Tuesday, 13 November 2018

WILL POLITICAL PARTIES HEED CBSL GOVERNOR'S ADVICE?

2019 GENERAL ELECTION:


SPECIAL REPORT : Part 244

 

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This article was written before the Supreme Court yesterday (Nov 13) suspended President Maithripala Sirisena’s gazette notification calling nominations for parliamentary polls from Nov 19 to 26. The election was scheduled to be held on January 5.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy recently advised the electorate as regards the next general election before President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved parliament at midnight on Nov 09, 2018.

President Sirisena set nominations’ acceptance from Nov 19-26 and election for January 5, 2019.

Dr. Coomaraswamy’s statement, made before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCol) on irregularities at SriLankan Airlines, SriLankan Catering and Mihin Lanka, couldn’t have been made at a better time for those who expected a genuine change in the political environment. Unfortunately, the media, pathetically, failed to provide sufficient coverage to, undoubtedly, the most important statement made by a respected public official, in the recent past, on any issue.

Dr. Coomaraswamy told the P Col that the country was facing a non-virtuous cycle of debt and it was a very fragile situation which could even lead to a debt crisis.

"Of course my colleagues in the debt department have plans and capability to manage it. But it’s the duty of every citizen to act responsibly as regards the government policy," he told the PCol.

Dr. Coomaraswamy emphasized that people should elect MPs who were prudent enough to handle fiscal and monetary matters of the country. "I am not referring to any government, but it’s been the case ever since Independence."

Dr. Coomaraswamy couldn’t have been aware of President’s move at the time he appealed to the electorate. In fact, there hadn’t been a previous instance of a serving top public official advising the electorate how to exercise their franchise at perhaps the most crucial election in post-independence era.

Dr. Coomaraswamy’s statement should be examined against the backdrop of him taking over the CBSL in July 2016 from the corrupted and disgraced Singaporean Arjuna Mahendran, the 13th Governor, of CBSL.

President Sirisena brought him in, in spite of fierce opposition from the then Prime Minister and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. The change at the CBSL took place in the wake of the massive second treasury bond scam, perpetrated by the UNP, in late March 2016 - over a year after the first fraudulent transaction.

The writer stressed the pivotal importance of Dr. Coomaraswamy’s appeal in the live political programme Sirasa Pathikada on Nov 7, 2018 and in a piece to Irida Divaina in its Nov 11 edition. Political parties, civil society groups, as well as the clergy, conveniently refrained from reacting to Dr. Coomaraswamy’s important and timely advice to the voter.

Before discussing the current political developments further let me reproduce a brief report on Dr. Coomaraswamy, posted on the CBSL website: "Dr. Coomaraswamy completed his university education with a BA (Hons.) Degree from the University of Cambridge and went on to obtain his PhD in Economics from the University of Sussex. He joined the Central Bank of Ceylon in 1974 as a staff officer.

Dr. Coomaraswamy served the Central Bank for 15 years, working in the Departments of Economic Research, Statistics and Bank Supervision. However, from 1981 – 1989 he was released from the Bank’s service to serve at the Ministry of Finance and Planning.

He held a number of senior positions at the Commonwealth Secretariat, from 1990 – 2008, including Head of the Economic Affairs Division, Deputy Director of the Secretary General’s Office and Interim Director of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Social Transformation Programme Division.

He was a member of the Monetary Policy Consultative Committee of CBSL, from 2013 – 2015, and Advisor to the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade, 2015-2016.

Dr. Coomaraswamy was also a Non-Executive Director of John Keells Holdings and Tokyo Cement Company (Lanka) PLC. In addition, he was associated with a number of research institutes in Sri Lanka.

Dr. Coomaraswamy was also a keen sportsman. He captained the Sri Lanka Rugby team and led the country to emerge runners-up at the 1974 Rugby Asiad, held in Japan. He also played first-class cricket."

Obviously, rapid post war deterioration of national economy and erosion of political standards had prompted Dr. Coomaraswamy to express his concerns over the status of the recently dissolved eighth parliament.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May 2009, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. Addressing a massive celebration in Colombo, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared: now that the war was over his priority would be to eradicate corruption. However, revelations made before the ongoing PCoI on SriLankan Airlines, SriLankan Catering and Mihin Lanka had revealed how the then President Rajapaksa’s brother-in-law Nishantha Wickramasinghe ruined the national carrier. Wickramasinghe abused the national carrier to his heart’s content while the political leadership looked the other way. It has transpired before the P CoI how Wickramaisnghe spent public money lavishly on some female employees, mismanaged the entire operation and thereby accelerated the rapid downfall of the once profitably Emirates-run enterprise.

The Rajapaksa government removed the Emirates management in 2008 at the height of the war on the Vanni front.

Thanks to PCoI on treasury bond scams perpetrated in 2015 and 2016 and the ongoing P CoI on SriLankan Airlines, SriLankan Catering and Mihin Lanka, the public are aware how the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe yahapalana (good governance and accountability) government and the Rajapaksa administration ruined the CBSL and Sri Lankan Airlines, respectively. Interestingly, the probe on airlines and Sri Lanka Catering also revealed the wrongdoings on the part of the UNP, after the change of government, in January 2015.

Dr. Coomaraswamy wouldn’t have appealed to the electorate to vote in suitable candidates if he was at least to some extent satisfied with members of the eighth parliament.

Had Dr. Coomaraswamy bothered to peruse regular reports released by parliamentary watchdog committees - Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) - he would have certainly recognized the unbelievably corrupt system in place to protect mega thieves. President Sirisena couldn’t absolve himself under any circumstances of the responsibility for dissolving parliament on the night of June 26, 2015 to prevent the then COPE Chairman Communist Party General Secretary Dew Gunasekera from presenting his report on the 2015 treasury bond scam, involving now disgraced and suspended primary dealer Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL). The dissolution of parliament took place on the eve of the presentation of the COPE report. Had President Sirisena allowed the explosive report to be tabled, the outcome of the general election in August 2015 would have been different. The June 2015 dissolution paved the way for far bigger treasury bond scam in March 2016 and the President didn’t appoint PCoI till 2017 January to probe those massively corrupt transactions. Sri Lanka would have been certainly in a far more stable position.

Prez on corrupt political system

President Sirisena, in his first televised address to the nation since the dissolution, on Nov 09, alleged that he was prompted to dissolve parliament to prevent MPs being bribed to switch allegiance ahead of the expected showdown in parliament. Claiming that lawmakers had been virtually selling themselves for amounts, ranging from Rs 50 mn to Rs 500 mn, President Sirisena said that it was the primary reason for the dissolution. One-time SLFP General Secretary declared that he wanted to thwart bribe-taking lawmakers. President Sirisena gave two other reasons to justify dissolution of parliament. The President alleged that Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s reaction to the situation as well as the possibility of violence in the chamber of parliament when it was reconvened contributed to his decision.

Unlike on previous occasions, President Sirisena didn’t cite the alleged threat to his life and the involvement of a minister in the plot from the dissolved cabinet as cause for the dissolution. In fact, no SLFP or Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) spokesman ever justified the dissolution of parliament to thwart bribe-taking lawmakers.

