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Midweek Review

Formidable New Year Challenges



President Gotabaya Rajapaksa gestures during a recent meeting at Rawanakanda, a village at Imbulpe, Balangoda. Senior Advisor to President Lalith Weeratunga looks on (Pic by Jeevan Chandimal/PMD)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Last Monday’s briefing at the Presidential Secretariat (old parliament) on the status of the war-winning armed forces revealed the pathetic state of affairs during the yahapalana administration. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa chaired the Defence Ministry review which lasted several hours. After Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne addressed the gathering, respective service chiefs explained the crisis experienced by the armed forces during the 2015 to 2019 period.

Navy Chief VA Nishantha Ulugetenne and Airforce Chief AVM Sudarshana Pathirana explained how they were deprived of the required support to maintain available assets. There hadn’t been a similar meeting since the change of government in Nov 2019. The then government allowed the armed forces to deteriorate. The rapid deterioration had been all part of the yahapalana strategy meant to undermine the armed forces. Downsizing the Army had been one crucial aspect and certainly not the only issue at that time.

The evaluation revealed that since Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s departure from the Defence Ministry in January 2015 the new government held up even the basic projects. Having won the January 8, 2015 presidential election, Sirisena named one-time environment and renewable energy Secretary B.M.U.D. Basnayake as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (11.01.2015 – 08.09.2015). Subsequently, Karunasena Hettiarachchi (09.09.2015 – 05.07.2015), Kapila Waidyaratne (06.07.2017 – 30.10.2018), Hemasiri Fernando (30.10.2018 – 25.04.2019) and Gen. Shantha Kottegoda (24.04.2019 – 19-11.2019) received appointment as the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, amidst the massive turmoil caused by the Easter carnage.

If not for the Easter carnage, President Sirisena, now an SLPP lawmaker (Polonnaruwa district) wouldn’t have named a retired military officer as Secretary Defence. The yahapalana administration appointed a retired DIG as the Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) – a special post created by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in late 2006, on the advice of the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to oversee all intelligence services, including the SIS (State Intelligence Service).

The Rajapaksas created the post of CNI, by way of a cabinet paper, especially for Maj. Gen. Kapila Hendavitharana, in the wake of his retirement. Hendavitharana, who had been deeply involved in clandestine operations against terrorists, knew what was going on in the war zone, elimination of high profile LTTE targets, or overall attempts to intercept LTTE arms shipments on the high seas et al. Even after the successful conclusion of the war, in May 2009, the CNI continued to play a significant role in the previous Rajapaksa government’s security strategy.

 The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo weakened the security setup. Those who held high positions felt no great desire for sustaining higher level of security. One-time Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando, told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) probing the Easter Sunday carnage that security of a country did not depend on its Defence Secretary. There were various structures and it was a matter of collective action, Fernando, served as the Defence Secretary when Ranil Wickremesinghe managed a highly flawed ceasefire agreement arranged by the Norwegians said.

Fernando further said: “It is not mandatory for the Defence Secretary to have an intimate knowledge of the role played by the Ministry. If that is the case, a fisherman should be the Secretary to the Ministry of Fisheries, and the Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture should be a farmer.”

The yahapalana leadership crippled the armed forces. The Geneva betrayal in early Oct 2015 stunned the victorious armed forces with some senior officers denied the opportunity to visit some countries. Denial of visas was part of international measures taken against Sri Lanka. That particular line of action culminated with the US imposing a travel ban in Feb 2020 on Army Chief Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva.

Sri Lanka faces a daunting task in managing human rights issue in the New Year. With Geneva sessions scheduled for Feb-March next year, the government will have to work hard on a strategy to meet the threat. Successive governments obviously neglected Geneva for different reasons.

If yahapalanaya continued the national security would have suffered irreparable damage. The results would have been catastrophic and everlasting. In spite of severe economic difficulties caused by the rampaging corona pandemic, the government will have to sustain the armed forces in readiness to face any eventuality. The end of the war over a decade ago shouldn’t be a reason to weaken the armed forces or allow their capabilities to deteriorate.


