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Dopey 2Namal then is here to stay, and with the passing of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution that removed term limits, his father would obviously be able to stay on as President, or to be precise as the Presidential candidate of his party, until Namal were ready to take his place. This was of course understood by other members of Parliament, and many saw friendship with Namal as their route to political advancement. Sensibly, Mahinda Rajapaksa did not give Namal a ministerial position, though this too had adverse consequences, since it meant he did not give any new entrant to parliament executive office (the only exception initially being the former LTTE military wing leader, Karuna, whose support had been invaluable in dealing with his intransigent former comrades, after he left the LTTE when it was clear they were not interested in a negotiated solution).

So the President had to leave out people of proven ability since, had he appointed them, the pressure from sycophants to promote Namal, which had in any case arisen, would have been irresistible – and Namal too would have had stronger claims to a position. Indeed, when the President first gave Deputy Minister positions to new entrants, he gave a couple to those who had done best in their Districts, which would facilitate Namal’s appointment at the next reshuffle – or rather, at the next accession of Ministers, since in Sri Lanka no one is left out when changes are made.

But there were other ways to provide Namal with the opportunities for patronage for which ordinary politicians needed executive office. He headed a youth movement called Tharunayata Hetak, a Future for the Young, which engaged in a range of activities that brought him prestige and publicity. He was invited to preside over ceremonial occasions, and given credit for what was done. And when the government settled people from the south in some areas in the North, he even had a new village named after him, Namalgama.

The forces indeed gave him much prominence. He had to be present when former LTTE cadres were released after rehabilitation. I came across one particularly sad example of the unnecessary problems caused by this rage for recognition – or perhaps the rage to bestow recognition, since Namal probably would not have minded if he had not been invited to all such occasions – with regard to the restoration to their owners of some boutiques in Kilinochchi which the army had occupied. I was asked about these at a Reconciliation meeting, and I suggested the community organization that raised the question meet the Civil Affairs Office of the military, and find out what was planned. I always noted that the military had a right to take over lands if essential, but they had to ensure that this was indeed essential, and that owners were properly compensated.

The officer who came to the meeting promised to look into the matter, but as we went out he said they had already decided to give back the boutiques. When I asked why this had not been done, he said that they were waiting for Namal to be present to restore the deeds at a formal ceremony. This struck me as ridiculous, since it caused unnecessary suffering to the owners, and in any case it was the army that needed to win hearts and minds, not politicians from the south. But the system of sycophancy rather than practicality was too well entrenched for my argument to have any effect, even though the officer concerned understood the point. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sajin Vas Gunawardena … was able to serve the President in a variety of ways

Undoubtedly the most bizarre of the characters who influenced the President in the period after the election of 2010 was Sajin Vas Gunawardena. He was not a relation, and he did not have the professional or academic credentials of the other characters discussed here. Indeed he had hardly any qualifications but, ever since Mahinda Rajapaksa became President, he occupied positions of trust and responsibility.

qrcode.26301045It was claimed that the reason for the confidence the President reposed in him was because, while a clerk in the Middle East, he had helped the President with the technology during a presentation that might otherwise have been a disaster. But it is also likely that, after they thus became acquainted, he was able to serve the President in a variety of ways that commanded his affection and his confidence.

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Mihin Lanka …rapidly lost a lot of money, though Sajin himself became very wealthy

The first escapade in which he was involved under a Rajapaksa Presidency was the setting up of a budget airline. Called Mihin Lanka, in honour of Mahinda, it rapidly lost a lot of money, though Sajin himself became very wealthy during his tenure in office. Before long Mihin Lanka was handed over to Sri Lankan Airlines to be managed, and the losses of both together – the Board of the latter chaired by the President’s brother-in-law Nishantha Wickremesinghe – continued a drain on public funds for many years.

I first came across Sajin when I was appointed to head the Peace Secretariat, and was told that he was the point of liaison between the Secretariat and the President’s Office. In fact he had no interest in or understanding of our work, and I liaised mainly through the President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunge, though in those days I generally had immediate access to the President if this was needed.

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Sajin wanted his importance to be recognized, and resented anyone else who had a direct link to the President

I met Sajin early on in my tenure of office, and then hardly ever again, though he came I believe to the opening of the new office which had been built for us in the premises of the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall. When we were deciding on the allocation of rooms in that office, my Director of Administration suggested we keep a room there for the use of Sajin. This seemed to me unnecessary, particularly as the room he suggested was the second best in the building. I thought it should go to my Deputy, a retired Tamil ambassador named Poolokasingham, whose stature I thought needed to be established. I told the Director that, since Sajin had not come to the office for a long time, all we needed to do if in fact he wanted a room was to set aside one of the smaller rooms at the end of the main corridor. I heard nothing more after that about that particular suggestion, and I think the Director was secretly relieved, though he had thought it was his duty to keep Sajin happy and thus prevent any recriminations against the Secretariat in general, and me in particular. Whether this contributed to his later animosity against me I do not know, but the experience of our High Commissioner in London, Chris Nonis, indicated that Sajin wanted his importance to be recognized, and resented anyone else who had a direct link to the President.

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… one of the young MPs in the group around Namal Rajapaksa

But way back in 2007, Sajin was more interested in his own political career, and during the next couple of years he was elected to the Southern Province Provincial Council. Then, in 2010, he got nomination for the Galle district for the Parliamentary election, and did reasonably well. In Parliament he was one of the young MPs in the group around Namal Rajapaksa but initially he had no executive responsibilities.

All that changed with the realization that the Ministry of External Affairs was in a mess, and he was appointed to be its Monitoring Member of Parliament. That was the only serious Monitoring MP position, and one heard hardly anything of the few others who had been appointed, until that is Duminda Silva, attached to the Ministry of Defence, was involved in the death of Bharatha Premachandra, another SLFP politician from the Colombo district.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

August 2019
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