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 »

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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 »

CaptureHomer’s Iliad, most memorable of epic poems, is full of stock phrases, used again and again to describe people and things throughout the poem. When scholars in the last century established that the poem developed orally, they noted that these phrases were used to fill up the metre as the poet thought of how to move his narrative forward.

But I believe too that they are literary devices, not merely functional, and they add to the impact of the tale. They entrench in the mind of the reader, as of the audience for the oral version, the defining characteristics of the person or object described. Thus I cannot now see the Mediterranean without thinking of it as a wine dark sea, just as goats are, in my mind’s window, always sure-footed.

Some such defining description would help in making clear what is going on in the long drawn out narrative of the Central Bank bonds. For instance, when there were references recently to Saman Kumara, it might have been forgotten that, on August 1st, it was reported that ‘Mahendran directed me… he threatened me to do that… (to put Saman Kumara in the front office)’. It would serve to keep the strange story clear in our minds if, whenever Saman Kumara’s name came up, it was noted in parenthesis ‘forcibly placed by Mahendran as chief dealer of the EPF’.  That would make things clear, though adding the term ‘millionaire’ would remind us too that ‘Saman Kumara and his family members own assets exceeding Rs. 80 million’.

This paper I think understands the need for this type of characterization for, in describing Anika Wijesuriya, it noted that she provided the testimony that Ravi Karunanayake ‘may have received gratification…from Arjun Aloysius’. Not entirely coincidentally, I have now written to the Bribery Commission about another incident involving Ravi Karunanayake and this time Anika’s father Nahil, involving cheques to the value of Rs 60 million given to the Prime Minister. Read the rest of this entry »

CaptureA little learning is a dangerous thing. It is also sad when limited intellect leads to high appointments on the grounds that there will be unthinking support of the appointing authority.

This seems to be the case with the current Attorney General, who seems in a couple of weeks to have completely destroyed the reputation of his Department which had been considerably enhanced by the brilliant cross examination at the Bond Commission by senior officers. What seemed the silencing of the forceful Dappula de Livera, the absence for some time of the incisive Yasantha Kodagoda, suggested that the AG had decided to hold back – and so the leading lights of the UNP have been preserved.

Then the Attorney General went further, in delivering a preposterous opinion regarding the appalling move to postpone elections through introducing amendments to a Bill that was for an entirely different purpose. The amendments were referred to Jayantha Jayasuriya by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, whose reduction to being a mere tool of chicanery is extremely sad. The latter’s behavior in the last couple of years suggests that the excuses he proferred to me, when I tried to make him act on the Good Governance issues in the President’s manifesto, that his hands were tied because he was not trusted by his Leader, now seem rank hypocrisy.

It is strange that he felt a need to refer amendments to the Attorney General, since this is mandatory only for Bills. The reason doubtless was that he realized that this was in fact a new Bill, so he wanted to cover himself. On cue the Attorney General responded with a farrago of nonsense, beginning with citing Erskine May to the effect that ‘As in other matters of order, the admissibility of an amendment can ultimately be decided only by the House itself, there being no authority which can in advance rule an amendment out of order…’ Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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 »

Rajiva Wijesinha

April 2019
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