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The seven weeks after the press conference at which Maithripala Sirisena announced his candidature were hectic and tense. During the conference itself, I had a telephone call to say that the Presidential Secretariat had called to demand that the vehicle I was using be returned. This struck me as petty, and foolish given that Chandrika Kumaratunga had just announced that those of us who had come out in favour of the common candidate would be persecuted.
I am aware that Mahinda Rajapaksa felt he had been betrayed by Maithripala Sirisena since, even when they had had dinner together the night before, the latter had given no hint that he was going to contest. But the manner in which I was deprived of my vehicle, even while I was still technically Adviser to the President on Reconciliation, indicated the manner in which anyone who was open in their actions would be treated.
In my case the President had no reason at all to feel betrayed, since I had written to him clearly in October to say we could not support him if he did not proceed with some of the reforms he had pledged earlier. And over the last few months I had made clear the need for reform, both Vasantha and I even proposing Private Members Bills with regard to burning issues such as reducing the size of the Cabinet. Interestingly enough, Vasantha told me that the President had called him and said that he was being unduly influenced by me, but he did not bother to speak to me himself. It was only just before the common candidate declared himself that one of his confidantes, Sarath Wijesinghe, called me and said that he assumed I would support the President. But even Sarath had no answer when I mentioned what worried me, such as the appalling treatment of Chris Nonis.
I have no hard feelings though about Mahinda Rajapaksa, because I believe he was grossly misled by a small coterie around him who cared neither for him nor for the country. What was surprising was that a man of such capacity, and sensitivity to the needs of the country, should have allowed himself to be dominated by a bunch of callous rascals. I should note that, though I have never had any high regard for Basil Rajapaksa, I do not include him in the category of those with undue influence, since he was undoubtedly a man of ability. And he achieved much in terms of development, even though he was not capable of twinning this with human development, which was essential if the fruits of development were to be equitably distributed. And of course he was largely responsible for alienating the President from the senior members of his party, since the impression they had, indicated to me vividly by one of the most decent members of the Cabinet, John Seneviratne, was that he was usurping the powers of all other ministries.
But there were reasons at least, if not good enough ones, for the President’s reliance on this brother. What was totally unacceptable was the role played by individuals such as Sajin vas Goonewardene and Kshenuka Seneviratne, at whose behest the President summarily dismissed those who did so much for their country such as Tamara Kunanayagam and Dayan Jayatilleke; the indulgence shown to individuals such as Duminda de Silva and the Chairman of the Tangalle local body who was responsible for the death of a British tourist; the failure to deal with racist elements such as the Bodhu Bala Sena, and equally to stop the fuel for their fires provided by the activities of Rishard Bathiudeen, who had so effectively alienated not just Sinhala extremists but also all Tamils. Read the rest of this entry »
As I have noted, the Vasantha Senanayake proposals that have been sent to the Parliamentary Select Committee are to form the basis of the discussions the Marga Institute is facilitating to promote consensus. The most innovative of the ideas put forward in the memorandum submitted to Parliament is the suggestion that we accept the logic of the Executive Presidential system, and therefore bring the Cabinet in line with the executive system in other countries which have Executive Presidents – the United States and Russia and France and the Philippines, to name but a few.
On a proper Executive Presidential system, unlike the hybrid perversion J R Jayewardene introduced, those put in charge of the different branches of the executive come from outside Parliament. If they are in the legislature, they have to resign their Parliamentary positions, as Hilary Clinton and John Kerry did. Even when the President has a Prime Minister whose tenure depends on the confidence of Parliament, when that Prime Minister has won election and established a majority, he gives up his seat to take up an executive position. And as we saw with Vladimir Putin in Russia, someone who had been elected to Parliament and thereby been chosen as Prime Minister, can easily, and with greater effectiveness, be replaced by a technocrat.
Characteristically, Dayan Jayatilleke opposed the suggestion on the grounds that it would lead to the President filling the executive with his own relations. This was yet another example of an otherwise very distinguished analyst allowing ad hominem arguments to influence his judgment. I should add that his position also fails to take into account the fact that any relations who aspire to executive office will have no difficulty in getting elected, as both our Parliament and many Provincial Councils exemplify. The problem then is that even the very able start making getting re-elected their priority, whereas if Ministers concentrated only on making a success of the areas for which they are responsible, we would have decisions and actions that focus on results rather than popularity.
