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Midweek Review

Remedies for the plight of school-leavers

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by Nimal Abeysinghe
nimal.abeysinghe@gmail.com

Deciding what to do when you leave school is tough. It becomes a nightmare for students and parents alike when you suddenly find yourself short of a few marks to qualify for university admission. Every year about 270,000 students face this dilemma.

Let’s delve a little deeper into the unpleasant statistics. In all streams of study combined, about 70 percent of the GCE (O/L) students qualify for the GCE (A/L) and then out of around 350,000 who sit the GCE (A/L) about 63 percent become eligible for admission to a university. However, due to the limited capacity of universities, on average only 23 percent (in 2019 the figure was 19 percent) of the eligible candidates manage to enter university. The competition for Arts and Commerce students is worse with only 17 percent gaining entry (UGC Statistics Report 2020 and University World News 2021). To put this in perspective, if 100 students sit the GCE (O/L) only 10 will eventually enter the university. After studying three to five years in the university depending on the course of study, about 90 percent of graduates of a few disciplines, such as architecture, engineering, medicine and IT, find employment related to the field of study, within two years.

Sadly, only 45 percent of Arts students secure employment, within two to three years of graduation. (Tracer Study of Graduates – Commissioned by UGC in 2017/18). Out of these, how many are underemployed? This is the stark reality in Sri Lanka today. Unfortunately, the vast majority of secondary school students are discouraged by parents from considering any other avenue of tertiary education outside the university. This is done despite knowing very well that the odds are against them. Though the general public may not be aware of these statistics, it is common knowledge that there are unemployed Arts and other graduates in almost every town and village in the country. The total unemployment rate in 2019 was 4.8 percent, ranking Sri Lanka third among South Asian countries with high unemployment. Tragically, the unemployment rate in the 15 to 24 age group in our country recorded the highest rate at 21.5 percent. Based on education level, A/L and above showed the highest rate of unemployment at 8.2 percent (Labour force Survey – Department of Census and Statistics).

However, turning a blind eye to all these gloomy and depressing statistics; every year, soon, after the GCE (A/L) results are released, we hear the usual statement from the government that university intake will be increased this year to accommodate the sons and daughters of ‘poor and innocent people from our villages’. Like a pre-recorded statement we have been hearing this since the 1960s. And we continue to produce more graduates with no marketable skills who cannot improve their own livelihoods or make any positive contribution to the economic development of our society. Notwithstanding, some short-sighted, narrow-minded politicians keep giving false hopes to the masses and the masses allow themselves to be misguided and deceived by these politicians over and over again. Regrettably, some universities have exacerbated the situation by ignoring market demands and employability and continuing to offer courses that add absolutely no value to the graduates or the national economy. Regardless, every year the government in power continues to pump more money into universities to increase student intake across the board, presumably to fulfil an ‘election promise’. The establishment of 15 new technology faculties in some conventional universities a few years ago and the enrolment increase to technology courses are a step in the right direction which will enable a few more students to enter university. However, it does not adequately address the pressing issue of the absence of career development paths for school-leavers. At least going forward, the government needs to revise its funding model for education as a whole to provide more funding for technology-based education in schools. I must hasten to add that I am not advocating wholesale scrapping of Arts and Humanities courses from all universities but taking a pragmatic approach to funding allocation for education and taking steps to gradually reduce the intake to the Arts stream and faculties.

Creating non-productive jobs that do not make a positive contribution to society is not the solution to this massive problem. Instead of coming up with ambulance-at-the-bottom-of-the-cliff solutions, we must examine the root cause of the problem. If we compare this problem to an unwanted tree, its seed is planted in secondary school (perhaps in primary school) and nurtured by teachers, parents and extended family. One cannot completely blame them for doing so because of the prestige and social status associated with a university degree. Furthermore, most students and parents are not aware of any other avenues of study available to them outside university education. We already have in place the infrastructure and administrative apparatus via the establishment of the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) in 1991 and the National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) framework in 2005. In the year 2017 total university admissions were 31,415 whilst NVQ Level 1 enrolment was only 18,484. What is needed is an intensive social marketing strategy to change the attitude and mindset of students, parents and teachers alike. Unfortunately, this is more easily said than done in a society in which picking up a tool and getting one’s hands dirty is considered below the dignity of an ‘educated’ person. Changing this attitude and building respect and social recognition for a trade-qualified, skilled person will be a slow and arduous process. Another change that needs to be considered simultaneously is to discourage students from taking up dead-end undergraduate courses. A policy decision has to be taken to gradually reduce the intake to such courses. This demands extraordinary political courage as there will be stiff opposition from parents and students and most certainly from certain segments of academics.

