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Editorial

When chickens come home …

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Tuesday 19th October, 2021

The world is mourning the death of a senior British lawmaker. The coldblooded murder of Sir David Amess, which shook the world, has been widely condemned. The British government lost no time in calling the savage crime an act of terrorism, and the British MPs declared equally fast that terror would not win. They no doubt mean what they say anent the assassination of Sir David and threats to them as well as their country’s national security, but the question is whether they have the same concern for the other nations affected by terror.

Scientists who experiment with dangerous germs to produce biological weapons run the risk of being hoist with their own petard. The same could be said of the powerful countries that use terrorism to advance their hidden agendas, Britain is no exception. It has been harbouring various terror activists, and some of its MPs are unashamedly abusing their positions to help further the interests of foreign terrorist groups in return for votes and other such favours.

Following the killing of Sir David, there have been strident calls for stern action against terrorism. They must be heeded. Curiously, this is not the way Britain reacted to the assassination of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in 2005, or the killing of any other political leader for that matter. It together with the other self-appointed Co-Chairs of what was then known as Sri Lanka’s peace process pressured Colombo to continue to negotiate with the LTTE, which killed Kadirgamar. That the LTTE had assassinated President Ranasinghe Premadasa, Opposition Leader Gamini Dissanayake, former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and a large number of Sri Lankan Tamil political leaders also did not matter to the UK, and other western nations.

Britain’s counterterror strategy has not worked. It was to safeguard British national security interests that the UK joined forces with the US to wage war on Afghanistan. In 2009, the then British PM Gordon Brown publicly called the Afghan mission a ‘patriotic duty’ to keep the streets of Britain safe from terror attacks. His Foreign Secretary David Miliband also maintained that the Afghan war would ensure the safety of Britain. But they thought wrong.

Much is being spoken about the radicalisation of some Muslim youth, who carry out terrorist attacks in various parts of the world, and the role that the ISIS plays therein. The UK, the US and their allies must take responsibility for creating conditions for the emergence of ISIS, through their invasion of Iraq. The West has also provided a perfect foil for Islamic extremists by carrying out hostile campaigns against the Muslims. If the US had cared to develop Afghanistan after achieving its strategic goal of getting rid of the Russians from that country, the Taliban would not have been able to emerge so powerful. The UK and the US also provided assistance to terror groups in Iraq and Syria and thereby facilitated the development of the ISIS terror network. In 2015, the UK suddenly terminated criminal proceedings against a man accused of being involved in terrorism in Syria, when it became known that the British intelligence had provided arms and other military assistance to the terrorist group, of which the accused had been a member!

It is high time the British Parliament realised the danger of its members being swayed by the agents of terrorists, who offer votes, etc., in return for various favours they receive. The need for the UK to abandon its double standards on terrorism cannot be overemphasised. Chickens come home to roost.

Terrorism is an evil—never a justifiable means to an end—which must be eliminated in all its forms and manifestations for the sake of humanity. Time was when the western powers laboured under the delusion that they were too strong to be affected by terrorism, which they were using to further their interests, but today they have become as vulnerable as others. The World Health Organization’s pithy slogan as regards the current pandemic is applicable to the scourge of terrorism as well: No country is safe until every country is safe.



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Editorial

When hopes fade

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Thursday 27th January, 2022

Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has steadfastly opposed moves to internationalise domestic issues, and insisted that Sri Lanka is capable of sorting out its internal problems without foreign interventions. Ironically, he himself has had to warn the government that he will be compelled to seek international help to have justice done for the Easter Sunday carnage victims. He cannot be faulted for contemplating such a course of action because he is apparently left with no option.

The Cardinal and other Catholic prelates have been urging the government to release the entire report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI), which probed the Easter Sunday carnage, fully implement its recommendations, investigate the terror attacks further and bring the mastermind behind them to justice. These demands are nothing but fair. But the government has chosen to ignore them, claiming that the mastermind is a person called Naufer Moulavi, and criminal proceedings have already been instituted against him. But those who have studied the National Thowheed Jamaath, which was responsible for the Easter Sunday bombings, followed the PCoI proceedings and perused the commission report (Volume 1) are convinced otherwise. They are of the view that the mastermind is someone else, and have pointed out some flaws in the investigations into the carnage.

