Wednesday, 16 October 2019

2019 prez poll: A high profile role for Sarath Fonseka



By Shamindra Ferdinando

The UNP-led coalition on, Oct. 10, declared Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, MP, would be appointed as the minister in charge of defence portfolio, in case UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa won the Nov. 16 presidential election, followed by the parliamentary election next year.

Sajith Premadasa made the announcement at the inauguration of his costly campaign at Galle Face. Fonseka was on stage with Premadasa, who is contesting the crucial poll – the third presidential since the conclusion of the war in May 2009 - under the ‘swan’ symbol of the New Democratic Front (NDF).

The UNP-led coalition, comprising the TNA, JVP and SLMC contested the two previous presidential polls, also on the NDF ticket. The JVP is no longer in the UNP-led coalition, while the TNA still weighs its options. Many an eyebrow has been raised over the TNA’s readiness, even to explore the possibility of reaching an understanding with the SLPP presidential candidate, war time defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Sajith Premadasa has no option but to reach new alliances with political parties, civil society groups and even individuals, such as war-winning Army Chief Sarath Fonseka.

Sajith Premadasa and the coalition backing him revealed that unprecedented measures were required to strengthen his campaign. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is certainly a tough contender, though he lacked political experience at any level. Although, there had been four presidential elections, during the conflict, no party felt the need to name a future defence minister. However, Sajith Premadasa did, in line with the NDF’s overall strategy, to deprive Gotabaya Rajapaksa the advantage of being considered the only candidate capable of guaranteeing security.

Interestingly, Sajith Premadasa, in spite of being asked by the media, on more than one occasion, refrained from naming the prime ministerial candidate.

The announcement on Fonseka’s appointment should be examined against the backdrop of the worst ever security lapse, on the part of a post-independence government, in April 2019, that led to near simultaneous suicide attacks in six locations. The blasts claimed the lives of approximately 270 men, women and children. About 500 received injuries. The Easter Sunday carnage caused irreparable losses to the national economy. Fonseka wouldn’t have received privilege status if not for the Easter Sunday carnage.

Similarly, former Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake, also in the presidential fray, cannot absolve himself of the responsibility for the security failure. The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), tasked to probe the Easter Sunday carnage, never sought to establish the failure on the part of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) to thwart the coordinated suicide attacks. Instead, the then Army Chief faulted the Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) retired DIG Sisira Mendis of not making available intelligence provided by India. The PSC never addressed the failure on the part of the DMI to abort the suicide missions, in spite of the group responsible for the Easter Sunday carnage killing two police officers in Nov 2018 at Vaunativu, Batticaloa.

Post-2018 LG poll politics

Sarath Fonseka, too, seriously believed that he would get a second opportunity to contest a presidential election, this year. With the UNP in turmoil, in the wake of the Feb 2018 debacle at the Local Government polls, Fonseka asserted that he could be the right candidate. However, Fonseka always insisted that their presidential candidate should be the leader of the party. In other words, the former Army Chief backed Ranil Wickremesinghe’s candidature as long as he remained the leader of the party. The tough-talking war hero reiterated his position as Wickremesinghe and Premadasa battled for presidential nominations, with the influential civil society throwing its weight behind Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.

Even after the decision-making UNP Working Committee ratified Sajith Premadasa, Sarath Fonseka remained skeptical. However, Fonseka has been brought in to the campaign with the decision makers reaching consensus on the former Sinha Regiment veteran’s political future.

The Oct 10 announcement, on Fonseka’s future role, certainly didn’t have an impact on the Elpitiya Pradeshiya Sabha election, held the following day. Of course, the Elpitiya electorate hadn’t been really affected by the overall deterioration of security, in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks. Therefore, Fonseka’s appointment did not jolt the Elpitiya electorate. But, the UNP-led coalition should certainly inquire as to why the much-touted ‘Gamperaliya’ and ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka,’ launched in the wake of the Feb 2018 Local Government debacle, failed to influence the Elpitiya electorate.

The SLPP comfortably won all 17 polling divisions in Elpitiya. The UNP, UPFA and the JVP couldn’t win even one seat. They had to be satisfied with nominated members.

Can Fonseka inspire the electorate? The civil society grouping, backing Sajith Premadasa’s candidature, too, is confident there cannot be a better person to be in charge of defence portfolio than the one-time outspoken Army Chief. The writer covered the civil society media briefing, at Rajagiriya last week, where Ven. Dambara Amila, Prof. Chandragupta Thenuwara and Saman Ratnapriya declared their support for Fonseka. Their stand seemed odd. They flayed wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa for excesses during the conflict, and after (2009-2015), but found Fonseka, who commanded the victorious Army (accused of flagrant human rights abuses), the ideal politician to handle the defence portfolio.

The civil society has conveniently forgotten that the incumbent government co-sponsored a resolution against one’s own country, in Geneva, in early Oct 2015, on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations, directed at the Army, during Fonseka’s tenure as its celebrated commander. The writer, on many occasions, on both print and electronic media, pointed out the Geneva Resolution should be re-examined against the backdrop of Fonseka receiving the backing of the four-party TNA, at the January 2010 presidential poll. Thanks to TNA’s support, Fonseka comfortably won all the predominately Tamil speaking electoral districts, in the de-merged Northern and Eastern provinces, including Digamadulla. In spite of a splendid performance, in the Northern and Eastern regions, Fonseka suffered heavy defeat in other areas. Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated Fonseka by over 1.8 mn votes.

The TNA consists of the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) and three former terrorist organizations, namely the TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF.

Now, the 16-member TNA parliamentary group is sharply divided, with one-time TELO lawmaker M.K. Sivajilingam handing over nominations to contest the presidential poll. The UNP anticipated the TNA to quickly reiterate its commitment to Sajith Premadasa’s candidature. But, much to the disappointment of the UNP-led coalition, the TNA appeared to have delayed its decision. A section of the TNA expressed shock and dismay over the readiness of the party, even to discuss a poll alliance with the wartime Defence Secretary.

UNP National List slot for defeated Fonseka

Having fielded Fonseka, at the January 2010 presidential poll, the UNP showed absolutely no interest in reaching a consensus, with the defeated candidate to contest the parliamentary election. Fonseka was compelled to contest the April 2010 general election, on the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) ticket. The DNA comprised the JVP, Democratic National Front, Democratic United National Front, People’s Tamil Congress et al. The DNA won seven seats. In addition to Fonseka, the then SLFPer Arjuna Ranatunga, and influential businessman Tiran Alles (National List) entered parliament along with four JVPers, including Anura Kumara Dissanayake. Today, Dissanayake is among 35 candidates in the presidential fray. It would be pertinent to mention that defeated Fonseka was arrested on Feb 8, 2010, in the run-up to the general election. The war-winning Army Chief was later jailed, by a court martial, and vacated his seat on 7 October 2010. After a failed legal battle, to retain his MP status, he was replaced by DNA member Jayantha Ketagoda, on 8 March 2011. Subsequently, Fonseka received a presidential pardon, in May 2012, after he reached an agreement with the then administration.

Fonseka strongly believed he could make a difference with his own political outfit. Fonseka contested the August 2015 general election, on the Democratic Party ticket, after having contested the Provincial Council polls in several regions. The DP failed to impress the electorate, at the Provincial Council polls. But, Fonseka persisted. One-time Chief of Defence Staff contested the August 2015 general election on the Democratic Party ticket, having backed Maithripala Sirisena at the presidential. The electorate rejected Fonseka’s party. Fonseka failed to enter parliament from the Colombo district. The Democratic Party failed to secure even one seat.