With rapid industrialisation in the second half of the last century, the demand for skilled labour such as carpenters, welders, electricians and plumbers saw rapid growth in the developed world because they played a pivotal role in economic growth. This resulted in a surge in the earning power of tradespeople. These financial gains directly contributed to higher living standards which in turn translated to higher social standing and recognition of those engaged in skilled trades. While attaining financial stability and a higher standard of living for themselves, tradespeople continue to make a huge contribution to the economic development of these countries. Another important factor in this social change was the introduction of formal education and training requirements to achieve set standards and certification and licensing protocols introduced and monitored by government agencies. A further noteworthy development was the formation of associations of individual trades with objectives quite different from conventional trade unions. These organisations set quality standards for workmanship and ensured their members adhered to these standards, thus fulfilling the task of formal self-regulation of tradespeople. The membership of such an organisation gave the trades-person a higher standing as well as his or her clients the assurance that the quality of the work done would be of high standard. These measures prevented ‘cowboys’ from calling themselves skilled tradesmen.

Though a direct comparison cannot be drawn between Sri Lanka and developed countries due to widely varying social attitudes and cultural differences, it is still worthwhile studying some of the strategies implemented and the outcomes. Across the developed world one can see an unmistakable upward trend among young people enrolling in vocational training instead of undergraduate studies in Arts and Humanities or similar studies. For instance, in New Zealand during the last 10 years Arts and Humanities subjects have suffered a steep fall in student number: Between 25 percent and 50 percent across different universities, and one university senate decided to axe the Arts courses altogether from 2020 due to low enrolment rates. This decline is against a backdrop of enrolment increases in technology-related courses of study in tertiary institutions. During the same period, students leaving school before age 13 (equivalent to A/L) to take up apprenticeships in trades or to follow trade targeted courses have sharply increased. This trend has continued with the last year showing a significant jump of 50 percent over the previous year and this trend is not isolated to New Zealand but equally true to other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries.

Most universities in New Zealand offer courses from certificate (Level 4) to postgraduate level (Level 10) both full-time and part-time (Final year in school – A/L is considered Level 3). Therefore, for instance, a trades-person with a level 5 trade certificate can enter a university course mid-stream, instead of going back and sitting the equivalent of our A/L; and study towards a diploma, degree or beyond. In Sri Lanka, a student who leaves secondary school to take the Technical & Vocational Training route cannot enrol in a university but have to enter the University of Vocational Technology (Sri Lanka Education System Assessment 2017 – World Bank). Unfortunately, any attempt to implement pathways or processes similar to the ones in OECD countries will result in absolute turmoil in our society with unprecedented unrest in our educational institutions. Considering the present situation in our country we may have to put that in the ‘too hard basket’ for now. Nevertheless, if we are to move forward as a nation it is of utmost importance that we remove obstacles facing young men and women keen to build their careers.

The world has become technology dependent. Young men and women and their parents need to realise this and break away from the traditional thinking of ‘office clerk versus factory worker’. The reality is that the choice is whether you start young and earn while you learn and continue to enjoy financial stability or spend three or four years of your youth pursuing an irrelevant course of study only to join a long queue of job seekers. The youth, when faced with financial difficulties, may undergo this psychological transformation more rapidly than parents who are trapped in age-old social beliefs and notions. This is not about a ‘psychological revolution’ but more an evolutionary process of gradually changing the mindset of the general public and as such, invariably demands social marketing by the government, the media, including social media and above all, political parties. It is said that “most politicians know the right thing to do but they don’t know how to get re-elected after doing the right thing”.

The politicians need to be convinced that the right thing to do today is to stand with the school leavers, promote vocational training and allocate more funds for facilities ranging from more school workshops to increased financial support for vocational trainees and employers of trainees. If they can be shown that for every one undergraduate there are 10 plus school leavers, they might see the potential ‘vote bank’ which will answer every politicians’ proverbial question, “What’s in it for me?”. Having said that, one must not lose hope as the President has reiterated in his Independence Day speech:”Our objective is to do what is right by the country and not to please everyone.”

