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My comments on the ridiculous expansion of the Cabinet were carried in the Leader today, expressively edited by the sensible Camela Nathaniel. Ironically they were juxtaposed with those of Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, who was initially responsible for the unwarranted interference by the Prime Minister in my work which led to my resignation. But I don’t suppose he can understand his role in ensuring that the only voice able to challenge the hardline UNP leadership on its own terms was removed.
At a press briefing held in Colombo last week, JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva said they were totally against the latest appointments. The former regime, Silva said, had maintained a cabinet exceeding 100 members and it was pathetic to see the present government too following the same bad policies. Silva said there was no scientific or logical basis for appointing these ministers. Citing the example of MP Thewarapperuma who represents the Kalutara district in the south, Silva said there was no logical reason for appointing him to develop the Wayamba Province. According to Silva the only reason these appointments were made was to strengthen the President’s power.
President Maithripala Sirisena is facing a split in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, and according to Silva he is trying to assert his power in the party by doling out ministerial appointments.
Already the coalition national government of Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has faced criticism and there is some suspicion that the coalition may be in trouble. The UNP rode on the back of Maithripala and vice versa and now Maithripala may be worried, it is surmised, that the UNP is trying to take over. The UNP on the other hand is trying to strengthen its position in the coalition by holding onto the key positions in the government. Although the two main parties decided to come together in a bid to save the country from the tyrannical Rajapaksa regime, these same two parties are now engaged in a power struggle to establish supremacy over each other. Generally a single, more powerful party can shape the policies of the coalition disproportionately. Advocates of proportional representation suggest that a coalition government leads to more consensus-based politics, in that a government comprising differing parties (often based on different ideologies) would need to concur in regard to governmental policy. Another stated advantage is that a coalition government better reflects the popular opinion of the electorate within a country.
Prone to disharmony
However those who disapprove of coalition governments believe that such governments have a tendency to be fractious and prone to disharmony. This is because coalitions would necessarily include different parties with differing beliefs and who, therefore, may not always agree on the correct path for governmental policy.
Commenting on the current status of the national government of Sri Lanka and its waning promises, veteran politician and writer Professor Rajiva Wijesinha said it was sad that the number of ministers was increasing apace, because that destroyed the idea of governance, let alone good governance.
“The President’s manifesto pledged that ‘the number, composition and nature of the Cabinet of Ministers would be determined on a scientific basis’ but as I noticed last year, I was about the only person interested in the manifesto,” Wijesinha said.
The short manifesto pledged a Cabinet of 25 which was ignored too, the number increasing dramatically when SLFP members who had not supported the President were brought in – none of the senior leadership, though, which has contributed to the continuing suspicions of and about the President.
Then, when the 19th amendment was brought, though the idea of statutory limits was introduced, there was a proviso that, in the event of a National Government, the number could be increased. That was destructive, because it implied that a National Government was essentially about jobs for the boys, he added.
According to Professor Wijesinha, when the 19th Amendment was put to the house, some of those now in the Joint Opposition objected to the special clause about possible expansion in the case of a National Government after the next election, but their remedy was to make that exception valid in perpetuity. “I proposed dropping the exception, but that amendment was not taken up, and there was no effort to define the term National Government.” Read the rest of this entry »
Seeing all the posters asserting that ruggerite Wasim Thajudeen was murdered, I was struck by the similarity to the allegations made when Chandrika Kumaratunga was President regarding Batalanda. The Sunday Leader in December 2001, soon after the UNP won the election she had called, wrote
‘The legacy of evil that Kumaratunga has left behind is so rich that she is driven to defend her turf with all the tenacity she can muster. This is in part the genesis of her evil rhetoric in recent days, with talk of murders, plots and killing’.
The Sunday Times had the same idea about President Kumaratunga, and highlighted three occasions on which she came out with very harsh allegations about her then great enemy, Ranil Wickremesinghe. In August 2010 it noted that ‘Even those with short memories will recall that it was only a few weeks prior to the presidential election in December 1999 that the Batalanda Commission report was released to the media’.
That report was very hard on Ranil Wickremesinghe, but President Kumaratunga did nothing about it. This may of course have been because of the terrible injuries she suffered at Tiger hands just before the election. But by the time of the parliamentary election in October 2000, she was ready to resume the charge. In August of that year the Times reported the return of Douglas Peiris who had given evidence against Ranil as follows – ‘The ‘arrest’ of Peiris will surely be a prelude to major onslaught on Ranil Wickremesinghe linking him to the alleged atrocities committed at the so-called torture chamber in Batalanda.