President Sirisena confidently declared that there hadn’t been such high level corruption in previous parliaments, involving members, since 1947. Referring to the C.P. de Silva crossover, in Dec 1964 leading to the defeat of the government of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike government in the following year, the President asserted that there hadn’t been such large scale corruption in any of the dissolved parliaments.

However, there had been numerous accusations as regards lawmakers switching allegiance for personal gain over the years. Outspoken politician and academic Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, a year ago, revealed an unprecedented corrupt transaction involving some members of parliament representing the then SLFP-led People’s Alliance and the UNP. Wijesinha made the revelation in the wake of shocking revelations made before the PCoI on treasury bond scams, in 2017.

The writer dealt with Wijesinha’s letters to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) in his piece the in Nov 11 edition of Irida Divaina.

Prof. Wijesinha’s letters

All political parties brazenly utilize/exercise bribing in various forms, ranging from large scale payments to allocation of National List slots. Foreign diplomatic postings as well as plum ministerial portfolios are offered and asked in return for support. The UNP secured the New Democratic Front twice to field common candidates, General Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena, in 2010 and 2015 respectively. Chairman of that party Shalila Munasnghe was rewarded with a lucrative appointment. Munasinghe received the appointment as Chairman, Litro Gas, courtesy the Finance Ministry. Munasinghe lost his job after he was taken into custody over the illegal transfer of massive amount of money from a Taiwanese bank. Shamila Fernando, also of the NDF, too, received a plum state sector appointment. So it would be important to keep in mind that there are various ways and means to look after political buddies. The following letters written by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha are self-explanatory. The Island received copies from Prof. Wijesinha with his permission to publish them.

 First letter dated April 21, 2015 (This letter was written in the wake of the change of government in January 2015)

The Chairman

COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE ALLEGATIONS OF BRIBERY OR CORRUPTION

No 36 Malalasekera Mawatha,

Colombo 07,

Sri Lanka.

Dear Chairman

I was away and have only just heard that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been accused of bribing Tissa Attanayake with a ministerial position and that you wish to investigate this. 

If indeed such matters come within the purview of the Bribery Commission, I would like to report that (the then member of the cabinet/name withheld), told me that (the then member of the cabinet representing a different political party/name withheld) had wanted payment to cross over to support the campaign of the current President. He had also told (the then MP) that he had to give (leader of another political party/name withheld) a portfolio because that had been a condition of his support for the current President. 

I would not have thought that such promises would ordinarily come under your purview, but if the complaint against the former President is being investigated, then it would only be fair to investigate (the then member of the cabinet/name withheld) too, for what must similarly be considered bribery that warrants the attention of your Commission.



Yours sincerely



Rajiva Wijesinhna, MP



Second letter dated Sept. 20, 2017 (This was written following the last parliamentary polls)



Justice T.B Weerasuriya

Chairman, Commission to Investigate Allegations of Corruption and Bribery

No 36 Malalasekera Mawatha,

Colombo 07

Dear Sir

Last Sunday evening I was informed by Mr. Nahil Wijesuriya that, in 2001, he had, as requested by Mr (the then MP/Name with held), given (the then MP and party leader) Rs 60 million. He had given this, in the form of two cheques he said, to Mr (MP) who had said he should hand them over direct to the then (the then MP and the party leader/Name withheld).

He then went to the (address withheld) and gave him the cheques. I believe this money was used to bribe members of Parliament to cross over so as to bring down the government which President Kumaratunga had constituted, following the 2000 election.

This is a very serious matter and I would urge you to investigate it promptly, since it is obviously improper for a politician to continue in office if his practice is to bribe members of Parliament to ensure support. Given too the extraordinary behaviour of (name withheld) to try to cover up the criminal activities with regard to the Central Bank bond scam, you will be placing the country in grave danger if you do not take up this matter.

I wrote to you previously about (name withheld) own admission that he was going to see (name of political party leader/ name withheld) on Christmas Day, 2014, to ensure his support for the candidacy of Maithripala Sirisena for the Presidency. A statement from me was recorded, but I was not told about any follow up. In this case there are clear lines of investigation open, since Mr Wijesuriya said I could quote him, and his statement was in front of witnesses who would also I believe be happy to testify.

Yours sincerely

Rajiva Wijesinha



Third letter dated April 21, 2015



HE Maithripala Sirisena

President

Your Excellency

I attach a copy of a letter (the first letter that dealt with Attanayake matter) I have sent to the Bribery Commission, with regard to statements of the (name of the party leader withheld) which suggest that he too has been involved in dealings such as the former President is accused of. I had not thought, given the traditions of Sri Lankan politics, that such matters would warrant investigation. But perhaps this is a good opportunity to make it clear that bribery, and certainly bribery involving money, as led to the downfall of two SLFP governments, in 1964 and in 2001, is not to be tolerated.

While the matter is being investigated, it may be best for the (name withheld) to step down, and an (position withheld) appointed.

Yours sincerely

Rajiva Wijesinha, MP

A corrupt institution like

no other

When Dr. Coomaraswamy had advised the electorate to be mindful of those elected to the parliament, the much respected official, perhaps inadvertently made no reference to the National List. In accordance with the Constitution, 196 members are elected and 29 appointed to parliament through the National List. Attorney-at-law Nagananda Kodituwakku over two years ago found out that the wording of the provision in the 14th Amendment in respect of the appointment of National List MPs, is different from the wording that was presented to and was passed by parliament in 1988. The original version obviously excluded defeated candidates at the general election from being appointed on the National List. All three branches of state seemed to have colluded in this fraud at the highest levels.

Actually, the National List is meant to accommodate suitable professionals such as Dr. Coomaraswamy, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha or perhaps Gamini Wijesinghe, current Auditor General. Unfortunately, all political party leaders had packed their National List with defeated candidates or inexperienced politicians. The National List has been also traded by political parties with minority parties abusing the National List of the UNP in shameless way. In the last parliament, two National List MPs representing SLMC and the ACMC quit their seats to enable two others to enter parliament. That move enabled two more persons to receive tax exemption amounting to a staggering Rs 33 mn each for serving parliament perhaps about a year. In other words, two persons had been allowed to immensely benefit from a hugely corrupt system collectively maintained by all political parties represented in parliament.

The writer raised the National List abuse at a media conference called by Dinesh Gunawardena, Susil Premjayanth, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila and C.B. Ratnayake at the Prime Minister’s Office on Nov 11. None of them contested the writer’s assertion that the National Lists had been abused by all political parties, including the UPFA, undoubtedly the worst culprit, and whether they could give a public guarantee that it wouldn’t happen at the forthcoming general election.

Now that President Sirisena, in his latest statement, declared that the electorate now got an opportunity to elect well-educated experienced lawmakers, it would be his responsibility and of his partner Mahinda Rajapaksa to field suitable persons and also to name qualified and those genuinely interested in the wellbeing of the people in their National List.

All political parties should declare that those rejected wouldn’t be accommodated through their respective National Lists, under any circumstances. The writer believes there is absolutely no dispute over Dr. Coomaraswamy’s wish for prudent MPs in the ninth parliament. But that wouldn’t be a reality unless political parties make drastic changes to their nomination and National Lists. It’s time for tangible measures and not mere rhetoric as happened hitherto.

A fresh examination of Geneva Resolution required

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 243

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Maithripala Sirisena’s former ministerial colleague, Sarath Fonseka, one-time Commander of the country’s war-winning Army, is on record as having said that Geneva intervention had never been discussed in the cabinet.

