CaptureI wrote a couple of weeks back about the splendid work of Lord Naseby on behalf of Sri Lanka, in getting into the open reports of the last British Defence Attache in Sri Lanka. The Foreign Office initially suppressed these, and the appeal procedure there did not work, so Lord Naseby went to the Information Commissioner. Following that intervention he got 26 pages, with many deletions. He also noted that there was nothing from the last two months, so he appealed again, and got 12 more pages. Despite there again being several omissions, which seem designed to hide the fact that the British were dealing with what seem to have been Tiger dependents in the North, Lord Naseby has pretty well established that at least the British Defence Attache believed we fought a decent war.

All this has been made crystal clear in the speech Lord Naseby made last week in the House of Lords, where he noted too that Lt. Colonel Gash told him ‘in January 2009 that he was surprised at the controlled discipline and success of the Sri Lankan army and in particular the care that it was taking to encourage civilians to escape and how well they were looked after, and that certainly there was no policy to kill civilians’. Given all this, it is clear that the efforts of the British to pin war crimes on our soldiery is part of the Great Game they continue to play, in almost Pavlovian fashion in that they do not consider that a different approach might have saved the world from increasing terrorist activity.

But the duplicity of the British is something the world has had to live with for centuries, and there is nothing we can do about it. But what we can do is use information that emerges to protect our own. Sadly, even though Lord Naseby sent copies of what he had obtained to both President Sirisena and President Rajapaksa, neither has done anything about it.

The former told me he had not seen the material, and though I urged him to pay attention to it, I have heard nothing since. I should note that, with all his faults, Ravi Karunanayake might have responded actively, but with the lazy Tilak Marapana now at the helm there is no chance of the Foreign Ministry doing anything constructive. Read the rest of this entry »

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CaptureAmongst the more endearing explanations offered by Ranil’s friends for his involvement in the Bond Scam is that he was taken for a ride. The response then to the question why he defended Mahendran so vociferously is that Mahendran also was taken for a ride. Then the answer to the question why Mahendran went down to bully the Public Dept Department was that he was following instructions. I presume the same answer would have been given to the question why he insisted on appointments within the Bank that facilitated Arjuna Aloysius having his wicked way with bond issues and the EPF.

The fact that Aloysius was Mahendran’s son-in-law is considered irrelevant it seems in this account of why Mahendran acted as he did, to knowingly cause such a massive loss to the country. But even if one believes that all this was done under pressure, it is clear that we will not find out from him who applied the pressure since he can now employ the Aloysius stratagem of refusing to give evidence.

I believe the Commission set a bad precedent in permitting Aloysius to get away with this stratagem, given that it has no judicial authority and is a fact finding body only. But even if it is right in the stance it took, it does have a mechanism to promote justice by ordering Aloysius’ arrest on the basis of the information it already has. The case for this is strengthened by the fact that he has not just refused to testify but was actively involved in suppressing evidence. And doing this would send a message to Mahendran that the Aloysius stratagem will hasten rather than delay judicial procedures.

But the Commission also has a wider responsibility, to find out who pushed Mahendran and Ranil to behave the way they did, on the friendly interpretation, who helped them to fulfil their dishonest desires on a more rational view. Fortunately the evidence, or rather a direction in which to search, has already been provided by Ranil himself. He declared in Parliament, in his infamous statement claiming that Parliamentarians were not capable of judging the issue,  that Mahendran had acted in accordance with desires expressed by individuals who had unprecedentedly gone to the Bank to request vast amounts of money.

Amongst those individuals were two Cabinet Ministers who held office in the UNP. What Ranil did not say is also significant. He omitted the fact that Malik Samarawickrema, the Chairman of the UNP, had accompanied the group that gave Mahendran an excuse. Fortunately Mahendran himself if I recollect aright gave the game way in COPE in citing Malik too. It seems he thought that someone who held no executive office also had a role to play in dictating the financial policies and practices of the country – an understandable view given the massive financial obligations of the UNP at the time and the view that the interests of the country and the UNP were synonymous. Read the rest of this entry »

CaptureThe National Human Resources Development Council endorsed in its entirely at its last meeting the report of the Committee it set up to explore new ways of working in the Public Sector. I was pleased that its more distinguished members congratulated me personally on the report, but I had to respond that I had had excellent support from the Committee the NHRDC had appointed. We were also given valuable advice from distinguished public servants of past eras, including Dharmasiri Pieris and Mr Palihakkara.