Since 1990 we have gradually built the legal and administrative framework and the infrastructure to support vocational education and training. Most certainly, like any other process it needs continuous improvement but more importantly, what is lacking is a commitment to implement policies falling under the umbrella of vocational education. This needs urgent action and cannot wait for action by politicians. Other non-political stakeholders like administrators and intellectuals need to take the initiative and lobby for funding to improve much-needed resources to transform the lives of our young men and women who are desperately in need of guidance and support before they leave school. A thorough understanding of the Sri Lanka Qualification Framework (SLQF) before leaving school will help students to make informed decisions regarding their future. The vast majority of A/L students take up Arts subjects because they have no other choice due to the lack of facilities in their schools. Providing basic workshop facilities in schools is a good start. It’s not just about learning to use basic engineering tools but about changing the mentality towards working with your hands. This is one area where funding priorities have to be reconsidered. Providing workshop facilities to rural schools and technology teacher training are costly. Experience has shown that retaining such teachers is a greater challenge as they have better prospects in the industry. A skill-based pay system in the education sector is out of the question, as even a hint of a proposal will incur the wrath of the unions.

Information is key to decision-making. Career fairs are becoming more and more popular, as a form of information dissemination, as young people are attracted to such events. If organised at the regional level teachers can ensure that secondary school students attend these fairs and gain knowledge to make informed choices. One other important area of focus can be career advice for students starting from O/L. Career guidance counsellors play a significant role in the school curriculum in the developed world. Customarily, counsellors are teachers with specialised training in career guidance. However, volunteers are quite common as well. They can empower students and parents with knowledge, allowing them to explore different career options and pathways together. Unlike most parents who are driven by preconceived career paths for their children, the counsellors can give unbiased pragmatic advice as they have no emotional attachment to the student. Only a handful of our schools are fortunate enough to have this facility but this is something, if implemented, that will go a long way in reshaping the attitudes of students and parents. Social attitudes of people cannot be changed by enacting laws but will go through a gradual transformation when consistently confronted with positive outcomes. Yet one must not leave it to run its course. A concerted effort by the government and the state apparatus is needed to alter the attitudes of our society towards skilled labour. Having said that, one must acknowledge the fact that respective governments have, to some extent, taken numerous initiatives to implement such projects but they have tragically encountered the same fate as most projects in our country; Endless delays and poor management.

On the whole, Sri Lanka has got the infrastructure, legal and administrative framework and enough government organisations to implement and monitor vocational education and training policies but funding priorities and efficient project management are the two critical areas that desperately need improvement.

(The writer thanks Dr. Julian Nanayakkara, former Senior Lecturer,
University of Moratuwa and University of Kelaniya and resource person for the Ministry of Education, for providing information and encouraging him to write to highlight the plight of school leavers who continue to fall through the cracks in our education system.)



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Midweek Review

Ranil takes premiership amidst BASL bid for all party-consensus

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A smiling Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe reacts to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after receiving the premiership. Gamini Senarath, Secretary to the President looks on. Mrs Maithri Wickremesinghe was present at the brief ceremony at the President’s House, Fort last Thursday evening (pic courtesy PMD)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe, in her current capacity as the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), directed the police to provide adequate protection for the President and the Prime Minister while protecting the freedom of speech and assembly through necessary and proportionate measures.

Justice Marasinghe, who received the appointment in Dec, last year, would never have believed she would be compelled to issue such a statement.

The HRCSL statement, issued on April 26, 2022, over a month after the eruption of violent protests at the private residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at Pengiriwatta, Mirihana, that lasted for several hours, didn’t name the President and the Prime Minister.

Mahinda Rajapaksa quit Temple Trees on May 10, less than 24 hours after he announced his resignation, in the wake of unprovoked violence directed at those demanding the resignation of both the President and the Prime Minister and the so-called peaceful protesters who lay siege to his official residence Temple Trees virtually making, him a prisoner therein.

The first protest, targeting President Rajapaksa, was held at Pangiriwatte, Mirihana, on March 31, 2022. What began as a peaceful protest in the vicinity, quickly turned violent after the crowds made attempts to advance towards the President’s private home. The deployment of the Army, in support of the beleaguered police, failed to bring the situation under control.

Protesters set ablaze several vehicles, including two buses that brought Police and Army reinforcements to the scene of the unprecedented confrontation. Therefore, it would be pertinent to discuss the circumstances, Justice Marasinghe called for sufficient protection for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, over two weeks after the launch of the protest campaign, in front of the Presidential Secretariat, on April 09, 2022.

Perhaps, the HRCSL should have also advised the Army, as well as the Special Task Force (STF), regarding adequate protection for the President and the Prime Minister. The Army and the STF play an integral role in the protection of key leaders. The HRCSL cannot be unaware of the involvement of the Army and the STF in the protection of the President and the Prime Minister.

Justice Marasinghe called for ‘necessary and proportionate measures’ to meet the threat on the two leaders as those who had been demanding their resignation stepped up the campaign.