At the January 2015 presidential election, Fonseka didn’t enjoy the right to exercise his franchise.

The UNP accommodated Fonseka, on its National List, in early Feb 2016. Fonseka got the seat of late M.K.D.S. Gunawardena in paliament. By then, he had received the Five-star Field Marshal’s rank. Fonseka received the Field Marshal’s baton, in March 2015, whereas his wartime colleagues Wasantha Karannagoda and Roshan Goonatilleke had to wait till August 2019 to receive the equivalent rank.

Fonseka served as Regional Development Minister and Wildlife and Sustainable Development from 2016 and 2018.

Fonseka served as a cabinet minister at the time the UNP and the SLFP suffered a humiliating defeat at the Feb 2018 Local Government polls.

Fonseka earns President’s wrath

Fonseka lost his Wildlife portfolio when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked the UNP members of the cabinet, including UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 26, 2018. President Sirisena perpetrated the constitutional coup after his UPFA quit the UNP-led coalition. Although, President Sirisena swore in a UNP cabinet, in mid Dec 2018, he steadfastly refused to accommodate Fonseka in the cabinet.

By then, Fonseka had been also embroiled in an alleged conspiracy to harm President Sirisena and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa though the accusations weren’t proved in any court of law.

The civil society grouping made a desperate attempt to save the UNP-SLFP/UPFA alliance, though the UPFA was on the offensive. Three leading civil society activists, co-convenors of Purawesi Balaya Gamini Viyangoda, K.W. Janaranjana and Saman Ratnapriya, explained their efforts after having met President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe. They declared the civil society received assurance from both President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe that they wouldn’t quit the yahapalana alliance over the Local Government polls debacle (Last ditch attempt to prevent collapse of govt-The Island Feb 14, 2018).

That grouping feared President Sirisena’s stepped up attacks on Premier Wickremesinghe could derail the yahapalana project. Amidst their attempts to save the government, the Joint Opposition alleged that the US and India, too, were involved in the effort.

A few days, after the civil society briefing at the Centre for Society and Religion (CSR), Maradana, on Feb 13, 2018, Purawesi Balaya called a second press briefing, at the same venue, where the outfit intensified pressure on President Sirisena to name Field Marshal Fonseka as the Law and Order Minister. The demand was made on the basis that the failure on the part of the government to bring high profile investigations into a successful conclusion, contributed to the Feb 2018 Local Government polls debacle. The writer, present at both briefings, at the CSR, was quite surprised to hear yahapalana proponent Ven. Dambara Amila declaring, at the second press briefing, that the police, under Fonseka, should be allowed to operate outside, what he called, democratic norms. Purawesi Balaya made the declaration in the wake of the then Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake offering to quit. Some propagated the blatant lie that the UNP and the SLFP suffered a massive defeat, at the Local Government polls, for want of inconclusive investigations into bigwigs of the previous administration.

Ven. Amila didn’t mince his words when he advised the government to operate beyond the normal laws of the land, as the Rajapaksas were planning to cause chaos in the aftermath of the Local Government polls.

Among those who addressed the media, at the second CSR meeting, were Director of Centre of Policy Alternatives, Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, Nimalka Fernando (now a member of a Commission established in accordance with the Geneva Resolution), Chameera Perera and Saman Ratnapriya.

Ven. Amila wanted Fonseka given six months to carry out the operation (Prez, PM urged to appoint SF Law and Order Minister with strap line Ven Amila: Give him six months. Place Army on standby’-The Island Feb. 16, 2018). President Sirisena simply turned down the civil society request, made on behalf of the UNP. President Sirisena, furious over the treasury bond scams that caused serious damage to his government, rejected the UNP-civil society move.

President Sirisena’s refusal to accommodate Fonseka in the cabinet, under any circumstances, ultimately forced Premier Wickremesinghe to take over the Law and Order portfolio temporarily. Subsequently, the ministry was vested in UNP senior Ranjith Madduma Bandara, who held the post at the time President Sirisena sacked the cabinet in late Oct 2018.

Law and Oder portfolio was never returned to the UNP.

A failed bid to seek consensus with Prez

Having failed to secure the Law and Order Ministry for Fonseka, the UNP-civil society combine has now promised the war-winning Army Chief defence portfolio. Perhaps, those really interested in examining the lapses on the part of the government, since January 2015, should probe as to why the current dispensation became so unpopular. Having secured presidential nominations, following a big battle with Wickremesinghe’s group, Sajith Premadasa made a serious attempt to reach a consensus with President Sirisena. Premadasa failed, primarily due to the majority of President Sirisena’s parliamentary group backing SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Those who expected Fonseka to save the UNP should be reminded of as to how his military career would have ended, in Dec 2005, if not for Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s intervention on his behalf. Fonseka, whose principled stand as the Security Forces Commander, Jaffna, in 2002/2003, thwarted an LTTE/Norway bid to weaken Jaffna defences by doing away with high security zones in the guise of restoring normalcy, was to retire. In case of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s victory at the Non 2005 presidential poll, the then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda would have continued as he had about 18 months to serve. But, on the recommendation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President Rajapaksa replaced Lt. Gen. Kottegoda in spite of him assuring the Defence Secretary that he could achieve whatever task given. But, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was determined to bring in Fonseka, though many, including ex-military officers, known to him, questioned the then Army Chief of Staff’s loyalty. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, having received the position of Defence Secretary, requested President Rajapaksa to promote the then Maj. Gen. Fonseka to the rank of Lt. General and name him the Commander of the Army. This intervention was due to Gotabaya Rajapaksa accidentally meeting Fonseka, at Hambantota, during the presidential election campaign. Fonseka had personally requested Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s intervention on his behalf as he felt one time Commanding Officer of the 1st battalion of the Gajaba Regiment could influence Mahinda Rajapaksa in case the latter won the presidential poll.

Fonseka remained a key member of the Rajapaksa’s defence team that brought the LTTE to its knees in May 2009.

Thereafter the UNP exploited Fonseka’s animosity, towards the Rajapaksas, to field him as 2010 presidential candidate. The move was to deprive Mahinda Rajapaksa of the credit for defeating the LTTE. At the January 2015 presidential polls, Fonseka threw his weight behind Maithripala Sirisena, whose government never recovered from the first treasury bond scam perpetrated by the UNP, several weeks after the last presidential poll. President Sirisena dissolved parliament, in late June 2015 to save the UNP from the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) report on the treasury bond scam. President Sirisena called parliamentary elections, in August 2015. SLFP leader Sirisena delivered a knockout blow to the UPFA by declaring that Mahinda Rajapaksa wouldn’t be named Prime Minister under any circumstances even of the outfit won the poll. The move certainly facilitated the UNP victory. The UNP-led grouping secured 106 seats. The UPFA managed to obtain 95. President Sirisena’s parliamentary group remained with the UNP till Oct 26, 2018. By then, the UNP perpetrated the second treasury bond scam. Can those who served President Sirisena’s cabinet, at the time of the Feb 2015 and March 2016 bond scams, absolve themselves of responsibility for the bond scams?

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Ex-lawmakers dominate the list of candidates, real battle between ‘Lotus bud’ and ‘Swan’

2019 prez poll to cost taxpayer Rs 5 bn


Kamal Bogoda captured leading candidates Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sajith Premadasa and Anura Kumara Dissanayake outside the Election Commission on Monday

By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time JVP MP Anuruddha Polgampola is among those in the 2019 presidential fray - the third since the end of the war, in May 2009. Polgampola contested the last presidential election, in August 2015. The former JVPer polled 4,260 votes (0.04 % of the total valid votes) and was placed 13th out of 19 contestants. Polgampola is among 35 candidates in the fray at the Nov. 16 presidential poll, expected to cost the taxpayer a staggering Rs 5,000 mn.