The generally able chair of the Council, Dinesh Weerakkody, suggested that we should now engage in wider consultation, of both Civil Society and the business community. This seemed a good idea, but the Council also thought we needed to move quickly. So it was decided to pass on the document straight away, as well as to the President and the Prime Minister, to the leaders of other parties in Parliament including the Joint Opposition, to the Chairs of COPE and the Committee on Public Accounts, to the Speaker and the Minister of Public Administration. This is Ranjith Madduma Bandara, who is relatively a man of intelligence and capacity though unfortunately he has not been given a wide enough brief to make a difference – and so, if indeed he has any ideas, he does not enunciate or act on them.

It has, I should note, struck me that few people in authority seem to have many ideas, fewer are capable of enunciating those they do have, and even fewer are able to implement their good ideas. I was again touched when one member of the Council noted that certain initiatives I suggested were good but needed me to push them through. Sadly I suspect this is true, but I had to confess that I felt that now even I would not be able to do much. Apart from being old now, and not having half the energy I had even five years ago, the constraints on action have multiplied. Read the rest of this entry »

egg 1It was vastly entertaining, while away, to read Sarath Fonseka’s latest interpretation of history. He typically weighed in when Jagath Jayasuriya was attacked in Brazil, to claim that he had been trying to investigate Jayasuriya for war crimes when he was removed from the post of army commander.

This was not a reason he gave when he resigned from the post of Chief of Defence Staff. Amongst the reasons he cited there were two that related to the role of tough guy that he had relished before becoming the tool of countries that resented our victory over the LTTE. Thus in his letter he noted the refusal of the President to expand the army as he had recommended.

I had found this an embarrassment when I headed the Peace Secretariat. The Economist’s correspondent in Delhi – an intelligent young man who provided me with material that helped me, together with the then head of the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission, to rein in its more aggressively anti-Sri Lankan personnel – asked why government wanted to expand the army after we had won the war. I told him this was not the government’s intention, but he then cited Sarath Fonseka and I had to say that the army commander was entitled to his views, but the government thought this unnecessary.

Sarath drew attention to this disagreement when he resigned, and also to the government’s decision to resettle the displaced before he thought this should be done. This was also embarrassing, given that I had been the focal point for questions about this, and had indeed written to Basil Rajapaksa to tell him that we were taking too long. Basil called me up and gave me an earful, evidently under the impression that I was doing this at the behest of the Americans (unbeknown to me, the head of American Aid, Rebecca Cohn, knowing that I was writing, had written herself, though she told me that she had not wanted to do this but been compelled by her boss – I think it was the then Deputy, since the more nuanced Bob Blake had been transferred by then). Read the rest of this entry »

CaptureI was delighted to see last week that ‘The government is now planning to extend the “Amity Schools” concept, commencing from “Year One”. This is presented ‘as another gigantic medium to a long-term move in supporting national reconciliation amongst communities’ whatever that convoluted justification might mean.

It is also splendidly ironic, since the concept of Amity Schools was killed by Ranil Wickremesinghe when his government replaced Chandrika Kumaratunga’s at the end of 2001. Amity Schools had been the term used in the concept paper I had prepared for Tara de Mel when she accepted my suggestion, in the middle of 2001, to restart English medium on a large scale in government schools.

We had been introduced by Jeevan Thiagarajah at a seminar at the British Council, and when I broached the subject of English medium she told me she planned to start it in two schools the following year, one in Colombo and one in Kandy. She had already started Advanced Level Science in English in some schools.

I welcomed these initiatives but told her that it was not correct to confine English to an elite. She needed to make it more widely available. When she told me there were not enough teachers available, I told her there were enough to start in enough schools to set the ball rolling. Read the rest of this entry »

CaptureI still continue to have the highest regard for Eran Wickremaratne and am glad that he now has a position almost commensurate with his talents and capacities. I say almost because the position he should occupy is that of Finance Minister, and I say this because amongst his capacities is absolute financial integrity. This is obviously more important in the current context, when the integrity of most of the leadership of the United National Party has been shown to be non-existent.

