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- You were one of the few MP’s who crossed over with Mr. Maithripala Sirisena in November 2014. You supported him at the January 2015 Presidential poll. He was elected president and you were made a state minister. Subsequently you resigned from that Govt but remained supportive of President Sirisena. However after the August 2015 Parliament elections you were not appointed a national list MP. Why do you think that happened and where does it leave you now?
I suspect I fell victim to the internal warfare between supporters of President Sirisena and President Rajapaksa. I took seriously the President’s decision to give his predecessor nomination, since that was the best way of promoting a SLFP / UPFA victory, and ensuring indeed that the party was not decimated.
But those around the President panicked him with stories of what a Rajapaksa led SLFP victory would mean for him, while in turn this was fueled by the latter’s supporters claiming that they would be revenged on the President if they won. Neither side took note of the reality that the party was not likely to win an absolute majority, and that even if it did, there were enough solid supporters of the President to ensure that the Prime Minister would be someone he chose (though it would of course have had to be with his predecessor’s support).
As a result the President played games with the Secretaries of the parties, and sadly the UPFA allowed this to happen. The claim was that he had to be absolutely sure of the allegiance of any National List nominees, and those who were currying favour – none of whom had dared to speak out when the Sirisena campaign was launched – doubtless told him I could not be relied on, even though I had been told that he had wanted me on the National List, and he should have known better. But in any case the UNP had been allowed a significant plurality, which is why this is not really a genuine coalition, but one dominated by the UNP. Perhaps that is just as well, since it is more likely that President Sirisena, if he really believes in the manifesto on which he won the election, will realize that that cannot be fulfilled by a UNP government as constituted at present.
- When you became State minister of Higher Education in President Sirisena’s Govt much was expected of you as you had wide knowledge and experience in that sphere. Yet due to differences with the cabinet minister and also the Prime minister you resigned within 5 weeks. What led to your resignation? Has the passage of time made you regret the decision?
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”
The 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.
Meanwhile, 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.
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 »
This 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)
Department of Philosophy and Psychology
University of Peradeniya
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.
The 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:
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?
Read the rest of this entry »
I am worried that the commitment of this government to Good Governance is being forgotten in the midst of the various other concerns we have to deal with. But I believe that addressing this issue promptly and effectively will help us also to approach other problems more sensibly.
Since I began work, I have addressed a number of letters on the matter to Karu Jayasuriya since he has been appointed Minister for Good Governance. He is a politician for whom I have the highest regard, and I think he will do a great job, but I believe he should be made aware that this is an area about which the people are deeply worried.
He replied to one of my letters, registering the need to get rid of politicization of everything, to say that this was part of the culture and it would be difficult to make a change. But I pointed out that we must make a start. I think there needs to be greater discussion though of the manner in which the change should be made, and so I have begun this column in the hope that it will provoke debate and discussion.
I will post these articles on my Facebook but I hope others will do the same on theirs, with amendments and changes to popularize their ideas too. In addition I would encourage everyone to write direct to Mr Jayasuriya, so as to strengthen his hand to effect changes.
In particular he must start immediately to draft a Code of Conduct for those who are supposed to serve the public, and who receive public funds. This was promised in the manifesto, and it is a great pity that the public do not know what is being done about it.
I have told the UGC to draft a Code for academics and administrators in academia, and they gave me a first draft but I found it woefully inadequate. If I am still involved and can get the UGC to function again, I will suggest that the next draft be put on their website for discussion. They have already, as I requested, put on their website the criteria for appointment to Councils.
The Committee on Public Enterprises had instructed some time back that this be done, but there was a delay. On my first day in office I inquired what had happened, and was told there was a draft. That did not seem good enough to me, and I told them that, since they had had sufficient notice, I expected a final draft within a week. That was forthcoming, and the Eastern University Council was appointed accordingly. Those appointments seem to have been welcomed, though I also realized there still needs to be fine tuning. It would be useful if those interested checked on those guidelines and commented, so that we can have an even better set of requirements to put into the act when it is being prepared. Read the rest of this entry »
I am writing with regard to the article in your columns today about the situation in the Ministry of Higher Education. While your reporter has tried to describe the situation, there were some elements that were not quite accurate.
- The Cabinet Minister of Higher Education had told me he asked the Chairman of the University Grants Commission to resign because of pressure from FUTA. The Prime Minister told me – as I mentioned to your reporter – that resignations had been requested from all officials in state institutions, and I could reappoint anyone if I wished. But that was not the way the Cabinet Minister had presented his orders to the UGC, having instead invoked the authority of His Excellency the President. This morning he reiterated that he had been under pressure from FUTA
- I did not say I had been told the President had informed the Cabinet Minister of anything. The Cabinet Minister told me the President had asked him to resolve the issue. He said that he would gazette Higher Education functions under me, but I pointed out that he had earlier told me he wanted me to run things since he would be busy with elections, and then had succumbed to pressures when approach by others. He then said he would request the Prime Minister to appoint me as Cabinet Minister, but it turned out that he had not spoken to the Prime Minister on Thursday evening as promised.
- I did not try to contact the Prime Minister at all. It was the Prime Minister who called me on Saturday evening, after his adviser, Mr Deva-Adiththiya, requested me to wait until he had resolved the situation, since he felt strongly that my services were needed in this position. The Prime Minister had been out of communication for two days, which is perhaps why the Cabinet Minister had not got through to him, but he did call me even while still out of Colombo. The Cabinet Minister told me that the Prime Minister had indeed spoken to him on Saturday, and said he would resolve the situation, but he had no idea what happened after that.
I have been wondering for some time about whether this column should also deal with the problems of university students. Last week, having found myself by far the oldest among the Sri Lankan delegates to a Conference on Indo-Sri Lankan relations held at Osmania University, and older too than most of the Indian participants, I realized I had to accept I was clearly of an age to think of university students, and indeed many lecturers, as children in need of care.
This feeling was exacerbated by the excellence of the presentations by the younger participants at the Conference. Whilst some older lecturers seemed to content themselves with jargon, the session I chaired had two very bright girls from Jawaharlal Nehru University who produced excellent and very practical papers on the Sri Lankan diaspora. They however were postgraduates, and from a place I have long known as a centre of excellence, admission to which is highly competitive. To my surprise they were equaled by two undergraduates from Patna University, who did a precise and well argued presentation on Indo-Sri Lankan trade relations.
I cannot imagine many Sri Lankan students doing as well. This is not because they are not equally capable. The problem is that we hardly stretch them, with many lecturers in many departments thinking that reading out notes to be copied constitutes teaching.
I make no apologies for returning yet again to the question of language rights. As I noted after my last visit to the North, for a series of Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation meetings, this remains one of the principal bones of contention in the Jaffna District. But it need not be, because the principles we should all be acting on are now clear, following the inclusion of Tamil as an official language in the constitutional reforms of 1987, and the fleshing out of those principles in the last couple of decades.
First, under President Kumaratunga, there were more inclusive language learning policies in schools in the nineties and then, most importantly, under this government, Minister D E W Gunasekara introduced language norms for public servants. I was not sure how well this was working so, at the previous meeting of the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on National Languages, I asked for a report on pass rates. We got this at the February meeting – or rather I did, and I had to point out that questions I raised were asked for the general benefit, not my own, so information should be shared with all my colleagues on the Committee.
I can see this might seem a waste of paper, since almost never do more than a quarter of the 31 members meant to be on the Committee attend, and many of those who do are concerned only with individual problems; but the principle was affirmed, and the Minister will now ensure that information is shared with at least all those who do attend. This is important, for this is something we should all be concerned with, as legislators and contributors to national policy.