 Of the 41 presidential hopefuls, who paid deposits, six opted out of the contest. The six included UPFA lawmakers, Chamal Rajapaksa and Kumara Welgama.

 The SLFP leadership ended up with egg on face unable to take a decision on its stand, even after the conclusion of nominations. 

Let me examine Polgampola’s candidature against the backdrop of anti-corruption lawyer Nagananda Kodituwakku, who exposed the true extent of the luxury vehicle scam, perpetrated by lawmakers, being denied an opportunity to contest the presidential poll. Kodituwakku exposed a series of high profile corrupt practices, involving both the public and the private sector, much to the discomfort of those in influential places. Kodituwakku is on record as having said that a section of the civil society sabotaged his presidential bid.

 Former Kegalle District JVP MP Polgampola was compelled to resign, in Sept, 2008, for allegedly helping a person enter Japan, posing as his assistant. Polgampola was appointed Chairman of the State Timber Corporation (STC) by President Maithripala Sirisena on Friday May 4, 2018. 

The appointment was made within 24 hours after STC Chairman Piyasena Dissanayake was arrested, along with Dr. T.H.K. Mahanama, Chief of Staff of President Maithripala Sirisena, for allegedly accepting Rs 20 mn bribe from an Indian national.

 The JVP Central Committee called for Polgampola’s resignation soon after the revelation that Japanese Immigration and Emigration authorities had questioned the MP at the Narita International Airport.

 The JVP identified the person who received Polgampola’s help to enter Japan, illegally, as Kodituwakku Arachchige Rohan.

 Japan deported the youth in late August, 2008.

 The appointment received by Polgampola reflected the crisis in the public sector. President Sirisena accommodated Polgampola several months before his UPFA quit the UNP led government.  JVP MP Vijitha Herath told the writer, in May this year that the JVP decided to expel Polgampola even before the flight taking him and the other person masquerading as his personal assistant, touched down at Narita International airport.

 "We got to know Polgampola’s illegal operation immediately after he had left for Japan," Herath said, adding that the MP also didn’t have party approval to leave the country.

 Herath alleged that Polgampola had been in remand twice, in 2016 for deceiving two persons who had invested in a Vavuniya-based enterprise launched by him, with the blessings of the previous government. Having served the then former SLFP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa after his expulsion from the JVP, Polgampola entered the presidential fray, in 2015, as an independent candidate, and then contested the parliamentary polls in August 2015 on the UPFA ticket.

 Mohammed Muzammil, spokesman for the breakaway JVP faction, National Freedom Front (NFF), told The Island that Polgampola had been involved in the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) until the finalization of nominations for the Local Government polls in February 2018. Muzammil said that Polgampola functioned as the Organizing Secretary of the SLPP at the time he switched allegiance to President Sirisena.

 Muzammil, who had been a parliamentary colleague of Polgampola at the time the latter quit, emphasized that key appointments should be cleared by the Parliamentary High Posts Committee. Both Herath and Muzammil said that there was nothing personal in their response to Polgampola receiving appointment as STC Chairman.

 The Rajapaksa administration never conducted a proper inquiry into an MP’s alleged involvement in human smuggling though Japan brought the Aug 2008 detection to the attention of the then Lankan government. 

Having entered the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council, in 2000, on the UNP ticket, Polgampola successfully contested the Kegalle District, at the 2004, parliamentary election on the JVP ticket. The JVP secured 39 seats, including three National List slots at that election. 

 Polgampola’s appointment as STC Chairman, in May 2018, caused a media furor. In the wake of heavy criticism of President Sirisena’s move, Polgampola was removed. The former JVPer’s removal paved the way for defeated MP Shantha Bandara to receive appointment as STC Chairman. Later Shantha Bandara was accommodated in parliament in place of defeated National List candidate M.L.A.M. Hizbullah, who received appointment as the Eastern Province Governor, in January, 2019.

Four ex-JVP lawmakers, JVP leader in prez fray

 In addition to Polgampola, several other former JVPers are in the fray. Former lawmakers, Piyasiri Wijenayake (Kalutara), Siripala Amarasinghe (Gampaha) and Samansiri Herath (Puttalam), who entered parliament in 2010, along with Polgampola, are also in the fray. Wijenayake is widely believed to be a proxy for New Democratic Front (NDF) candidate Sajith Premadasa and both Amarasinghe and Herath are believed to be backed by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna(SLPP). Breakaway JVP faction, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) fielded Duminda Nagamuwa, one-time convenor of the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) while JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake is also in the fray. Dissanayake has the backing of the civil society grouping, the National People’s Power. Dissanayake contests under the symbol ‘Compass’

 Polgampola and Duminda Nagamuwa contested the last presidential poll. The latter polled 9,941 votes (0.08 %  of the total valid votes)

 Another offshoot of the JVP, the National Freedom Front (NFF) backs SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s candidature. NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, was among the five members allowed in with Gotabaya Rajapaksa when he handed over his papers to EC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya. The former Defence Secretary’s team consisted of SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris, SLPP Secretary attorney-at-law Sagara Kariyawasam, President’s Counsel M.U.M. Ali Sabry, lawmaker Wimal Weerawansa, and lawmaker and attorney-at-law Susil Premjayantha.

 Since the NGO cabal is all-out to tarnish Gotabaya as someone feared by minorities it might have been good to have included someone like EPDP Leader Douglas Devananda to represent the Tamil community in that team that accompanied the SLPP presidential candidate to hand over nominations. Against all such malicious propaganda Devananda has always stood by progressive elements in the South, who stand for a united one country.

 Premjayantha joined the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Camp, following a high profile abortive bid to move a No. Confidence Motion (NCM) against Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, in early April 2018. Premjayantha was among 16 Maithripala Sirisena loyalists who voted for the NCM, moved by the Joint Opposition (JO). The Group of 16 split soon thereafter with the majority switching their allegiance to Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Two of them, S.B. Dissanayake and Dilan Perera received the SLPP membership. 

Having recorded its best performance at a parliamentary election, in April 2004, the JVP split over its political strategy. More than half of the 39-member parliamentary group switched allegiance to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the war. A decade after the successful conclusion of the war, the JVP and the NFF are represented in parliament by six and five members, respectively. One NFF member Weerakumara Dissanayake, elected from the Anuradhapura District, now functions as the SLFP spokesman.

 It would be pertinent to mention that the UNP-led coalition, that backed former Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena at 2010 and 2015 presidential elections, respectively, included the JVP. The late Somawansa Amarasinghe had been at the helm when the JVP joined the UNP-led coalition, in 2010, whereas Anura Kumara Dissanayake took the decision on the second occasion. Dissanayake, succeeded Amarasinghe, in early Feb. 2014. Fonseka and Sirisena contested on the NDF ticket, under the ‘swan’ symbol.

Pohottuwa candidate

and ‘Plan B’ 

In spite of heavy pressure exerted by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, the strongest political party in Sri Lanka, in terms of the last Local Government polls, the SLPP, declined to contest under a common symbol. Regardless of the SLFP threat to undermine Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s campaign, the SLPP leadership resolutely asserted that the symbol was not negotiable. SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris, on several occasions, explained to the writer the pivotal importance of retaining the lotus bud symbol. One-time External Affairs Minister and former Law Professor, Peiris pointed out the resounding SLPP success at the last LG polls, in Feb 2018, underscored the importance of its symbol.

