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The Presidential election took place on January 8th, and by dawn of the 9th it was clear that Maithripala Sirisena had won. All sorts of rumours began to circulate in the early hours, when there was a hiatus in the issuing of results, but that passed soon enough.

We were called then to Green Path, to the office of the Leader of the Opposition, to discuss arrangements for the swearing in, the last time it turned out that all those who had come together to support Sirisena were treated with respect. But I am not sure whether I blotted my copybook irredeemably then when I raised an object to Ravi Karunanayake’s proposal that Ranil Wickremesinghe should be sworn in as Prime Minister immediately after the new President had taken his oaths.

Ranil, who was lounging at the head of the table, shot up sharply when I spoke and declared that there was nothing against him being made Prime Minister straight away. I realized then that Ravi had obviously been prompted to speak, but no one else objected, though they did accept my point that Ranil could not become Prime Minister until there was a vacancy. But Ravi said he would speak to Lalith Weeratunge, who had seemed helpful about the handover, and get him to persuade D M Jayaratne to resign.

That did not happen, so when Ranil was sworn in as Prime Minister at Independence Square there was no vacancy. That did not matter much in practice because obviously members of the previous government had accepted the decision. But it seemed to me a bad precedent, and indicated exactly how anxious Ranil was to affirm his position as virtually the equivalent of the President. Read the rest of this entry »

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qrcode.30357119Many allegations are now being traded with regard to corruption, but sadly there is no discussion about measures to get over the problem. We seem more inclined to concentrate on allegations for political purposes rather than institutionalizing preventive measures, remedial measures and also measures that will give early warning.

I am very sorry about this since one of the reasons for my leaving the last government was perceptions of increasing corruption. Though now I realize that this government too is engaged in corrupt deals, this was not a reason for my resignation from the Ministry, nor yet for my crossing over. But what seemed the institutionalization of nepotism was a reason, the requirement that jobs and perks be provided for one’s supporters, as exemplified by the takeover of Ministry vehicles by Kabir Hashim’s henchmen after I had left.

Measures to prevent all this could easily have been taken as soon as the new government was set up. I had high hopes because the responsibility for reform to promote Democratic Governance, by which I thought Good Governance was also meant, had been entrusted to Karu Jayasuriya. I thought he was sincere, and he certainly seemed so at the start, but it was soon clear that his heart was not in it.

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qrcode.30283437I was surprised to be told recently that the Secretary to the Cabinet Ministry under which I was supposed to work as State Minister of Higher Education had been dismissed. Eran Wickremaratne explained the reasons to me, but I will not go into those since, much as I respect Eran’s own integrity, there may be another side to the story, which reflects less well on the Cabinet Minister than the Secretary.

In particular, after the admission that Kabir Hashim, along with Malik Samarawickrema and the Minister of Finance, had been in the Central Bank to raise the issue of obtaining more money, shortly before Arjuna Mahendran’s fatal decision to take 10 billion by auction, I have my suspicions about what has been going on there. Thankfully, Eran said very clearly that he was not at that meeting and had known nothing about it, which I suspect would be true of the Secretary too.

I did raise with Eran the question of the failure of the 19th Amendment to address a fundamental principle of Good Governance, which is the strengthening of the independence of Public Servants. Certainly there should be provision to dismiss public servants if they do something wrong, but that should not be a political decision, it should be made by the Public Service Commission. And we must go back to the usual practice in parliamentary democracies where Ministers come from within Parliament, which is that Secretaries to Ministries are in effect Permanent, and not changed with every change of government.

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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 »

FUTAThis whole controversy  is taking up a lot of time. The issues of principle, that need to be resolved are about Governance and ethical behavior, but that is in relation to the behavior of Cabinet Ministers. With regard to FUTA, what they did and said is not a problem, though I am sorry that their most recent claim is only about calling on the UGC Chair to resign. Whether they intended it or not, Kabir Hashim said he succumbed to pressure. I thought therefore of putting down, with evidence of what was going on behind my back, the sorry sequence of improper behavior and commitments.

1.  The FUTA notes of its meeting at Temple Trees on January 27th state –

  • Prime Minister stated that all UGC Commission members including the Chair will be requested to resign. Request letters will come through the Secretary to the President.
  • Minister Kabeer Hashim stated that he requests all Council members of universities to resign.

But the request for the UGC members to resign came from Minister Kabir Hashim who also asked the UGC chair to ask all Council members to resign. Minister Hashim stated that his request was as directed by the President, but the President said he had not been consulted..

