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In defence of the line of seniority

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STANDING UP FOR CONVICTIONS AND STANDARDS

(EXCERPTED FROM SENIOR DIG (RETD) MERRIL GUNARATNE’S “PERILS OF A PROFESSION”)

The process of altering the line of seniority began to occur with monotonous regularity after 1977, due to acts of both politicians as well as police officers. When I was director of the National Intelligence Bureau in 1984, General D S Attygalle, Secretary of Defence, summoned me to the Defence Ministry and requested me to file a confidential report about SSP Tilak Iddamalgoda. He said the President had wanted this in view of complaints received against him in the context of impending promotions to the DIG rank of three officers: Kingsley Wickramasuriya, Neil Weerasinghe and Iddamalgoda.

I instinctively felt that insidious elements were at play, and in the presence of Cyril Herath who was director general of Intelligence and General Attygalle, informed the latter that I would not like to file a report since I was next in line of seniority to Iddamalgoda and would be promoted if the latter was denied promotion. Secretary of Defence then said that it was a directive from the president. I said that I would call for a report from my deputy and submit it without comment. I also added that I would “not like to cut an officer’s neck” and secure a promotion. The Secretary agreed with my proposal.

I thereafter directed my deputy to submit a report telling him that I did not wish to obstruct the officer concerned and secure a promotion at his expense. After a few days, my deputy brought me his report which was not favourable to the officer concerned. Expressing my dismay, I prepared a fresh, favourable report and requested my deputy to sign it. Iddamalgoda against whom a frivolous complaint with malevolent motives had been made, was thus able to obtain his deserved promotion. Neither the President nor Secretary of Defence found fault with me for my course of action. Expressing the truth candidly paid dividends.

A challenge to my own position in the line of seniority.

I was not a favourite of President Premadasa possibly because I had an excellent official relationship with President Jayewardene. It was in these circumstances that I was transferred out of the intelligence assignment in the Defence Ministry to serve as DIG of the Greater Colombo range in mid 1989. Not long after, there were well founded rumours that a DIG subordinate to me was being groomed to be the IGP and that the line of seniority was to be interfered with to facilitate this. I believe the premature retirements of Messrs Rajaguru, Iddamalgoda and Wickramasuriya had much to do with this plan. I was not to be dislodged, but heard that the “favourite” earmarked to be the IGP was to be placed above me in the seniority list by the grant of special increments.

Since 1977, I had always voiced strong views about what I then called the “rape of the seniority line.” In fact I had made room for Iddamalgoda to be promoted, while holding the prestigious post of director of the National Intelligence Bureau. I could have reversed his fortunes and acquired a promotion at his expense. I decided to confront President Premadasa and express my displeasure about plans to place a subordinate officer above me in the seniority line. The president about this time visited one of my areas, Kalutara, for the mobile Presidential Secretariat, and lodged for the night at the circuit bungalow of the Special Task Force. I got an opportunity to speak to him in the circuit bungalow. The president said, ” Gunaratne, what is your problem?” I replied as follows: ” Excellency, there is a move by an officer junior to me to overtake me. I am second to none. If it happens, I will resign from the service”.

For about 10-15 seconds, the president simply looked at me, perhaps startled at my boldness. He then regained his composure and said “I will speak to General Ranatunga, (Secretary of Defence) now. You call him in the night. I will see that you are not overtaken”. His assurance convinced me that the plan had been so well hatched that even the secretary of defence was well aware of it. When speaking, General Ranatunga gave me the impression that he was surprised as to how I had the nerve to speak to the president.

The “compromise formula” the establishment then hatched was for the junior officer to be granted a special increment, but not seniority over me. My position in the seniority line was thus not disturbed because I was not afraid to tell the truth to the head of state and government. It had been unfortunate that many officers who had been overtaken by juniors with influence, had not asserted themselves by making strong protests.

The run up to the general election of 1993

At that time, I was senior DIG of all territorial ranges in the country. DB Wijetunge was president. During the pre-election period, the Attanagalla electorate was tense, since an SLFP supporter had been shot dead, presumably by a UNPer. Gamini Silva who retired as a senior DIG, was SSP Gampaha police division at the time. On a Saturday, President Wijetunge telephoned me and ordered me to take police resources from Colombo and raid the SLFP office at Attanagalla saying that guns stored there were being used to harass political opponents. The party office was the base of Chandrika Kumaratunga who was leading the SLFP at the elections.

I phoned SSP Gamini Silva and ascertained that the guns in the party office were those of security officers. Armed with this information, I visited President’s House, met the president and told him that the weapons in the SLFP office at Attanagalla were legitimate ones and that hence there was no basis to raid it. The president did not take offence, and concurred with what I said.