 The SLPP managed to form a powerful alliance under the lotus bud symbol with sections of Tamil and Muslim communities pledging their support to Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

 Gotabaya Rajapaksa overcame an unprecedented challenge from vociferous civil society grouping comprising the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ), Purawesi Balaya (PB) et al, to proceed with the handing over of nominations. The Court of Appeal cleared the way for Gotabaya Rajapaksa last Friday (Oct 04) by dismissing a petition filed by two civil society activists, Prof. Chandragupta Thenuwara and Gamini Viyangoda. Had they succeeded by some chance, former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa would have handed over his papers in his capacity as a sitting member of parliament in place of Gotabaya. Chamal Rajapaksa’s deposit was made also on Friday, hours before the Court of ruling in the name of Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Sanvidanaya, an independent group. When Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrived at the Election Commission, to hand over his papers, he was accompanied by a smiling elder brother, Chamal.

 The UNP repeatedly denied having played a role in the civil society project, though the regular consultations between the top UNP leadership and prominent civil society activists, in this regard, in the run-up to nominations is not a secret. Both Prime Minister’s media and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s Office issued statements regarding talks they had with civil society representatives, in addition to a survey issued from the NMSJ Office, at Rajagiriya. The survey recommended Speaker Jayasuriya as their best option and the person capable of defeating Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The overall civil society project was meant to disqualify Gotabaya Rajapaksa, while bringing in Karu Jayasuriya as the NDF candidate. Had that happened, the 2019 presidential battle would have been between Chamal Rajapaksa and Karu Jayasuriya, who earned a name for himself for thwarting the so-called constitutional coup, perpetrated by President Maithripala Sirisena, on Oct 26, 2018, last year. The Karu Jayasuriya, led fight back compelled the SLFP-SLPP to give up power. The strong stand taken by Sajith Premadasa, thanks to support extended by Mangala Samaraweera, Malik Samarawickrema and the majority of the parliamentary group, weakened the civil society operation.

Swan for Sajith

Contrary to statements made over a period of time, the UNP decided to contest under the ‘swan’ symbol for a third straight time in spite of the NDF being embroiled in controversy over its Chairman, Shalila Munasinghe, arrested in Oct 2017, in connection with stealing US$ 2.1 mn from the Taiwanese Bank Far Eastern International. At the time of his arrest, Munasinghe held a lucrative post of Chairman, Litro Gas. Munasinghe held British citizenship whereas Janaka Nammuni, son of the one-time Army Chief of Staff, Jaliya Nammuni, arrested along with Munasinghe, was a British-Sri Lanka dual citizen. Since then, the NDF has replaced Munasinghe, while Mrs. Shamila Perera remained its Secretary. NDF candidate Sajith Premadasa was accompanied by Mrs Perera, in addition to Ronald Perera PC, current Chairman of the Bank of Ceylon (BoC) and Senaka de Silva, one-time Secretary to General Sarath Fonseka. Ronald Perera was on hand in his capacity as a legal advisor to the UNP.

 Having backed candidates picked by the UNP in 2010 and 2015, the JVP fielded a candidate of its own - only the third time the party did so at a presidential election. JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera contested the first presidential poll on Oct 20, 1982. Nandana Gunatilleke contested the Dec 21, 1999, presidential election. On both occasions, the Marxist party contested under its own symbol ‘Bell.’ However, Anura Kumara Dissanayake picked a common symbol to facilitate wider civil society participation in his endeavor. 

The JHU parliamentary group is divided over Sajith Premadasa’s candidature. Of the three JHU lawmakers in parliament, two -  Patali Champika Ranawaka and Karunaratne Paranavithana - back Sajith Premadasa whereas JHU stalwart Ven. Athureliye Rathana accommodated on the UNP National List recently, pledged his support to Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Ven. Rathana spearheaded a high profile campaign with the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha thera that thwarted President Rajapaksa’s controversial bid to secure a third term.

More ex-rejected lawmakers

in the fray

 Former UPFA MP Milroy Fernando is also contesting the Nov 16 poll. Fernando’s wife Mary Juliet Monica sentenced to death by the Colombo High Court on March 2, 2005 for abducting and murdering Charlotte Teresa Fernando, believed to be Milroy’s mistress and her domestic aide Susanhewage Teckla alias Seelawathie, was pardoned on March 8, 2009, in view of the International Women’s Day by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. At that time Milroy served the Rajapaksa administration as the Public Estate Management and Development Minister. 

The Puttalam District MP’s wife and three other accused were sentenced to death on being found guilty of the Katuneriya double murder, said to have been committed on January 3, 1992.

A seven-member jury returned a verdict of guilty 6 to 1.

It was the first death penalty given after the Sri Lankan government decided to implement the capital punishment in the wake of High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya’s assassination in November 2004.

Milroy Fernando entered the Election Commission premises with the help of a person. The presidential candidate found it difficult to walk in on his own.

Jayantha Ketagoda is also another former MP in the fray. Ketagoda succeeded Sarath Fonseka who lost a Supreme Court appeal, in January 2011, to retain his parliamentary seat.

The court ruled that a court martial, in September 2010, which found him guilty of arms procurement offences meant that he could no longer be an MP. Having entered politics, courtesy the UNP, Ketagoda, one-time actor, lately served the SLPP.

Former UPFA MP and Eastern Province Governor M.L.A.M. Hizbullah, who appeared before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) tasked to probe the Easter Sunday attacks, in the wake of allegations he met some Saudi nationals, clandestinely, immediately after the Easter Sunday attacks, handed over his papers to the Election Commission. Hisbullah is also under fire over the building of the controversial Batticaloa campus with Saudi funds. One-time, SLMC heavyweight Hizbullah was one of the politicians accused of alleged involvement with the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) blamed for the Easter Sunday carnage, though they weren’t found guilty by any court of law.

Former SLMC Chairman Basheer Segu Dawood is another former MP in the presidential fray.

Interestingly, one-time Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.K. Sivajiilingham is the only former Tamil lawmaker to seek the President’s Office. Outspoken politician, Sivajiilingham, who subsequently represented the TNA in the now-defunct Northern Provincial Council, since the conclusion of the war in 2009, demanded an international accountability investigation. A close relative of slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, Sivajiilingham remains committed to a probe conducted by foreign judges.

Among the presidential candidates are A.S.P. Liyanage, a businessman who received preferential treatment from both the then President Rajapaksa and incumbent President Sirisena. Liyanage received ambassadorial posts in Nigeria and Qatar. About a year after the change of government, in January 2015, yahapalana administration investigated Liyanage after he was accused of keeping gold and money belonging to the Rajapaksas, buried under the sand-filled swimming pool of his peacock mansion, at Pelawatte.

 Former Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake wouldn’t have been among the candidates as the leading civil society representative on the President’s Counsel Srinath Perera’s party if not for the Easter Sunday attacks. Senanayake captured the limelight due to overall failure on the part of the government to thwart the suicide bombing campaign. Senanayake cannot absolve responsibility for the government failure, being the Commander of the Army at the time of the incident.

Two of the candidates, Battaramulle Seelarathana thera and Sarath Manamendra made abortive bids to have nominations of M.K. Sivajiilingham and Hizbullah dismissed, respectively.

Who really wanted Sivajiilingham and Hisbullah rejected?