The HRCSL consists of five Commissioners, namely Justice Rohini Marasinghe (Chairperson), Venerable Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara and Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan. The President constituted the HRCSL in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Dec. 2020. Justice Marasinghe and Ven. Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera were brought in Dec. 2021 in the wake of the resignation of HRCSL Chairman Jagath Balasuriya and NGO, guru Harsha Kumara Navaratne taking up the post of Sri Lanka High Commissioner to Canada.

Did HRCSL make an assessment before Justice Marasinghe issued instructions to the police? The HRCSL intervened in the wake of the erection of a new protest site, opposite Temple Trees, as the government struggled to cope up with an unprecedented political-economic-social crisis that brought the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to its knees.

The writer, over the last weekend, sought a clarification from Justice Marasinghe. The HRCSL Chief said that instructions were issued as access to the residences of the President and the Prime Minister had been blocked. The HRCSL was also informed of possible threats to their lives, Justice Marasinghe said, adding that the issue at hand should be examined on the basis of equal protection of the law.

In spite of HRCSL’s instructions, the police, and at least an influential section of the SLPP government, appeared to have been caught napping. Was it due to the fear of the wrath of the HRCSL or they being under the so-called international community spotlight? In fact, the law enforcement authorities had contributed to the rapid deterioration of the situation to such an extent that mobs took control of roads. Had the police top brass realized the gravity of the situation, in the first week of May, they would have definitely advised the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa not to summon several hundreds of his supporters to Temple Trees. The failure on the part of the police to advise the ousted Premier was nothing but a monumental blunder.

In fact, the police appeared to have been part of a political project meant to dismantle those who had been protesting against the government, while laying siege to both Temple Trees and the Presidential Secretariat. The operation was meant to regain control. Therefore, a primary objective was to silence those who had been asking Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to step down.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, too, has been of that view, in the wake of about one-third of the SLPP parliamentary group demanding Premier Rajapaksa’s resignation to pave the way for an all-party interim administration.

PM, family take refuge in SLN base

Just two weeks after HRCSL asked the police to ensure protection of the President and the Prime Minister through ‘necessary and proportionate measures’ the latter had to move out of Temple Trees, under heavy security escort. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to authorize the deployment of SLAF assets to evacuate the ex-Prime Minister and some members of the family. They took refuge at the strategic Eastern Naval Command premises, Trincomalee.

By then, Yoshitha Rajapaksa, the ousted PM’s second son and Chief of Staff and his wife, Nitheesha Jayasekera, had left the country. Interestingly, Yoshitha left for Singapore at 12.50 am on May 09 on Singapore Airlines flight SQ 469 several hours before SLPP activists started arriving at Temple Trees.

Yoshitha Rajapaksa couldn’t have been unaware of the meticulous plans underway to bring in hundreds of supporters from all parts of the country to Temple Trees where the Prime Minister was to address them. Those who believed Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa was to announce his resignation were proved wrong. Instead, lawmaker Johnston Fernando and the then Premier Rajapaksa created an environment conducive for an ‘operation’ to evict those who had been protesting against the Prime Minister and the President. The operation boomeranged. The end result was the Prime Minister having to take refuge in the Trincomalee Navy base.

Two days later, the Fort Magistrate’s Court issued a travel ban on Mahinda Rajapaksa, MP Namal Rajapaksa and 16 others. They are Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Johnston Fernando, Sanjeewa Edirimanne, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, C.B. Ratnayake, Sanath Nishantha, Kanchana Jayaratne (Pavitra Wanniarachchi’s husband), Sampath Athukorala, Mahinda Kahandagama, Renuka Perera, Nishantha Abeysinghe, Amitha Abeywickrama, Pushpalal Kumarasinghe, Dilip Fernando and Senior DIG Deshabandu Tennakoon. The Senior DIG had been present at the time, SLPP goons broke through the police line, near the Galle Face hotel, to demolish the Galle Face protest camp.

The Magistrate also imposed a travel ban on seven others who had been wounded during the violence on the fateful Monday or were eye-witnesses to the attacks.

President of the Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association Lakshman Perera told the writer that the Attorney General‘s Department moved the Fort Magistrate’s court amidst preparations made by his outfit to move the court. Speaking on behalf of the Association, Perera underscored the pivotal importance of ensuring the safety and security of all, regardless of whatever the accusations directed at them.