The language is interesting. I have no idea whether Ranil was responsible in any way for what happened at Batalanda and would prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt, knowing how readily Chandrika jumped to conclusions and then found evidence to support her prejudices. One has only to remember her claim that it was the UNP that killed Vijaya Kumaratunga, which paved the way for her to enter into an alliance with the JVP, an alliance that now seems to have been renewed, though the common enemy now is the SLFP rather than the UNP. But even assuming as I would like to do that Ranil was not guilty of the atrocities at Batalanda, there is no doubt that atrocities did occur there, the death of Wijeyadasa Liyanaarachchi being only the most prominent amongst many horrors.
Former UPFA MP Rajiva Wijesinha says the next parliament should take up a special parliamentary report that dealt with alleged Central Bank bond scam.
The report shouldn’t be allowed to be suppressed; the outspoken former MP said, adding that the new parliament should take a fresh look at the alleged scam.
Parliament will meet again on September 1.
The Liberal Party leader represented the 13-member committee chaired by the then MP and General Secretary of the Communist Party D.E.W. Gunasekera, Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE).
රචකයා නිසැකවම ව්යාකූල සහගත තත්වයට පත්ව තිබෙනවා. මා එළඹෙන ජනාධිපතිවරණයේදී ජනපතිට සහයෝගය නොදීම පිලිබදව, ඔහු ස්ථිරව ප්රකාශ කරන්නේ “විජේසිංහ ඇත්ත වශයෙන්ම අදහස් කරන්නේ අපේ විදේශ ප්රතිපත්තිය සුරේන්ද්රන් වැනි දෙමළ කොටි හිතවාදීන්ට වඩාත් අනුකුල විය යුතුය” යනුවෙනි. ඔහු තවදුරටත් අවධරණය කරන්නේ මට ජනපතිගේ පරාජය අවශ්යයි කියා, “එතුලින් ජාත්යන්තර යුධ අධිකරණය ඉදිරියට ඔහුව ගෙන ය හැකිය” යන මතයේ පිහිටා සිට.
මෙය සම්පුර්ණයෙන්ම අර්ථ ශුන්ය වන අතර මම මෙම වැඩ සටහනේදී සුරේන්ද්රන් සමග ඇතිවූ විවාදය මුළුමනින්ම නොසලකා හැරීමක්. තවදුරටත් රචකයා පැහැදිලිවම නොසලකා හැර තිබෙනවා නිවේදිකාවට මා අභියෝගයට ලක් කිරීමට හේතු වූ අපේ ත්රිවිධ හමුදාව යුද්ධයේදී සටන් කල ආකාරය පිළිබද මගේ කරුණු දැක්වීම.
අපේ හමුදාවන් ආරක්ෂා කිරීමට ජාත්යන්තර විනිශ්යතල වලදී මා අතිශය ක්රියාකාරිව හා ඵලදායීව කරුණු දැක්වුවන්ගෙන් එක අයෙක් බව ඉතා ප්රකට කරුණක් සහ ඉතාමත් කණගාටුවට කරුණ වන්නේ මා වැනි අයගේ සේවා හමුදාවන්ට අහිමි වී ඇති බව – ඉතා මෑතකදී අපේ රට ආරක්ෂා කිරීමට ඉතා දක්ෂලෙස CNN සේවයේ පැවතී සම්මුක සාකච්චවකදී කළ කරුණු දැක්වීමෙන් පසුව, ක්රිස් නෝනිස් මහතාව අපේ විදේශ ප්රතිපත්ති ක්රියාත්මක කරන්නන්ගේ උදහසට ලක්විම යන කරුණු පිළිබඳ රචකයා විසින් නොසලකා හළ ඇති බවයි.
ඉමහත් සංවේගයට හේතුවන කරුණක් වන්නේ Daily News පුවත්පත, ජ්යෙෂ්ඨ භාණ්ඩාගාර නිලධාරින් විසින් සැකසහිත LTTE හිතවාදීන් සමග ගනුදෙනු පිළිබද අවධානය යොමුකර සකස් කරන ලද විගණන විමසුම සම්පුර්ණයෙන්ම නොසලකා හැර, දෙමළ කොටි හිතවාදීන් කෙරෙහි නැඹුරු විදේශ ප්රතිපත්තියක් මා හට අවශ්යව ඇතැයි ප්රකාශ කිරීමයි.