Last week the Marga Institute held a discussion on several sets of proposals that had been forwarded to the Parliamentary Select Committee looking into ‘Political and Constitutional Measures to Empower the People of Sri Lanka to Live as One Nation’. After much animated discussion, it was decided to work with the set of proposals put forward by Vasantha Senanayake, and a couple of groups have been established to flesh these out.
Senanayake is perhaps the brightest of the young Members elected newly in 2010, a factor noticed by several embassies that have sent him on delegations of young Members to visit their countries. These proposals sprang from his work with the One Text Initiative which had seen him spearhead a group of Parliamentarians, representing government as well as different opposition parties, who had interacted with members of the Sri Lankan Diaspora, both Sinhalese and Tamil, in Britain. They had sent a report on their visit to the President, though there has been no response to the interesting ideas and suggestions they put forward.
Vasantha had worked together with a group of young professionals to put forward the proposals which included some startlingly innovative ideas. Perhaps the most important of them is not however new, because it was one of the principal elements on which three recent documents on constitutional reform agreed, namely those of the Liberal Party, the UNP and the group led by Rev Sobitha. This was the need to get rid of the present system of elections, and I think it would be useful to return to this now, since the last set of elections to Provincial Councils made crystal clear – again – how destructive the current system is.
Politics certainly makes strange bedfellows, as exemplified recently by the allegation made by Shenali Waduge against Dayan Jayatilleke. I see Shenali Waduge as an aggressive writer, a description I am sure she would relish. Yet the charge she levels against Dayan is precisely that which was made a few weeks back by Tissa Jayatilaka, whose agenda now seems to be wholly that of the Americans whose Fulbright Commission he now heads.
Shenali’s criticism of Dayan occurs in the midst of a massive diatribe against G L Peiris, with which I must confess I have some sympathy. Yet I think Shenali has missed the point, because she thinks GL has a perspective which is opposed to her own, whereas the reality is that GL has no perspectives at all. Dayan on the contrary does, but Shenali is totally wrong to say that the 2009 vote in our favour in Geneva was because Dayan ‘secretly inserted a clause stating Sri Lanka would implement the 13th amendment’. This is of a piece with Tissa Jayatilaka’s claim that the victory in 2009 was a disaster because the draft contained pledges which have now come back to haunt us.
In considering again the extraordinary attack on Dayan Jayatilleka by the destructive elements in the Ministry of External Affairs, being indeed forced to do so by their gratuitous inclusion of me therein, it occurred to me that one reason for the ongoing dysfunctionality of government at present is the contradictory motivations of some of those who exercise influence with regard to not just international relations but also those subjects that are of close concern to the international community.
I refer to those who believe that they are best equipped to deal with the West, and in particular those in the Ministry who believe that Dayan and I have been too tough and that, had things been left to them, the West would be very happy with the situation in Sri Lanka. According to the incisive commentary about divisions in the delegation in Geneva, they had been engaging in discussions with the West, as it seems they had been doing for many years before.
While I am not sure that that commentary is right in seeing such individuals as traitorous, I believe that their approach was wrong on two counts. One was the belief that the West would be happy with assurances without any action with regard to matters on which they could build up feeling against us. The second was the assumption that the West was concerned only about such matters, and that what has been going on over the last few years need not be studied, but can be dealt with by hasty reactions.
One of the most preposterous charges laid against Dayan Jayatilleka in the Ceylon Today diatribe is that he writes too much. It is of course understandable that this comes from the Mandarins of the Ministry of External Affairs – I am assuming that Ms Bastians who wrote the article was fed by that Ministry, given that her husband Gehan Indragupta is a member of the fraternity – since their distinguishing feature is that they cannot or do not write at all.
I was made vividly aware of this when I was in Lebanon, where our ambassador is one of the brightest thinkers in the Ministry, though doubtless looked down upon by the Mandarins as someone who does not write perfect English. I was told by someone in authority that this was one of the problems with many staff, but obviously nothing has been done to improve the situation, if indeed it is a problem (given the general quality of English anyway, and the actual excellent content of those the Mandarins look down on). When indeed the Minister asked me to help draft statements I said I could easily help, but would it not make more sense for me to train people in writing? I heard nothing more, and I suspect the reason the President gave me in his shrewd fashion means that I will not be permitted to assist in that regard, or indeed any other.