Minister Hashim took this step without informing the State Minister to whom he had previously said that he entrusted all matters to do with university education. On 27th January itself he had addressed a letter to the President asking him to request the resignation of the UGC. It seems that he took his decision to himself ask the UGC to resign when he did not receive a response.

2.   FUTA sent a message asking academics to boycott the ceremony to honour the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, held at the Peradeniya University Senate on February 18th. The email read as follows –

On Mon, Feb 16, 2015 at 10:21 PM, D D K S Karunanayake <***@***. com> wrote:

From: pmahi <***@***.lk>
Date: Mon, Feb 16, 2015 at 7:56 PM
Subject: Refrain from attending the ceremony on the 18 February 2015

Dear Member/ FPUTA,

This has reference to the invitation circulated by the Vice chancellor for handing over ceremony of a portrait of the late Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar on the 18th of February, 2015 at the senate room.
The EXCO of the Federation of Peradeniya University Teachers Associations (FPUTA) considered the matter and decided to refrain from attending the said ceremony on following grounds.

1) FUTA with the blessings of FPUTA has been demanding removal of Prof. S. Kshanika Hirimburegama from the post of UGC Chairmen. Despite handing over her resignation at the request of the Cabinet Minister of Higher Education, Prof. Rajeewa Wijesinghe has allowed Prof. Hirimburegama to remain in the post while criticizing FUTA for demanding her resignation. Since FUTA has clearly indicated its reasons for demanding UGC chairperson’s resignation with evidence, we are in the opinion that Prof. Wijesinghe’s reaction to this matter is an act against the will of the majority of the academic community.

2) FPUTA is of the view that politicization of university activities should be minimized and therefore, actively engaged in the campaign against the same with FUTA. Therefore, FPUTA is in the opinion that inviting a politician to this function is unacceptable.

3) Inviting politicians to University functions has created unrest among students in the past. Therefore, FPUTA believes that inviting politicians without adequate consultation of the University community is unacceptable.

Joint secretaries / FPUTA
Dr. Danesh Karunanayake, Ph.D. (Purdue)
Head
Department of Philosophy and Psychology
University of Peradeniya
Peradeniya
Sri Lanka

3.   In this email it is clearly stated that ‘FUTA with the blessings of FPUTA has been demanding removal of Prof. S. Kshanika Hirimburegama from the post of UGC Chairmen. Despite handing over her resignation at the request of the Cabinet Minister of Higher Education, Prof. Rajeewa Wijesinghe has allowed Prof. Hirimburegama to remain in the post while criticizing FUTA for demanding her resignation.’

Far from ‘allowing’ the lady to remain in her post, I told her that the Act required her to continue to function until her resignation was accepted, viz
5. (2) A member of the Commission may resign his office by writing under his hand addressed to the President, but shall continue in office until such time as his resignation has been accepted.

Subsequently FUTA omitted references to its ‘demand’ that the Chair be removed, and in a statement intended to ‘clarify certain misconceptions regarding the resignation’ kept reiterating that it had ‘requested the UGC Chair, Prof Kshanika Hirimburegama to resign…..Consequently, the academic community, has lost confidence in Prof Hirimburegama’s ability to provide leadership to the university system and therefore requested her resignation.’
In its statement FUTA notes that ‘If the government wishes to inquire into these allegations, we most certainly welcome such a move. It is not FUTA’s responsibility to make inquiries into such allegations, it is the responsibility of the government.’ That is true, but previously there was no mention of any inquiry when FUTA ‘demanded’ her removal.

4.   FUTA has claimed both that I criticized its ‘demanding her resignation’  and also that I misrepresented its ‘call for her resignation, as a form of political victimization’. I have never commented on FUTA’s call (or demand) for her resignation (or her removal) however they want to describe it. My resignation was because of the actions of the Cabinet Minister, which he claimed he took because of pressure from FUTA.

I do not lie, I do not change my position, I do not misrepresent what I have said or done, nor do I misrepresent what others say or do. I work on evidence, as everyone should, and in particular academics.

I would welcome any evidence from FUTA to substantiate its claim that I criticized them.

I would welcome clarification as to whether they demanded her removal or requested her to resign.

I would welcome clarification from the Prime Minister or the Cabinet Minister as to why different claims were made as to the reasons for requesting the resignation of the entire UGC, and in particular why it was claimed that this was on a directive of the President.

But I do not think any of these will be forthcoming.