The then Wildlife Minister Fonseka said so in response to a query raised by the writer at a media briefing in Sept 2018. Defeated Democratic Party (DP) candidate Fonseka was accommodated in the cabinet in place of National List MP M.K.D.S. Gunawardena who passed away in January 2016. In late June 2016 Fonseka took UNP membership and was appointed UNP Kelaniya Organizer.

Fonseka’s colleagues in the yahapalana government’s cabinet in November 2017 (Dayasiri Jayasekera in his capacity as the co-cabinet spokesperson) and August 2018 (Mahinda Samarasinghe in his capacity as the SLFP spokesperson) revealed that Geneva hadn’t been taken up at the cabinet. Samarasinghe admitted that the far reaching Resolution titled "Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’ co-sponsored by the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera on Oct. 1, 2015 hadn’t been discussed at all. Samarasinghe also told the writer that the Rajapaksa government didn’t take up the 2009 Geneva Resolution in cabinet.

All political parties have conveniently forgotten that Geneva is pushing for a new Constitution here.

Dayasiri Jayasekera reacted angrily at a post-cabinet media briefing at the Government Information Department when the writer sought an explanation as to the failure on the part of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo to use revelations made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct 2017 in Sri Lanka’s defence.

Interestingly, President Sirisena refrained from making reference to Geneva issue at all in his lengthy statement to the nation on Oct. 28, 2018. President dealt with circumstances leading to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s dismissal as Prime Minister though no reference was made to Geneva imbroglio. President Sirisena found fault with Wickremesinghe for many issues, from treasury bond scams to selling of state assets, except Sri Lanka’s accountability process. It would be pertinent to mention that President Sirisena did nothing officially since Samaraweera co-sponsored Resolution 30/1 to reverse the Geneva process though he assured the nation that foreign interventions wouldn’t be allowed as long as he held the presidency.

Australia’s denial of visa to Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage in late 2016 on the basis of war crimes alleged to have committed by the 59 Division on the Vanni east front in 2009 exposed the failure on the part of Sri Lanka to defend her armed forces.

In fact, Wickremesinghe’s successor Mahinda Rajapaksa or other spokesmen for the new government desisted from blaming the UNP for the accountability process though former External Affairs Minister and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris flayed the UNP over the opaque constitution making project. Addressing the media at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) last Sunday (Nov 4), Prof. Peiris strongly criticized the ongoing constitution making process while warning of dire consequences in case of full implementation of the Geneva Resolution.

However, co-government spokesman and Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe at the first post-cabinet media briefing at the Government Information Department on Oct.29 quoted President Sirisena as having assured foreign envoys on the previous day the new government’s commitment to national reconciliation process. Obviously, Samarasinghe’s reference was to the Geneva-led process and therefore it would be pertinent to examine the entire gamut of issues leading to the co-sponsorship of the Oct 1 resolution.

Ven Abeytissa’s advice

Having assumed duties as Finance and Economic Affairs Minister, PM Mahinda Rajapaksa, on Oct 29, amidst the blessings of the Maha Sangha, received advice from Ven. Dr. Medagoda Abeytissa Thera, Chief Incumbent of the Sunethra Maha Devi Pirivena. The Ven Thera said: "You have only one agreement. That agreement is with the people. You have no agreement with politicians, various cliques groups and Diaspora. People expect you to resume your programme terminated in 2015. I wish you strength to take the country forward."

Scholar monk Ven Abeytissa played a significant role in ‘Eliya’ organization, one of the outfits formed after the change of government to back wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

PM Rajapaksa, No 02 in the new government, shouldn’t forgot the circumstances leading to the then SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena switching his allegiance to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in late Nov 2014. PM Rajapaksa and his supporters as well as Sirisena-Rajapaksa dispensation should closely examine the 2010-2015 period to ensure they do not repeat past wrongdoings. The bottom line is that the new administration cannot under any circumstances afford to resume the programme rejected in January 2015.

Having brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May 2009, the previous administration behaved irresponsibly thereby creating a perfect environment for interested foreign powers to exploit discontented political parties here to influence the electorate. Their candidate Maithripala Sirisena succeeded, in January 2015, though Gen. Fonseka failed, five years before, by a staggering 1.8mn vote margin.

The new dispensation should address major issues which caused the downfall of the Rajapaksa administration. The Rajapaksas suffered a debilitating setback for want of cohesive strategy to address accountability issues. Their scandalous mishandling of the Geneva situation facilitated a despicable political project that overwhelmed Sri Lanka in late 2014. Years after the conclusion of the war, Wikileaks revealed how the US had intervened, in the political project, to form a UNP-led coalition in 2015. The US role in forcing the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to throw its weight behind Fonseka, in spite of accusing the SLA of widespread human rights violations, is in the public domain. The fact that the then US Ambassador Patricia Butenis, in a classified missive to Washington, accused Fonseka of war crimes, did not deter the US from backing the General to the hilt.

Even today, those who had been opposed to foreign intervention here do not realize that Western powers brought the TNA into the UNP-led alliance in 2010 and 2015 on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. The Rajapaksa government’s silly response to Western project made things easier for those wanting to haul Sri Lanka before foreign judges. The war-winning government never bothered to prepare a comprehensive defence, utilizing information made available by foreign governments and organizations, including the UN. Instead, Sri Lanka’s ‘defence’ was handed over to various US firms. Perhaps, the Rajapaksa administration wrongly believed the US system could be manipulated through propaganda projects.

Interestingly, the US, on its part, invested heavily in the political change in Sri Lanka, in 2015. No less a person than the then US Secretary of State John Kerry revealed in 2016 US spending USD 585 mn in Nigeria, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. This was in addition to USD 3.4 mn made available to the yahapalana government between the January 2015 presidential and the Aug 2015 parliamentary polls.

The External Affairs Ministry lacked strength to decide, or advice the government, on a strategy to counter war crimes allegations. Then External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, too, failed in his responsibility (2010-2015). Instead of building a strong case, on available information, the war-winning government paid millions of USD to lobbyists, legal and public relations experts through the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) both during and after the war. The External Affairs Ministry facilitated the operation. Some of the payments were made during Rohitha Bogollagama’s tenure as the Foreign Minister (2007-2010). The government never bothered to at least inform the cabinet and parliament about the massive payments made to the US lobbyists.

After the change of the government, in January 2015, the writer sought information as regards those controversial payments from the then Governor, Singaporean Arjuna Mahendran, in the wake of the first treasury bond scam perpetrated on the afternoon of Feb. 2015. Mahendran revealed there had been million dollar payments, channeled through the CBSL, between May and November 2014. The writer asked Mahendran as to why the UNP didn’t really go after the previous government over there US payments especially in the wake of criticism of the first treasury bond scam. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government that had been embroiled in the first treasury bond scam, perpetrated the second one in 2016 March. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government never conducted a proper investigation into the US payment scam, which cost the Sri Lanka taxpayer dearly.

The Rajapaksa government never acknowledged undisclosed payments made to US firms, in addition to some British firms. To-date, payments made to lobbyists, legal and public relations firms for work done in respect accountability issues and image building exercises, remain a secret.

