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Midweek Review

US-China power struggle: Impact on Sri Lanka



2021 developments

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former President and SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena, MP, was a notable absentee at the Government Party Leaders’ meeting at the Presidential Secretariat, on Dec 25th. Twice President, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa presided over the meeting. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who hadn’t obtained the membership of the SLPP (though he was that party’s nominee for 2019 presidential poll) was present at the three-hour long discussion that dealt with the current situation.

Tackling the Covid-19 situation, both local and foreign debt obligations and restoration of financial stability are formidable challenges, the government and all other political parties represented in the parliament should be concerned about. They cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for the current instability in every sector.

The Dec 25th discussion covered the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic, the simmering crisis over the cremation of Covid-19 Muslim victims, long-delayed Provincial Council polls, fresh threat posed by armyworm, how some officials exploited the absence of PC polls et al. Over two hours into the meeting, former CPSL General Secretary and ex-Minister D.E.W. Gunasekera sought approval from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to speak on a couple of issues.

Gunasekera received an invitation to the important government group self-evaluation in spite of him giving up the Communist Party General Secretary post on August 30, 2020 to pave the way for Dr. G. Weerasinghe.

The veteran Communist didn’t mince his words when he drew the attention of the top government leadership to the growing danger in Western powers exploiting the cremation of all Covid-19 victims as part of their overall strategy meant to undermine Sri Lanka, the rapidly deteriorating economic situation here, and the need to take the public into confidence and what the electorate expected from the SLPP government in the wake of the sweeping 2019 presidential election victory. Gunasekera also questioned how Asanga Abeygoonasekera, a civilian attached to the Defence Ministry, took an extremely hostile stand on China in a recent article carried in the state media. Gunasekera alleged that such a hasty stand could be severely detrimental to the country against the backdrop of continuing US-China confrontation at regional and global level.

None of those present therein responded to Gunasekera’s concerns. The warning issued at the party leaders’ meeting was nothing but a stark reminder of the daunting challenges the country faced in 2021.

Gunasekera’s awakening call should jolt the government to take stock of the situation and take tangible measures to address the issues. One-time COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) Chairman Gunasekera’s unpalatable advice to explain the dire economic situation, to the people, must have caused quite a stir among those present.

No less a person than President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, without hesitation, has acknowledged the difficulties faced by the country as a result of the Covid-19 eruption. It would be pertinent to point out that the President, on April 29, 2020, told the then Acting Ambassador and Chargé d’affaires of the Chinese Embassy, in Colombo, Hu Wei, that due to the nose-diving of the global economy Sri Lanka lost its key income generating sources, like the apparel industry and tourism. The President’s Office quoted Rajapaksa as having said that it might take a considerable time for the global economy to recover, hence the long-time impact on Sri Lanka.

At the time President Rajapaksa made that statement, the country was coping with the first Covid-19 outbreak better than most countries, due to prompt military-like reaction to it.

The situation was brought under control by June. However, former Minister Gunasekera has issued the warning at a time the country was struggling to overcome the far more deadly Covid-19 second wave. The economy is in tatters with the bankrupt Opposition seeking to exploit, even the good work being done by the government, to its advantage. Despite the national economy having suffered irreparable damage, all political parties continue to play politics with the issue at hand.

The second Covid-19 eruption happened in the first week of October 2020. The government owed an explanation to the public as to how the second outbreak happened. In the absence of proper inquiry into widespread allegations that Covid-19 eruption may have originated at Brandix apparel facility in Minuwangoda, Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, issued specific instructions to the then Acting IGP C.D. Wickremaratne on Oct 27, Oct 29 and Nov 05 as regards the inquiry. The President’s Counsel directed the police to investigate negligence on the part of Brandix, and government officials, in what he called the creation of the ‘Brandix cluster.’

The public is yet to be informed of the outcome, or at least progress, of the investigation. Public Security Minister, retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera should look into the status of the CID probe. A deeply concerned AG went to the extent of personally briefing the investigation team before the commencement of the inquiry. Most importantly, the AG stressed to the Acting IGP his (AG’s) legitimate duty and responsibility to issue instructions to the investigators, personally.

Against the backdrop of a much deteriorated economy, the government should establish how the second wave started. The government cannot turn a blind eye or conveniently forget the origins of the Covid-19 eruption. A really silly attempt was made by interested parties to blame the Covid-19 eruption on Ukrainian nationals. They also tried to pin the blame on members of a private airline crew who stayed at Hotel Ramada, Seeduwa, as well as group of technicians invited by the Air Force to inspect its AN 32s before them being dispatched to Ukraine for overhaul.

Let there be clarity and genuine understanding in this matter. The Opposition, the civil society and the media should push the SLPP government to bring the investigation to an early successful conclusion. The inordinate delay in finalizing the inquiry, or attempts to sweep it under the carpet, will only make matters worse.

