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100 daysBy Lakna Paranamanna

The State Minister for Higher Education Professor Rajiva Wijesinha maintains that the promises made during the presidential campaign period have taken a backseat with the general elections in the offing. At an interview with the Dailymirror Prof. Wijesinha was candid on the reasons that led to his resignation, on the reforms he planned in the higher education sector. He has expressed negative views on the progress of the 100-day programme of the new government.Excerpts of the interview follow.

Q. Was it solely the resignation of the UGC Chairman – a subject on which you claim you weren’t consulted – that led to your resignation from your portfolio?

Last week I attended the portrait unveiling of Mr. Kadirgamar at the Peradeniya University. One of the first questions directed at me by an academic was why I was defending this lady (UGC Chairperson). I said I’m not defending her because no-one has attacked her. But we are here for good governance and a lot of principles have been violated.

“Appointing the Cabinet and ministers was  delegated to Ranil and Chandrika. Chandrika took care of HER SLFP while Ranil simply did  what he had to do: look after the interests of the UNP”

KabirHashimThe first principle on which my resignation was based was a simple one –  if someone is in charge of a subject and you are their superior, you do not interfere [with what they do in office]. When I was appointed as a State Minister I registered my disappointment with the President, but said I would continue to work because it was an interesting subject.

But, one week later, Kabir Hashim was appointed the Cabinet Minister and he told me that even he was not informed of it [ appointment] beforehand. But he told me that he did not have time to look into ministry matters since he would be busy with election work and for me to take on the responsibilities.

However, on Friday (13) I found that he had been ordering my secretary to do things without telling me. I was cross about that. I wrote to him and said it was unethical and that if he wished to get any information he should have asked me.

1423706631_8746526_hirunews_shanikaMeanwhile, I got an e-mail from the UGC Chairperson Professor Kshanika Hirimburegama saying that Minister Hashim had asked her to resign and she thought I knew. I was never consulted on the matter and when I attended work on Tuesday (16) I found she had resigned. I was in a fix because the Act does not give the minister any powers, only responsibilities; and the minister can only act through the UGC. Incidentally, on that day for the first time I discovered prima facie evidence of corruption, which I ordered my secretary to inquire into. The Act states ‘Chairpersons shall work until successors are appointed’; so I informed her to continue work until her position was filled. I was told it might not be a good idea because the FUTA will be annoyed that I’m trying to keep her when I was only trying to get the work done. I decided I cannot operate under such circumstances and  wrote to the President informing I would be resigning with effect from February 17 or to appoint me as the Cabinet Minister for Higher Education. The second reason was due to the demand for the UGC Chair to resign that would result in a violation of the principles of justice. If people make allegations I will definitely investigate them. But I have not received a single official complaint about her.

100 daysQ. Did you make any statement implying  you were against university dons engaging in politics?

During a discussion, in Peradeniya,  I mentioned that we must have systems to stop university officials getting involved in politics. It was decided that perhaps the best step is to have a rule that says university officers don’t have political rights. I never mentioned anything about dons because they have always wanted political rights. They pride themselves in it and why not. They are  brighter and more aware etc. Of course they should engage in politics. You and I know that during the previous regime, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa did wrong when he simultaneously engaged in politics while being a secretary of a ministry. But it was not so clear cut about the UGC Chair because she was not a public official but an academic. Read the rest of this entry »

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Letter to Daily Mirror 15 Feb 15The Editor

Daily Mirror

Dear Champika

I am writing with regard to the article in your columns today about the situation in the Ministry of Higher Education. While your reporter has tried to describe the situation, there were some elements that were not quite accurate.

  1. The Cabinet Minister of Higher Education had told me he asked the Chairman of the University Grants Commission to resign because of pressure from FUTA. The Prime Minister told me – as I mentioned to your reporter – that resignations had been requested from all officials in state institutions, and I could reappoint anyone if I wished. But that was not the way the Cabinet Minister had presented his orders to the UGC, having instead invoked the authority of His Excellency the President. This morning he reiterated that he had been under pressure from FUTA
  2. I did not say I had been told the President had informed the Cabinet Minister of anything.  The Cabinet Minister told me the President had asked him to resolve the issue. He said that he would gazette Higher Education functions under me, but I pointed out that he had earlier told me he wanted me to run things since he would be busy with elections, and then had succumbed to pressures when approach by others. He then said he would request the Prime Minister to appoint me as Cabinet Minister, but it turned out that he had not spoken to the Prime Minister on Thursday evening as promised.
  3. I did not try to contact the Prime Minister at all. It was the Prime Minister who called me on Saturday evening, after his adviser, Mr Deva-Adiththiya, requested me to wait until he had resolved the situation, since he felt strongly that my services were needed in this position. The Prime Minister had been out of communication for two days, which is perhaps why the Cabinet Minister had not got through to him, but he did call me even while still out of Colombo. The Cabinet Minister told me that the Prime Minister had indeed spoken to him on Saturday, and said he would resolve the situation, but he had no idea what happened after that.