A dubious ‘paniya’ to contain rampaging corona that made politicos laughing stocks

 The government’s primary concern should be tackling coronavirus, now threatening to overwhelm the national economy. Failure to bring the epidemic under control early this year can be quite disastrous as the economy is already in dire straits. Cabinet Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi and State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle spearheaded government efforts to contain the epidemic whereas a easily gullible section of the government promoted an ayurveda ‘paniya’ or syrup, allegedly prepared by using some secret ingredients, in addition to nutmeg and bees honey, thereby prompting foolish Sri Lankans in their thousands to beat a path to its producer’s abode in search of the much touted miracle concoction, causing chaos in the area.

The government went to the extent of allowing the Kapurala-turned Ayurveda practitioner Dhammika Bandara to hand over bottles of ‘paniya’ to several lawmakers, including the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, in Parliament. Recent scenes at Hettimulla in Kegalle where people gathered outside the kapurala’s abode to collect a bottle of the ‘paniya’ being touted by him as a cure for the deadly coronavirus were hilarious, if not for the grand irony of desperate people seeking a miracle.

Wanniarachchi was among those politicians who merrily consumed spoonfuls of the dubious syrup. Many eyebrows were raised several weeks ago when she, accompanied by two ministers, Prasanna Ranatunga and Udaya Gammanpila, threw pots of water into the Kalu Ganga as an occult cure. Dhammika Bandara wasn’t the only Ayurveda practitioner to exploit gullible public.

 With the total number of corona positive cases fast approaching 38,000 and deaths nearly 180, the government will have to ensure propaganda or foolish efforts didn’t further deteriorate the situation. To Dr. Fernandopulle’s credit, she never hesitated to plainly explain the risks involved in such dubious projects.


Hijaz, Mahara riots; corona cremations

The government can expect stepped up international pressure, egged on by interested parties over its decision to cremate bodies of all corona victims. Already the UN intervened in a purely internal matter of Sri Lanka several weeks ago with its Resident Representative Hanaa Singer in a much publicised act drawing the attention of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa of the need to allow the Muslims to bury their dead. We wonder whether any UN official will dare try such a stunt with a country like India for example. With Muslim parliamentarians except Mohammed Muzammil of the National Freedom Front (NFF) taking a common stand on the issue at hand, the international community with its primary agenda to humiliate this country is likely to intensify pressure on Sri Lanka.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague recently ruled in a 180 page tome that British troops committed war crimes in Iraq. It determined that Iraqi detainees in the custody of British were tortured, killed and even raped by UK troops. But the icing on the cake is that ICC will not prosecute any of the culprits! So while the self-appointed international community and the entrenched UN establishment are ever ready to whip a country like Sri Lanka on even mere trumped up charges, they allow countries like the US, the UK, Australia or even their new darling India to break through that law net they have woven for their own advantage

The SJB and National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) led by former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya want Muslims allowed burying their victims of coronavirus.

The government can also expect some sections of the international community to take up the continuing detention of Attorney-at-Law Hijaz Hizbullah over his alleged involvement in the Easter Sunday attacks as well as the recent Mahara Prison riots that claimed the lives of 11 remand prisoners and caused injuries to over 100 others. Contrary to Prisons Minister Lohan Ratwatte’s claim, the post mortems revealed some indeed died as a result of gunshot injuries.

Sri Lanka Core Group raised Hizbullah’s detention last September. The issue is expected to be raised at the forthcoming Geneva sessions in Feb-March 2021 unless the government granted him bail before the Geneva session.

