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by Shamindra Ferdinando
Today, the electorate is at a crossroad with twice-president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, launching a new movement to form a government, at the Aug 17 parliamentary polls. A confident Rajapaksa launched his parliamentary polls campaign at Anuradhapura where he vowed to overcome the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combination. The pledge was made at the largest ever gathering in the historic city, where Rajapaksa recalled ancient kings had defeated foreign invaders. The war-winning leader alleged that the present Yahapalana government had destroyed, within six months, what his administration had achieved since the conclusion of the war in May, 2009. The former President asked what would have happened if the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration had continued for five years. Since the change of government, in January consequent to Rajapaksa’s defeat, some of those, who had switched their allegiance to the then common presidential candidate, Maithripala Sirisena deserted the new administration. Having joined Yahapalana project, late last November, Liberal Party Leader and State Education, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, quit the administration in March. The UPFA included Prof. Wijesinha, in its National List submitted to the Elections Secretariat on July 13, hence making him a key element in Rajapaksa’s team.
Full text of an interview with Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
In the last few weeks I have looked at the way in which several of the pledges regarding reforms in the President’s manifesto were forgotten or subverted by those to whom he entrusted the Reform process. In addition there are some fields in which reforms have been carried through, but in such a hamfisted fashion that the previous situation seems to shine by comparison.
One area in which this has happened is that of Foreign Relations. The shorter manifesto declared that ‘A respected Foreign Service free of political interference will be re-established’. This was fleshed out in the longer version, with the following being the first four Action Points –
- The country’s foreign policy will be formulated to reflect the government’s national perspectives.
- Within hundred days all political appointments and appointment of relatives attached to the Foreign Service will be annulled and the entire Foreign Service will be reorganised using professional officials and personnel who have obtained professional qualifications. Our foreign service will be transformed into one with the best learned, erudite, efficient personnel who are committed to the country and who hold patriotic views.
- Cordial relations will be strengthened with India, China, Pakistan and Japan, the principal countries of Asia, while improving friendly relations with emerging Asian nations such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Korea without differences.
- Our Indian policy will take into due consideration the diversity of India.
In the last couple of weeks we have seen what seems total rejection of the ideals of Good Governance through which this government came to office. I shall look today at the performance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, having spent time previously on another vital Ministry, that of Finance. But I should note that with regard to many others – with a few honourable exceptions of course – there seems little activity, so that it is not just principles of Good Governance that are being breached, but the very idea of Governance.
I regret very much that Karu Jayasuriya has done nothing thus far with regard to the important task allotted to him with regard to Governance. I appreciate the fact that, given relations between him and Ranil he feels diffident, but that should not stop him taking initiatives in areas that will win him universal commendation. He could for instance easily stop the excessive perks that politicians enjoy, in particular the opportunities to abuse Ministry funds provided by the constitution of Ministerial private offices.
In my former Ministry for instance, now a Cabinet portfolio with a Deputy too, the perks of office continue unabated. My former staff, whose use of the vehicles to which they were entitled I restricted, have told me how many vehicles the Ministers, or rather their private staff, use between them. Meanwhile the two Ministers together are less in office than I was, and there is little progress in the University sector, with the imbroglio over the latest and the previous Advanced Levels continuing in the Courts. And though the new Cabinet Minister finally looked at the Act we had drafted, he like many others seems to think that there is no point in any action since an election is imminent.
“About three years ago, at a private meeting at the Central Bank Maithreepala Sirisena was the first person to say that there are questions about the way the roads are being built. He said there was a lot of waste going on. I think that was very brave of him.”
University don turned parliamentarian Rajiva Wijesinha was in the news recently for having crossed over from the government to the opposition and for having appeared on Al Jazeera with the head of the Global Tamil Forum Suren Surenthiran where he made some utterances that have been given various interpretations. In this interview, he speaks to C. A. Chandraprema about his Al Jazeera interview, and his support for Maithreepala Sirisena.