For how long would the ex-Premier have to live under the protection of the Navy? In response to media queries, Defence Secretary retired General Kamal Gunaratne told a hastily arranged press conference, at the Battaramulla Defence Complex, that as a former head of State Mahinda Rajapaksa was entitled to required security. When would the ex-PM be able to move freely as protests demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation continue amidst traffic disruptions on main roads, especially over shortage of cooking gas? The situation remains extremely dicey.

Politically-motivated mobs destroyed many properties belonging to the Rajapaksa family. Mobs set ablaze the Rajapaksas’ ancestral home at Medamulana, Hambantota, and did not even spare the memorial built for their parents also at Medamulana, while the former Premier’s home in Kurunegala, too, was destroyed.

Properties belonging to elder brother, Chamal Rajapaksa and his son, Shashendra were also destroyed.

Gangs set fire to Green Ecolodge, situated very close to the Sinharaja rain forest. The hotel, situated close to the UNESCO heritage site, is widely believed to be owned by Yoshitha Rajapaksa, who recently warned JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake of legal action against the accusations made in respect of Green Ecolodge. But the JVP instead of backing their accusations regarding that prized eco-property (torched by the politically-motivated mobs early last week) with facts, issued a veiled threat to expose Yoshitha on some other issues if he dared to go to courts. Comrade Nalinda Jayatissa told the media that they would raise his fake qualifications, how he managed to enter the famed British naval college Dartmouth, etc., if he ventured to challenge them in court.

Well organized mobs also looted and set fire to properties of over 50 MPs, mainly of the government, across the country. They and their families were left with only the clothes on their backs.

Politicos under threat

The government should do everything possible to prosecute those responsible for incidents of violence, regardless of their status. Destruction of lawmakers’ properties should be denounced and punitive action taken against all those responsible. Who would take the responsibility for killing SLPP Polonnaruwa District MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale and his police bodyguard at Nittambuwa? The slain MP was on his way home, after attending the Temple Trees meet earlier in the day. Did Atukorale open fire on those who blocked his path? Did his police bodyguard, too, open fire? The post-mortem revealed the MP had been lynched and contrary to initial reports there were no gunshot injuries. The post mortem also set the record straight that the MP didn’t commit suicide with his own weapon as initially claimed by interested parties over the social and mainstream media. Having allowed SLPP goons to go on the rampage, the police pathetically failed to intervene when the public retaliated. Politically-motivated groups obviously took advantage of the situation. At an early stage of the ongoing protest campaign, German Ambassador in Colombo Holger Seubert tweeted: “I’m impressed with how peaceful the proud people of Sri Lanka are exercising their right to freedom of expression. It reminds me of German unification back in 1989 when we experienced how powerful peaceful protests can be. Wishing all parties involved the strength to remain peaceful.”

During the second JVP inspired-insurgency, the then JRJ government issued firearms to members of Parliament. Some lawmakers formed their own death squads. The government accepted extra-judicial killings as part of the overall defence against the JVP/DJV violence perpetrated against the UNP and those connected with that party.

Members of the SLPP raised security issues at a meeting they had with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the President’s House last Saturday (14). The government shouldn’t expect normalisation of the situation until tangible measures are taken to stabilize the national economy. Lawmakers wouldn’t be safe as long queues for diesel, petrol and cooking gas exist with the vast majority of the electorate struggling to make ends meet. The government should be mindful of interventions made by foreign powers and other external and internal players hell-bent on exploiting the situation to their advantage.

Recent demonstrations near the Parliament compelled the police to close several roads for traffic on May 05 and 06. The police closed the section from Diyatha Uyana junction (Polduwa junction) to Jayanthipura junction and from Jayanthipura junction to the Denzil Kobbekaduwa road to deter mass invasions by well organised demonstrators. The police asserted that closure of the roads were necessary, in spite of the inconvenience caused to the public, to prevent hindrance to lawmakers entering and leaving the parliamentary complex.

The police closed down the same sections of the roads yesterday (17) to facilitate parliamentary proceedings. Trade unions combine and the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) have vowed to lay siege to the Parliament. The warning that had been made several days before the May 09 mayhem should be reviewed. The trade union grouping and the IUSF affiliated to the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), the breakaway JVP faction, should be mindful of the crises the country is experiencing.