The controversy was caused several weeks ago when Riyaj Bathiudeen, brother of All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen, arrested along with Hizbullah also in connection with the same case received bail under controversial circumstances. Media furore led to the Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, calling for internal investigation into the conduct of the CID officers, including DIG, CID and Director, CID as regards the release of Riyaj before the high profile vote on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

Unlike any previous AG, De Livera received unprecedented media coverage due to his style of doing things. Having captured media attention during the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) that dealt with Treasury bond scams perpetrated in 2015 and 2016, De Livera succeeded AG Jayantha Jayasuriya about a week after the 2019 Easter attacks. Jayasuriya served as the AG from Feb 10, 2016 to April 29, 2019.

Now the AG’s Department is under the scrutiny of P CoI probing the Easter attacks with President’s Counsel de Livera’s stand on two law officers accused of negligence in respect of TID (Terrorist Investigation Department) probe on Zahran Hashim questioned by Shavendra Silva, PC, on behalf of Deputy Solicitor General Azard Navavi. The question is whether Zahran’s murderous project could have been thwarted if the AG’s Department acted swiftly on the TID file received in early June 2017. Instead, the department sat on it until the Zahran-led National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) carried out the suicide bombing campaign. AG’s Coordinating Officer State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne, who had been in the media limelight, has been hauled up before the P CoI over the matter with questions being raised as regards the AG’s opinion on police investigations. There had never been a case like this that really dealt with the AG’s department.


An extraordinary tiff

The political leadership should keep an eye on the situation involving the AG’s Department and the Police. In fact, newly appointed Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera should be deeply concerned about the recent developments, particularly the AG’s high profile accusations in respect of IGP C.D. Wickremeratne’s culpability in respect of the Mahara Prison riots.

The relations between the AG’s Department and the police turned for the worse after the former intervened in an inquiry following accusations over the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) dealing in heroin. Retired Maj. Gen. Jagath Alwis, who, in his capacity as the Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) participated in a meeting chaired by De Livera, also attended by the then Acting IGP Wickremeratne at the AG’s office, where instructions were issued to expedite the investigations. Alwis recently received appointment as Secretary to the Ministry of Public Security.

The AG accused the IGP of turning a blind eye to specific instructions he issued in April 2020 to address congestion in prisons. The accusation was made in the presence of Justice Minister Sabry and CJ Jayasuriya at the recent event at Hulftsdorp. However, this accusation should be examined against the backdrop of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa having squarely faulted the Government Analyst, the Attorney General and the Police for congestion in prisons and therefore the Mahara riots.

The government’s efforts to improve law and order primarily depend on the AG and the police working together, closely. The recent meetings between Public Security Minister Weerasekera and Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith followed by the Minister and AG De Livera as regards the status of Easter Sunday investigation highlighted the absurdity of the situation. The AG’s Department and the police responsible for the successful conclusion of the Easter Sunday probe are under scrutiny for their own lapses. The issue at hand is whether Easter Sunday carnage could have been averted if the AG’s Department acted on Zahran’s file received in June 2017. And also even if the AG blundered, whether the NTJ plan could have been thwarted if Chief of State Intelligence Service Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena took meaningful measures after having received specific intelligence on April 4, 2019 regarding the impending NTJ attack.


Absence of political stability and unbridled corruption

The continuing absence of political stability is certainly a matter for serious concern. In spite of the passage of the 20th Amendment that was touted as the panacea for instability blamed on the 19th enacted in 2015, the situation is dicey. The ruling coalition effected some changes to the original 20th Amendment following protests by some members though the government retained provision to enable dual citizens to enter parliament. Now a fresh controversy has erupted in the wake of obvious disagreement among government partners, both in and outside parliament over the push for Provincial Council polls ahead of agreed formulation of a new Constitution.

A section of the government and those in the Pohottuwa Camp believe the PC polls should be conducted even under the old system without further delay whereas others want polls on hold until a new Constitution is in place. A nine-member expert committee headed by Romesh de Silva, PC tasked with formulating a new draft Constitution before Sinhala and Tamil New Year is worried about the government going ahead with PC polls. The committee is of the view early PC polls can be detrimental to its efforts. The government will have to decide soon on this matter without allowing further controversy.