One cannot get a complete picture of the PCoI probe and its findings unless one is given access to all the volumes of the Commission report. It may be recalled that the government did not hand over the whole report even to the Attorney General, initially, claiming that some volumes thereof contained sensitive information related to national security. We pointed out that the PCoI itself had recommended that the President ‘transmit a complete set of the Report to the Attorney General to consider the institution of criminal proceedings against persons alleged to have committed the said offences’. Perhaps, the only thing Sri Lankan Presidents do properly is to swallow commission reports!

The government must stop implementing the PCoI recommendations selectively, and instead ensure that legal action will be instituted against all those against whom criminal proceedings have been recommended. Among them are former President Maithripala Sirisena and some state officials. The Attorney General should be given a free hand to carry out prosecutions. The government must not allow its political deals to stand in the way of legal action against the suspects. This is the least it can do for the Catholic community, having gained a lot of political mileage from the fallout of the Easter Sunday tragedy to win elections.

Opposition politicians are raking the government over the coals for shielding Sirisena and others who failed to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks. One cannot but agree with them. However, let them be reminded that all those who were in the Yahapalana government are accountable for the tragedy. The Easter Sunday PCoI says in its report (p 471): “The Government including President Sirisena and Prime Minister [Ranil Wickremesinghe] is accountable for the tragedy.” Most of those who were in the Yahapalana Cabinet are currently in the SJB. The JVP and the TNA were propping up that government at the time of the Easter Sunday attacks. Thus, almost all those in the current Parliament are duty bound to ensure that justice is done for the Easter Sunday terror victims.

The manner in which the government is handling the Easter Sunday terror issue will be grist to the mill of those who are campaigning for an international probe into alleged war crimes here. Having failed to ensure that justice is served for the carnage victims, the government will have its work cut out to convince even its friends at the UNHRC that Sri Lanka is capable of taking care of accountability issues on its own.

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Editorial

Cake, icing and power cuts

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Wednesday 26th January, 2022

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is reported to have directed Minister of Power Gamini Lokuge to ensure an uninterrupted power supply. The government would have us believe that enough fuel is provided to the CEB, and there will be no power cuts. Curiously, the CEB has announced a power-cut schedule! President of the CEB Engineers’ Union (CEBEU) Samuya Kumarawadu has said power cuts will be inevitable even if fuel is made available because the hydro power generation is expected to drop drastically. These contradictory statements have left the public confused.

Some of the policies of the incumbent dispensation have failed to work because they are not tempered with pragmatism. The government’s green agriculture programme serves as an example. The President’s renewable energy project also seems to have gone the same way; CEB engineers are stressing the need to step up thermal power generation to prevent blackouts. We quoted CEBEU Secretary Dhammika Wimalaratne yesterday as having said that the proposed fourth unit of the Norochcholai coal-fired power plant, if constructed, would provide a vital cushion with an additional 300MW, and what Sri Lanka needed was ‘an LNG-coal cake with solar and wind icing’.

CEBEU President Kumarawadu has told the media that if the Sampur coal-fired power plant had been built, an additional 500MW of electricity could have been added to the national grid, and there would have been no power crisis. Former President Maithripala Sirisena is often heard grumbling about power outages and blaming the CEB, but it is he who scrapped the Sampur project in 2015 without offering any viable alternative when he was the President. He obviously did not have the big picture in mind, and gave it the big I am for political reasons.

Coal combustion is a dirty process, as is public knowledge. Environmentalists are right in demanding that the country be weaned off coal and other fossil fuels used for power generation, but if the use of coal is to be discontinued without hurting the economy and causing hardships to the public, ways and means of meeting the resultant shortfall in the national power supply must be found.

Making agriculture and power generation eco-friendly is not only an uphill task but also a political high-wire act; balance is of the essence, and haste has to be avoided. As agrochemicals are to agriculture, so is coal to power generation. Everybody loves food free of harmful chemicals, but nobody is willing to contend with food shortages due to bans on agrochemicals! Similarly, nobody likes coal combustion, which pollutes the environment, but everybody wants an uninterrupted power supply! Successive governments have not adopted a pragmatic approach to solving these two problems; they have only resorted to vapid sloganeering and other such populist measures coupled with ad hoc measures without grasping the nettle.