A tragedy

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa having to take refuge in the Trincomalee SLN base is a tragedy. Mahinda Rajapaksa gave resolute political leadership to Sri Lanka’s war effort at a time the vast majority of lawmakers felt the LTTE couldn’t be defeated. Therefore, many accepted peace at any cost. They were prepared even to give up Sri Lanka’s unitary status in a bid to reach a consensus with separatist Tamil terrorists mollycoddled by Western powers. Mahinda Rajapaksa had the strength and political acumen to take on the LTTE. The country should never forget how President Rajapaksa, in spite of strong objections from the military, flew into Kebitigollewa on June 15, 2006, in the immediate aftermath of a claymore mine attack on a passenger bus. The blast killed over 60 men, women and children. Having visited the survivors, President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave an assurance that the terrorism would be eradicated. The promise was made two months before the LTTE resumed large-scale offensive action in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful end in May 2009. But, the President, who restored peace, has ended up virtually running for his life and had to seek refuge in a military installation for the time being as post-war policies and strategies take their toll with interested parties taking advantage of the tragedy facing the country.

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Midweek Review

Up for Grabs

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By Lynn Ockersz

It’s the Horse Trader’s hour once again,

And fierce bargaining unfolds on Stage;

Creatures stomping with iron hoofs,

Displaying teeth of menacing length,

And merciless whips for tongues,

Are receiving top most billing,

By ‘Strutting and Fretting’ business Heads,

Trying now to sit in saddles under siege,

But in a hitherto nodding land,

That’s suddenly come rudely awake,

These are risky sleazy deals to make,

For, the moment has already arrived,

Wherein hunger has turned Ploughshares,

Into Spears of divisive hate and vengeance.

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Midweek Review

Possible link between TID head’s arrest and Easter Sunday massacre baffles retired DIG

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Retired DIG Priyantha Jayakody, one-time police spokesman, last Saturday (07) advised the police on how to deal with the current wave of protests. Jayakody addressed the media in the wake of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declaring a State of Emergency following police crackdown on protests near the Parliament. The retired top cop urged his former colleagues not to give into illegal orders, under any circumstances. Jayakody is the first retired top cop to declare his support for the ongoing countrywide campaign for political reforms.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Actor Jehan Appuhamy carried a life-sized cross on his shoulder from Katuwapitiya, in the Katana electorate, to the entrance of the President’s Office (Old Parliament), Galle Face, where a high profile ‘Go Gota Home’ campaign was underway.

The three-day trek began at the St. Sebastian Church premises, on April 19, where exactly three years ago Achchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hasthun detonated his suicide device, killing over 100. Hasthun is widely believed to be one of the bomb makers, responsible for six suicide blasts, in the space of 20 minutes, beginning at 8.45 am on that particular day. The first detonation occurred at the St. Anthony’s Shrine, Colombo, Kochchikade, at 8.45 am. Other blasts ripped through Kingsbury, Colombo, at 8.47 am, St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya, also at 8.47, Shangri-La, Colombo at 8.54, Cinnamon Grand, Colombo at 9 and Zion Church, Batticaloa at 9.05.

In addition to those planned blasts, there were two explosions – one at the Tropical Inn Guest House, Dehiwela, where one terrorist triggered his explosive device, and the last blast at Dematagoda, where Fatima Ibrahim, the wife of Inshaf Ibrahim (the Cinnamon Grand bomber), blew herself up, killing three police commandos. The blast also claimed the lives of her three young sons and her unborn child.

Actor Appuhamy’s endeavor received the blessings of the Catholic Church, campaigning for justice. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference has repeatedly demanded that the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday massacre, as well as those who failed to thwart the conspiracy, due to sheer negligence, or some other reasons, be punished, regardless of their standing in the society.

Appuhamy completed a 25-mile long journey, on April 21, on the 13th day of the ‘Go Gota Home’ campaign. A group of Catholics joined a protest launched opposite Temple Trees, three days later, demanding justice for the Easter Sunday carnage. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference members, and the Archbishop of Colombo, Rt. Rev. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, has pledged their support for the ongoing campaign, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the entire Cabinet-of-Ministers, including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Quite a number of Catholics displayed placards, demanding justice for the Easter Sunday victims, an issue that has sharply divided the country, experiencing the worst-ever post- independence economic-political and social crisis.

Retired Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Priyantha Jayakody, in an open letter, addressed to Defence Secretary, retired Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, published in Annidda, in its May Day edition, has questioned the failure on the part of the incumbent dispensation to bring the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday massacre to justice. Jayakody also queried the inordinate delay in completing the high profile investigations, launched during the yahapalana administration, into the alleged attempts to assassinate the then President Maithripala Sirisena and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the incumbent President.

The current dispensation couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for not adequately addressing the grievances of the Catholic Church, Jayakody told The Island. It would be a grave mistake on the government’s part to believe the issues, at hand, would be forgotten in a couple of years, therefore the current protests could be ignored. Jayakody, who had served the Police Department for almost 40 years, retired in late April 2021.

