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The last series of Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation meetings in the North brought out even more clearly than before the failure of the various institutions of government to work with each other. At a previous consultation, which the UNDP had funded as part of an ongoing initiative to improve coordination, I had realized what might be termed the political problem in the areas in which development is most essential, namely the Divisions in which local government bodies are controlled by the Tamil National Alliance.

Some of their members, and in particular the community leaders they had appointed to lead their lists in many places, thus avoiding the general unpopularity of those who had been engaged on either side in the confrontational politics of the previous decades, were willing to engage. But they were not sure if this would be acceptable to their more political leaders, given that it is much easier to complain that to try to work. Conversely, government representatives were not sure whether active cooperation with elected leaders from an opposition party would lead to criticism from those who thought government should belong only to them.

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I have entitled this series ‘Looking Forward’, because it is meant to suggest positive measures that would strengthen institutions. That seems to me the best outcome of the tensions that have arisen, with all sides now seeming to be convinced that, because of the inequities of others, they do not need to ensure that their own mistakes will also not be repeated.


There were five distinct steps that Jayewardene took that led to protracted suffering for the country.

In this light, it may be useful also to look back at the mistakes of the Jayewardene government, because it is vital that, having so successfully overcome the terrorist threat, this government does not repeat some of the mistakes that Jayewardene did in his consolidation of a monolithic power structure.

There were five distinct steps that Jayewardene took that led to protracted suffering for the country. In essence they all arose from his determination to brook no dissent.

The first was the deprivation of Mrs Bandaranaike’s Civic Rights, using a Kangaroo Court, which he claimed was acceptable since it consisted of members of the Judiciary. The manner in which the three individuals he handpicked to destroy Mrs Bandaranaike made their decisions is ample evidence that judges are not necessarily trustworthy or guardians of democratic practice. Read the rest of this entry »

Speech in Parliament – 6 October 2011

Mr. Deputy Chairman of Committees, I had intended to speak on the principles of this Bill, but,  after having heard the speeches before me, it may be worthwhile to spend some time responding to some of the suggestions and the arguments made. I do not think I want to engage in the game of atrocity snap that the Hon. Chief Opposition Whip began, because it would be only too easy to refer to problems with the Police at the time when he was a very junior Member of Parliament who, of course, was not able in those days to protest against the excesses.

But, listening to the speech of the Hon. Member on the National List from the TNA, I think what we are missing is a historical perspective on the role of the Police. I was glad though that he mentioned that the role of the Police for a long time in this country, indeed from the day the Police was set up, was as a tool of Government to oppress the people of the country. That is why I thought that the rather facile distinction he made between the military and the Police was out of place. Unfortunately, we know that the role of the Police, not only in this country but in many other countries worldwide, has contributed to excesses and it is the role of the Government, the legislature and the institutions such as the Police Academy to reduce these abuses as much as possible.

I think we in Sri Lanka have suffered much because of the events of the last 20 or 30 years. Of course I have a certain sympathy for the Hon TNA member because much of the institutionalization of police abuses took place with regard to ethnic tensions, not only in the ’50s and ’60s but most appallingly in the early ’80s. None of us can forget that perhaps the worst instance of Police being used as a political tool was in Jaffna in 1981 with the attacks on Members of the TULF and the burning of the Jaffna Public Library. But, though Police officers were held to be the tools, the actual inspiration came from Ministers in the Government. That institutionalization continued over the next few years because when the courts found against the Police for the violation of human rights, Government had absolutely no qualms whatsoever about promoting the police officers concerned and indeed paying their fines. It made it very clear that with abuses such as in the “Pavidi Handa” case and in the violation of the rights of the mother of the then Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Rudra Rajasingham, Government thought it was perfectly okay that  rights had been violated. Those institutionalized problems are things that we have needed to address, but it has been difficult.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2020
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