The civil society organizations, too, refrained from commenting on such scandalous payments.

Perhaps, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, or those who backed Sirisena at the 2015 presidential poll weren’t comfortable in attacking the Rajapaksa government over squandering public funds.

Perhaps, the new government should make a full disclosure on such payments or the UNP should forcefully raise the issue, both in and outside parliament.

A new strategy needed

Dr. Sarath Leelananda Bandara Amunugama veteran civil servant and politician who had served both the UNP, the SLFP-led People’s Alliance and SLFP led UPFA received the vital foreign ministry portfolio following the constitutional coup that brought an end to Wickremesinghe’s rule in late Oct 2018. The top retired public servant with experience in serving the UNESCO, Amunugama is the fourth to hold the foreign ministry portfolio, since January 2015.

Now, it would be Dr. Amunugama’s responsibility in convincing the new government to take appropriate measures to have original unsubstantiated allegations inquired into without delay. In fact, proper investigation should be the new dispensation’s priority. Instead of opposing international assistance/interventions, Sri Lanka should secure their backing to establish the truth. Dr. Amunugama can receive comprehensive briefing as regards the Geneva issue from newly appointed Foreign Secretary, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, who functioned as Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva at the time Sri Lanka co-sponsored Geneva Resolution 30/1.

Ambassador Aryasinha held the post of Additional Secretary/ Economic Affairs and Trade in the Foreign Ministry since April 2018. Perhaps, Dr. Amunugama should receive comprehensive briefing from Aryasinha as regards reasons for Sri Lanka rejecting the Geneva proposals at a meeting called by Sri Lanka Core Group about 10 days before Sri Lanka co-sponsored it. It would be a grave mistake to hold Minister Samaraweera responsible for co-sponsoring the Geneva Resolution, instead of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government.

Key UNP strategist and Matara District MP Mangala Samaraweera headed the Foreign Ministry (2015 January to 2017 May), UNP Assistant leader and Colombo District MP Ravi Karunanayake (2017 May to 2017 Aug) and UNP National List MP Tilak Marapana, PC (2017 Aug to 2018 Oct).

Current Foreign Minister Dr. Amunugama (UPFA National List), who served the yahapalana administration from its inception should examine the following (1) Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka released on March 31 2011,(2) US Defence Advisor Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith’s explosive declaration in Colombo at the first defence seminar organized by the SLA in early June 2011 (3) Amnesty International publication ‘When will they get justice?: Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission released in September 2011 (4) the entire set of WikiLeaks cables pertaining to Sri Lanka (5) Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian Peace Efforts 1997-2009 (6) a letter wartime Norwegian Ambassador Tore Hattrem wrote to the then influential MP and presidential advisor, Basil Rajapaksa. The following is the text of Ambassador Hattrem’s letter dated Feb 16 2009 addressed to Basil Rajapaksa: "I refer to our telephone conversation today. The proposal to the LTTE on how to release the civilian population, now trapped in the LTTE controlled area, has been transmitted to the LTTE through several channels. So far, there has been, regrettably, no response from the LTTE and it doesn’t seem to be likely that the LTTE will agree with this in the near future."

At the onset of Marapana’s tenure, Lord Naseby gave Sri Lanka the required ‘ammunition’ to counter war crimes allegations - deliberate killing of 40,000 civilians by indiscriminate shelling of ‘no fire zones, hospitals and makeshift medical facilities and denial of humanitarian assistance to those trapped there.

The writer sincerely hopes Dr. Amunugama will spend time studying Lord Naseby’s revelations made available to President Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa some time ago.

Having obtained a part of wartime (January-May 2009) British High Commission, Colombo dispatches in May 2016, in terms of the Freedom of Information Act(2000), Lord Naseby strengthened Sri Lanka’s defence. Lord Naseby successfully secured the Information Commissioner’s intervention after Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) turned down his request for Colombo dispatches submitted to FCO on Nov 6 2014. For almost three years FCO suppressed information that could have shielded Sri Lanka in Geneva. The British deliberately resorted to such despicable action to pave the way for Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution following the change of government. Let me point out that the then SLFP General Secretary Sirisena switched allegiance to the UNP less than three weeks after Lord Naseby sought the FCO disclosure of wartime dispatches.

Lord Naseby’s Nov 6 2014 request to FCO: "Details of the dispatches written by Colonel Anton Gash, the Defence Attaché of the British High Commission in Sri Lanka, to the UK Foreign Office during the period of January 2009 to May 2009. These dispatches described his assessment of what he had seen during this period of the Sri Lankan civil war."

Marapana, in spite of assuring parliament, in late Nov 2017 that Lord Naseby revelations would be used appropriately, refrained from taking it up in Geneva. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe dispensation couldn’t interfere with Geneva project primarily because of its commitment to foreign judges, in the Sri Lanka judicial mechanism, to probe war crimes. The tripartite agreement on foreign judges was revealed by TNA heavyweight M.A. Sumanthiran in Washington in June 2016. Jaffna District MP Sumanthiran’s statement was made available to the writer by TNA leader R. Sampanthan’s Office with a request to publish it.

Sumanthiran declared that they had reached a tripartite consensus in respect of foreign judges, defence attorneys, investigators, etc., in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism under the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 adopted unanimously.

Attorney-at-law Sumanthiran told an American ‘Congressional Caucus for Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka’, in Washington, that the government of Sri Lanka, the TNA and the US had been involved in the negotiations leading to the agreement.

The declaration was made in the presence of Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Washington, Prasad Kariyawasam. Ambassador Aryasinha succeeded Kariyawasam just before President Sirisena moved against Wickremesinghe.

MP Sumanthiran revealed that the resolution was moved in Geneva following an understanding that the participation of foreigners wouldn’t be contrary to Sri Lanka’s Constitution. Declaring that he had been personally involved in the negotiations, with the United States of America also participating in that particular process, Sumanthiran said: "There were some doubts created, as to whether the Constitution of Sri Lanka would allow for foreign nationals to function as judges and we went into that question, clarified it, and said yes they can".

Sumanthiran told the Congressional Caucus that the resolution adopted in Geneva, had been negotiated and they settled for a hybrid model though they originally asked for an international inquiry.

The TNA didn’t find fault with The Island coverage of the issue. The government, too, didn’t dispute the reportage.

In the wake of PM Rajapaksa being advised to resume his programme, terminated in 2015, it would be pertinent to mention that Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for past blunders of its leaders. Mahinda Rajapaksa is no exception. The unpardonable refusal to enact the National Audit Bill for over a decade paved the way for corrupt politicians and officials to rob the national economy, enactment of 18th Amendment in early September 2010 in the wake of Mahinda Rajapaksa securing a second presidential term, impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake in January 2013, Kandy night races held in spite of objections by Mahanayakes, and waste, corruption and irregularities at an unprecedented scale at national carrier SriLankan Airlines during Nishantha Wickremesinghe’s tenure ruined the then government. At the time President Sirisena appointed Presidential Commission of Inquiry on SriLankan and Mihin Lanka inviting Mahinda Rajapaksa to take over premiership would have been the last thing on his mind. Perhaps, Sri Lanka should have a ‘Truth Commission’ to enable political parties to acknowledge past blunders and explore what went wrong. Brazen manipulation of parliament must stop forthwith. No less a person than President Sirisena on Oct 28, 2018 accused parliament of deliberately delaying CIABOC investigation into treasury bond scams.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Change of premiership and other matters

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 242

 

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Newly appointed Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa congratulating new Education and Higher Education Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa, PC, one of the four elected on the UNP ticket at the last parliamentary polls in August 2015 to join the Sirisena-Rajapaksa administration. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse quit the SLFP-led UPFA during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first tenure (2005-2010) as the President (Pic by Sudath Silva)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Justice Minister Thalatha Atukorale profusely appreciated Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for accommodating her in the 10-member Constitutional Council (CC).