Q. You seem to have ruffled feathers in Colombo with your interview on Al Jazeera. I have heard you (and many other people) saying much worse things about the Rajapaksas. It would appear that the reason for people to be upset about what you said would be that you seemed to be telling Surenthiran that what he was saying (about Rajapaksa being taken to the International Criminal Court like Charles Taylor or Milosevic after he loses the election) was ‘precisely the kind of nonsense that will lead to an undesirable result at this election’. You also said that the GTF should have the sense not to try to interfere in this election ‘because they will pervert it’. That may have been interpreted as your telling Surenthiran not to say such things because his statements will skew the election result in favour of the government and defeat the ‘common goal’.
A. I said that in direct contradiction to what Suren Surenthiran was saying. When I said that I believe the army fought a very good war both Surenthiran and the lady doing the interview started shouting at me to which I responded by saying that ‘I am not concerned about the prejudices of the international community’. I also said that at the rate the government is going our forces will suffer if Mahinda Rajapaksa is re-elected because Mahinda Rajapksa’s foreign minister has utterly betrayed the record of our forces. No answers have been made to the allegations made against us, there have been blanket denials, and there has been no analysis to show that the allegations made are false. Only I have done that. Mahinda Rajapaksa says that I nodded my head to what Suren Surenthiran said about taking him to the Hague after the election. But I have said very clearly that there is absolutely no case (against Sri Lanka).
Q. Could this irritation be because you were considered a friend of the family and even appointed as a national list MP? In such a context some of the things you said may be quite hurtful. Such as for example saying that “there is a dangerous collection of people around him (the president) who are treating him as a cash cow” and they have “blockaded him from the reality of what is going on in the country and they let him out of this fortress only in order to use him.”
A. I have been saying this sort of thing to him before. And about being grateful to be a national list MP, I think the boot is on the other foot if I may say so. I was offered a couple of ambassadorships but I turned them down because I could not leave my father who was growing older. Then I was offered the position of head of the Peace Secretariat which I never asked for. I accepted it because it was a challenge and I think I did a very good job and I think gratitude is owed to me and it may be because of that that I was appointed to parliament. When G. L.Peiris didn’t want to use me, he (the president) used my services to go abroad to deal with the channel 4 challenge. I feel very strongly that we fought a good war and I was very happy to defend our people in that situation. He asked me to go to Geneva three times, but I said I couldn’t because I found the whole thing was a mess. Read the rest of this entry »
1) Would you be willing to send a brief response to the US govt’s publicly announced stance that they will support a resolution against SL at the UNHRC in March?
They have argued that the LLRC report has not covered accountability issues in sufficient detail – and therefore they will support a “straightforward resolution” which will call for a credible, transparent mechanism to probe the war crimes allegations.
2) Ambassador Blake also made it clear that if there are shortcomings in such a domestic mechanism, SL would have to face international pressure for an external probe.
3) Ambassador Blake further backed the TNA’s position that a solution must first be reached in the bilateral discussions between the govt and the TNA, and that such a solution could be the basis of discussion at a PSC. How do you view this development?
Thanks for the questions, though I am not sure of the basis on which you have constructed them. I have not been in Colombo for some days, so missed the reports of what transpired during the American visit, but the transcript of the press conference that the Embassy issued gave a different impression. Under Secretary Otero suggested a more nuanced approach, whereas Assistant Secretary Blake seemed to be more threatening.
What he said could be interpreted on the lines you have suggested, and perhaps that was intentional, but I would prefer to go along with the Otero approach on the grounds that there are still some civilized people in the American administration. After all, when she says that a resolution is intended to provide ‘an opportunity for the government of Sri Lanka to describe what it intends to do to implement the LLRC’s recommendations and advance reconciliation as well as address accountability, human rights, and democracy concerns’, she is only repeating what I have been saying, as Adviser on Accountability, for a very long time.