Namal Kumara affair

Ex-DIG Jayakody asserted that the arrest of DIG Nalaka Silva, the head of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) on Oct 25, 2018, over his alleged involvement in an attempt to assassinate President Maithripala Sirisena and incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (then an ordinary citizen) may have facilitated the Easter Sunday suicide mission. Declaring that at the time of Silva’s arrest, the officer had been tracking the would-be Shangri-La bomber, and the leader of the suicide squad, Zahran Hashim, Jayakody questioned whether the investigator was falsely implicated in an alleged assassination plot to clear the way for the dastardly suicide attacks.

Jayakody emphasized that the conspirators had intervened when the investigation reached a crucial stage. Did the government pay sufficient attention to the unwarranted delay at the Attorney General’s Department, in respect of its failure to deal with Zahran Hashim’s file? The National Catholic Committee for Justice, in a missive, dated July 12, 2021, addressed to President Goabaya Rajapaksa, referred to the conduct of the Attorney General’s Department. The Committee pointed out to the President, the PCoI (Presidential Commission of Inquiry) recommendation to the Public Service Commission (PSC) that disciplinary action be taken against State Counsel Malik Azees and Deputy Solicitor General Azad Navavi (PCoI Final Report, Vol 01, p 329).

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested Silva after having questioned him over a period of five days. At the time of his arrest, Silva had been suspended on the instructions issued by the National Police Commission (NPC).

Jayakody pointed out how within 24 hours after the TID Chief’s arrest, President Maithripala Sirisena sacked the Cabinet-of-Ministers, including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. In spite of Mahinda Rajapaksa being sworn in as the Prime Minister, he couldn’t prove a simple majority in Parliament. A disappointed President Sirisena had no option but to dissolve Parliament, on Nov 09, 2018, and set January 05, 2019 as date for parliamentary election. But, the Supreme Court intervention restored Ranil Wickremesinghe’s premiership. Thus President Sirisena’s plan for January 05, poll was thwarted; thereby the stage was set for scheduled presidential election.

According to Jayakody, the arrest of the TID Chief, over alleged assassination plots, automatically crippled the unit. Those who had been attached to the TID were looked down, both by other police officers and men, as well as the public.

The retired top cop questioned the role played by the media, particularly the television channels, in propagating claims made by police informant Namal Kumara, as regards alleged plots to assassinate President Sirisena and incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Pujith Jayasundera, who had served as the yahapalana IGP, is on record as having told the PCoI that Namal Kumara was paid by the Presidential Secretariat. Jayasundera quoted Dr. Saman Kithalawarachchi, the then Chairman of the Presidential Narcotics Bureau, as having told him that Namal Kumara served as a lecturer and was paid by the Presidential Secretariat.

Jayakody, in his open letter to Gen. Gunaratn, asked for the status of the investigation launched, following Namal Kumara’s unprecedented claims. “The people have a right to know. The government, under siege over the economic fallout, should come clean,” Jayakody stressed, adding that the ongoing countrywide protests reflected the crisis the country is in today.

Key issues

The Police Department owed an explanation to the public regarding the status of the investigation into the disgraced TID Chief’s alleged involvement in planned political assassinations. DIG Jayakody said that the incumbent dispensation, having repeatedly assured justice for the Easter Sunday victims, was yet to bring a critically important investigation into the Namal Kumara affair, to a successful conclusion. The need for a thorough investigation into the constitutional coup, perpetrated by President Maithripala Sirisena immediately after DIG Silva’s arrest, cannot be ignored. Would Zahran Hashim have gone ahead with the attacks if the constitutional coup succeeded? DIG Jayakody raised the following unresolved accusations leveled by Namal Kunara:

* DIG Silva dispatched a police hit squad, that had been assigned the task of carrying out VIP assassination, to Batticaloa

* DIG Silva sought special weapons used by snipers

* DIG Silva conspired with the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

* Involvement of Thushara Peiris, a person living overseas, in the assassination conspiracy

*Conspiracy to involve ‘Makandure Madush’ in the conspiracy

Suspected drug baron, Samarasinghe Arachchige Madush Lakshitha, alias ‘Makandure Madush,’ was shot dead in the early hours of Oct 21, 2020. Madush was killed, under controversial circumstances, while being in police custody. At the time of the incident, Madush had been in the custody of the Colombo Crime Division (CCD). The police claimed that Madush received gunshot injuries at the Lakshitha Sevana apartment complex at Applewatta, in Maligawatta. Madush was brought to Colombo on May 05, 2019, from Dubai, where he was arrested on February 05, 2019.