The UNPer declared that she was the first woman named to the CC, chaired by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya - elected from the Gampaha District at the 2015 August parliamentary polls. Parliament and political parties constituted the first CC by way of enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

The Ratnapura District MP said so at a Sirikotha meeting on the morning of Oct 12, 2018. Atukorale said that she had to leave the Sirikotha meeting early to attend a CC meeting to decide on the next Chief Justice. The CC recommended Nalin Perera, a career judge, fourth in line for the top job. President Maithripala Sirisena endorsed that appointment.

Obviously, Atukorale hadn’t been aware of one-time Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, Radhika Coomaraswamy, being a civil society member of the CC until late Sept., 2018. Coomaraswamy functioned as the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict from 2006 until her retirement in 2012.

 Attorney-at-law Atukorale, a leading member of the UNP, obviously hadn’t been interested in the CC. Had she been, she couldn’t have missed Coomaraswamy’s role in the CC where she served it as one of the three civil society representatives.

 Coomaraswamy, before her term here ended as CC member, in Sept, 2018, flayed Myanmar’s political and military leaderships for the current situation there. Coomaraswamy joined hands with Marzuki Darusman and Christopher Sidoti to call for war crimes probe targeting Myanmar. The call was made on behalf of the UN. Marzuki Darusman, one time Attorney General of Indonesia, is no stranger to Sri Lankans. Darusman spearheaded the UN project, targeting Sri Lanka, leading to the hotly disputed Panel of Experts (PoE) Report put out in late March 2011.

A section of the international media quoted Coomaraswamy as having said at the launch of the UN report on Myanmar: "The scale, brutality, and systematic nature of rape and violence indicate that they are part of a deliberate strategy to intimidate, terrorize, or punish the civilian population. "They’re used as a tactic of war that we found, include rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, forced nudity and mutilations."

How could our Justice Minister completely miss Coomaraswamy’s role in the CC when such statements were made? 

When the writer queried Justice Ministry media on the afternoon of Oct 12, 2018, as to how Atukorale didn’t know there had been a woman on the CC before her inclusion, courtesy Wickremesinghe, the ministry issued an amended statement in which Atukorale described herself as the first woman parliamentarian to serve the CC. But, the original video is clear. Atukorale really believed she is the first woman on the CC. The original CC comprised Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Opposition Leader R Sampanthan, President Sirisena’s nominee Patali Champika Ranawaka, Prime Minister’s choice Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse (subsequently WR was replaced by Tilak Marapana), Opposition Leader’s nomination John Seneviratne, Parliament’s nomination Vijitha Herath and civil society members, Coomaraswamy, A.T. Ariyaratne and the late Shibly Aziz, Attorney General 1995-1996.

Atukorale predecessor Wijeyadasa Rajapakse quit the CC in late Dec 2017 after losing the Justice and Buddha Sasana portfolios in late Aug 2017. Rajapakse earned the wrath of Wickremesinghe by publicly criticizing the handing over of the Hambantota Port, on a 99-year lease, to China. Rajapaksa was also accused of shielding the Rajapaksas. The President’s Counsel is on record as having alleged that his removal was meant to sweep the mega treasury bond scams under the carpet.

Interestingly, Rajapakse was replaced in the CC by National List MP Tilak Marapana who quit the Law and Order portfolio, in early Nov 2015, following accusations of his involvement with Avant Garde Maritime Services (AGMS) that is alleged to have received privileged status under the Rajapaksas. Some of his ministerial colleagues accused him of protecting AGMS owned by retired Army Commando Maj. Nissanka Senadhipathy.

On the night of Monday (Oct. 29) UNPer Wijeyadasa Rajapake retained his cabinet portfolio - Education and Higher Education. Rajapakse was among four UNPers, Wasantha Senanayake (Minister of Tourism and Wildlife), Suresh Vadivel (State Minister of Plantation Industries) and Ananda Aluthgamage (Deputy Minister of Tourism and Wildlife) to join the Sirisena-Rajapaksa administration. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse quit the SLFP-led UPFA during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first tenure (2005-2010) as the President.

Following Marapana’s resignation, the former Attorney General was quoted as having told the media: "I never interfered with the ongoing investigations. But there is a doubt among people and parliamentarians that the Police investigations are being affected because of me. That’s why I decided to resign from my ministerial portfolio."

Those who found fault with Marapana for allegedly representing the interests of AGMS did not oppose him on the CC - the highest body responsible for making recommendations for all independent commissions in addition to key appointments to the Supreme Court, Courtof Appeal, etc.

Now, Marapana has been succeeded by Atukorale who didn’t at least know the composition of the original CC.

Second CC in turmoil

Having repeatedly alleged that he would have been buried by the Rajapaksas if defeated at the 2015 January presidential election, President Sirisena last Friday appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister. Wickremesinghe has strongly challenged the Sirisena-Rajapaksa move, vowing to prove his majority in parliament. In spite of rhetoric, the UPFA wouldn’t find it easy to prove they have a majority in parliament. However, the coming showdown in parliament could result in a debilitating setback for one party and one emerging victorious, the CC will be in dilemma as regards the status of the Prime Minister.

As far as President Sirisena is concerned, Wickremesinghe is no longer the Prime Minister with effect from Oct. 26 and therefore he didn’t belong to the CC.  At the time of Friday’s stunning move, the Second CC comprised Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan, President Sirisena’s nominee Mahinda Samarasinghe, Parliament’s nominee Bimal Ratnayake, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s nominee Thalatha Atukorale, Opposition Leader Sampanthan’s nominee Chamal Rajapaksa and three civil society nominees, Jayantha Dhanapala, Javid Yusuf and Naganathan Sellvakumaran. With President Sirisena recognizing twice President Rajapaksa as Premier, he is automatically a member of the CC.

The Constitutional Council/Parliament will have to decide whether Thalatha Atukorale can continue as the PM’s nominee as Wickremesinghe no longer holds that position.

It would be pertinent to mention that some decisions, taken at the last CC meeting on the afternoon of Oct 25, before President Sirisena divorced the UNP, didn’t go down well with President Sirisena. Having met at 1.30 pm, the CC announced the endorsement of two of the four names recommended to the Supreme Court by the Office of the President. The CC also approved one of the four names recommended by the Office of the President as judges of the Court of Appeal.

Appointments to the CC are effective for a period of three years.

In case the Sirisena-Rajapaksa duo manage to prove their simple majority, in parliament, next month and the UNP is forced to recognize Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister, the CC will find a different environment to work in. In the event they succeed, the TNA will lead the Opposition Leader’s post. In that case, the Constitutional Council/Parliament may have to decide on the Opposition Leader’s nominee, currently Chamal Rajapaksa.