Growing economic challenge and Parliament’s continuing failure

 Press statements issued by the Communication Department of Parliament pertaining to COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) and COPA (Committee on Public Enterprises) during Nov-Dec 2020 budget debate revealed the sheer negligence on the part of the House to ensure financial transparency and stability. COPE and COPA inquiries revealed how cash strapped successive governments allowed unbridled waste, corruption and irregularities. Parliament, as an institution, should least now review its primary responsibilities pertaining to public finance and introduction of new laws. The failure on its part to act on forensic reports on Treasury bond scams and also to conduct much delayed debate on the P CoI report on the same received in January 2018.

With the economy in dire straits, Parliament now in the hands of the SLPP should accept responsibility for restoring financial integrity in the public sector as well as public-private ventures. It should be of pivotal importance against the backdrop of growing international pressure on the country and the country experiencing a sharp drop in revenue by way of garment exports, tourism and foreign remittance.

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Midweek Review

A deeper scrutiny of ‘intelligence related matters’ needed



Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera Monday, 18 at his ministry met Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, to discuss ways and means of strengthening law enforcement operations. Public Security Ministry Secretary retired Maj. Gen. Jagath Alwis and IGP Chandana Wickremaratne participated in the discussion.

Former Senior Deputy Inspector General (SDIG) of Police H.M.G.B. Kotakadeniya, having read our last week’s column, further elaborated on the revelation by retired SDIG Merril Gunaratne pertaining to what he called the unprecedented expansion of the DIG cadre during Dingiri Banda Wijetunga’s tenure as the President (May 1993 to Nov 1994).

Kotakadeniya, one of the most outspoken senior cop, while in service (if one had cared to canvas his opinion) and now in retirement, said Wijetunga’s intervention had been far worse than mentioned and caused the further deterioration of the service. The retired Senior DIG sent us the following statement in the wake of the writer’s comment on Gunaratne’s latest work ‘Perils of a Profession’, titled ‘Perils of a Profession jolts scandal- ridden police’ published in the January 13, 2021 edition of The Island:

“In the chapter, titled ‘Violation of the line of seniority – a major cause for decline,’ it is stated President Wijetunge ordered the DIG cadre to be increased from 19 to 30 and that there was speculation about this increase benefitting an officer who was a favourite of the President. I would like to add two relevant facts regarding this issue.

“Shortly after Wijetunga assumed office as the President, in 1993, he summoned me to the Presidential Secretariat. At that time I was based at Police Headquarters as DIG Headquarters and DIG Administration. My parents and I had the privilege of being acquainted with Wijetunga from my childhood as we were from the same village.

“When I met the President, he told me that the welfare of Police officers hadn’t been given the due importance and, therefore, to redress the situation he had an idea to appoint a DIG to handle welfare work in each DIG Range. He inquired from me whether I would endorse the proposal.

“I reflected for a few seconds and replied that the subject of welfare in each range was being looked after by an Inspector, and therefore the appointment of an officer of a rank of DIG was not quite necessary. The President did not appear to be pleased with my response.

“If few days, after this meeting, with the President, I was transferred as the DIG Logistics on 1.10.1994 and thereafter to Chilaw on 4.10.1994. I felt that the move by the President, to appoint several DIGs’ in charge of ‘welfare’, was meant to fulfill his desire to expand the DIG cadre to allow his favourite officer who was very junior, to also become a DIG.

“The other matter was that the DIG cadre increase was not from 19 to 30, but much above 40 since the officer concerned was at that time 44th in the list of Senior Superintendents. “

Kotakadeniya refrained from mentioning names. The Island inquiries revealed that ironically highly respected Frank Silva had been the IGP at that time and Mahinda Balasuriya the beneficiary.

Kotakadeniya, who had served as Defence Ministry advisor during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first tenure as the President following the 2005 November Presidential election, was the only retired officer to respond to The Island piece.

