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The manifesto was launched at a ceremony at Vihara Maha Devi Park on December 19th. That was my grandmother’s birthday, and I thought, when I went to the cemetery afterwards, that she would have been pleased that I was working together with Ranil. At the same time, though I realized that was essential, and UNP support was of the essence if Maithripala Sirisena were to win, it was also clear that the UNP itself was in shambles, and had little capacity for effective coordination.

I had sensed this in the decline of Mangala Samaraweera, whom I had thought of as one of the more sophisticated members of the UNP. He had been instrumental in getting Vasantha Senanayake to be the first member of the government to announce publicly that he would not support Mahinda Rajapaksa, though sadly for Vasantha he ignored the request that the Press Conference be held at an independent venue. Mangala instead dragooned Vasanth into making his announcement at Siri Kotha, which led to him being identified with the UNP, which had never been Vasantha’s intention. That was taken ruthless advantage of later to cut him down, tragically for both President Sirisena and also for the UPFA, which he could have contributed to immeasurably.

Twice after the common candidature was announced, Vasantha took me to see Mangala. But instead of the bright strategist I had assumed I would find, I had to deal with an amiable drunk, who wanted nothing better than to gossip over a drink, and then another. After the second such evening, in his delightful house in Ratmalana, I realized that this was yet another broken reed, his period out of power having deprived him of the capacity to focus which he had displayed earlier as a Minister.

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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 »

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

qrcode.30456176Today, 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

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qrcode.30227748In 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.

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Good Governance 9Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s defence of his taking a young man with him to New York was entertaining, but it was also very sad. Instead of concentrating on the problem of public funds being spent on private predilections, he engaged in a defence of what he evidently thought was a slur, if not on his character, on that of the young man in question. As a defence to charges he evidently took seriously, even if they had not been articulated, he claimed that the person in question was happily married and had a beautiful daughter.

This seems to imply that, had the youth not been married, or had he been married but childless, there would have been legitimate grounds for worry. But in thus diverting attention to what should be an irrelevancy, the Minister ignored the fundamental problem, which is that public money is spent on private convenience. This should not be acceptable, even when the person involved is a wife (whether with or without beautiful children).

Some years back I realized how absurd the situation was when I criticized the fact that a particular Minister had appointed his wife as his private secretary. The excuse offered was that he could then take her with him when he travelled, and that the cost to the country was less, since they could share a room. I do not suppose that was the reason for my predecessor as Minister of Higher Education appointing his wife to his private staff, or my erstwhile superior Kabir Hashim appointing his brother-in-law to his private staff.

 

Such individuals may be considered dependable – as was Kabir’s sister-in-law when he himself was non Cabinet Minister for Tertiary Education in 2002 (she was certainly honest, for she told me, when I complained about how the then UNP government was giving in to the LTTE at every turn, that they could not back out of the Ceasefire Agreement since that would be electorally disastrous). But the country should not have to pay for individuals a Minister finds dependable, unless they actually fulfil a task the country needs. And certainly the provision that a Minister can take one of his private staff with him when he travels is absurd, unless he can show that some public purpose is fulfilled.

During my brief career as a Minister, I was appalled at the perks that were available. I did not take all these up, and I believe the private staff I appointed did serve a public purpose. I had for instance, as Management assistants, two Tamil translators, in a situation in which the entire Ministry had only two people able to function in Tamil, and they at senior levels so they could not be used for day to day translations. As a result the Ministry website was functional in all three languages, which was I believe almost unique for any Ministry website. Read the rest of this entry »

qrcode.26351281President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself is of the view that our Ministry of External Affairs is a mess. His offer to Mangala Samaraweera to make him Foreign Minister indicates his realization that his greatest blunder is the hash the troika that runs the Ministry has made of our international relations. And he confirmed this to Vasantha Senanayake, when Basil accused him of criticizing the Foreign Minister openly.

He had assured Mangala that he would not inflict Sajin Vas Gunawardena on him as a Monitor, which suggests he realizes what a disaster that particular appointment has been. When it was made, he claimed that at least now letters were being answered. That was a necessity, but the power Sajin exercised led to the Minister then abdicating all authority and handing over decision making to his Monitor.

Despite that the crucial letter sent by the Indian Prime Minister before the vote in Geneva in 2012 lay unanswered. In fairness though, that factor is true of our administration in general, and the requirement that letters be answered in three days has been interpreted to mean that at least three days must lapse before a reply is even thought of. One reason I had high regard for Maithripala Sirisena previously, and said so often in my discussions of my work in the North and East as Advisor on Reconciliation, is that his Ministry usually responded to my transmission of complaints from the public. But most Ministries kept silent, though occasionally there were flurries of activity after I had brought the matter up in COPE.

