Tuesday, 29 August 2017

In the absence of monument for IPKF in India...



March 15, 2015: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paying homage to the Indian Army monument at Sri Jayawardenepura, Kotte. Modi is the first Indian leader to pay tribute at the memorial built during the previous Rajapaksa administration.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Lt. Gen. P.M. Hariz, General Officer Commanding (GoC) Southern Command, Indian Army, on the afternoon of Aug. 19, 2017, paid homage at a memorial built for five fallen Indian military personnel, 30 years ago. They were were members of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). The Tamils at that time called IPKF the Indian People Killing Force.

The Sri Lankan Army (SLA) hadn’t been even aware of the existence of the derelict memorial until India brought it to the notice of Sri Lanka, ahead of Lt. Gen. Hariz’s arrival in Jaffna. India wanted Sri Lanka to arrange for the Southern Command delegation to visit the memorial, located in a private land, off Kalviyankaadu, in Kopay.

The three-member Indian delegation, headed by Lt. Gen. Hariz, laid floral wreaths in memory of an officer and four men killed at the hands of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Lt. Gen. Hariz received the latest appointment on Sept. 1, 2016, and last week’s visit to Jaffna was his first. Hariz hadn’t been attached to the Indian Army that caused mayhem in Sri Lanka, though he was a serving junior officer at that time.

The delegation, led by Lt. Gen. Hariz, visited the tomb which the Indian Army put up during its deployment here, after having met Maj. Gen. Darshana Hettiarachchi, Security Forces Commander, Jaffna.

The owner of the marshy land must have been surprised when the SLA informed him of the urgent requirement to clean his property ahead of the commemoration. The memorial, at Kopay, is the second in the Jaffna peninsula, where the Indian Army had suffered substantial losses, in late 1987, to bring Jaffna under its control.

India commenced deploying its Army, in the Jaffna peninsula, immediately after the signing of the Indo-Lanka accord, on July 29, 1987. India brought its military misadventure to an end on March 24, 1990 after the then Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa asked them to withdraw.

In late 2012, India found a long-forgotten memorial put up for those who had been killed in a high profile heli-borne operation mounted in the second week of Oct, 1987, in the Jaffna University premises. The Indian memorial, situated within the Palaly high security zone, remembers 33 Indian soldiers, including Lieut. Col. Arun Kumar Chhabra, killed in action during that heli-borne operation. The ill-fated Indian assault, jointly mounted by Para Commandos and the Sikh Light Infantry, was meant to wipe out the top LTTE leadership believed to be at their tactical headquarters, at Kokuvil, in the Jaffna University.

The Palaly memorial was ceremonially opened in early 2013.

India has now conveniently forgotten that those who had taught Para Commandos and the Sikh Light infantry an unforgettable lesson, were the beneficiaries of Indian military training. Obviously, the Indian military leadership had underestimated the LTTE’s fighting capability. Those who had planned the heli-borne assault believed Para Commandos and the Sikh Light Infantry could comfortably secure the University and swiftly hunt LTTE leaders.

The then Indian High Commissioner, Ashok K. Kantha, requested Sri Lanka to spruce up the memorial soon after the then Indian Consul General in Jaffna, V. Mahalingam, and a team had verified the structure.

India established a Consulate in Jaffna, in Nov 2010. It would be pertinent to mention that India set up the diplomatic mission over a year after the Sri Lankan military brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May 2009. However, the Jaffna peninsula was brought under government control, way back in early 1996.

The Hindu quoted Mahalingham as having said "Some people found it, and they informed us. Initially, we were not sure. But they took a few pictures and sent them to us."

The memorial comprises seven structures and has the names of 33 soldiers, killed in Jaffna battles.

However, it is not clear if all those buried, in Palaly, were from the first battle or from multiple battles.