ඉතා අවාසනාවන්ත ලෙස මෙම රචකයා මෙන්ම ජනපති නොමග යවමින් සිටින බොහෝ අය අපේක්ෂා කරන්නේඅතීතය පිලිබදවම කතා කිරීම තුලින් මේ ජනාධිපතිවරණයත් ජය ගන්නටයි. එය සමහර විට යෝග්ය වේවි, ජනාධිපතිවරයෙකු වශයෙන් මැතිවරණ ජයගැනීමම හුදු අභිමතාර්තය නම්. එනමුත් ඉන් ඔබ්බට යමින් ජනාධිපතිවරණයක් පැවැත්වීමේ අරමුණ විය යුත්තේ රට පාලනය කල හැකි සහ අපව සතුරන්ගෙන් ආරක්ෂා කල හැකි ජනාධිපතිවරයෙකු පත් කර ගැනීමයි. එය වර්තමාන රාජ්ය තන්ත්රය හුදෙක් අසාර්ථකත්වයට පත් වූ කාර්යයක් බවට පත්ව තිබෙනවා. Read the rest of this entry »
My attention has been drawn to a news item in your columns today under the heading ‘Al Jazeera program: With friends like Wijesinha, President didn’t need enemies’.
The writer, whilst obviously upset that I am not supporting the President in the forthcoming election, asserts that ‘What Wijesinha means of course is that our foreign policy should be more agreeable to the Tamil Tiger terrorist sympathizers such as Surendiran’. He also insinuates that I want the President to lose ‘so he can be taken before war crimes tribunals’.
This is absolute nonsense and ignores completely the altercations I had with Mr Surendiran during the programme. The writer also evidently missed my defence of the manner in which our forces fought the war, which led to the interviewer challenging me.
It is well known that I was one of the most effective defenders in international fora of our forces, and it is tragic that the writer should ignore the fact that the forces have lost the services of people like me – most recently Chris Nonis who drew particular ire from those who run our foreign policy after he ably defended us in an interview with CNN.
It is also shocking that the Daily News, whilst charging me with wanting policies more agreeable to ‘Tamil Tiger terrorist sympathizers’, has completely ignored the audit query prepared by senior Treasury officials who drew attention to transactions with suspected LTTE sympathizers.
Unfortunately the writer, and many of those who are leading the President astray, hope to win this election too by talking about the past. That may be desirable if winning elections were the sole purpose of having a President. On the contrary, the purpose of having elections is to elect a President who can govern the country and defend us against our enemies, a task at which the current regime has been singularly unsuccessful in recent years.
Typically, assuming the main opposition candidate would be Ranil Wickremesinghe, those with influence on the President have spent vast amounts of public funds on material to attack him, and they now want to move the election arguments back to the past so as to use the material they have prepared. They have still not understood that this election is about the present and the future, and once again the country has a candidate from the traditional Sri Lanka Freedom Party who will be able to bring about social revolution.
Mr Surendiran, like those surrounding the President, lives in the past, which is why I chided him. He is unable to get over the defeat of the Tigers, just like those who now make government policy, and do not understand that they should work towards reconciliation and a united country, rather than stressing divisions. Read the rest of this entry »
In the course of the frenetic travel programme I had set myself before the usual budget period, I had just two days in Sri Lanka last week. They were packed, with Parliament, and an overnight stay with a cousin visiting after several days, and the 92nd birthday of my most distinguished aunt, but also a couple of interviews as well as meetings with two ambassadors.
Though I feel increasingly despondent, I continue to defend the war record of the government, and indeed feel that some of the absurdities now occurring spring from the bitterness felt with regard to unfair attacks on us. But when I reiterated how fundamentally wrong the Darusman Report had been, one of them asked very simply why we had not refuted it.
This failure continues to bemuse me, and the more so now after the Marga Institute produced their Third Narrative, which provides a wonderful opportunity on which government could build. But given the schizophrenia that possesses government, it will not take ownership of this document and flesh it out with details that only government possesses (though perhaps it has again misplaced them, for I had a frantic but informal request from the Foreign Ministry for the Peace Secretariat archives).