Deterioration of the public sector

The deterioration of the police should be addressed at the highest level. Unfortunately, successive governments, in spite of their grandiose plans to restore the dignity of the once proud service caused further deterioration. Political parties cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for the current predicament.

But at least it is no longer a runaway rogue force, hand in glove with the underworld, due to the current government’s no nonsense line on law enforcers. Yet the current dispensation, too, is still struggling to cope with the situation against continuing revelations on the depth of its rot. The revelation of the clandestine dealings involving the elite Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) and heroin Mafia sent shock waves through the entire security establishment. Gunaratne, however, hadn’t at least made a reference to the PNB fiasco or the controversial release of Easter Sunday massacre suspect Riyaj Bathiudeen who had been held in CID custody in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

Mahinda Balasuriya received the appointment as the IGP in early November 2009 during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first tenure as the President. Balasuriya resigned in early June 2011 following the killing of a 21-year-old worker, during a protest, by police fire at the Katunayake Export Processing (EPZ).

The government rewarded him with a diplomatic appointment. Balasuriya, perhaps is the only retired IGP to receive an appointment as head of a diplomatic mission in spite of stepping down under controversial circumstances. Balasuriya served as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Brazil. With the Parliamentary High Posts Committee, chaired by the Speaker, nothing but a rubber stamp for successive governments to accommodate their favourites, at the taxpayers’ expense, without any difficulty.

Balasuriya received significant media coverage when he was investigated by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry that Inquired into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources and Privileges (PRECIFAC). The yahapalana outfit probed why Balasuriya provided armed police security for members of Wimal Weerawansa’s National Freedom Front (NFF), who hadn’t been at least members of Parliament.

The Commission sought clarification on what grounds Balasuriya provided security in the period 2010-2015.

The Commission estimated the exercise could have cost the taxpayer approximately Rs 30 mn.

Gunaratne dealt with officers with political patronage at different levels exploiting the much abused system to secure promotions. In the chapter referred to by Kotakadeniya, Gunaratne depicted an extremely negative picture of the service.

Let me reproduce verbatim the relevant section that referred to the pathetic situation of some influential persons securing key posts and promotions for stooges at the expense of the deserving: “The pattern, so monotonous since 1977, had seriously demoralized the service. Some have been adept not only in the ‘long jump,’ but also in ‘hop, step and jump,’ by obtaining more than one promotion outside the eligible criteria.

Backdoor entry into Parliament

But should we be surprised by irregular police promotions? In a country where defeated candidates can be accommodated in Parliament through the backdoor or ruling party perpetrated Treasury bond scams twice in 2015 and 2016, ‘rape of the seniority line’ as underscored by Gunaratne seemed not so serious an issue. In fact, the rot in the police is just one symptom of the overall deterioration of both public and private sectors.

In spite of the creation of the National Police Commission (NPC) in terms of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution followed by the 19th and the recently introduced 20th, the crisis-ridden department is in bad shape. The PNB’s alleged involvement in drug dealing, Riyaj Bathiudeen’s sudden shock release, alleged attempts to undermine police investigation into Easter Sunday attacks, handling of the probe into negligence on the part of Brandix and government officials in respect of the second Covid-19 eruption highlighted fundamental flaws in law enforcement.

Police continue to play politics and politicians continue to play with the police. Both parties engage in ‘politics’ at the expense of truth and credibility. The Parliament remains indifferent. Yahapalana IGP Pujith Jayasundera, in the wake of the Oct 26, 2018 constitutional crisis caused by the sacking of Wickremesinghe government, immediately switched his allegiance to the Rajapaksas. Jayasundera returned to the fold as President Sirisena’s ambitious project collapsed.

Over the years, politicians have set up systems that took care of problems. Actually, Gunaratne in ‘Dilemma of an Island’ (2001), ‘Cop in the Crossfire’ in 2011 and the latest ‘Perils of a Profession’ launched this January dealt with perhaps some broader issues though a fully-fledged Presidential Commission as suggested by the author is required to reach consensus on genuine remedial measures.