The prevailing lethargy is bad enough, but with regard to foreign relations it is worse, given that we need to engage actively with all stakeholders, and in particular those who have the capacity to do us harm. In order to do this, however, we need to have clear guidelines available to all government officials as well as our Missions with regard to foreign policy priorities. Officials could then take their own decisions as to how to react to correspondence, instead of waiting for instructions on all issues. Certainly, when there was a Ministry of Human Rights, we dealt promptly with any queries from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and this led to commendation of Sri Lanka’s engagement with that Office, in the reports for instance of the Working Committee on Disappearances. But after the Ministry was abolished, there were no responses as all for several years, and it is only in the last year, following the harsh criticism in resolutions, that we began to engage.

  1. Amongst the principles we should adopt then is ensuring regular engagement with all countries and in particular with the United Nations. Whilst safeguarding our sovereignty, we should respond to concerns with understanding of the issues involved, and should fulfil any commitments we enter into. If this is impossible, we should explain constraints and ensure that our actions and attitudes are understood.
  1. But responses must be based on clear policy guidelines, and these should be laid out. The most important of the guidelines we should follow, given geo-political realities, is ensuring good relations with India. This cannot govern domestic policies, but there should be good and reliable communication with India as regards such policies, with the understanding that any commitments cannot be violated.
  2. Within this framework, or rather a broader framework that also lays down the need for promoting multilateralism, there should be flexibility. Thus we should have regular consultative meetings of senior level Foreign Ministry officials. If these happen each week, there should also be provision, perhaps on a monthly basis, for consultation of officials of relevant Ministries such as Finance and Defence and Trade. Such meetings should be minuted, and decisions / action points notified to relevant officials with provision for feedback.
  1. We also need to build up collegiality within the Ministry. Whilst there are good reasons sometimes for appointment of non-career individuals to Head of Mission posts, all other posts should be reserved for members of the Diplomatic Service. These officials should be required to submit brief regular reports on their activities, which should be based on targets identified by the Ministry, with consultation of the Head of Mission.
  2. But there is also need of a wider professionalism. For this purpose Government should establish at least two high level think tanks. The existing government managed institutions could be upgraded, but they should function independently and have research staff who could produce position papers and suggest responses to international developments. In addition, these think tanks should have a training wing, which develops communication skills in addition to the capacity to analyse. They should also publish journals to which diplomats are expected to contribute.

 

Colombo Post 30 Nov 2014 –  – http://www.colombopost.net/columns/op-ed/item/269-a-reform-agenda-tightening-up-foreign-policy-and-foreign-relations

Colombo Telegraph 1 Dec 2014 – https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/a-reform-agenda-tightening-up-foreign-policy-and-foreign-relations/

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Sajin Vas Gunawardena … was able to serve the President in a variety of ways

Undoubtedly the most bizarre of the characters who influenced the President in the period after the election of 2010 was Sajin Vas Gunawardena. He was not a relation, and he did not have the professional or academic credentials of the other characters discussed here. Indeed he had hardly any qualifications but, ever since Mahinda Rajapaksa became President, he occupied positions of trust and responsibility.

qrcode.26301045It was claimed that the reason for the confidence the President reposed in him was because, while a clerk in the Middle East, he had helped the President with the technology during a presentation that might otherwise have been a disaster. But it is also likely that, after they thus became acquainted, he was able to serve the President in a variety of ways that commanded his affection and his confidence.

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Mihin Lanka …rapidly lost a lot of money, though Sajin himself became very wealthy

The first escapade in which he was involved under a Rajapaksa Presidency was the setting up of a budget airline. Called Mihin Lanka, in honour of Mahinda, it rapidly lost a lot of money, though Sajin himself became very wealthy during his tenure in office. Before long Mihin Lanka was handed over to Sri Lankan Airlines to be managed, and the losses of both together – the Board of the latter chaired by the President’s brother-in-law Nishantha Wickremesinghe – continued a drain on public funds for many years.

I first came across Sajin when I was appointed to head the Peace Secretariat, and was told that he was the point of liaison between the Secretariat and the President’s Office. In fact he had no interest in or understanding of our work, and I liaised mainly through the President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunge, though in those days I generally had immediate access to the President if this was needed.