Meanwhile, there is a pressing need for a proper assessment of the country’s power needs. Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), Janaka Ratnayake, has recently revealed that the CEB made 16 requests for emergency power purchases between 2016 and 2020, claiming that there was no other way to avert power cuts; 15 of those requests were turned down, but there were no power cuts, the PUCSL chief has said. If so, why on earth did the CEB seek to buy power? Did those who made those requests try to mislead the PUCSL and make the CEB purchase power unnecessarily so that they could line their pockets? Surprisingly, there has been no inquiry to find out why the CEB did so.

We are not short of experts of integrity who are willing to help the country sort out burning issues, and the need to seek their views when vital policies are formulated cannot be overemphasised. Short-term remedies such as making fuel available for the CEB’s thermal power plants are no doubt necessary to prevent blackouts, but the only way to avert a crippling power crisis is to augment the CEB’s generation capacity systematically. This is the challenge before the present government, which ought to bear in mind that pragmatism is the key.

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Editorial

Defeat bid to sandbag whistleblowers

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Tuesday 25th January, 2022

The government would have the public believe it is keen to ensure that there will be one law for everyone, but one wonders whether there is any law in this country at present, for the ruling party politicians, their cronies and bureaucratic lackeys are enjoying unbridled freedom to do as they please. They are now on a witch-hunt against a whistleblower.

Former Director of the Consumer Affairs Authority Thushan Gunawardena, who exposed the Sathosa garlic racket, and won accolades from the public and got under the skin of many a crook in the process, has been prevented from going overseas. He went to the BIA, the other day, to leave for Dubai only to be turned back by the Immigration and Emigration officials, who curtly told him that he could not proceed, and they were doing their job. He was left with no alternative but to return home. There is no court order preventing him from leaving the country, and he has never been involved in any criminal activity. But someone does not want him to leave the country. There is a prima facie case of fundamental rights violation, and Gunawardena must invoke the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court against those who prevented him from leaving the country.

Racketeers are going places thanks to their links to the government while hostile action is being taken against an intrepid whistleblower. Civic-conscious officials like Gunawardena deserve national recognition; the government should have given him a reward. Instead, a witch-hunt has got underway against him.

Why racketeers are harassing Gunawardena is not difficult to see; they want to discourage whistleblowing. They will be in serious trouble if other public officials emulate Gunawardena and pluck up courage to expose corruption.

Thankfully, Gunawardena is made of sterner stuff and has chosen to take the bull by the horns. It is incumbent upon everyone who abhors corruption to come forward to protect the whistleblower in the crosshairs of fraudsters including politicians, who are using various methods to sandbag upright public officials into pandering to their whims and fancies.

A tainted Central Bank Governor left the country via the BIA even after being exposed for his involvement in the Treasury bond scams. Arjuna Mahendran was his name. (He is said to be living in Singapore under some other name.) Those who helped Mahendran make good his escape are often heard pontificating on accountability, the rule of law, etc., in Parliament. Mervyn of Kelaniya helped a drug kingpin, known as Kudu Lal, flee the country through the BIA during the Mahinda Rajapaksa government while the STF was closing in on the criminal who had been supplying hell dust to the entire Colombo District for years. LTTE leaders were allowed to travel via the BIA sans any security checks in the early noughties with public officials, the police and some military officers dancing attendance on them. They brought in huge bags full of undeclared goods, which were airlifted to the LTTE-controlled areas, without any checks. They were given VIP treatment a few months after a devastating LTTE attack on the BIA in 2001. The then Airport manager treated the senior Tigers to barbecues in the name of peacemaking! Politicians who have stolen colossal amounts of public funds and have bankrupted the country are also free to travel through the BIA. But a public official who dared blow the whistle on a mega racket for the sake of the public, and lost his job as a result, is now prevented from going through the same airport without rhyme or reason!

Let Gunawardena and other whistleblowers be urged not to lose heart. They can rest assured that all Sri Lankans who abhor corruption are solidly behind him. One can only hope that professional associations such as the Bar Association of Sri Lanka will stand by courageous Sri Lankans like Gunawardena and help defeat sinister attempts being made in some quarters to intimidate them.

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