Former Sub Inspector and defeated candidate at the August 2020 general election Palitha Range Bandara recently received the appointment as the General Secretary of the demoralized UNP. Bandara succeeded Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, who was rewarded with the post of Assistant Leader.

Beleaguered UNP leader Wickremesinghe picked Bandara in spite of him being accused often of divided loyalties. But in relation to ‘Perils of a Profession,’ it would be pertinent to mention that Bandara received backdated promotion to the rank of ASP in Dec 2017, courtesy the NPC.

The NPC recommended promotion for cop-turned-politician Bandara to the rank of ASP on the grounds the previous Rajapaksa administration victimized him, politically, though he had left the police long before Rajapaksa came to power in 2005. The NPC made the recommendation to the Law and Order and Southern Development Ministry. The NPC responded to Bandara’s appeal and recommended that MP Bandara be reinstated in the Police Service from 24 August 2000 and promoted to the ASP rank on the 27th of the same month and sent him on retirement. Promoting an SI to the rank of ASP cannot be an issue for those yahapalana grandees who brought back Maj. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake from retirement to name him the Commander of the Army. The National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) carried out the Easter Sunday attacks during Senanayake’s tenure as the Army Commander. Instead of accepting responsibility for the failure on the part of the Directorate of Military (DMI) to thwart the NTJ project, Senanayake exploited the police lapses to contest the last presidential election. Senanayake couldn’t poll even 50,000 votes. The results of the Nov 2019 presidential poll placed Senanayake fourth behind JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

The yahapalana administration also brought back Rear Admiral Travis Sinniah from retirement to place the Navy under him. However, it is pertinent to mention that Sinniah led some of the most successful operations on the high seas against the LTTE arms smuggling vessels.

Need for clear cut procedures

The government will have to set up specific mechanisms to deal with both law enforcement and military officers claiming political victimization, rightly or wrongly, instead of looking at them through a political lense as has been happening under various governments. Gunaratne mentioned several instances of how retired senior officers brazenly exploited the political setup for their advantage. In the absence of procedures, any wrongdoer can secure benefits at the expense of the truth.

The author dealt with an attempt made by a Colombo-based diplomatic mission to recruit a police intelligence officer in the early 70s. Having named the officer concerned as Ananda Jayasekera, who passed away in 2019, Gunaratne discussed the case that ended up with the then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike being alerted to the foreign mission’s bid to run an agent within the State Intelligence setup.

During Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second presidential term, the US Embassy made an abortive bid to recruit Maj. Gen. Prasad Samarasinghe. The offer was made at a party hosted by the then US Defence attaché Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith on January 20, 2011, in honour of a senior officer from the US Pacific Command.

Samarasinghe not only turned down the offer to secure permanent residency in the US for him and his family by betraying the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, he promptly brought the US bid to the latter’s notice.

Against the backdrop of foreign powers stepping up their clandestine activities over the years, the circumstances under which Inspector Nishantha Silva of the CID secured political asylum for himself and his entire family a week after the last presidential poll underscored the pivotal importance of the intelligence services keeping a track of developments. Did the State Intelligence Service (SIS) headed by SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena know of the connection between Nishantha Silva and the Swiss Embassy?

Subsequent inquiries revealed a much wider conspiracy involving Swiss Embassy employee Garnier Francis, (former Siriyalatha Perera), the Swiss Embassy and the police officer who prominently figured in the leaked audio tapes of the then UNP State Minister Ranjan Ramanayake. Did SIS at least know the controversial CID investigator’s plan to flee the country in the event of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory at the presidential poll? Did the then Director, CID SSP Shani Abeysekera know of his subordinate’s plan?