Before we move onto other matters, the SLPP’s thinking on Provincial Council polls, too, should be examined. Several ministers, including Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Dayasiri Jayasekera, emphasized the need to conduct the much-delayed PC polls. However, some sections of the government are strongly opposed to the PC polls, in addition to the nine-member Expert Committee, headed by Romesh de Silva, PC, entrusted with the far more important and crucial task of formulating a new Constitution for the country. The proposal to conduct the PC polls under the ‘old system’ by moving an amendment in Parliament as suggested by the Chairman of the Election Commission, Nimal Punchihewa, can be quite disastrous as far as the formulation of constitutional proposals is concerned.


New Year wishes

Hiru’s main news bulletin on January 1, 2021, included statements issued by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and various others. Among them was President’s Counsel de Livera, who had followed an unprecedented path never even dreamt by any of his predecessor Attorneys General. Have you ever heard of a previous AG, on both print and electronic media, so much?

Addressing the AG Department employees, in Sinhala, De Livera said that as a functioning institution the department should definitely make a difference. But, making a difference wasn’t sufficient. The people should be able to realize and feel the difference. Livera emphasized the need to perform their duties and responsibilities in such a way, the public would know what was going on.

The New Year portends a series of challenges. The Office of the President, the Legislature and Judiciary face the daunting challenge of navigating a safer passage as the country faces both external and internal obstacles. Former Minister Gunasekera, in his own style, has reminded the powers that be of the need to identify major issues at hand and take remedial measures without delay. But, will there be political will to tackle the contentious issues?

The much-touted 20th Amendment, enacted in late Oct. 2020, hadn’t restored the desired political stability. The SLPP repeatedly assured that the 20th Amendment would be the panacea for all ills caused by the 19th Amendment, passed with an overwhelming 2/3 majority, in Parliament, on April 28, 2015. All those who had voted for the 19th Amendment, voted for the 20th Amendment whereas Maithripala Sirisena skipped the vote.


A silly strategy

Having backed the 19th Amendment to the hilt and prevailing on doubters in the UPFA to back it, Sirisena, now an ordinary lawmaker representing the Polonnaruwa District, excused himself from voting. However, 13 other SLFP lawmakers elected and appointed (Dr. Suren Raghavan) voted for the 20th Amendment. The SLFP group in the SLPP government is the second largest in the coalition. The SLFP is quite displeased over the way the SLPP managed coalition politics. As part of the SLFP strategy, the party sounded to the SLPP that it might go it alone at the next PC polls. Sirisena explained his party’s stance on several issues, including the possibility of contesting PC polls on its own devolution and the rights of the minorities, in an interview with Meera Srinivasan, The Hindu correspondent in Colombo. Even if the SLFP finally decides to go it alone, it is unlikely to pose a threat to the powerful SLPP, now in control of the vast majority of Local Government bodies, the Parliament and the Office of the President. The SLPP is unlikely to succumb to the SLFP tactics, regardless of Sirisena’s rhetoric and that of its General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera.

Let us reproduce the relevant section from The Hindu interview, posted on Dec 30, 2020, and updated on the following day. The Hindu Q: You recently remarked that the SLFP faced a “huge injustice” in the parliamentary elections and have hinted at possibly contesting the Provincial Council elections separately. Would you do that?

Maithripala Sirisena:

“We were treated unfairly when the candidates were picked ahead of the general elections in August 2020. Our party didn’t get a slot in either Kalutara or Nuwara-Eliya districts. In Gampaha, we were given only one. In Kurunegala, we were given only two slots. In the districts we are strong, we weren’t given a fair number of slots. We had asked for 30 candidates. Had we been given 30 slots in the last general election, we would have got at least 25 in Parliament. They [ruling party] organized political attacks on our candidates who had been nominated. So, while we still look forward to contesting the Provincial Council elections as a coalition, we insist on the fair share of seats due to us. If we get that, we will have no problem going to polls together with the government. If there is no fair treatment, our party will decide on a solo journey. We are ready for both options.”

The SLFP is in a pathetic situation. Formerly the major alternate political power, the SLFP, though being represented by 14 lawmakers in the current Parliament, is desperate. Of the 14-member group, only one is elected from the Jaffna District (Angajan Ramanathan) contested on the SLFP ticket (hand symbol). In other words, both the SLFP and the UNP, the two major political parties in the country, are reduced to one lawmaker each, elected under their own symbol. The humiliating and debilitating electoral setbacks suffered by UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, and SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena, caused permanent damage to the two parties. The emergence of the SLPP (145 elected members) and the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB/54 members) should be examined against the backdrop of dilution of the UNP and the SLFP. Would it be too harsh, if one called for examination of the demise of those parties? The failure on the part of the UNP to resolve its leadership crisis, even five months after the last embarrassing defeat, is a grim reminder of its plight. The continuing disagreement on who should fill the only National List slot secured by the party at the last general election has further undermined the party. The party Constitution is silent on filling National List vacancies. In other words, if Wickremesinghe is so desired, he can keep the vacancy till the current term ends. The Expert Committee formulating the new Constitution should propose remedial measures.

