Why didn’t Hemasiri and Pujith resign?


The testimonies of former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, and Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundera currently on compulsory leave, reflect the sad state of affairs in the nation's politicized public service.

Fernando has been a lifelong political appointee and Jayasundera, who joined the Police force in 1985, is a career officer.

They were testifying before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) appointed to probe the Easter Sunday suicide bombings. The revelations thus far have no precedent in this country. Both former officials have disclosed details of their working relations, or the lack of it, with their line Minister who is also the Head of State. It makes any intelligent citizen despair and have serious reservations for the future of this country.

The Defence Secretary is the administrative head of the Defence Ministry. He or she is also the immediate superior of the commanders of the armed forces and IGP. Therefore, the importance of these positions cannot be overemphasised.

Testifying before the PSC, Fernando claimed, soon after his appointment in October 2018, he had found the President already briefed on intelligence matters he wished to discuss. It could have only been by one of his subordinate officers. After two such attempts, he had meekly accepted the status quo and not made any further attempts, despite the importance of such reports to national security. He had further testified "I was a helpless Defence Secretary who could not meet with his Defence Minister even once in two weeks. I used to wait two or three hours for him to turn up to sign documents." He attributed the difficulty in meeting his minister to "he had no time."

Jayasundera, in his testimony, has disclosed how he never received a positive response to his efforts to visit the State Intelligence Service (SIS) headquarters. After October 23, 2018, he was been prevented from attending the National Security Council meetings on the instructions of President Sirisena. The President and former Defence Secretary had pressured Jayasundera to transfer an IP from CID handling investigations related to abductions and murders during the Rajapaksa administration.

The former IGP further claimed that President Sirisena had asked him to take the blame for the Easter Sunday bombings. Jayasundera would be absolved of any fault and rewarded with a diplomatic appointment. However, he had decided to decline the offer and remain at his post, resulting in being sent on compulsory leave.

One was the administrative head of the defence establishment and the other is the chief law enforcement officer of the country. Both are not low-level positions, despite the passive acceptance by these officials of treatment not befitting their jobs. Both officers should have resigned when they found they were being prevented from executing their duties in the required manner, by a Head of State who is clueless in statecraft.

Unfortunately, both officers were prepared to accept any humiliation meted out and cling on to their "dream jobs" despite the fact, they were treated like doormats.

Fernando resigned only when his position became untenable. Jayasundera desisted from resigning only when he was asked to accept responsibility for failure to prevent the Easter bombings.

Fernando should have resigned when directed to prevent the nation’s Chief Law Enforcement officer from attending NSC meetings.

Jayasundera should have resigned when he was asked not to attend NSC meetings. Having completed 30 years of service, he was eligible for his pension.

Regrettably, he opted to follow the example set by the country’s Prime Minister.

It would have enabled both to have taken the moral high ground and leave their positions with their self-respect and dignity intact.

Officials of the caliber of one-time IGP Cyril Herath (1985-88) are now extinct. He opted to take premature retirement rather than obey President JR Jayewardene’s directive to grant an irregular promotion. Having declined Jayewardene’s offer of an ambassadorship conveyed through the Defence Secretary, Herath went home to retirement and oblivion. However, he earned the admiration and accolades of many who upheld and endorsed his principled stand.




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