Yours sincerely,

Rajiva Wijesinha

Daily MirrorProfessor Rajiva Wijesinha, son of late Sam Wijesinha, Former Parliamentary Secretary General is a member of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka. In June 2007 President Mahinda Rajapakse appointed him Secretary-General of the Sri Lankan Government Secretariat for Co-ordinating the Peace Process, and in June 2008 he became the Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights. In February 2010 he resigned from the Ministry and the University, and became a member of Parliament on the National List of the UPFA following which he was appointed a member of Parliament. In an interview with the Daily Mirror, Professor Wijesinha speaks about the lack of control among ruling party leaders, the loopholes in the educational system and the civil service in Sri Lanka.

Q. Describe your entry into politics

qrcode.26633243I have always been interested in political history and I have done a lot of political writings. In fact one of my best papers was political philosophy. Basically I have been involved with the Liberal party of Sri Lanka. Liberalism means freedom and for freedom you need several factors. When talking about an executive presidency, about having too much power, ever since the time of Montesquieu, there has been an idea of the removal of arbitrary powers. But the first thing we should all realise is that in any government the most important and in fact the most powerful is the executive. You need to check that executive; whether it is a child, a president or a prime minister from exercising arbitrary power. Also what are the instruments that will control the arbitrary power of the ruler on behalf of the people?

Montesquieu suggested two institutions which needed to be powerful; the Parliament, whose role was to pass the laws and money and oversee the proper spending of that money-which was why the budget was such an important occasion in our lives. The other is the Judiciary, who should independently administer the law. Another extremely powerful institution that plays a role on behalf of the people is the media.  Another element is the public service. Increasingly the concept developed around an independent public service with no servants for a king or a minister.

The need for a free economy should be addressed. However, I am delighted by the fact that statism changed its phase after JR’s open economy was established. At that time I was writing for my PhD and by the time I got back I found him to be rather authoritative and I was horrified by the type of things he did.

Daily Mirror1

RW 16 Dec 2014 1Q. What was the concept of the Liberal Party?

We were the first people to say, “control the power of the executive”. Before the 17th Amendment, the President appointed anybody he wanted for anything. We were the ones who said that on a political philosophy it was totally unacceptable. We pooled in a lot of ideas then, which are now universally accepted. Chanaka Amaratunge had a deep knowledge about the constitutions all over the world. We said that the election system was mad and proposed for a mixed system. We said a lot of things and gradually people came to accept them.

Q. What do you think of this newly emerging ‘defection-culture’ and the political scenario as of late?

I think the country is pleased.  In my opinion, every individual who crossed over to the Opposition had a strong identity. I think Maithripala Sirisena is a very capable person, yet the cross-over by Tissa Attanayake is quite ineffective. The opposition need not be sorry that he is gone.

Q. Do you regret your transition from being an academic to a politician?

No. I have done a lot in academia and I was responsible for taking the initiative to transform university education, through the introduction of ‘co-courses’. The British education system relies on a very good school education. In America, students are taught basic skills in universities and this was initiated from Harvard in the 19th Century. What they said was that as soon as you came into a university you didn’t specialise, but you have to learn a little bit about science, mathematics and the like.

The Harvard by the end of the 20th Century had expanded the co-courses into 10 separate things and the students had to do a little of each. These courses included communication, inter-cultural skills, inter-personal skills and the like. When I went back, I introduced this system at the University of Sabaragamuwa. So every student had to do English and they also had to do both Sinhala and Tamil, because my Tamil and Sinhala students could not write anything. Along with these I also introduced critical thinking. At first they used to curse me for this but then later they said that this was what they got when they went for jobs. Also many of these students did not know how to use a book. For example, when asked to find the largest country in the world the whole class was busy turning pages, but of course there was a contents page. Therefore, I also introduced library skills. Since these skills were introduced, which I think are very important to any student, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has announced that they were mandatory.