Jayakody questioned the rationale in Namal Kumara’s accusations, TID Chief’s arrest and delivering a crippling blow to investigations into Zahran Hashim’s outfit. Finally, the wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had been the alleged target of a police assassination attempt, won an opportunity to contest the 2019 presidential election, on the SLPP ticket. Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the mandate of 6.9 mn votes whereas the other claimed target, Maithripala Sirisena, in his capacity as the SLFP leader, contested the 2020 General Election. Sirisena re-entered Parliament having contested the Polonnaruwa electoral district. The SLFP group, in the current Parliament, comprised 14 lawmakers, including one National List MP. Except for Angajan Ramanathan, elected on the SLFP ticket (Jaffna District), the remaining 13 entered Parliament on the SLPP ticket.

Ex-DIG Jayakody said that in the wake of the SLPP victory, they expected rapid progress, not only in the Easter Sunday massacre probe, but also investigations into the Namal Kumara affair. Jayakody compared the investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks, and the Namal Kumara affair, with that of the 1962 coup attempt meant to remove the then Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike from power. Jayakody recalled how top military personnel, who had been accused of the bid to assassinate Premier Bandaranaike, were dealt with the following investigations. Unfortunately, investigations into Namal Kumara’s disclosure hadn’t been completed, even over three and half years after the arrest of TID Chief.

In his open letter, Jayakody posed the following questions to Gen. Gunaratne: (i) Would you disclose the current status of the investigations into claims made by Namal Kumara (ii) Would you explain why cases hadn’t been filed in court against ex-DIG Nalaka Silva or other suspects involved in the alleged assassination attempts (iii) Have the investigators succeeded in verifying the claims made by Namal Kumara? If the accusations could be verified, what delayed all suspects being arrested? In respect of those who had been arrested so far, what caused the delay in the government moving court against them? (vi) Have the investigators realized that there is no basis for Namal Kumara’s accusations? If so, why a case hadn’t been filed against the former police informant over making false accusation and finally (vii) Could you explain the failure on the part of the government to conduct investigations speedily in spite of one of the two main targets of ex-DIG Nalaka Silva, as alleged by Namal Kumara, is serving the incumbent administration as the President, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, and the other leader of a constituent party and a lawmaker.

Cardinal’s stand

The government should be mindful of the consequences of further delay in bringing the investigations into a conclusion. The widely held belief that the incumbent dispensation deliberately delayed, or undermined the investigations, may cause quite a serious situation, particularly against the backdrop of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) taking up the issue last year. Sri Lanka Co Chairs at the UNHRC, too, have taken up the issue.

Jayakody warned that unless the government, at least now, dealt with the Namal Kumara affair properly, the public would believe it was related to the Easter Sunday conspiracy. According to Jayakody, the public are gravely suspicious of Namal Kumara ‘drama’ being the precursor for later developments. Jayakody questioned Gen. Gunaratne’s response to Archbishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s repeated demands for justice. Referring to Gen. Gunaratne’s recent response to the Cardinal’s public criticism of the handling of the Easter Sunday investigations, Jayakody asserted that the Defence Secretary’s advice to the Cardinal that he should inform the CID of any relevant information without making public statements sounded like a challenge. Jayakody emphasized that the Cardinal had taken the issue beyond the CID against the backdrop of growing suspicions that justice couldn’t be expected under the current dispensation.

Jayakody, identifying himself as a Catholic, drew the government’s attention to the Cardinal’s fight, both here and abroad, that has attracted the attention of the international community. The retired top cop stressed that the government hadn’t so far been able to counter the spate of issues raised by the Catholic Church regarding the Easter Sunday massacre. Instead of challenging the Catholic Church, the government should answer pertinent questions.

Responding to The Island queries, Jayakody emphasized that he didn’t want to issue a character certificate to DIG Nalaka Silva. Jayakody said the issue at hand is whether Namal Kumara, at the behest of some interested party/parties, directed a spate of allegations, at the then TID Chief Silva, to create an environment conducive for law enforcement authorities to move against DIG Silva. Had Silva received the wrath of the powers that be, as he pursued the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) responsible for the Easter Sunday massacre?

The Easter Sunday massacre created an environment that undermined the yahapalana administration. The public responded to the SLPP’s assurances to ensure security in the run-up to the 2019 Presidential Election. Three years later, those who vowed to deal with extremism and terrorism are under fire over the failure to unravel the Easter Sunday mystery.

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