 There were several other former lawmakers, including Asoka Wadigamangawa (ex-UNP), Samaraweera Weerawanni (ex-UNP) and respected academic Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe (ex-UPFA) among the candidates listed to contest. 

Addressing the candidates, at the conclusion of the nominations accepting process, EC Deshapriya said that the Nov 16, 2019 poll would cost Rs. 5,000 mn because of the larger number of candidates. Wouldn’t it be the responsibility of the EC to take tangible measures to address this issue to prevent waste of public funds. With the vast majority of people struggling to make ends meet, can a sensible administration squander taxpayers’ money on wasteful exercises? On the other hand, Nagananda Kodituwakku, a genuine candidate, was deprived of the opportunity to contest the presidential poll for want of a practical system to register a political party. Shame on the corrupt political system!

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Civil society plan on Karu J goes awry but overall project on track


By Shamindra Ferdinando
UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa received UNP nomination as its 2019 presidential candidate at the expense of a civil society grouping that had campaigned against him. Premadasa simply ignored the civil society project meant to bring in Speaker Karu Jayasuriya as the national candidate. The move divided the civil society to a certain extent, due to some backing Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe as the presidential candidate.

The National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) and the Purawesi Balaya (PB) preferred Karu Jayasuriya. They, of the civil society pursued a controversial strategy that promoted Jayasuriya, at the expense of Wickremesinghe. In line with their overall strategy, a survey conducted by Senior Fulbright Fellow and former faculty member of the Department of Sociology of the Peradeniya University, Dr. Sisira Pinnawala questioned the very basis of Premadasa’s candidature. Dr. Pinnawala, released the outcome of his survey at the NMSJ’s Rajagiriya office.

NMSJ survey goes awry

Dr. Pinnawala’s research contained a sample size of 1,675 voters, with the entire vote base divided into 10 geographical sub-groups.

The NMSJ survey conveniently left out UNP leader Wickremesinghe. Premier Wickremesinghe hasn’t been among the four candidates examined by Dr. Pinnawala. The academic based his report on voters’ reaction to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Sajith Premadasa and Karu Jayasuriya. The study, according to the report, was meant to test the popularity of the four candidates. Prof. Pinnawela briefed the media, on Sept 10, at the NMSJ’s Rajagiriya office, though it was available to the writer on August 19.

Jayasuriya led in seven out of the 10 sub-groups, polled in Dr. Pinnawala’s research. Premadasa polled well in four out of 10 sub-groups.

The survey was conducted, using telephone interviews, with voters in Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, and Christian majority areas.

The survey was based on key assumptions: (a) that the SLFP will not field a candidate (b) that the UNP will not be divided over its candidate and back a single candidate, and (c) that the minority parties, and especially the Tamil National Alliance, will not field a candidate.

The survey, according to Dr. Pinnawela, proved that Sajith Premadasa cannot defeat Gotabaya Rajapaksa, under any circumstances, whereas Karu Jayasuriya can certainly defeat the wartime Defence Secretary. In a contest between Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Karu Jayasuriya, in 10 sub group areas, Karu Jayasuriya leads in seven sectors. In a contest between Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sajith Premadasa, the latter leads in four areas, though the percentage of voters, the UNP Deputy Leader is likely to receive, is definitely much lower than Karu Jayasuriya. Dr. Pinnawela asserted that Sajith Premadasa is likely to lose to Gotabaya Rajapaksa as he didn’t get the attention received by Gotabaya Rajapaksa from professionals.

Dr. Pinnawela also declared that Karu Jayasuriya could attract the Sinhala Buddhist vote, thereby enabling him to challenge strongly Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s perceived superiority among the Sinhala Buddhist vote bank. Many an eyebrow was raised over Dr. Pinnawela’s assertion that Karu Jayasuriya enjoyed, what he called, Sinhala Buddhist image, than Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.

The survey suggested that JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake can cause similar damage to the UNP and SLPP candidates, even if the SLFP joined the SLPP, as all its voters are not likely to exercise their franchise in support of the latter and finally Premadasa’s nomination can benefit the JVP leader.

Sajith receives benefit of civil society initiative

Obviously, the civil society project has failed to achieve its desired objective. Instead, Sajith Premadasa, with the support of the majority of the parliamentary group, overwhelmed those who campaigned against him. The civil society suffered a huge setback. Having declared that he wouldn’t under, any circumstances, give into various demands put forwarded by interested parties, Sajith Premadasa is unlikely to reach a consensus on civil society proposals to secure its support. However, the civil society has no option but to campaign against SLPP candidate, wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who remains their primary target.

The civil society played a significant role in the UNP-led campaign that thwarted war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s bid to secure a third term. The civil society grouping courageously fought President Maithripala Sirisena’s constitutional coup, in late Oct 2018. Having worked closely with Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, during the constitutional crisis, the civil society threw its weight behind the Speaker though its project to secure presidential candidacy for the Gampaha district MP failed.

The civil society, until the very last moment, believed Karu Jayasuriya could implement four key promises - (a) abolition of the executive presidency (b) devolution of power to solve the national problem (c) revival of the constitution making process and (d) electoral reforms made by the UNP-led political grouping in the run-up to the last presidential poll.

In spite of failing to secure presidential nomination for Karu Jayasuriya, the civil society is going ahead with its campaign targeting Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The civil society has now challenged Gotabaya Rajapaksa over him receiving Sri Lanka citizenship, in 2005, after having obtained US citizenship, as well as issuance of a National Identity Card (NIC) and Sri Lanka passport to him this year.

Purawesi Balaya activist Gamini Viyangoda and Prof. Chandragupta Thenuwara recently moved the Court of Appeal against Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the wake of the SLPP paying the required deposit on behalf of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam paid the deposit on behalf of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Responding to The Island query, Viyangoda explained as to why he along with Prof. Thenuwara objected Gotabaya Rajapaksa contesting Nov 16, 2019 presidential election after having secured dual citizenship in 2005 and a NIC and a Sri Lankan passport, in 2019, through fraudulent means, he alleged. Viyangoda pointed out that both the Immigration and Emigration Department and the Defence Ministry denied having records pertaining to Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s dual citizenship. Referring to the ongoing proceedings before the Colombo Chief Magistrate court in this regard, Viyangoda said they also petitioned the Court of Appeal. The case will be heard by a three-member bench today (Oct 02).

Viyangoda’s contention is that Gotabaya Rajapaksa remained a US citizen as the procedures followed in issuing dual citizenship, in 2005, and NIC and Sri Lanka passport, in 2019, were contrary to the laid down processes. The civil society leaders, in their writ petition, expressed grave concern over a non-citizen contesting the presidential election. They claim Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be prevented from contesting the presidency as he remains a US citizen. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution prevents dual citizens from contesting both presidential and parliamentary polls.

In spite of failing to bring in Karu Jayasuriya as the presidential candidate at the expense of Sajith Premadasa, the civil society is taking on Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Whatever the differences between the civil society and Sajith Premadasa, the latter is the direct beneficiary of the legal action initiation by Viyangoda and Prof. Thenuwara. Interestingly, Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, over the weekend, publicly alleged the role played by Public Administration Minister Vajira Abeywardena in facilitating the issuance of NIC and Sri Lanka passport. Dr. Senaratne, having blamed colleague Abeywardena for cooperating with Gotabaya Rajapaksa expressed confidence they could take advantage of the situation.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s camp, recently, brought in former Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva to counter the civil society move. President’s Counsel Silva, who had vigorously campaigned against Mahinda Rajapaksa, at both the 2010 and 2015 presidential polls, flayed the civil society for seeking to derail Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s bid. Sarath Nanda Silva was joined by former Principal of the Law College, Dr. W.D. Rodrigo and attorneys-at-law, Kalyananda Thiranagama and Raja Gooneratne, in countering what they called a despicable civil society move.