One explanation I offered the ambassador was that government simply had no one left who could argue a case intelligently and in good English. A couple of years back, when I told the President to make better use of the professionals in the Ministry of External Affairs, he told me that their command of English was weak. I fear this is a myth of which he has been convinced by those who see themselves as brilliant exponents of the language, having been to elite Colombo schools. The fact that they cannot use the language with sophistication, or respond in a manner those accusing us would take to heart, is not something the President realizes.
But there had recently been an exception, in the form of Chris Nonis, who had given a superb interview on Channel 4. All those I met in London were still full of the way he had responded, which is not something that had happened, they were kind enough to say, since my discussion on ‘Hard Talk’. However I had soon after that been removed from public appearances, except just the once when the President over-rode the blockages of the Ministry and sent me to London to deal with an attack on us organized by Channel 4.
Jon Snow dropped out after my participation in that programme was announced, though it would be too much to assert that was the reason. Conversely, after Chris’ great performance last year, a Sri Lankan station had asked him to participate in a debate with Jon Snow and Callum Macrae, but he had said he wanted me involved as well. The station then abandoned the idea, which I suppose is some sort of compliment. If both Channel 4 and local television would rather avoid me, I can claim to be perhaps the last adherent in government of Mr Bandaranaike’s Middle Path. Read the rest of this entry »
In May 2009, Sri Lanka seemed on top of the world. Under President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan government and forces had defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a terrorist movement that had dominated Tamil politics in Sri Lanka. It had survived conflict with not just successive Sri Lankan governments, but even the might of India.
Though the Tigers had been banned by several countries, there was some sympathy for them in many Western nations who could not make a clear distinction between them and the Tamils of Sri Lanka, who they felt had been badly treated by successive Sri Lankan governments. Fuelled by a powerful diaspora that sympathized with and even supported the Tigers, several Western nations had tried to stop the war being fought to a conclusion. When this attempt did not succeed, they initiated a special session against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, but the condemnation they anticipated of the Sri Lankan government did not occur.
Instead, Sri Lanka initiated a resolution of its own, which passed with an overwhelming majority. It received the support of most countries outside the Western bloc, including India and Pakistan and China and Russia and South Africa and Brazil and Egypt.
Less than three years later however, the situation had changed, and a resolution critical of Sri Lanka was carried at the Council in Geneva in March 2012, with India voting in its favour. The resolution had been initiated by the United States, and it won support from several African and Latin American countries, including Brazil, that had been supportive previously. The following year an even more critical resolution was passed, with a larger majority. This was followed in 2014 by a Resolution which mandated an investigation by the Office of the High Commissioner. India, it should be noted, voted against this Resolution, but it still passed with a large majority.
Meanwhile international criticism of Sri Lanka has increased, and it had a very tough ride in the days leading up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting held in Colombo in November 2013. Though the British Prime Minister withstood pressures to boycott the event, the Indian Prime Minister did not attend. Though the Indians did not engage in overt criticism, the Canadian Prime Minister was extremely harsh in explaining why he would not attend. And the British Prime Minister made it clear that he would raise a number of issues suggesting that Sri Lanka needed to address several grave charges.
How had this happened? How had a country that dealt successfully with terrorism, and did so with less collateral damage than in other similar situations, found itself so conclusively in the dock within a few years? How had it lost the support of India, which had been strongly supportive of the effort to rid the country of terrorism? Read the rest of this entry »
Let me start with a paradox. This is an extremely impressive book, but I find it woefully depressing. It has been put together, according to the introduction, by three patriots who are also strong adherents of pluralism and the rule of law. Godfrey Gunatilleka is, as Dayan Jayatilleka once described him, arguably the best intellect in public life, Asoka Gunawardena is the most balanced and practical of administrators, and Jeevan Thiagarajah combines unparalleled energy in the service of his country with wide ranging knowledge of what happened in various spheres during the conflict.
Why then am I depressed? There are several reasons for this. The first is very simply that it comes far too late. Second, it requires fleshing out through details which are only available with government. Third, it leaves unstated the need for immediate action by government in the spheres in which it is unable to refute allegations made against the country. Fourth – and I cannot believe that the main writers were responsible for this, given the very different perspective Godfrey put forward in the television interview – it seems to swallow wholesale the allegations against the UN leadership in Sri Lanka made by the Petrie Report. Finally, it leaves out one group of significant actors, namely those who have contributed heavily to the Darusman Report, if we are to believe Wikileaks: I mean the NGO representatives who produced evidence against Sri Lanka.