The following morning, about 8 a.m. on a Sunday, I was again summoned to President’s House. When I entered his office, Paul Perera, minister and MP for Attanagalla was seated with him. The president addressed me and said that SSP Gampaha Gamini Silva should be transferred immediately. When I inquired for the reason, he said that the officer was very partial to the People’s Alliance, and that Minister Paul Perera had no doubt about bias being displayed by the SSP. I then confronted the minister with the question, “Sir, you liked him for so long, why did you suddenly change your mind?” The minister I think took offence, stared at me and said, “He is working for the Peoples Alliance”. I then told the president, “Sir, the SSP is a good officer and is not taking any sides. If you insist on transferring him, please first remove me from my post”. The president then decided not to persist with the matter.

A few days after requesting the transfer of SSP Gampaha, the president again telephoned me about an incident which had occurred in Maho. I was acquainted with the incident since in my post as Senior DIG (Ranges), I was monitoring election incidents in police ranges and divisions on a daily basis. The incident about which the president spoke was one where some UNPers had stormed the house of a SLFP supporter armed with dangerous weapons, in order to cause serious harm and damage to persons and property. The inmates of the house had no option but to defend themselves, and in the melee, one of the assailants had lost his life. The president spoke to me and gave a different version of the event. According to him, the UNPer was dragged from the road into the house and done to death.

I think what he expected of me was to distort the correct picture at the inquest. I patiently explained that his version was incorrect, and that according to evidence the ‘invader’ had met with his death amid the house residents exercising their right of self defence. I remember telling the president on the phone, “I am sorry Excellency, I can’t make the accused appear like the victim”. I think the president appreciated my frankness and did not insist on the police building evidence to support the version he had been given. The officers who worked with me in my secretariat monitoring election violence were present when the president spoke to me on the phone.

Minister Gamini Dissanayake’s hostile remarks

When serving as Director General of Intelligence and Security (DGIS) in the ministry of defence, I was once summoned by President Jayewardene to his residence somewhere in 1987. I did not know why I was required. Minister Gamini Dissanayake arrived shortly after me. He entered the office room of the president. A short while later I was called in. I saw a report of mine on the table in front of the president. He said, “Gamini, tell us about Trincomalee”. The minister gave a somewhat glowing report about the work of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Trincomalee. I realized that the minister had arrived at the president’s residence straight after an observation tour of Trincomalee. When the minister was briefing the president and praising the IPKF, I anticipated the latter asking for my views because the report I had submitted to the president about a week prior and which was before him, was critical of the IPKF performance in Trincomalee.

Just as I guessed, the president turned to me and asked for my views. I had to disagree with the views of the minister because I could not deviate from the content of my report which was before the president. The minister took offense, lost his temper and did not certainly address me in polite terms. I then requested the president to transfer me out of my post if I was not equal to the task (of handling that kind of crticism). The minister then said “sorry Merril”, and continued to discuss some other matters with the president.

Conference of Chief Minister of Western Province at Sethsiripaya in early 1990’s

Susil Moonesinghe, Chief Minister of Western Province, held a conference at the behest of President Premadasa at Sethsiripaya in order to explore ways of keeping Colombo and the suburbs clean. Police officials and heads of local government bodies attended the conference in large numbers. I remember the presence of over 200 participants. When the conference was in progress, Colombo Mayor Ratnasiri Rajapakse stated that the accumulation of dirt and garbage was a regular sight in front of the Pettah police station. The Chief Minister quipped, “Police are collectors of dirt, no?”, provoking laughter.

I felt that the unwanted derisive remark brought the police service to ridicule and thought it appropriate to express protest. Incidentally, I was DIG (Greater Colombo) at the time. The remark was actually in respect of Colombo which was administered by DIG AS Seneviratne. I rose from my seat amidst laughter, and addressing the Chief Minister, said, “Sir, I think it is a very unkind cut, you should withdraw it”. The chief minister immediately said in response, “I am sorry Merril, I am withdrawing it”. I had always believed that a public service should not be treated in a derisive manner in the presence of others for frivolous reasons.

Conference of President Kumaratunga at Temple Trees in 1997

The occasion was the presentation of the report by a committee assigned to examine ways of preventing abuses in regard to tobacco, drugs and alcohol to the president. The committee was headed by Tara De Mel, and I happened to be a member of a predominantly civilian body, since IGP Rajaguru had nominated me to serve on the committee. I was the only police representative in it. Incidentally, I was far from being a favourite of the president at the time, having had to face the Batalanda Commission which was directed against her political rival, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

At the commencement of the conference, Professor Sujeewa Ranaweera gave a brief on the findings of the committee, and when doing so, said that the illicit liquor menace in Chilaw district should also be eradicated. The President interjected and said “police are corrupt, you can’t stop it”. Much later the professor, when summing up findings and recommendations of the committee, again reminded the president that the illicit liquor menace in Chilaw should be eliminated. The President reiterated what she said earlier, “I told you earlier, police are corrupt, you can’t stop it”.