Among the Second CC are two persons - Jayantha Dhanapala (former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs (1998-2003) and Javid Yusuf (attorney-at-law and former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia) who was involved in the Norway-led peace process that led to all-out war in August 2006. Norway finalized the Ceasefire Agreement between Sri Lanka and the LTTE on Feb 21, 2002 close on the heels of the LTTE attempt to assassinate President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who was having talks with the group. Yusuf functioned as the Director General of the Muslim Peace Secretariat at that time. The Muslim Peace Secretariat struggled to secure the LTTE’s consent to participate in the Norway-mediated talks overseas and to tackle problems faced by the community, especially those driven out of the Northern Province during Ranasinghe Premadasa’s presidency.

Dhanapala headed the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) tasked with coordinating, facilitating, and strengthening the Norway-led peace process. Dhanapala, a retired career Foreign Service officer, succeeded B.A.B. Gunatilleke as SCOPP chief in 2004.

The writer believes of all those who appeared before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), Dhanapala, made the two most important recommendations on the subject of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the controversial issue of responsibility to protect concept.

The writer was among the media present at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS) to cover Dhanapala’s presentation. It was named in memory of our late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar assassinated by the LTTE in 2005 Aug. Today, it is called the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute (LKI).

Dhanapala asserted that IHL should not apply to Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE and that a conventional army couldn’t be bound by IHL in fighting a terrorist organization.

Sri Lanka paid a huge price for the previous government’s failure to properly examine accountability issues and also neglecting its responsibilities in this regard. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combination in October 2015 treacherously co-sponsored the Resolution against Sri Lanka, thereby paving the way for direct Western intervention in the constitutional making process.

Impact on Constitutional making process

 President Sirisena and Kurunegala District MP Rajapaksa made their surprise move ahead of the presentation of the second interim draft, prepared by the Steering Committee tasked with preparing a draft constitutional proposal for Sri Lanka. With President proroguing parliament the interim draft cannot be presented to parliament on Nov 5 as planned. Parliament will meet again on Nov 16.

Wickremesinghe in his capacity as the head of the Steering Committee, was scheduled to present the report to the Constituent Assembly. Now that President Sirisena has unceremoniously sacked Wickremesinghe, who would be at the helm of the Steering Committee to lead the constitution making process? Having repeatedly berated the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo for giving into Western and Indian pressure to introduce constitutional changes, Rajapaksa will find it extremely difficult to continue with the process. It would be pertinent to mention that the National Freedom Front (NFF) quit the Constituent Assembly in July last year claiming the process posed a grave threat to Sri Lanka’s unitary status. However, Wimal Weerawansa’s NFF couldn’t convince Rajapaksa to quit the Constituent Assembly as well as the Steering Committee. Two Joint Opposition seniors serve the Steering Committee. Against the backdrop of the UPFA factions shedding their differences, it would be interesting to see whether they seek a consensus on the constitution making process. In spite of the NFF quitting the Constituent Assembly, the UNP continued with the project though the Constituent Assembly should consists of all 225 elected and appointed lawmakers.

The NFF parliamentary group, in a letter to Speaker Jayasuriya, said: "As per the motion passed in Parliament for the setting up of the Constituent Assembly, it is mandatory that all MPs in Parliament become its members. When we leave the assembly, that condition is violated and the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly is now in question. We hope the Speaker would inform Parliament that the legality of the Constituent Assembly is now in question with our exit."

"We, as representatives of the public, accept the call by Mahanayakes of all three chapters that the present situation is not suitable for a new constitution or amending the constitution. The Mahanayakes conveyed that message to the government, all MPs and the general public in a statement dated July 04, 2017.

 The writer raised the issue with the Joint Opposition, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna as well as Yuthuma organization. Their spokesmen steadfastly asserted that they should remain in the constitutional making process. JO heavyweight Bandula Gunawardena once told the writer that the decision to remain in the Constituent Assembly and the Steering Committee had been taken at a meeting chaired by Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Nationalist Groups backing Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, believe that the JO should have quit Wickremesinghe’s project along with the NFF. Against the backdrop of the complete change in the political environment, President Sirisena and Premier Rajapaksa will have to review the UPFA’s stand on the constitution making process.

In terms of the Geneva Resolutions 30/1 and 34/1, Sri Lanka will have to fulfill obligations in relation to accountability issues by March 2019 Geneva session.

Now, it would be the responsibility of President Sirisena and Premier Rajapaksa to take tangible measures to clear Sri Lanka of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. Both the Rajapaksas and the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for depriving Sri Lanka of best possible defence much to the disappointment of the people who enjoyed genuine peace.

US-led Western powers and India went to the extent of facilitating the change of government in January 2015 as part of their overall strategy to do away with the Rajapaksas relationship with China. They achieved success in January 2015 after experiencing defeat in January 2010 when General Sarath Fonseka lost badly.

Will they simply allow President Sirisena’s move to jeopardize a high profile project in which interested parties invested millions of USD. Bringing the constitution making project to a successful conclusion will certainly offset the battlefield debacle the LTTE suffered on the Vanni east front with its bloody end militarily at Nandikadal in May, nearly a decade ago.

Former UNHRC Chief Zeid-Hussein, at the 32 session of the Geneva sessions, on June 28, 2016, dealt extensively with Sri Lanka. The former Jordanian career diplomat, in a statement captioned ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’, explained, in no uncertain terms, what Geneva expected Sri Lanka to do.

 Let me reproduce verbatim what Zeid-Hussein stated in his June 28, 2016, address in Geneva:

* "Significant momentum has been achieved in the process of constitutional reform. On 10 March 2016, Parliament adopted a resolution establishing a constitutional assembly to draft and approve a new constitution or amendments by the end of 2016, which would then be put to a referendum in 2017. The drafting process has benefited from an inclusive public consultation process overseen by a Public Representations Committee that received submissions and held district level consultations in the first quarter of 2016."

* "From a human rights perspective, the constitutional reform process presents an important opportunity to rectify structural deficiencies that contributed to human rights violations and abuses in the past and reinforce guarantees of non-recurrence. These could include a more comprehensive Bill of Rights, stronger institutional checks and balances, enhanced constitutional review, improved guarantees for the independence of the judiciary, effective individual complaints mechanisms and greater direct enforceability of international human rights treaty. Also, as demonstrated by other countries’ experience, is the strengthening of civilian oversight over the military in the form of multiple oversight and accountability mechanisms over defense policy, discipline and promotion, budgeting and procurement. The new Constitution will also be important in facilitating the establishment of the transitional justice mechanisms envisaged by the Government, for instance the criminalization of international crimes in national law or allowing for the involvement of international judicial personnel. At the same time, the High Commissioner hopes that the political process of adopting constitutional changes will not involve tradeoffs and compromises on core issues of accountability, transitional justice and human rights."

Sri Lanka needs to be watchful and move swiftly and decisively to obliterate allegations with real evidence and accept responsibility for individual battlefield excesses in case there were any during the eelam war IV (2006 – 2009). Taking up Lord Naseby’s revelations in Geneva can be the first step in a daunting task, something Sri Lanka cannot afford not to do. Strategic thinking is necessary as Sri Lanka has already fulfilled some of the key measures prescribed by Geneva, including Office for Missing Persons and Office for Reparations.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Did RAW eye Prez, ex-Defence Secy?