To get back to our ambassador in Lebanon, he has edited a collection of essays on directions for Sri Lanka foreign policy, but it seems that the Mandarins had not contributed. He himself had written an essay, and one had been promised by Ravinatha Ariyasinha, our man in Brussels, but apart from those two, I believe that all contributions come from outsiders. In such a context, the Ministry should be delighted that it has at least some people working for it whose writings are highly respected internationally – but instead we are beset by petty jealousies that will strive to destroy one of our few diplomats who is regularly called upon by his peers to speak for them in public forums.
I was delighted to have also been attacked in an article in ‘Ceylon Today’ that basically attempted to say that what it termed the monumental loss at Geneva was largely due to Dayan Jayatilleka (and, in parenthesis as it were, to me). It is suggested that what the writer, Ms Bastians, calls a Rottweiller approach, alienated the West, and that is why we have been persecuted by the US and other countries. But, since much of the article is a personal attack on Dr Jayatilleka, building up the case that was set in motion with a missive from the Ministry of External Affairs alleging corruption etc, it is obvious that this is part of the brilliant technique of the fellow travelers in the Ministry to ignore the real problems about Geneva and get on with their task of getting rid of all our able emissaries.
Ms Bastians, I gather, is the wife of Gehan Indragupta who is in the Ministry, in Colombo at present, a batchmate of George Cooke, one of the principal plotters against Dr Jayatilleka. George, who is unmarried, was permitted to move into an unfurnished apartment at a monthly rental of Euro 3280/-. One of the charges against Dayan is that he permitted Mr Razee, also a Second Secretary at the Mission like George, to stay for a long time in a hotel. The reason for this is that he was given a much lower rent ceiling and, even when this was subsequently increased to Euro 2500/-, finding a furnished apartment, which was specified, was not easy.
George however is a lucky soul, one of those plump Burgher boys whom motherly teachers at nursery school adored. Though not very bright, they would win prizes for elocution, and I recall George acting as Master of Ceremonies at various functions during Mr Bogollagama’s tenure. I suspect he was the person who advised Mr Bogollagama that the G15 was not of the slightest importance, for when the President was offered the Chairmanship of this body, he said that the Foreign Minister had told him not to take it up because it did not contain countries of importance. I should note though that, when I told the Foreign Minister that it included countries such as India and Brazil, he ignored the advice of the Ministry professionals and persuaded the President to take up the position. That it was not made use of subsequently is well known by diplomats in Geneva, and also the reasons for this – as one Indian journalist told me, the problem was that, after Dayan left, instead of asking friends for advice and assistance, we would only ask them for their votes.
So much for the professionalism of the Foreign Office. That, doubtless, is why they – as exemplified by Ms Bastians – are also attacking Tamara Kunanayagam, who was grossly ill-treated in Geneva. I was asked why this was so by two Westerners, who appreciated the forthrightness with which she spoke, and her sheer professionalism. They could not understand why she had been sidelined, but the mandarins who ill-treated her will claim to the President that it was all her fault.
I was pleasantly entertained by Prof Savithri Goonesekere’s references to myself and Dayan Jayatilleke in her long critique of recent developments with regard to Higher Education. The thrust of the article is to attack the reforms proposed by the Minister, S B Dissanayake, whose photograph features twice in the article. Apart from Minister Mervyn Silva, the only two individuals referred to disparagingly by name are Dayan and myself.
I was reminded on reading this of the attack on Minister Dissanayake in the recent US review of Human Rights in Sri Lanka. Apart from Ministers Wimal Weerawansa and Douglas Devananda, two individuals the Americans in general would love to hate, S B was the only Minister mentioned by name. As I wrote at the time, there seemed no obvious reason to hate S B, so that the reason for the attack, prepared I believe by the less civilized elements in the U S Embassy, was probably the flirtation they were carrying on with the JVP. The JVP were doubtless as cynical in their reasons for accepting the advances made, though perhaps that little side-show has been suspended by other developments in the JVP now.
Saner elements in the West, as I have had proven again and again in conversation, have a much higher opinion of S B, and believe as I do that his efforts to reform the University system must be supported. They may not of course agree with all his initiatives, but by and large they recognize that he is an effective Minister with very progressive ideas, and that unless his reforms are expedited, education and thus society in Sri Lanka will not move forward as demanded by the current world situation.
Just as those who prepared the US Report on Human Rights realized that denigration of S B was a way of attacking reform, so too it would seem that Prof Goonesekere, with some intellectual confusion regrettable in one of her renown, thinks attacking Dayan and me would be useful in pursuing her ends. The gratuitous reference to Mervyn Silva, the only member of the government mentioned by name in this article, is typical of propaganda techniques unworthy of a distinguished academic.