If the Swiss government succeeded in evacuating Garnier Francis in an air ambulance amidst accusations that government personnel molested her and threatened her with death, immediately after Inspector Silva fled the country, the issue would have been raised in Geneva at the forthcoming 46th UNHRC sessions as if it was the gospel truth. However, the possibility of the matter still being raised during the Feb-March 2021 sessions cannot be ruled out as the West is quite capable of making an untruth a truth, especially through their ‘independent’ media as happened with Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction or the maligning of Gaddafi just before his ouster and gruesome killing in public.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa placed the SIS under intelligence veteran Maj. Gen. Suresh Sally. The SIS had never been under a military officer before. The crisis-ridden police are now placed under retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera as the Minister of Public Security with retired Maj. Gen. Jagath Alwis as the Secretary to that Ministry. The Office of Chief of National Intelligence (CNI), too, has been placed under retired Maj. Gen. Ruwan Kulathunga. In spite of the much tighter hold on the intelligence setup, the government was caught flat-footed when the demolition of the LTTE war memorial on January 8, 2021 in the Jaffna University triggered chaos. The incident placed both Sri Lanka and India in an embarrassing position as the demolition of the memorial took place close on the heels of Indian Foreign Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar’s high profile visit to Colombo.

Although the author made reference to the failure on the part of the police to thwart the Easter Sunday attacks, an issue as important as how the Indian intelligence managed its operations aimed at the NTJ hadn’t received due attention.

Did India alert SIS regarding their NTJ hunt or just provided the finished intelligence product on April 4, 2019, regarding the planned operation? Sri Lanka should be really worried about foreign intelligence services engaged in clandestine activities here, especially against the backdrop of growing US-China rivalry, with the former receiving the backing of India, Japan and Australia.

PLOTE leader Uma Maheswaran killing outside the Maldivian HC in Colombo in July 1989 revealed the possible involvement of the Indian intelligence. The killing took place in the wake of the PLOTE bid to overthrow the then Maldivian President Gayoom at the behest of a Maldivian businessman. The sea borne PLOTE raid went awry even before Indian troops landed there to bring the situation quickly under control.

A deeper scrutiny of ‘developments’ is required as China-US hostilities take a turn for the worse with both seeking to enhance their spheres of influence. The need for the intelligence services to be prepared to face multifarious threats on different levels is of paramount importance. The Easter Sunday carnage is certainly not the first intelligence failure and it wouldn’t be the last.

The assassination of President Ranasinghe Premadasa on May Day 1993 exposed the entire intelligence setup. The infiltration of President Premadasa’s inner circle by the LTTE is perhaps the worst single intelligence failure that proved the importance of the intelligence services being on top of the ‘political game,’ too. For intelligence services, there cannot be a worse period than President Premadasa’s tenure (1989-1993). An ignorant President played pandu with national security leading to the Eelam War II in June 1990 with disastrous consequences. Retired SSP Tassy Seneviratne didn’t mince his words when he appeared before the LLRC. Seneviratne explained how President Premadasa’s interventions caused debilitating losses at the onset of the Eelam War II. The rest is history.

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Midweek Review

The Royalty and its ‘Yes’ Men



By Lynn Ockersz

The air is thick once again,

With the familiar refrain,

That you, the ‘Sovereign People’,

Are at centre stage,

In this wearying racking of brains,

On how the notoriously Nodding Land’s,

Primal law must take shape,

But here’s the truth none can escape:

You have descended from wage labourer,

To an alms-seeker of the street,

And your hearth’s flames,

Are sputtering to an ominous end,

But the timeless moral remains:

You are hapless pawns,

In a decades-long power game,

Featuring dynastic heavyweights,

And their 225 ‘Yes’ men.

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Midweek Review

From Jaffna library to University – politics of identity



By Harim Peiris

A centre of Tamil learning in Jaffna was attacked and destroyed. No, not last week, but 40 years ago, in 1981, the iconic Jaffna Library, a seat of Tamil language, literature and learning was burnt to cinders by a mob of what then cabinet ministers Cyril Mathew et al were watching, perhaps not entirely as innocent bystanders, from the veranda of the old Jaffna Rest House termed as “an unfortunate rampage by a few drunk and off duty police officers”. Coming a full circle, four decades later, once again a seat of Tamil learning, this time namely the University of Jaffna, witnessed the destruction of its memorial to the dead. The police officers were again there, now on duty and very sober, as under cover of darkness, they guarded the backhoes which did the demolition. The contexts were different, the events eerily similar, while the rhetoric is strikingly the same.