For these reasons, the fourth and fifth sections of this book are weak. The first two sections are very strong, and provide an object lesson to the Sri Lankan government as to how it should have dealt with the allegations in the first place. The third section is well argued, but its main point is weakened by the failure to affirm forcefully the need for a credible internal inquiry with regard to the treatment of surrendees. In this regard the book is less balanced than the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission Report, which is surprising since its rationale is that of a middle way between that and Darusman.
With regard to the first three worries I have, the first could be compensated for by prompt action now on the part of government. But given the hamfisted way in which government dealt with the Darusman Report in the first place, I do not think anything more will be done. It seems incredible now that the government responded to allegations against it by producing a narrative that did not address those allegations. But, pace the book’s erroneous claim that the Ministry of Defence’s account of the humanitarian operation preceded the Darusman Report, the fact is that, in its ostrich like view that hiding one’s head in the sand would get rid of threats, the Ministry produced a document that might have been useful had it been produced in 2009, but which meant nothing after Darusman.
At the risk of making myself even more unpopular with government, which cannot bear other people having been correct, I told the Secretary of Defence, when I was called in to help with editing of that account, that it did not answer the allegations. His answer was that that was not the purpose of the narrative he was preparing. When I pointed out that the allegations needed to be answered, he said that he had allocated that task to the Chief of General Staff, who was however given neither resources nor encouragement to proceed. My own view is that this unintelligent approach has done more damage to our forces than anything else, given how easy a defence would have been of the bulk of the charges made against the forces. At the very least, citation of claims made during the conflict would have made clear the absurdity of charges made afterwards. Read the rest of this entry »
A recent newspaper article on Sri Lankan relations with India suggested a level of incompetence that even I had not thought possible in our Ministry of External Affairs. The article described the Ministry as ‘virtually defunct’ but that is misleading. It is actually viral in its determination to destroy relations with India, and continuing to talk of its incompetence is to support its destructiveness.
I had thought it possible that the Minister was not responsible for the determination to destroy, and that he was simply anxious to keep his job, and therefore followed blindly those he thought had greater influence than he did. But the description of what happened in 2012 suggests a more insidious nature. The article declares that the Minister had ‘confirmed that Rajapaksa had promised “13 plus”’ to the Indian Foreign Minister, and that it was only after that that the Indians had gone public with that promise. But the article did not mention that not only did Peiris fail to stand up for the truth,, when various spokesmen of the President denied that promise, but he also failed to send a response to the letter requiring clarification that was sent by the Indian Prime Minister.
Or, rather, he sent a response and then withdrew it. This technique is a specialty of the current Secretary to the Ministry, Kshenuka Seneviratne, even though it is thoroughly unprofessional, as noted by a former colleague who has now made her getaway from the mess. But it is not only unprofessional, it embarrasses both sides, which I suspect Kshenuka well knows. Peiris however may not have understood that, when he sends a letter and then withdraws it, his credibility is gone for ever (though in his case I suspect it had gone long before, as American ambassador Patricial Butenis of now blessed memory put it).
The meeting in Sri Lanka in November 2013 of the Commonwealth Heads of Government provides a great opportunity for our government. This can be summed up in one word, Engagement, which Sri Lanka has not been very good at over the last few years.
The principles of engagement, which we need to understand, are very simple. First, we need to listen carefully to what others say. Second, we need to put our own perspectives and practices clearly and systematically. Thirdly, we need to search for common ground between us and our interlocutors, and work towards strengthening those commonalities and developing understanding of how mutual appreciation could be strengthened. Fourthly we need to work out where there are differences, and point out where these are because of inadequate understanding of our situation. Finally, where there are differences based on perspectives, we need to explain our own position clearly, and indicate why changes on our part would not be beneficial to the Sri Lankan people. However – and this is a vital caveat to this last aspect – we must try to understand different positions, and listen to arguments supporting them, and if necessary adjust our own positions if those arguments are clear and convincing.
About each of these, there have been great difficulties in recent years. We do not listen carefully, and we tend to put everyone who criticizes us in the same basket. We then play to local galleries by criticizing them and, since the sincere are generally nicer than those who have a subtle agenda, we are more critical of the decent. This has made us lose credibility amongst those who, even if they have different approaches in some respects, are basically our good friends. The manner in which India is often treated in our media, and even by some in authority, is a shocking example of this absurdity. Read the rest of this entry »