The main Opposition SJB, too, is divided over policy. SJB leader Sajith Premadasa and its partner Rauff Hakeem are struggling to cope with dissidents. Over half a dozen lawmakers, elected on the SJB ticket, and one of its National List MPs Diana Gamage, voted for the 20th Amendment, much to their embarrassment.

The SLPP must realize though the disillusioned political Opposition doesn’t pose a challenge, the Covid-19 and a plethora of other issues threatened to overwhelm the administration.


Destabilized by debt

The China-US clash is perhaps one of the major issues Sri Lanka should be seriously worried about. With the growing US-India nexus entering a new phase, vis-a-vis Chinese challenge, Sri Lanka is under heavy pressure to join the US-led strategic coalition. Indo-Pacific Defense FORUM, in a recent edition, extensively dealt with the Chinese challenge and counter measures that were being taken (Volume 45, Issue 1, 2020). The edition is a must read for our decision makers and members of Parliament. Under a section titled Setbacks to OBOR (One Belt, One Road), the US Indo –Pacific Command categorized Sri Lanka and the Maldives as countries destabilized by debt.

The MOC (Memorandum of Cooperation) entered into in late May 2019 by the yahapalana administration with India and Japan on the ECT (East Container Terminal) at the Colombo harbour should be examined against the US-led global coalition built against China. Contrary to promises made in the run-up to the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls, the SLPP is inclined to go ahead with the project. Against the backdrop of what can be certainly described as an economic downturn, even far more serious than during the height of the war, and intense pressure over the 99-year leasing of the H’tota port to China, the SLPP government may not have a way out of what can be safely called ECT imbroglio.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa MP, raised the finalization of the proposed agreement on ECT at the recent government party leaders’ meet. Weerawansa strongly opposed the deal on the ECT. His erstwhile colleagues in the JVP, too, are at least ostensibly opposed to the Indian role. They have quite conveniently forgotten that the original agreement was moved by President Sirisena’s government, which the JVP helped to install in 2015 and thereafter the comrades propped up that government nicely from behind the scene. The current crop of JVP Leaders no doubt came up in the aftermath of the then UNP government and its death squads wiping out the cream of the party and its leadership barring one, who managed to escape to India at the time.

A hard hitting statement issued by the National Joint Committee (NJC), carried in the Dec 30, 2020 edition of The Island, took a pretty hard stand on the SLPP move. Finely drafted statement flayed the government, the strongest warning issued by the NJC since the last presidential election.

Regardless of the US leaving Sri Lanka out of the MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) Compact recently over the latter’s hesitant approach, Washington continues to eye the country firmly. The US has already finalized ACSA (Access and Cross Servicing Agreement) in August 2017 though it was not successful with SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement).

In spite of repeated assurances given by Sri Lanka, Western powers remained seriously concerned about growing Chinese presence in Sri Lanka. In addition to the H’tota port, secured during the Yahapalana administration, China runs a major operation within the Colombo harbour. Set up during the UPFA administration, Colombo International Container Terminals Ltd., (CICT) is a joint venture Company between China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited and Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). CICT is a listed blue chip company in the Hong Kong stock exchange. While H’tota lease covers a 99-year period, CICT agreement is for a 35-year Build Operate and Transfer operation. China holds 85% of the partnership while the balance pittance of 15% is being held by SLPA.

The Geneva sessions, in late February-March, can turn nastier with Western powers stepping up pressure on Sri Lanka over her decision to quit the 2015 Geneva Resolution. It would be important to keep in mind that those countries might gang up against Sri Lanka over her relationship with China and adopt a common stand in Geneva. That is the undeniable truth. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned human rights issue is nothing but a key element in their overall strategy meant to browbeat the country.

Some key recent happenings in Europe like the departure of the UK from the EU obviously with the intention to firmly align with its colonial cousins, like the US, Australia and Canada, the determination of Europe to complete Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Russia despite dire warnings from Washington (once completed, it is set to significantly increase Russian gas supplies to Germany), and even the recent signing of a free trade deal by EU with China despite Trump trying to line them up against Beijing are worthy fissures that might stand in good stead for us.

The growing hostility between China and India as well as the latter joining the US project against China certainly increase pressure on Sri Lanka, now in an unenviable position. Waste, corruption and irregularities in every sector and the failure on the part of Parliament to ensure financial discipline surely weakened the country, thereby paving the way for aggressive foreign interventions.

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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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