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 241

 

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Just hours after Ports and Shipping Minister and SLFP spokesman Mahinda Samarasinghe last Thursday (Oct.18) categorically denied Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) role in an assassination plot, targeting President Maithripala Sirisena, Shiral Lakthilaka, one of the closest associates of Sirisena, reiterated serious concerns over the Sri Lankan leader’s safety and security.

Samarasinghe cleared India of any involvement, whatsoever, in a plot allegedly hatched by former head of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), interdicted DIG Nalaka Silva, at a packed media conference at the SLFP party office on T. B. Jayah Mawatha. Lakthikala, a former UNP Provincial Councillor and civil society activist, addressed the media at Hotel Nippon, Slave Island. One-time UNP National List MP, former Ambassador in Berlin and ex-Sirasa employee, Sarath Kongahage sat next to Lakthilaka.

The alleged assassination controversy takes place amidst Sri Lanka’s refusal to allow Indian takeover of the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port as well as President Sirisena’s opposition to Indian role in the development of the Palaly Airport.

Lakthilaka declared that Sirisena took undisclosed security measures against the backdrop of police informant Namal Kumara who revealed the alleged assassination attempt on Sept 13, 2018. It would be pertinent to mention that Samarasinghe didn’t make reference to the threat on former Defence Secretary Gothabhaya Rajapaksa, as claimed by Namal Kumara. Namal Kumara is on record as having said that DIG Nalaka Silva expressed fears of Sirisena and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa getting together in the run up the to the forthcoming national elections.

"The president has taken the threat very seriously," Lakthilaka told reporters in Colombo. "The president’s security has been increased."

Lakthilaka quoted Sirisena as having told his cabinet of ministers of local media reports about the involvement of an Indian intelligence agency. "He did not name the agency."

The Nippon briefing, too, was organized by the Presidential Media Division (PMD). It would be pertinent to mention that Kongahage, currently Chairman of the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI), too, functions as an advisor to the President.

Less than 24 hours before the media briefings given by Samarasinghe, and the Lakthilaka and Kongahage duo, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Office announced receiving an assurance from President Sirisena that he categorically rejected the reports in sections of media about him alluding to the involvement of India in any manner whatsoever in an alleged plot to assassinate the President and a former Defence Secretary of Sri Lanka (Gotabhaya Rajapaksa).

The PM’s Office said: "He (President Sirisena) mentioned that the mischievous and malafide reports were utterly baseless and false, and seemed intended to create misunderstanding between the two leaders as well as damage the cordial relations between the two friendly neighbours.

"The President apprised the Prime Minister of the urgent steps taken by him personally and the Government of Sri Lanka to publicly reject these reports."

The bottom line is that Presidential Advisors Lakthilaka and Kongahage had basically confirmed media reports pertaining to the assassination attempt on President Sirisena, a day after Cabinet spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, the Foreign Ministry and SLFP spokesman Mahinda Samarasinghe denied Indian involvement.

Although, the government tried, desperately, to reject reports of President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe exchanging words over the former’s refusal to allow Indian take over of the East Container Terminal, at the cabinet meeting, an unprecedented ‘battle’ took place, causing irreparable damage to their fragile relationship.

In fact, the writer had to remind Minister Samarasinghe, at last Thursday’s media briefing, that those denying any Indian involvement had conveniently forgotten that an Indian, in his forties, is in custody in terms of the Prevention of Terrorist Act (PTA). Samarasinghe was also told of DIG Nalaka Silva, former head of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), being interdicted following Namal Kumara’s shocking claims.

Speaking of those who had disputed the credibility of reports, pertaining to the threat on President Sirisena’s life, Lakthilaka said: "They try to play the role of judge and jury both and create an opinion which suits their agenda. They did not want to allow the CID investigations to be concluded."

The Hindu has emphasized that it stood by its original story thereby contradicted denials issued by SLFP spokesman Minister Samarasinghe, the Cabinet Office and the Foreign Ministry. Did President Sirisena really believe his life is in danger?

The writer personally doesn’t think of RAW role in the current situation but nothing can be ruled out until a thorough inquiry is carried out. The investigation must be conducted with the past RAW record here in mind.

RAW project through the eyes of Thamilini

India established RAW in 1968 in the wake of the disastrous Indo-China border war, four years before. Having realized how the intelligence failure contributed to India’s 1962 defeat, New Delhi worked tirelessly to meet the Asian giant’s covert and overt objectives. Primarily meant to counter India’s powerful adversaries China and Pakistan, RAW played a major role in ‘destabilization the Sri Lanka project’ in the 80s. Those who had authorized that project wouldn’t have taken into the consideration the possibility of their monstrous creation killing the very person largely responsible for the situation. The LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991, in Tamil Nadu.

Subramaniam Sivakamy, 43, or Thamilini Jayakumaran, formerly a senior cadre of the LTTE seven years following the LTTE’s humiliating battle-field defeat, completed her memoirs though she couldn’t release it before succumbing to cancer on Oct 18, 2015. Having participated in several LTTE operations against the Sri Lankan military, ‘Colonel’ Thamilini headed the LTTE Political Wing at the time she surrendered to the military. She was held in Welikada prison for three years, before being moved to the Poonthottam rehabilitation camp, in the western part of the Vanni. She was released to her family in June 2013. In her memoirs, published by Jeyakumar, her husband, a British citizen of Sri Lankan origin, with the support of Gamini Viyangoda and Dharmasiri Bandaranayake of Purawesi Balaya in March 2016, the top LTTEer dealt with an alleged RAW attempt to eliminate LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The LTTE executed the LTTE’s No 02, Mahattaya over the alleged RAW plot. Thamilini quoted senior LTTE cadres as having told the cadre how commander Sornam had arrested Mahattaya at the latter’s base at Manipay, in the Jaffna peninsula, for being involved in a RAW - engineered assassination plot.

Thamilini also explained how the LTTE changed projects launched by Mahattaya, in his capacity as the Deputy Leader of the organization. The LTTE transformed PFLT (People’s Front of Liberation Tigers), the political unit to Political Section, and it was placed under S.P. Thamilselvam, the then Special Commander in the Jaffna peninsula. The LTTE also disbanded a special study group, comprising 50 persons, formed by Mahattaya. Members of the disbanded group had been attached to other sections.

According to Thamilini, a base set up by Mahattaya at Kokuvil, in the Jaffna peninsula, for the PFLT, had been placed under the command of Thamilselvam, the new leader of the Political Section. Thamilini discussed how members of the PFLT/Political Section had served the fighting formation. The RAW obviously, felt that Prabhakaran obstructed its grand strategy in Sri Lanka; hence attempts were made to assassinate the LTTE leader. According to Thamilini, the Indian Intelligence agency had conspired to get Mahattaya to shoot dead Prabhakaran, and another LTTEer, identified as Kiruban, to kill Mahattaya in turn, thereby paving the way for the latter to take over the leadership. Kiruban was described as a RAW agent who pretended that he managed to escape from Indian custody though in reality Indian authorities released him to carry out the operation to eliminate Prabhakaran.