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Sajin wanted his importance to be recognized, and resented anyone else who had a direct link to the President

I met Sajin early on in my tenure of office, and then hardly ever again, though he came I believe to the opening of the new office which had been built for us in the premises of the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall. When we were deciding on the allocation of rooms in that office, my Director of Administration suggested we keep a room there for the use of Sajin. This seemed to me unnecessary, particularly as the room he suggested was the second best in the building. I thought it should go to my Deputy, a retired Tamil ambassador named Poolokasingham, whose stature I thought needed to be established. I told the Director that, since Sajin had not come to the office for a long time, all we needed to do if in fact he wanted a room was to set aside one of the smaller rooms at the end of the main corridor. I heard nothing more after that about that particular suggestion, and I think the Director was secretly relieved, though he had thought it was his duty to keep Sajin happy and thus prevent any recriminations against the Secretariat in general, and me in particular. Whether this contributed to his later animosity against me I do not know, but the experience of our High Commissioner in London, Chris Nonis, indicated that Sajin wanted his importance to be recognized, and resented anyone else who had a direct link to the President.

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… one of the young MPs in the group around Namal Rajapaksa

But way back in 2007, Sajin was more interested in his own political career, and during the next couple of years he was elected to the Southern Province Provincial Council. Then, in 2010, he got nomination for the Galle district for the Parliamentary election, and did reasonably well. In Parliament he was one of the young MPs in the group around Namal Rajapaksa but initially he had no executive responsibilities.

All that changed with the realization that the Ministry of External Affairs was in a mess, and he was appointed to be its Monitoring Member of Parliament. That was the only serious Monitoring MP position, and one heard hardly anything of the few others who had been appointed, until that is Duminda Silva, attached to the Ministry of Defence, was involved in the death of Bharatha Premachandra, another SLFP politician from the Colombo district.

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The beginning of the implosion of the President’s pluralistic vision, which had led him to sideline Sarath Fonseka and his hardline views in the aftermath of the war, began I believe with Fonseka’s effort to remake his image. He did this through his interview with the Sunday Leader where, assuming the Americans were right in their report of what he had said in Ambalangoda in August, he did a 180 degree turn, and accused his erstwhile superiors of having done what earlier he had claimed to do himself.

The Americans had cited a speech Fonseka had delivered which was publicized by Lankanewsweb, one of the many sites associated with Mangala Samaraweera. That had reported Sarath Fonseka as having said, ‘I managed the war like a true soldier. I did not make decisions from A/C rooms. I was under pressure to stop the war even during the final phase. I got messages not to shoot those who are carrying white flags. A war is fought by soldiers. They do so by putting their lives on the line. Therefore, the decisions about war should be taken by the soldiers in the battlefront. Not the people in A/C rooms in Colombo. Our soldiers have seen in life the kind of destruction carried out by those people before they decided to come carrying a white flag. Therefore, they carried out their duties. We destroyed any one connected with the LTTE. That is how we won the war,’ Fonseka said at an event held in Ambalangoda to felicitate him on July 10.’

This gung-ho approach was not however suitable for someone aspiring to be a common candidate. In December therefore he told the Sunday Leader the opposite, declaring that it was in effect those in air conditioned rooms who had ordered that those carrying white flags be shot.

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Sri Lanka is full of conspiracy theories. There are many reasons for this, not least the fact that theorizing about conspiracies is a universal practice, and we in Sri Lanka are victims of this as well as practitioners.

Then there is the fact that conspiracy theories are fun. Since they necessarily assume that evidence must be shadowy, they allow those with vivid imaginations to pursue their pet agendas under the guise of creative thinking. And since the conspiracies one discovers are the responsibility of others, one can promote one’s own conspiratorial efforts in the belief that they are mere reactions.

However, we must also remember that even if we, like perhaps all other nations, are paranoid in considering our own interests, that does not mean that others are not out to get us – or, rather, all others, like ourselves, want to pursue their own interests, and do not mind if we or anyone else goes to the wall in the process. This is obvious on first principles, as Thucydides so succinctly put it over two thousand years ago. And as was the case when Thucydides wrote, all nations try to conceal their pursuit of self interest by claiming that they are acting on principle. Where this is obviously not the case, the claim is that the other breached principles first.

This is not necessarily hypocritical. As that great analyst noted, there are consummate hypocrites around, and unfortunately they tend to exercise disproportionate power. But actual leaders are more often than not the victims of their fantasies about their own morality. Thus everyone knows that Barack Obama has been as forceful as his predecessors in using any means he thinks necessary to pursue the interests of his country, and the rhetoric he uses has accordingly changed. But there seems nevertheless a sincerity about his pronouncements that suggests he thinks he is as idealistic as before.

About some of Obama’s advisers I have my doubts. But I see no reason to believe that they are acting against American interests. In Sri Lanka, sadly, the same cannot be said about the President’s advisers. What some of them have managed to do in the last couple of years is to actually strip the President of his defences so that day by day he becomes more vulnerable to attacks. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

February 2017
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