Back then there wasn’t even the pretence of trying to justify the actions and two years later in 1983, we had a pogrom and were in the midst of a civil war. Now, a decade after the civil war in Sri Lanka is over, we must learn from the lessons of the past. It is former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, who paraphrased Spanish philosopher Santayana to state in the House of Commons that “those who did not learn from the lessons of history were destined to relive it”.

Post the civil war, the urge to curb Tamil nationalism from taking on any form of militancy or armed expression is an entirely legitimate and desirable objective. No one in his or her right mind would wish or desire Sri Lanka’s ethnic polarisations to once again lead to a civil war. However, towards this end, what is required is an intentional and purposeful, domestic process of post war reconciliation, which includes reparations and guarantees of non-reoccurrence. Unfortunately, more than a decade after the end of the civil war, dealing with either the effects or the causes of the war has not occurred in a meaningful manner. After the war, in the former conflict areas, the roads have been repaired and the public buildings reconstructed, but the shattered lives of especially the most vulnerable sections of Northern society, the widows, the orphans and the rural poor, remain largely as they were a decade ago.

Playing demolition derby in the University of Jaffna is not the means of advancing reconciliation. In fact, the University of Jaffna provides a useful safety valve and escape outlet for the frustrations of Tamil youth and curbing non-violent expressions of ethnic nationalism only drives it to less non-violent spaces. Neither does destroying the memorial to the dead, do anything to moderate Tamil opinion. Engagement and dialogue would have been better. It is a point that was reiterated most recently by visiting Indian Foreign Minister Dr. Jaishankar and likely to be reiterated by a majority of the International community at the upcoming sessions of the UNHRC in Geneva.


Memorialising and remembering the dead

Sri Lanka’s ethnic polarisations and social tensions extend beyond life and into the realm of death. It is a key aspect of our humanity that we mourn our dead. The religious faith or belief systems by which we make sense of life and death and especially find the strength to move on after the death of loved ones, especially under tragic and violent circumstances are crucial aspects of our personal and community life. Accordingly, the need and right to mourn the dead, is fundamental to us as humans and crucial to providing healing and closure, especially in the aftermath of a brutal and long drawn civil war, which resulted in the destruction of considerable life and property of both combatants and non-combatants on all sides.

Sri Lanka’s current controversy over the remembrance of the dead is not just confined to the Tamil populace seeking to mourn the loss of loved ones during or at the tail end of the war. On our new battle front of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka has become the only country in the world, to prohibit the burial of the dead with the religious rites and rituals of the deceased and in accordance with the wishes of the next of kin. The decision of the government, through its Ministry of Health, which bears the responsibility, is on the flimsiest of pretences based on the views of its own handpicked “experts” who are contradicted officially by public communique not only by the independent and distinguished College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka but also by the WHO and the practice of the global community of nations. Even with the far more contagious Ebola virus, the dead are buried with no adverse effects and the view of the government’s “experts”, truly make us a land like no other.

It is my friend and colleague, University of Amsterdam academic Dr. Ram Manikkalingam who coined the phrase, “Sinhala Eelam” to denote a Sri Lanka, which was the Sinhala equivalent of what Prabhakaran and the LTTE sought to create, a mono ethnic nation governed on ethnic lines.

Sri Lanka’s strength and moral superiority over the separatism which was defeated at Nandikadal, derives from the fact that we are multi-ethnic and multi religious and we should cherish that strength and, in its defence, desist from governing exclusively by the prism of ethnic Sinhala nationalism. Bulldozing monuments does nothing towards that end.


(The writer served as Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2016-17)

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