The LTTE ‘officially’ revealed the RAW operation at the opening of the Kodikamam memorial for those men and women killed in battle with the military. Although many believed Prabhakaran would attend the event, finally, it was LTTE Intelligence Chief Pottu Amman who declared open the memorial. The fighting cadre was also told how Mahattaya went out of his way to win hearts and minds of the members in a bid to fulfill the RAW objectives.

Thamilini also dealt with how the LTTE targeted those who had been suspected of having been part of Mahattaya’s conspiracy.  Alleging involvement in the conspiracy, the LTTE had detained many senior and experienced combat cadres. Thamilini recalled an LTTE Intelligence wing cadre at the then Political School, in the Jaffna peninsula, declaring charges against a group of senior cadres in their custody over the RAW plot. She remembered one of the detained as Suseelan who commandeered a T-55 main battle tank during the battle for Pooneryn, in early Nov 1993. Thamilini acknowledged that such a fighter couldn’t have gone against the leadership.

Assassination of Jaffna MPs

The RAW can never absolve itself of creating the monstrous Tamil terrorism movement which also claimed the life of Rajiv Gandhi and over 1,200 Indian Army officers and men. Sri Lanka never made a genuine attempt to examine the role played by RAW throughout the conflict and post-conflict period.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Jaffna District MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan told this writer, many years ago, how his father V. Dharmalingham (Manipay MP) and another MP M. Alalasunderam were abducted and killed by TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization) in late Sept,1985 at the behest of RAW. Dharmalingham said the RAW assassinated them to weaken the Jaffna political leadership, to strengthen armed groups and also to increase its influence over negotiations between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamils. Dharmalingham, as the political leader of the PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam), discussed RAW operations directed at Tamil political parties here, with the writer, years after his party entered the political mainstream.

Sri Lanka needs to examine the Indian role here thoroughly, and the proposed project to record Sri Lanka’s war history should definitely take into consideration the Indian hand here. If not for India, there wouldn’t have been a war here though Tamil armed groups could have caused some nuisance. But, India transformed largely a domestic problem to an international security issue.

The reportage of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s recently concluded visit to New Delhi revealed that the Modi Government is keen on securing the East Terminal regardless of President Sirisena’s declaration that it wouldn’t be handed over to any party under any circumstances. India and the UNP seem continuing with the Palaly Airport modernization project though Civil Aviation and Transport Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, on behalf of President Sirisena, repeatedly said that the Palaly project would be handled by the government and its new runway would be handled by the Air Force.

The high profile Indian project to exploit terrorism in Sri Lanka to influence the country resulted in massive death and destruction. Having lost control of its own project, India struggled to cope with the monstrous organizations created by her intelligence service - one of them; the LTTE took on the Indian Army in Oct 1987. In spite of the LTTE going back on the Indo-Lanka Accord, Indian intelligence still worked with the group. It would be interesting to investigate the failure on the part of the RAW to thwart suicide missions, originating in northern Sri Lanka.

Former UNP MP’s claim

One-time UNP MP J. Sri Ranga, appearing on Sirasa Dawasa, hosted by Buddika Wickremadhara, on Oct 18, 2018, flayed India for its intervention in Sri Lanka. Pointing out that the conspiracy wouldn’t have come to light if not for police informant Namal Kumara spilling the beans, Ranga asserted that the threat to the lives of President Sirisena, former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was real.

Referring to a statement issued by the Indian High Commissioner, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, in the wake of the arrest of an Indian allegedly involved in the conspiracy, Ranga asked Wickremadhara and Sydney Chandrasekera, the third participant in the programme, whether they had ever heard of an arrested person described as a mental patient. Ranga questioned the circumstances under which the Indian High Commissioner Sandhu issued a statement claiming the arrested person had a history of mental illness since 2000.

"Taking a serious note of the matter and acting on limited information provided to us by Sri Lankan authorities, we immediately alerted Indian counterparts to conduct a background check of the said individual", a High Commission communiqué said. According to the HC, the arrested person has had a history of mental disturbance since 2000.

The police arrested the Indian while he was visiting the Warakapola home of Namal Kumara late last month.

Ranga directly accused Sandhu, who had earlier served in Colombo as the Head of the Political Wing in the High Commission of India, Colombo, from December 2000 to September 2004, of interfering in a domestic affairs. The former MP recalled Sandhu intervening in political battle between the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe in the wake of the signing of the Norway-run Ceasefire Agreement. Ranga alleged Sandhu intervened in the Kumaratunga take-over of three ministries held by UNP Ministers. Nirupam Sen had been the Indian High Commissioner (2002-2004) in Colombo at that time. Ranga asked Wickremadhara whether the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in New Delhi could intervene in a domestic political issue there. The former MP also claimed that Sandhu intervened to save Premier Wickremesinghe from the Joint Opposition moved No Confidence Motion against the UNP Leader in April this year over his alleged involvement in treasury bond scams in 2015 and 2016.

Ranga alleged that Sri Lanka had never benefited from agreements with India. India pursued policies inimical to Sri Lanka, Ranga said, pointing out that the Indian now in custody was an Indian Tamil. Had the conspiracy been brought to a successful conclusion, it would have conveniently blamed the assassination/assassinations on the killing of someone some time ago. Had the LTTE been around, the conspirators would have taken advantage of the situation. The presence would have made it easier for them, the former MP charged. Basically the programme blamed India for, current plight of Sri Lanka, as well as being covertly responsible for the change of the 2015 Rajapaksa administration.

Ranga twice stressed that Shamindra Ferdinando, News Editor of The Island, couldn’t bear when he (Ranga) blamed the Indian High Commission/High Commissioner Sandhu. The writer sought an opportunity to respond to Ranga, who participated in the programme as a journalist and media personality. Ranga, over the years, made some controversial statements. Some time back, he raised the possibility of the Army using poison gas on the Vanni east front. It would be pertinent to ask Ranga whether he took up war crimes in and outside parliament after having entered parliament in April 2010 on the UNP ticket. Ranga certainly owed an explanation to the Tamil speaking people as to why he switched allegiance to war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa after having entered parliament through the UNP. Ranga joined Mahinda Rajapaksa’s delegation to New York, in Sept 2010, several months after the releasing of the UN PoE report that accused Sri Lankan military of killing at least 40,000 Tamil civilians. The then UNP MP accompanied government delegation, comprising President Rajapaksa, External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris and MP Namal Rajapaksa. In fact, the then government released photographs of the Rajapaksa-led delegation with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and one-time peace facilitator Erik Solheim. Ranga also owed an explanation as regards his inclusion in the UPFA National List at the August 2015 parliamentary polls after the change of government, in January 2015.

The writer challenges the former UNP MP to explain his claim that I couldn’t bear criticism of the Indian High Commission/High Commissioner Sandhu as regards Indian interventions in Sri Lanka. Ranga should be able to point out any articles authored by the writer or statements made on television channels backing Indian policy on Sri Lanka during his 31-year career. India can never absolve itself of culpability for destroying its tiny neighbour. Can India ever forget how Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists (PLOTE) who nearly assassinated the Maldivian President Gayoom in early 1988? Did RAW know about the sea borne PLOTE raid on Male? Could PLOTE have mounted the operation without RAW knowing it? And, finally, who ordered the assassination of PLOTE leader Uma Maheswaran outside the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo? It was Maheswaran who organized the raid on Maldives by two trawler loads of PLOTE cadres.