciliation – Read the rest of this entry »

CaptureSome years back, when I thought Ranil was honest, I said he would have been an admirable politician had he entered politics under Dudley Senanayake rather than J R Jayewardene. Though I had welcomed Jayewardene’s opening up of the economy, I was increasingly worried about the authoritarianism he sought to entrench, using violence for the purpose.

The treatment of the July 1980 strikers, the violence in Jaffna and then countrywide in connection with District Council elections, the suppression of opposition during the 1982 referendum (as to which Chandrika has obviously forgotten her husband’s suffereing and also Ranil’s role in collecting the undated letters of resignation from MPs that J R demanded) the pogrom of July 1983, were mounting evidence of his contempt for decency, let alone democratic norms.

I had begun to understand Ranil’s role in all this through a remark of Henry Gunasekera, an old style UNP stalwart, unlike his younger brother D E W, the last representative of the old upper class commitment to social justice exemplified by the original pillars of the Communist Party, S A Wickremesinghe and Pieter Keuneman. The parallel with my oldest and youngest maternal uncles, Esmond who was for a long time J R’s intellectual right hand while Cyril Mathew was his coercive left, and Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe, struck me after I came to know and appreciate D E W’s idealistic sincerity.

But Henry too was sincere and, unlike Esmond, was not willing to go along with the shenanigans of his party when it changed course. He told me, way back in 1980, that there were only two honest Ministers in the UNP. Rather naively I thought he was referring to my two relations in Cabinet, Ranjith Atapattu and Ranil Wickremesinghe. But his response was no: though Ranjith was one of them, the other being Gamini Jayasuriya, he said Ranil, though financially above board, was not honest in that he used thugs.

How true this was became clear as evidence emerged of his connections with individuals such as Gonawala Sunil and Kalu Lucky, who led demonstrations against Supreme Court judges who had found against the government in a fundamental rights case – which I recalled when Ranil’s cohorts decided to demonstrate against the bond commission. Read the rest of this entry »

Capture

A couple of weeks back I suggested that the Speaker introduce a provision whereby all Members of Parliament should be required to get Tax Clearance Certificates, when they enter Parliament and then subsequently each year. I do not think any Member can claim they were not liable for tax when they were elected, given the amounts they spend to get themselves elected. Even if this is supplied by their parties, they are still liable in that they accept such largesse and then spend it.

And certainly Parliament should make provision to ensure they pay tax on the salaries they receive, since unlike other government institutions Parliament does not deduct tax. Even when I was in Parliament, our earnings as Members put us well within the tax paying range, and now, given the massive amounts added on to salaries, Members will definitely fall into the higher categories of tax payers.

Of course there has been no response from Karu, and when I did get a call from his office, it was indicated that they were not interested in my suggestions. This is on a par with his responses early in 2015, when he was supposedly Minister for Democratic Governance, something which he obviously was not interested in though he concealed his contempt for the notion better in those days.

I suggest then that the Assets Declarations of Members of Parliament should be publicly available, with provision for anyone to question the accuracy of what was stated. At the time I was also worried that the claims of the new government about eliminating corruption would be vindictive rather than corrective, and I also suggested that there be no prosecutions provided restitution was made with regard to assets that could not be explained. Read the rest of this entry »

CaptureThe saddest casualty of the Yahapalanaya government determination to abandon all pretence of promoting democracy, let alone good governance, has been Karu Jayasuriya. I once thought of him as a decent man, weak but never doing dastardly deeds on his own. When he first started abusing the office of Speaker, I made excuses for him, and even wrote to apologize for harsh criticism since I thought he must have been affected by the family bereavement he suffered.

But his latest chicanery has convinced me that he is the worst Speaker this country has had to endure, totally subordinating the Legislature to the Executive with no attention to parliamentary norms. Previously I had thought Bakeer Markar the worst, beginning from the days when he admitted a second member for Kalawana into Parliament. This little trick precipitated a crisis when the Jayawardena government then brought legislation to perpetuate this. The Supreme Court said, obviously, that this required a Referendum, which worried Jayewardena since consulting the country on such a subject was obviously ridiculous.

My father came to the rescue declaring that, if the obnoxious extra member whom Bakeer Markar had brought in by sleight of hand resigned, he would let the matter lapse. Jayewardena told my father that he was required to report any vacancy (for the Elections Commissioner to then work on filling it), the operative word being ‘shall’. My father noted that the operative word was ‘vacancy’ and that, if he thought there was none, he was entitled to keep quiet.

Jayewardena argued that that was going against the Speaker’s decision, but my father said that he was not responsible for the Speaker’s illegal rulings, and he could not be bound by them as opposed to the law. He added that, if a case were brought against his decision, he should be allowed to defend himself, without the Attorney General’s Department confusing matters. Jayewardene was relieved and accepted the advice, and so the additional member for Kalawana lapsed.

This time round, in what is an even worse ruling, Karu also brought in the Attorney General’s Department for good measure. This was I think to obscure his own responsibility for perverting the Constitution and the ruling of the Supreme Court. After all, he needs to consult the Attorney General only about new bills, so indeed what he did was in effect an admission that this was a new bill. Read the rest of this entry »

CaptureA couple of months back the retiring Canadian High Commissioner introduced me to the German Ambassador, whose country has been doing much helpful work in vocational education. He seemed a nice young man, but as it turned out he was cross with me because, in an article in this series about six months back, I had been critical of some pronouncements he had made.

I had quite forgotten what I had written, and I certainly did not associate the football playing youngster with the old man, his predecessor during the war, who used to pontificate to us. But on cue as it were, even while he suggested that I should have spoken to him before making pronouncements, he pronounced again, on much the same lines. Apparently not having read the manifesto on which President Sirisena won election, he continued to pontificate about what he claimed were ‘changes that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government had promised in 2015’ referring almost entirely to what Mangala Samaraweera had signed up to in Geneva. And most worryingly, in talking about corruption, he twinned it in both efforts with impunity / exemption from punishment.

My article noted that what the President should concentrate on is the promises in the manifesto on which he was elected, and in particular dealing with corruption in terms of the suffering it brought to the Sri Lankan people. I did tell him that I would be happy to discuss anything he wished, but since then there has been a deafening silence.

I suspect this is because he also in his message referred to an issue that I would hope he now finds embarrassing. He repeated the old canard about my ‘role some years ago which led to the closure of the office of the Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation’.  He obviously assumed that the allegation was true, even though the former Deputy German Ambassador had discussed the issue with me at length, and seemed convinced that it was nonsense. The reason for the FNS Head, Sagarica Delgoda, being questioned by the police was, as clearly described by Jehan Perera, its organization of a seminar on ‘improving the opposition’s ability to win elections by better campaign methods’.

Underlying this of course was the support Mrs Delgoda and the FNS gave Ravi Karunanayake for a range of activities. One of these was the Democratic Youth Leagues, for which Buddhika Pathirana and Manusha Nanayakkara were the front men, though later he fell out with both of them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2018
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