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I was away during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister and, with internet limited in Turkmenistan, could not follow what happened nor what was said. But enough came through to remind me of what happened 30 years ago, at the time of the Indo-Lankan Accord.

The recently founded Liberal Party found itself in a unique position on that occasion, since we welcomed the Accord but regretted three elements in it. One was the proposed merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, which we predicted would prove divisive. That regret is not my subject here, but it may be worth noting that, in addition to the practical problems we saw, we bewailed the fact that the whole concept of devolution was being perverted.

We had long promoted devolution on the grounds that government should be closer to the people. That is why we would have preferred District Councils, and why even recently we extolled the virtues of Divisional Secretariats for practical support to the people, given that Provincial Councils cannot now be abolished. In passing, I should note that the failure of the President to push through the commitment in his manifesto about Divisional Secretariats is another example of the sidelining of the structural changes this country so badly needs.

In 1987, President Jayewardene squandered the opportunity to streamline administration and, by proposing a merger, promoted the idea that devolution was about ethnic enclaves. That was a sure recipe for further dissension. Indeed what happened in the world afterwards has proved that. In the early eighties one could think of Federalism as a mechanism to bind different parts of a country closer together while allowing independent initiatives based on local needs (as with for instance the United States or Germany), But now it is seen as a precursor to separation, as has happened in the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia – and which is why India needs to be careful, not least with regard to one of the largest of its component states to still remain undivided.

But all that is another story. More relevant here is another of our caveats about the 1987 Accord, namely the elements in the Annexures which placed Sri Lanka firmly under Indian suzerainty. We had previously argued that the adventurism of the Jayewardene government with regard to India was potentially disastrous, and the manner in which India responded – which included strong condemnation using Argentina at the then equivalent in Geneva of the Human Rights Council – ensured our subjugation.

The Liberal Party had no quarrel at all with the actual restraints put upon Sri Lanka, for Jayewardene’s games with Trincomalee (including leasing the oil tanks to a Singapore based company, having cancelled the tender which an Indian company had won on good grounds), and the setting up of a Voice of America station at Iranawila, were unnecessary provocations. Given the then unremitting hostility of America to India, seen as a Soviet ally – and hence fair game for the terrorists being trained in Pakistan to attack not just the Soviets in Afghanistan – our getting involved in this latest version of the Great Game was idiotic. Read the rest of this entry »

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AustralianA FORMER presidential adviser to Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa government says it is plausible that some senior individuals close to the family-run regime were involved in the people-smuggling trade.

The admission comes two years after Australian intelligence officials told The Australian that a senior government figure close to then president Mahinda Raja­paksa was directly complicit in the 2012 surge of asylum boats to ­Australia.

Rajiva Wijesinha, the one-time reconciliation adviser to Mr Rajapaksa who last week was ­appointed Minister of State for Higher Education in the national unity government, told The Australian evidence of corruption among some close to the Rajapaksa clan was emerging following this month’s shock election result.

People smugglerProfessor Wijesinha singled out an individual from the southern port electorate of Hamban­tota, which received billions of dollars in Chinese infrastructure loans during Mr Rajapaksa’s 10 years in office, as one who was “making money hand over fist”.

The number of asylum boats leaving from Hambantota, the home town of the Rajapaksas, as opposed to the Tamil-dominated east and north coasts, has risen notably in recent years.

“Certainly accusations against individuals (of people-smuggling) as opposed to government sounded plausible,” he told The Australian of widespread rumours, adding that there was no evidence of “institutional involvement”.

“One of the reasons the Australian government was probably the least unhappy with us in the world was that the government did try to put a stop to (asylum boats).”

In July 2012, the former president’s eldest son, Namal Raja­paksa, addressed alle­gations of involvement in a human smuggling ring transporting asylum-seekers to Australia when he told Ceylon Today newspaper he had been falsely targeted by the Tamil diaspora seeking to bring his country into disrepute.

Five months later, The Aus­tralian reported that Australian intelligence agencies believed a “senior Sri Lankan government official” (not Namal) had been directly complicit in a surge in ­asylum-seeker boats the previous year and that it would be impossible for so many boats to leave the island without that individual’s ­direct involvement.

Sri Lankan asylum-seeker numbers surged to more than 6500 in 2012 from 211 the previous year, then dropped sharply following then foreign minister Bob Carr’s December 2012 visit to ­Colombo, which also marked the first wavering of Australian government support for an independent investigation into allegations of war crimes by both sides in the last months of the civil war.

Last year, Australia reversed its support for a UN-backed inquiry.

Australian - People smugglingSri Lankan opposition party, People’s Liberation Front last week lodged corruption complaints against the former president, his son Namal and brothers Basil and Gotabhaya, who held the economic development and defence portfolios respectively.

While the complaints largely address vastly inflated costs for national infrastructure projects, including a Chinese-built railway costing $US18 million a kilometre and allegedly 12 times the actual price, there is scope to investigate alleged involvement in people-smuggling.

How Australia’s bilateral relationship will fare under the new government is still to be tested.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/sri-lanka-regime-associates-linked-to-people-smuggling/story-fn9hm1gu-1227191427195?nk=4838f62a560315c4003ad33e1e6354c2

 

Dopey 3Namal in fact had no inhibitions about discussing with friends the lucrative business deals he was involved in. But it is possible that he did not think there was anything wrong with all these. Over the years a culture of close involvement of politicians with the business sector had developed, and the favours received from them were seen simply as tokens of friendship – as were the concessions and contracts the complaisant businessmen received. So Chandrika Kumaratunga benefited as President from the largesse of a businessman called Ronnie Pieris, who did very well under the regime, while another close friend who had worked for Emirates ended up, when he was appointed head of Air Lanka, as it used to be known, by subordinating it to that airline. Emirates emerged strengthened immeasurably by the partnership while Air Lanka lost much of the reputation and the reach it had earlier enjoyed. But these seemed isolated examples, and the connections to any incentives were never direct.

But by the time the Rajapaksa regime was settled in, the potential for business had expanded immeasurably, and Namal, with initially a lower profile than those holding executive positions, but with obviously the greatest influence of all, was soon rapidly befriended by many local and foreign businessmen. But as with the Packer deal, he could doubtless convince himself that he was promoting more economic activity in Sri Lanka, and that the country would also benefit.

27Another area in which his friends had a field day was the Stock Exchange, which it soon became known was being ruthlessly manipulated. The President’s essential innocence about this sort of thing seemed apparent when he appointed as its Chairman Indrani Sugathadasa, a former senior public servant of great integrity, who was also the wife of his Secretary Lalith Weeratunge. But before long she felt obliged to resign, and the President accepted her resignation. She had asked her husband before she resigned whether it would affect his position, and he had reassured her because he did not think he could contribute to the vitiation of her integrity. But, given that it was rumoured that Namal had played a role, on behalf of his friends, in making her position untenable, the matter obviously affected his own feelings and his potential effectiveness.

Mrs Sugathadasa was replaced by another figure of known integrity, a former Member of Parliament, Tilak Karunaratne. He was also concerned about education, and was a member of an advisory group I had set up called Religion, Education And Pluralism. After he was appointed, he suggested that we meet in the Security Exchanges Commission office, since that would save him the long journey to my Reconciliation Office which was near Parliament. I asked him then how confident he felt about his position, and the clearing up he thought was essential, and he told me that the President had assured him of a free hand to restore confidence. But within a few months he too resigned. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2017
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