I felt that the police service was being held to ridicule in the presence of a body of officials when in actual fact, politicians of SLFP and UNP had been responsible for providing protection to illicit liquor dealers. I rose from my seat and said, “Excellency, I wish to express a point of view”. She said something like “go ahead”. I then said, “Excellency, it is not the police but the politicians in Chilaw who are corrupt and permit the growth of the illicit liquor menace”. I think my reaction surprised her. The president replied, “I have told the politicians not to interfere”. I thanked her and took my seat.

I later learnt that the president had removed my name from the committee. Cyril Herath, former IGP who then served as chairman NSB and the coordinator of intelligence agencies later said to me that it would have been better if I expressed what I said at the forum privately to the president. I had to explain to him that I was not sufficiently familiar to obtain an appointment with the president. I further said that it may not have been incorrect for me to have told the truth at the time of the conference.

Drought

I think there has been a drought in respect of the willingness or inclination of police seniors to express the truth to the establishment in order to protect those who have acted correctly, or where the service is needlessly ridiculed. If the service and it’s officers have to be protected, the onus lies with seniors including the IGP to express the truth to the political establishment, however unpalatable it may be. In fact, subject to exception, those in the establishment respect frankness. The expression of the truth has to be understood as the presentation of what is professionally correct. Any abdication of this responsibility which is now abundantly evident, only permits interference at all levels. I think we now continue to suffer a perpetual drought, perhaps without hope or redemption.



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Features

Why Small Farms will be the backbone of food security

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The ecological axiom that: ‘Energy flow through a system tends to organise and simplify that system’, is abundantly clear in agriculture. As farms moved from small interdependent units, bounded by fences and hedgerows, to large cropping fields to accommodate machine management, we lose the biodiversity that once existed on that landscape and the biomass that provided the Ecosystem Services. This sacrifice was rationalised through the invocation of economic profit. The economic ‘profit’ gained by subsidies on fossil fuel and uncontrolled extraction from the Global Commons. The ‘development’ of agriculture has become a race to control the commodity market. The farmer ceased to be a feature of the farm. In a telling statement, the farmers of Sri Lanka sent the following statement to the CGIAR in 1998 :

‘We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition, we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide- related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.’

The diverse farm had to yield to production monoculture, which was made possible through the burning of fossil fuels. Ironically the burning of fossil fuels is the major reason for the current destabilised climate and threat to agriculture. One consequence of climate change is the predicted rise in global temperatures. If ambient temperatures exceed 40 degrees , which has become the reality in many places even today, food production will be compromised. All the food we eat originates with plants and plants produce using photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, or the capture of solar energy by plants, is done with chlorophyll, the thing that makes plants green and chlorophyll begins to break down after 40 degrees. Landscapes whose summer temperatures go beyond this limit will have smaller and smaller crops as the temperatures increase. The only solution to this oncoming crisis, is to begin introducing trees at strategic points on the landscape.

Trees and all other forms of vegetation cool the environment around them through the transpiration process, which takes place in the leaves. The water absorbed by the roots is sent up to the leaves which release it as vapor, cooling the air around it. Measurements on trees done by research institutions worldwide, indicate that an average large tree produces the cooling equivalent of eight room sized air conditioners running for 10 hours, a cooling yield 0f 1,250,000 Bthu per day. Plantations of trees have been recoded to have daytime temperatures at least 3 degrees below the ambient. This is an important aspect of Ecosystem Services that needs to be considered for adaptive agriculture.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realise the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer facing the headlights.

But placing trees in and around cropping areas becomes a problem in large cropping fields designed to accommodate machine management. The management of such trees and hedgerows requires needs that cannot be provided without human management. Agricultural landscapes will need management that will be adaptive to the changing climate. An example would be; small interdependent units bounded by fences and that increase biodiversity and the biomass while providing Ecosystem Services.

Investment in food security, should take climate change seriously. All new agricultural projects should address the heat thresholds of the planned crops. The Sri Lankan country statement at COP 21 stated that :

“We are aware that the optimum operating temperature of chlorophyll is at 37 deg C. In a warming world where temperatures will soar well above that, food production will be severely impacted.”

And that :

“We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as; production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognised.”

These statements cry out for the recognition of the role that small farms will have to play in the future. In a temperature compromised future, small farms with high standing biomass, through their cooler temperatures will continue to produce food in heat stressed periods. If such Ecosystem Services can be given a value, it will strengthen the economy of small farms and ensure local, sustainable food production into the future.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realize the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer in sheadlights.

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Encouraging signs, indeed!

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Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community

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by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”

INTERNAL FRAGMENTATION

The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.

EARLY WARNING

An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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