Viyangoda is of the view that Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be disqualified from contesting the Nov 16, 2019 presidential poll.

PC Sarath Nanda Silva led team asserted that various moves to undermine Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s candidature should be examined against the backdrop of no less a person than now interdicted Solicitor General Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe’s admission that the government interfered in high profile investigations, including the Avant Garde Maritime Services (AGMS) case. Wickramasinghe is now on record as having said that the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) pursued Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the behest of the current dispensation.

Second Army Chief to seek President’s Office

Retired General Mahesh Senanayake became the second retired Army Commander to seek President’s Office at the Nov 16, 2019 poll. War-winning Army Chief Sarath Fonseka was the first to seek the highest office. Backed by a UNP-led coalition, comprising the TNA, JVP and SLMC, Fonseka contested on the New Democratic Front (NDF) with ‘swan’ as its symbol. The National People’s Movement (NPM) and allied civil organizations declared their intention to field Mahesh Senanayake as its candidate though the registered political party through which one-time Special Forces officer would contest, remains confidential. One-time Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe and Dr. Ajith Colonne, a renowned professional, who had served as a Deputy Director of the Internal Intelligence (now known as State Intelligence Service) during the Rajapaksa administration, spearheaded meticulous project to field a candidate. Colonne had been the Advisor on Military Intelligence Analysis at the Defence Ministry. Mahesh Senanayake received the approval after the NPM examined the eligibility of several prospective candidates. The high profile role played by Mahesh Senanayake, in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Sunday carnage, certainly gave him an advantage over those who expected NPM backing. Both the SLPP and the UNP were quite surprised by the NPM move. The NPM made its move after having consulted those opposed to the candidates fielded by the SLPP and the UNP-led coalition. JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and now suspended attorney-at-law Nagananda Kodituwakku had been among those consulted by the NPM. The JVP received the backing of the National People’s Power (MPP) to field its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake. Mahesh Senanayake’s bid highlighted the rapid deterioration in the parliamentary system of governance. Senanayake declared that he was not surrounded by thieves and swindlers. Had Mahesh Senanayake bothered to receive a comprehensive briefing from much respected former public servant Gamini Wijesinghe, he wouldn’t want any of those lawmakers in the current parliament in his campaign. Former Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s declaration that the parliament is the most corrupt institution in the country reflects the actual situation. Once Gamini Wijesinghe, in conversation with the writer, compared the public funds in Sri Lanka with a purse full of money dropped on the road. Anyone could pick the purse, Wijesinghe declared. This was in the immediate aftermath of Derana naming Wijesinghe as the Sri Lankan of the Year in Sept. 2017.

Special Forces officer Senanayake received the appointment as the Commander of the Army, in July 2017. Senanayake succeeded Crishanthe de Silva of the Engineers Regiment.

Senanayake fled the country soon after Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s failed bid to dislodge Mahinda Rajapaksa. Fonseka lost by 1.8 mn votes. On the day, Senanayake received the command, he declared that he sought refuge overseas for his protection. The writer was present at the first briefing given by Senanayake.

Emphasizing that his decision had been influenced by threats to his security, the Army Chief said that he was not involved in politics therefore: "I was never a political victim." A smiling Senanayake described himself as a victim of circumstances.

Having fled the country, Senanayake returned soon after Maithripala Sirisena ousted twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January 2015 presidential poll. On his return, Senanayake received an appointment as the Military Secretary before being named Jaffna Security Forces Commander, in 2016. Senanayake received appointment as the Chief of Staff in March 2017. In July 2017, Senanayake received the command. Senanayake retired on Sept. 20, 2020.

Senanayake received the command in spite of being out of the service for five years. Travis Sinniah, too, received the same opportunity after having quit the Navy during the previous administration.

During Senanayake’s tenure as the Commander of the Army, the outspoken officer publicly clashed with Field Marshal Fonseka on several occasions over contentious matters. The former didn’t succumb to Fonseka.

After the Easter Sunday suicide bombing spree, Senanayake received heavy media coverage for frankly speaking on the lapses on the part of the security establishment. Senanayake caused quite a bit of a crisis in the UNP by revealing that Commerce and Industries Minister Rishad Bathiudeen had intervened on behalf of a suspect taken in by the Army over his alleged involvement with the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks.

Senanayake was among those officers who appeared before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) inquiring into the Easter attacks. Senanayake also gave evidence before the PSC in camera.

The upcoming Nov 16, 2019 presidential poll will be the third since the successful conclusion of the war against the LTTE in May 2009. The January 2010 first poll after the war resulted in Mahinda Rajapaksa securing a second term at the expense of war-winning Army Chief Sarath Fonseka. The Rajapaksas comfortably won the 2010 parliamentary poll. The second presidential poll, after the war, resulted in wartime SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena thwarting Mahinda Rajapaksa securing an unprecedented third term. The Rajapaksas amended the Constitution to clear the way for Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest for a third term. There hadn’t been any serious third candidate at the 2010 and 2015 presidential poll though 2019 there are so far two serious contenders - Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Mahesh Senanayake. Among the candidates are two senior former military officers, Senanayake and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fought in Eelam War I and II and widely respected for his role as the Commanding Officer of the celebrated I GR (First battalion of the Gajaba Regiment). Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the second person to seek the highest office after having survived an LTTE suicide attack. The LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate the then Defence Secretary on Dec 01, 2006, at the onset of Eelam War IV. The then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka was the first to seek presidency after having survived an LTTE suicide attack. The LTTE made an attempt on Fonseka’s life on April 25, 2006. The bottom line is if the LTTE succeeded in killing them or at least one of them, the LTTE still would have been the primary factor in deciding a presidential poll outcome. That is the bitter truth. Unfortunately, the truth is beyond the understanding of our leaders, lawmakers.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Lord Naseby disappointed

* Lanka’s collective failure to use ‘Gash reports’ for its defence:


Lord Naseby gave the writer an opportunity to peruse copies of once classified British diplomatic dispatches ... (pic by Nirosha Soysa)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka recently lost a golden opportunity to honour British politician Lord Naseby whose untiring efforts helped Sri Lanka to counter politically-motivated unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, propagated by interested parties. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka lacked the required political will to exploit the Conservative Party politician’s revelations. Instead, the current dispensation struggled to cope up with Lord Naseby’s disclosure in the House of Lords, on Oct 12, 2017. The revelation disputed the very basis of a Geneva Resolution, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka on Oct 01, 2015.

The yahapalana government did its best to downplay Lord Naseby’s revelation. In fact, the government did nothing, though Foreign Minister Marapana made reference to Lord Naseby’s disclosure at the March 2019 Geneva sessions.

Lord Naseby, who was in Colombo on the invitation of the Organization of Professional Associations (OPA), for the inauguration of their two-day conference, should have been invited for the ceremonial conferment of the five-star Marshal of the Sri Lanka Air Force and the Admiral of the Fleet rank to Roshan Goonetileke and Wasantha Karannagoda, respectively, at an investiture ceremony, at the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo harbour on the morning of Sept. 19, 2019.

The recipient of Sri Lanka Rathna, the highest Sri Lanka honour bestowed on a foreigner, who fought the British system, on Sri Lanka’s behalf, to secure the much-sought-after confidential British documents (dispatches from the UK British military attaché in Colombo Lt Col. Anthony Gash) which exposed an elephantine lie.