Daily FTThe incident he faced as State Minister of Higher Education regarding the removal of the UGC Head and Faizer Mustapha’s resignation as State Minister of Aviation will not negatively impact the 100-day program but is a wakeup call for the whole alliance to realise that it needs to be more serious, says Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily FT, he also noted that the alliance gave a specific deadline to the people and there were very important pledges that it had done nothing about. “People are expecting us to fulfil these within the mentioned deadlines. We are here to respond to people and we must do so quickly,” he added.

However, Wijesinha emphasised that the pledge of abolishing the executive presidency shouldn’t be fulfilled since it was something that required a lot of consideration and it was important to ensure that what was put in its place would be acceptable to the people at large.

Following are excerpts:

Daily FT interview 20 Feb 2015Q: What is the conflict between you and Higher Education Minister Kabir Hashim?

A: Kabir took some action while I was away which I thought was totally inappropriate. I think Kabir should have consulted me. However, he has been very gracious about expressing the error involved. But the bottom line is that I know that this will go on.

If ‘A’ doesn’t give the right answer, they go to ‘B’. If one person is clearly in charge and then there is another person is also there, anyone who doesn’t get a good answer from ‘A’ will go to ‘B’. If technically ‘A’ is under ‘B,’ it is impossible for ‘A’ to actually carry out his work. I have told Kabir that this cannot go on like this. He too agreed and said that he would tell the Prime Minister to appoint me as a Cabinet minister. That would make a lot of sense and I hope that it will happen.

Q: Are you saying your action was not against the removal of the UGC Chairman but was purely based on error in protocol?

A: We are going to engage in what we call good governance. You must not do things that are contrary to every single principle of good governance. People ask me why I am defending the UGC Chairman. It is not a question of my defending her. It is a question of two fundamental principles of governance being breached.

The first is, very simply, Kabir should not have taken any decision affecting my work without telling me. The second fact is that, if they wanted to respond to allegations against the UGC Chairman, there should have been an investigation with due process. Rather interestingly Kabir told me there was lot of pressure from FUTA and that is why he went ahead with it. I told Kabir that he should not give into pressure. One of our biggest complaints against the UGC Chairman was that she had given into pressure. If we are going to do things simply because there is immense pressure from other parties, how are we any better than what we claim she was?

Q: But FUTA has been against the appointment of UGC Chairman and it was one of their conditions when supporting Maithripala Sirisena.

A: I know nothing about such a condition. Don’t forget that I translated the manifesto and there was nothing of that sort there. In any case, if you are going to remove anyone, you need to do it through due process.

Let me give you an example; they now claim that I know what the allegations are. But no one has given me any of the allegations except one professor who wrote a long email to me in which he basically mentioned all kinds of negative things about the UGC Head, such as she is the worst person in the system and a strong supporter of President Rajapaksa. I wrote back asking to send me those allegations systematically because I cannot carry out an investigations based on an email with someone’s own private grievances. He didn’t come back to me. How can anyone expect me to carry out any investigations without a proper complaint?
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One aspect of politics that draws criticism but little analysis is the phenomenon of large cabinets, with Members of Parliament imagining it their right to be appointed to Executive Office on the grounds of seniority alone.

This is nothing new, though the opposition affects to forget the massive numbers to whom President Jayewardene gave executive positions, which is when the trend really began. Not all his appointments were to the Cabinet or to Deputy positions, since he also had 25 District Ministerships to play around with, in addition to the Project Ministries he had instituted. The result was that at one stage he had over 100 Ministers of various types, in a Parliamentary group of around 140.

It is true that Ranil Wickremesinghe tried to restrict numbers, at a time when the topic had been raised by the JVP, which had made it a condition of the probation period they gave President Kumaratunga in 2001 that she restrict her Cabinet to 20. Unfortunately they failed to insist on a Cabinet amendment to this effect, and Mrs Kumaratunga in fact made it 22, though this did not help her to stay in power.

Mr Wickremesinghe adopted the expedient of appointing 40 Ministers, but putting only 20 of them in the Cabinet, and managed in the process to leave out the Minister of Human Resources Development. He claimed this was an oversight, though in fact it contributed to his favourites, Kabir Hashim and Suranimala Rajapaksa, as Project Ministers of Higher Education and Education respectively, settling themselves in their respective Ministries and exercising equal powers with Karunasena Kodituwakku who was in theory their superior. It was only three months after he first constituted the Cabinet that Ranil expanded it to include Kodituwakku and some others. Despite his claims to be cutting government expenditure, he evidently had no qualms about establishing Ministries which seemed to have no work, for some of his Ministers had no operational funds, receiving only establishment costs in the budget.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

December 2017
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