I hope that Mangala Samaraweera, who understands little of Finance, will leave the bulk of the work in Eran’s hands. When the ridiculous exchange between him and Ravi took place both selected deputies of great capacity, which I wrote then was the silver lining in the clouds that were darkening the country. I believe both at least knew they knew little, and were willing to delegate productively – which would have been impossible in Foreign Affairs had Ranil had his way and appointed the delectable Anoma Gamage as Ravi’s Deputy (I half expected him to resurrect her as Minister of Justice, but thankfully someone who represents some of the UNP’s old values has got that position.

While I am happy then that Eran is in a position where he might be able to do some good, I do wonder how he can in all conscience continue working with this bunch of crooks. I say this because the manner in which the Bond Scam was perpetrated made a mockery of what he had been telling us in COPE over the years. Read the rest of this entry »

CaptureTo help the deliberations of the committee appointed by the National Human Resources Development Council to recommend new ways of working in the Public Sector, I requested the assistance of several distinguished public servants of past vintages. These ranged from the time in which recruitment was to the old Civil Service to those who had retired very recently.

Not all responded, but those who did were of the highest calibre and continue to be respected by new generations of both administrators and politicians. Interestingly enough, while commenting on the issues we had raised in the draft concept paper, they also introduced some sharp new perspectives.

The most stringent criticism was with regard to the packing of the public service for political reasons. One former Secretary noted that ‘The unsustainable and highly politicized practice of treating the public sector institutions…as a means to solve unemployment problems through ‘sponsored employment’ should cease forthwith.’ Another put it even more bluntly – ‘Don’t treat the public sector as a refuge for unemployed graduates’.

One of them noted the side effects of such practices. In addition to the wasteful costs involved, he referred to ‘inefficiencies and unnecessary administrative burdens. Idle people constitute a disturbance to people who are working and generate additional problems’. This indeed was something I had practical experience of, and had pointed out in my reports written after Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation meetings. I found several Secretariats full of youngsters with nowhere to sit and nothing to do, with the poor Divisional Secretary, already over-burdened, having to find space and occupation for them. And of course the purely political nature of the exercise was made abundantly clear by the fact that these new recruits had received hardly any training, and no effort was made to ensure productive activity in coordination with previously employed personnel. Read the rest of this entry »

CaptureDevelopments in the two weeks I was away suggest that the government is, a year before I expected it, hurtling towards its end. Or rather I should say towards its end as we know it, since the manner in which the Elections Bill was changed at whim suggests that we are back to the days of J R Jayewardene and his manoeuvers to stay in power at any cost. We can therefore expect strategies on the lines of the first few amendments to the Constitutions which

  1. Stymied the Courts which had delivered a judgment in favour of Mrs Bandaranaike when J R was engaged in stripping her of her Civic Rights
  2. Allowed him to have a Presidential election at a convenient time whereas the Constitution had earlier had fixed terms which is the norm with regard to an Executive Presidency
  3. Permitted a Referendum to extend the term of Parliament even though the Constitution itself specifically laid down that the term of that Parliament, elected under the first past the post system, ended in July 1983

Unfortunately the Joint Opposition is not very good at dealing with such manoeuvers, and we will see much sleight of hand with regard to perverting democracy in the months to come. The only positive aspect is that this President I think has a conscience and will not be the lead plotter, as Jayewardene was. But his conscience has not always triumphed. And as we saw when he dissolved Parliament before fulfilling his solemn promises, or when he sacked the secretaries of the parties he headed, including the coalition group which allowed him no such authority, he can be panicked into behaving badly.