The writer was among those invited by wartime Air Force Commander Air Marshal Goonetileke to attend the investiture ceremony held more than a decade after the successful conclusion of the war. Wouldn’t it have been much better if the Defence Ministry’s guest list also included wartime President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) Maj. Gen. Kapila Hendavitharana and Lord Naseby. Their absence, at such a significant military event, highlighted the continuing political turmoil, over a decade after the eradication of terrorism. The writer learns the SLPP presidential candidate received an invitation for the event at the ECT, though he couldn’t attend. Gotabaya Rajapaksa wasn’t in a position to accept the invitation due to the ongoing polls campaigning.

Interestingly, President Maithripala Sirisena, who conferred the Field Marshal title on war-winning Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, on March 2015, less than two months after the last presidential poll, conferred the five star rank on Fonseka’s colleagues, four years later. Now, President Sirisena and Fonseka, who failed an abortive bid, in 2010, to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa, are not on talking terms, though, as a member of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), probing the Easter Sunday attacks, Fonseka accompanied the lawmakers group to record the SLFP leader’s statement at the presidential secretariat.

The absence of cooperation, at the highest level, among President Sirisena and members of parliament, on ways and means to counter war crimes allegations, exposes the political bankruptcy of all concerned. Political parties, represented in parliament, should be ashamed of their pathetic failure to use Lord Naseby’s disclosure.

The yahapalana government much to the dismay of the vast majority of Sri Lankans terminated the annual victory day parade. The cancellation was meant to appease those who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE.

In an exclusive interview with the writer, on Sept. 17 - two days before the conferment of five star rank to wartime Air and Navy chiefs - Lord Naseby dealt with a range of issues, with the focus on accountability.

Karannagoda and Goonetileke received top commands, on Sept 01, 2005, and June 12, 2006, respectively. Goonetileke and Karannagoda retired on July 14, 2009 and Feb 27, 2011, respectively. The latter also held the post of CDS for over a period of two years.

Lord Naseby also discussed his plans to launch his memoirs, titled Sri Lanka: Paradise Lost Paradise Regained - Recollections from 50 years of a unique friendship between a British Politician and the people of Sri Lanka, in the coming months.

UK upset over Shavendra’s appointment

It would be pertinent to reproduce the latest British statement, on Sri Lanka, made at the UNHRC, Geneva, just days before Lord Naseby’s arrival in Colombo. The UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, said that the UK remained steadfast in its commitment to help Sri Lanka deliver peace, reconciliation and prosperity for all communities. Regrettably, the UK is hell-bent on pursuing war crimes allegations, regardless of Lord Naseby’s revelations that exposed the mega Western lie.

The following is the UK-led statement in Geneva: "This statement is on behalf of Canada, Germany North Macedonia, Montenegro, and the United Kingdom as members of the Human Rights Council core group on Sri Lanka.

"We thank the High Commissioner for her update and repeat our condolences to Sri Lanka for the appalling loss of life in April.

"It is four years since Sri Lanka took ownership of delivering wide ranging reforms to advance reconciliation, accountability and human rights through co-sponsorship of Council resolution 30/1. Sri Lanka repeated these commitments, most recently through HRC resolution 40/1, six months ago.

"The core group believes that the pledges made by Sri Lanka to its people are the essential ingredients for national healing, stability and prosperity. The core group remains steadfast in its commitment to supporting Sri Lanka’s future through the implementation of the resolution. Continued support for the process from the Government and people of Sri Lanka will be critical for these measures to succeed.

"There have been important developments since 2015 which demonstrate good intentions on the part of the Government and reflect the work of many committed individuals. Some key domestic institutions have been established. However, the pace of progress has remained slow in many areas, with bureaucratic constraints hampering delivery.

"In the most recent resolution, the Council encouraged Sri Lanka to set a clear time-line for action, through a national implementation strategy. We hope that Sri Lanka will put this in place as a matter of priority. Madame High Commissioner, we share the concern expressed in your statement of 19 August that the appointment of General Silva as Army Commander severely compromises Sri Lanka’s commitment to promote justice and accountability and undermines reconciliation efforts. The core group believes that it is vital for peace and prosperity that Sri Lanka builds confidence in its commitment to protecting political space and human rights.

"This Council has been seized with the situation in Sri Lanka over many years and has made an essential contribution towards addressing serious violations of the past. But this work remains incomplete, and requires our ongoing attention. It is vital that this Council and the international community continue to give the necessary attention and support to Sri Lanka as it continues on the path towards enduring peace and reconciliation."

Q&A with Lord Naseby

 The Island: Did you make available Gash reports to the government of Sri Lanka before the House of Lords disclosure on Oct 12, 2017?

Lord Naseby: Before I made the statement...

The Island: We understand the Gash reports were made available to former President Rajapaksa and President Sirisena

Lord Naseby: I did not make them available to former President Rajapaksa. I told him about Gash reports. But I made them available to the government of President Sirisena. I haven’t given the full copy to former President Rajapaksa.

Lord Naseby, following consultations with Amal Abeywardene, who had been all along involved in his project, in support of Sri Lanka, asserted that Gash reports were made available to Sri Lanka, before being presented in the House of Lords, on Oct 12, 2017.

Both the incumbent government and former President Rajapaksa’s camp owed an explanation as to why they refrained from taking tangible measures on the basis of Gash reports before Lord Naseby made his statement. They failed to act even after the disclosure was made in the House of Lords.

Abeywardene was also present at the interview conducted at the luxurious Cinnamon Lakeside, situated opposite the former Air Force headquarters. Cinnamon Lakeside had its own security, at its main entrance, and also at the entry point to the lobby since the Easter Sunday attacks on six targets in Batticaloa, Katuwapitiya (Negombo) and Colombo. Attackers left Cinnamon Lakeside out of its list of targets which included Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand. My wife, Dilhani, was on hand to record the interview - my second meeting with Lord Naseby. The British politician visited The Island editorial years ago for a briefing and discussion on the situation with Editor-in-Chief Prabath Sahabandu.

The Island: Can you explain the circumstances under which you obtained Gash reports from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?

Lord Naseby: I appealed against the decision to heavily redact the Gash dispatches. I went to courts. The judge, in summing up, said he had enormous sympathy for the cause...but he had to recognize...having been told by her Majesty’s government that the material that was redacted was sensitive in terms of UK relationship with friendly countries. The court had taken recognition of that fact but he said what is published in your domain your request you made it and it is there for you to use it as you fit. When I next came here, I bought one set of documents to deliver to the government.

Lord Naseby said former President Rajapaksa was told, during his 2017 visit to Colombo, as of how he secured Gash reports though the wartime leader wasn’t given a set of copies.

Why didn’t Sri Lanka take advantage of Gash reports? Can the deliberate failure on Sri Lanka’s part be compared with unprecedented negligence that led to the National Thowheed Jamaat (JMT) suicide bombing spree on April 21, 2019?

The Island: The war was brought to a successful conclusion, in May 2009. You could have sought the required information from the FCO before. Can you explain as to why you waited so long?

Lord Naseby: I never think about it….Ok..I should perhaps have known you could use the Freedom of Information Act to do this sort of thing. But I didn’t. And I went to the library with a colleague of mine of the House of Lords. I was told to go to the library and read the Act. I read the Act. Then I thought...maybe I can get Gash dispatches.