In any society 80% has to go into business, technical work and you must educate people for that. You cannot educate 100% of a population. We see graduates coming unemployed and our rulers offer them jobs. The brightest minds in the country are going and sitting at the Divisional Secretariats as Samurdhi officers and when I ask them what they when I ask them what they are doing, they say ‘data collection’. When asked for the purpose, they keep staring at me. So we can see that no one has been doing anything about this mismatch in education. In fact I think what I did was quite useful. Read the rest of this entry »

By D.B.S.JEYARAJ
National List MP Prof.Rajiva Wijesinha has been in the news lately for his independent approach and  outspoken views. In this interview the academic turned politico speaks out openly on a number of issues including the impeachment motion against the chief justice, stalled Govt-TNA talks, National Reconciliation, about the President being reportedly annoyed with him and whether he desires a cabinet portfolio.

Q: Let me begin with a topic that is close to your heart as well as mine. National Reconciliation! You are an adviser to the President on reconciliation and have taken much effort in this regard. Could you talk about your work in this sphere and the progress achieved so far?

The Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation meetings I have had have been very useful, in part because they allow for attention to the problems that affect the day-to-day lives of communities, and in part because some government agencies have been quick to respond with solutions. But by and large my work has not moved as quickly as the situation demands, because there is no specific responsibility in government for Reconciliation.

Q: As the Presidential adviser on Reconciliation have you made any suggestions or recommendations to rectify this situation? I did read about a report you had  submitted. Could you elaborate please?

I believe a Ministry for National Reconciliation  is essential and I have suggested this to the President in the Report I have submitted, together with suggestions as to who should be appointed, either as Minister or as Deputy if the President wishes to keep the portfolio himself.

I have made 21 recommendations altogether, including strengthening of Divisional Secretariats so as to promote more responsive and accountable government with regard to the immediate problems of communities which now feel alienated from the decision making process. I have also dealt with three areas of particular concern, namely land issues, livelihood development which must be promoted hand in hand with infrastructure development and with much greater efforts for skills development to empower people to take advantage of the opportunities that are being opened up, and psycho-social support which has been comparatively neglected.

More concerted efforts to promote language learning and develop better communication between different communities is also essential, and we have to think outside the box to achieve this, given the continuing incapacity of the Ministry of Education to train and deploy sufficient teachers.

                            RECONCILIATION                                

Q:You also formulated a draft National reconciliation policy that had many commendable features. What is the position on that?

I think my greatest disappointment has been the fact that the draft National Reconciliation Policy prepared in my office with the involvement of a multi-party multi-religious group, and endorsed by a range of politicians, media personnel, religious leaders and members of Civil Society, has been ignored.

The President said he had passed it on for comment, but he has warned me that things get lost in his office, and reminders have not helped to resurrect this. I am sorry about this, because endorsement, of course with whatever amendments Cabinet might make, would make it clear that Reconciliation is a national priority, with a home grown framework through which to implement the LLRC Action Plan as well as think beyond that for long term attitudinal change on all sides. Read the rest of this entry »

The above observation, which Minister Dilan Perera made at the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Liberal Party, was exemplified recently following an interview I did in Delhi with IANS, the agency that one associates with distinguished journalist Narayan Swamy. This time it was a younger man who interviewed me, for a very long time, though what was ultimately sent out was a relatively short piece, reproduced below.

I found out about it from the BBC, and thought it basically fair when I read it, except for a couple of misrepresentations. I inquired about the main one from the journalist, as follows – ‘The BBC rang about your piece, which had appeared in the Daily Mirror in Colombo.  Generally fair, but I was wondering about the headline – Don’t seek exclusive rights to Sri Lanka, India told – – which was not at all what I said (my point was that India and China never had, and the concept of exclusivity is a Western notion based on oppositions, whereas India was ok with our connections with Pakistan etc over the years, and the same goes for China). I wondered then if the headline was a Mirror idea, since the article itself did not give the idea of the headline. The only other point to make is that the micro-credit idea is mine, and I don’t think government will approach India in this regard, given all the other projects that are in train.’

Dr Dass responded immediately as follows – ‘It was wonderful interacting with you ysty. The headline was given by a very senior colleague who liked your interview. As far as the story goes, it is really nice of you to consider it to be generally fair.’

I did not think the point needed to be labored, except that I thought an opportunity had been missed, given the very different point raised by the BBC – ‘Thanks – though I fear (do tell your colleague) that the headline was misleading. Entertainingly, the BBC Sinhala Service rang about it, but wondered why I did not worry about India, given that the JVP thought India was hegemonic.  I do not blame the JVP which has to try to gain votes by whatever policy pronouncements come to hand, but can you imagine the BBC employing people still stuck in that mindset? In that regard I would have liked some reference to my point that exclusivity was a Western desire, as exemplified in Cold War days, might have got the BBC to think in a way more suited to the current context!’

Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

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