The fact then that his heart still seems to be in the right place, as shown by his robust defence of the Attorney General’s Department against UNP calumnies, may not prove enough to save us from a repetition of the horrors of the mid-eighties. But the behavior of others suggests that they too know that sticking with the Wickremesinghe formula of lopsided and selective development will destroy the last vestiges of popular favour. Read the rest of this entry »

CaptureIn the midst of continuing dysfunctionality, increasing evidence of financial corruption, arbitrary decisions at education, abrupt changes of personnel initially introduced with great hype, it was good last week to receive some positive news. This was in the form of a circular issued by the Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs with regard to Divisional and District Secretariat Development Forums.

This is the first indication that there is at least some concern with regard to the commitment in the President’s manifesto, that ‘The Divisional Secretariat will be made the chief unit that performs the priority tasks of the area. It will coordinate all activities such as skills development and supply of resources pertaining to the development of the economic, social, industrial and cultural sectors of the area.

I had hoped for some input from Mr Abeykoon, since he had been Secretary of the then larger Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs when we had tried, with support from the United Nations Development Programme, to introduce some order into the functions of regional government agencies. It was following the excellent report on the subject by Asoka Goonewardene – whom I was glad to see the Prime Minister had subsequently roped into his little committee to suggest reforms for the public sector – that I suggested that idea for the manifesto. I was delighted that it was accepted, but then all interest seemed to lapse.

I had been particular worried about this because there was simply no coordination at all with regard to service delivery. The staff in the Divisional Secretariat had not been briefed properly about their responsibilities, nor how to work. This was perhaps understandable since many of them had been taken on for government to win political points by giving jobs to unemployed graduates – including those with external degrees, which seemed even madder than usual – and there had been no attempt to train them properly or ensure that they understood their dual responsibilities, to the line ministries to which they were attached as well as to the head of the government administration in the area in which they were deployed, namely the Divisional Secretary.

The problem was further compounded by what were termed Coordinating Committees, which did nothing of the sort. They were chaired by politicians, generally Basil’s favourite. Since the man’s idea of administration was to empower sycophants, in the North and the East he gave enormous authority in this regard to Rishard and Hisbullah, both of whom made an effortless transition to the new regime.

Neither cared overmuch about consultation or coordination, so I found that in many places the Coordinating Committee had not met for months. I suggested then to the Divisional Secretaries, who suffered from this, that they should hold the meetings on schedule, and politely tell the Chair, if he was busy and suddenly asked for postponement, that this was not possible. But to keep him happy they could tell him that decisions would be subject to his concurrence.

Unfortunately they were too nervous to do this. Now however they have been specifically told that ‘After the dates for the Divisional or District Coordinating Committee are finalized on the calendar, unless it be a national reason, the fixed dates shall not be altered and although it is difficult for certain representatives to attend the meeting, the committee shall have the authority of convening the meetings and taking action accordingly. At a time when the Co-chairpersons fail to attend a certain committee meeting, the proceedings of the meeting should be continued by adopting a proposal for a temporary Chairman. Accordingly the proceedings held in such a manner shall be equally valid as the proceedings of the meeting chaired by the Co-chairpersons.’ Read the rest of this entry »

I have spent the last few weeks looking at both our parliamentarians and the public service, and these are certainly areas in which reforms are urgently required. At its simplest, we need a public service that works efficiently for the public, rather than for politicians. We need politicians who understand what their responsibilities are, to constituents as well as to the country at large, and who fulfil those responsibilities efficiently and effectively.

But we also need citizens who can contribute actively both to governance and to the development process. For this purpose we need a radical overhaul of our education system, which according to recent studies

  1. is failing to develop the cognitive skills on large numbers of its graduates. It has also failed to impart several urgently needed technical skills such as the ability to write and communicate clearly in even the mother tongue, let alone English (a recent ILO report)
  2. At present a large number of students are leaving the school education either at or before GCE OL without obtaining proper knowledge, skills, competencies and qualifications necessary for their lives and world of work (Ministry of Education Discussion Paper 20160404 – 2016)
  3. not only the structure, but also the contents and delivery of curriculum should be reformed for better relevance to modern society, more focusing on nurturing ability to learn, absorb and apply knowledge rather than learning static knowledge itself (ADB comments on proposals for reform)
  4. mechanisms to ensure seamless transition between the different branches of education, and to increase the appeal of vocational training, have not been developed (TVEC Policy Paper)

Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2018
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