Amal Abeywardene interrupted to explain the circumstances under which Lord Naseby made his intervention on Sri Lanka’s behalf. According to Abeywardene, Lord Naseby had met the then British Premier David Cameron (Conservative Party), in early Nov 2013, before he left for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), in Colombo, in mid Nov 2013. The meeting had taken place in parliament at a time Cameron was being heavily influenced by the Tamil Diaspora. Cameron had seen Callum Macrae’s ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’, produced by UK’s Channel 4. Cameron had been under intense pressure to boycott CHOGM 2013.Having decided to attend CHOGM, Cameron stressed the importance of addressing the accountability issue. Abeywardene recalled as to how Lord Naseby told Premier Cameron as to how lies were being propagated at Sri Lanka’s expense. Lord Naseby also challenged the UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) claim the last phase of the Sri Lankan offensive killed 40,000 civilians. Abeywardene recollected as to how Lord Naseby suggested to Premier Cameron to examine dispatches from Colombo-based British Defence Attaché. Lord Naseby had warned Cameron that if he was not willing to do so, he (Lord Naseby) might have to seek information in terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Abeywardene: It was not a threat. The process of getting information from a government office is very tough.

Lord Naseby: We were not sure whether it was Defence or Foreign Office. We sought information from both and the Defence Department made it clear that this was a matter for the Foreign Office. They didn’t respond for at least two months, perhaps three, because they realized they were pretty sensitive stuff.

Lord Naseby sought information on Nov 06, 2014.

The Island: Why did the FCO delay the releasing of dispatches?

Lord Naseby: The FCO claimed that the releasing of such information infringed on their relationship with those countries which provided sensitive information. The FCO felt that would have undermined vital relationships.

The Island: Perhaps, the FCO realized that if those dispatches had been released unsubstantiated allegations against Sri Lanka could have been successfully countered.

Lord Naseby: You could well be right

The Island: The situation would have been different if the FCO released the dispatches promptly. That would have jeopardized their efforts to move a resolution in Geneva the following year.

In the wake of the change of government, in January 2015, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo proceeded with the US-led project. Sri Lanka co-sponsored Geneva Resolution on Oct 01, 2015.

Lord Naseby: Each time the FCO refused, there was a mechanism to appeal. The FCO probably believed when appeals were repeatedly turned down, I would go away. I didn’t. That didn’t happen.

The Island: If you managed to obtain Gash reports, would it have helped thwart Geneva Resolution? Don’t forget the one-time LTTE mouthpiece, the TNA, was brought into powerful political grouping, comprising the UNP-JVP-SLMC on the basis that the military killed 40,000 civilians. That unsubstantiated claim was the basis of that coalition. The same group backed wartime Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election. Although Fonseka failed, Maithripala Sirisena succeeded five years later.

Lord Naseby: You are right. Had we managed to start earlier...But you must also not forget that we did not get anything out of the Foreign Office with ease. We had to appeal to the Information Commissioner. I had to make a separate submission to the Information Commissioner in this regard.

Lord Naseby has made representations to the Information Commissioner why he believed dispatches should be released on the basis of public interest. The Information Commissioner, according to Lord Naseby, accepted that assertion.

The Island: Have you been shocked by Sri Lanka’s collective failure to effectively use information provided by you in the defence of her armed forces? The recent UK-led statement, in Geneva, critical of the appointment of celebrated battlefield commander Shavendra Silva as the Commander of the Army is a case in point.

Lord Naseby: You had a census in the Northern Province before the releasing of Gash dispatches. That census collaborated the Gash reports to a fair degree.

The Island: In fact, there was another report prepared by the UN in Colombo during the Vanni offensive. That too sort of collaborated with the census and the Gash reports.

The Island: Are you really surprised Sri Lankan politicians, and the government failed to use the Gash reports?

Lord Naseby: Disappointed

The Island: When Sri Lanka turned a blind eye to your revelation, in the House of Lords, you directly wrote to the UNHRC. You sought re-examination of the resolution. What was their response? What happened?

Lord Naseby: Nothing. The UNHRC should have taken the detailed submissions made, seriously.

Lord Naseby said that he offered to appear before the UNHRC at his own expense to back his claim though Geneva turned a Nelsonian eye to his effort. The outspoken lawmaker said that he was hugely disappointed by UNHRC reaction.

The Island: How do you view the British stand on Sri Lanka, regardless of the disclosure of the Gash reports and their willingness to follow accusations, attributed to nameless people, whereas British DA’s reports were disregarded? Did UK political parties follow such a policy for domestic political reasons? (David Miliband’s exposure by Wiki Leaks pertaining to UK politics and war against the LTTE, in 2009 is a case in point).

Lord Naseby: The UK-led statement ascertains that genuine progress has been made. The assertion that the progress was slow is accurate.

Lord Naseby strongly criticized Sri Lanka’s failure to make available sufficient funds for OMP (Office of Missing Persons) for conducting its operations. The British politician said that he was deeply disappointed by the absence of required funds that deprived the OMP of the wherewithal to engage in investigations. Lord Naseby called for urgent remedial measures. He emphasized the pivotal role the OMP could play in clearing accusations directed at the country. Lord Naseby explained as to how Sri Lanka missed an opportunity to use OMP to its advantage for want of a cohesive strategy. Lord Naseby underscored the OMP’s failure to act on the Paranagama report as well as the ICRC findings due to different reasons. Lord Naseby expressed shock and disappointment at the way the government handled the key aspect in the accountability process.

Responding to a query, on the planned book launch, Lord Naseby said: "Paradise lost, paradise regained is a quote from Milton. The undertone here. Why I choose a quote from Milton. Milton, one of our greatest poets. He fought on the parliamentary side in our civil war in 1645." Lord Naseby explained the reasons that prompted him to choose that particular quote. Lord Naseby also discussed plans for the book launch, during the next Galle Literally festival in 2020 while acknowledging possible change of plans due to reasons beyond his control. Unicorn Publishing Group is the publisher.

Asked whether Geneva would be discussed in his memoirs, Lord Naseby said that he began with his arrival at the Ratmalana airport, way back in April 1963, and right up to a year ago though certain changes had to be made following the Easter Sunday carnage. Lord Naseby said the book comprised 19 Chapters and took over two years to complete. Lord Naseby reminiscences him receiving overseas flying training in US aircraft.

The Island: Did you launch the book project after the Gash episode?

Lord Naseby: I think that was probably the catalyst.

Responding to The Island query on his role as a young RAF/NATO pilot, an obviously delighted Lord Naseby recalled as to how he, after leaving school, in July 1955, joined the RAF in terms of the then mandatory two-year military service, against the backdrop of the US-Soviet cold war. Lord Naseby reminiscence how he sought to join the RAF after having undergone flying training, thanks to a visit to his father who was then serving the Punjab government. Lord Naseby talked lovingly of his time with his father, based in Lahore, at that time, during holidays, before returning to the UK to join the military.

Asked how he felt about the coverage received from the international media to his revelation, Lord Naseby admitted that it was insufficient though he asserted he could have achieved more if necessary staff were available to him.

The Island pointed out those sections of the international media, too, pursued their own agenda at Lord Naseby’s expense, thereby undermined Sri Lanka’s defence.

Sri Lanka can never repay Lord Naseby, whose intervention, on our behalf, exposed the extravagant and corrupt lot in the parliament. Thanks to Lord Naseby, the public is aware of the true nature of the Geneva project, based on false casualty figures and now its lost credibility.

At the conclusion of the interview, the writer asked Lord Naseby whether he believed the Geneva/accountability issue could be a major factor to decide the outcome of the Nov 16, 2019 presidential poll. A thoughtful Lord Naseby said it wouldn’t be an issue.