The Indian Army put up another small memorial, within a Catholic institution called ‘Manresa,’ about two kms out of Batticaloa town. It was erected by retired Maj. Gen. Askok Mehta, who had once commanded the Indian Army, deployed in the Batticaloa and Ampara districts. The writer had contacted Maj. Gen. Mehta on several occasions over the phone during his deployment in Batticaloa. Interestingly, Maj. Gen. Mehta had used ‘Manresa’ in spite of it being a Catholic institution. No one found fault with the Indian Army for using ‘Manresa.’

The Indian Army put up three memorials, at Palaly, Kopay and Batticaloa, whereas the previous government built a monument for the Indian Army at Sri Jayawardenepura, Kotte, in 2008. The first official memorial service was held there (Kotte) on Aug. 15, 2010 with the participation of the then Indian HC Ashok Kantha.

Sri Lanka’s decision to put up a grand monument for the Indian Army, at Kotte, Sri Jayawardenepura, and also allow memorials in the Jaffna peninsula and the East, should be examined against the backdrop of India not having a monument, on its soil, for 1,200 officers and men killed in Sri Lanka.

In fact, the Indian Army refrained from at least putting up a memorial for the Indian Army officers and men killed in Sri Lanka at any of the bases coming under the purview of the Southern Command in India. Instead, Indian political and military leaders pay homage to memorials in Sri Lanka. Why not have a monument of its own for those families, who lost their loved ones in Sri Lankan battlefields, to pay their last respects?

The failure on the part of India to honour the Indian Army that fought in Sri Lanka had never been a political issue with the Indian media, turning a blind eye to the absence of an Indian monument.

Indira Gandhi’s India that started destabilising Sri Lanka in the early 1980s to such an extent that the smaller neighbour had no option but to invite New Delhi to intervene during her son’s rule, militarily. But, Sri Lanka, in spite early setbacks, by late 1986-early 1987, achieved the wherewithal to take on the LTTE in the Jaffna peninsula. India intervened as the SLA engaged in Operation Liberation and was making making progress in the Vadamaratchchy region.

Lt. Gen. P.M. Hariz, in his capacity as GoC, Southern Command, wouldn’t have had the necessity to visit Jaffna, or Trincomalee, if India didn’t intervene in Sri Lanka. For some strange reason, Sri Lankan leaders lacked the courage to state, at a proper forum, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t have ended up in the agenda of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) if not for the Indian destabilization project.

India, didn’t want monuments for Indian Army, in Tamil Nadu, for obvious reasons. Such monuments would constantly remind India of its murderous project in Sri Lanka, leading to the assassination of Congress I leader Rajiv Gandhi under whose watch the Indian Army moved into the Northern and Eastern regions here. The LTTE assassinated Gandhi, in May 1991, over a year after India withdrew its Army in the wake of change of government in New Delhi.

Gandhi would have suffered grievous injuries, in Colombo, on the morning of July 30, 1987, had the naval rating, on a guard of honour, managed to land a blow with his rifle butt on the Indian leader’s head. The attack reflected the armed forces anger at the Indian intervention meant to save the LTTE.

No less a person than one-time Indian Foreign Secretary, the late J.N. Dixit, in his memoirs, ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy’ launched in early 2004, faulted the late Indira Gandhi for Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. However, Dixit, who had been India’s HC, in Colombo, during the Indian Army deployment here, justified the Indian intervention on the basis of the then global geo-political situation. India had been in the Soviet camp at the time of its intervention here and was in line with its overall strategy to thwart possible US military presence here. Today, India and US are best of friends with Israel being a leading weapons supplier to New Delhi.

Indian media love to propagate the lie that the Indian Army moved into Sri Lanka to keep peace but had to fight a war. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Within hours after the signing of the Indo-Lanka accord, Indian Air Force AN 12s and AN 32s began transferring troops from the Southern Command to Palaly air base. The writer, being a trainee reporter then (having joined The Island in June 1987) couldn’t really comprehend what was going on. Unfortunately, 30 years on, most of our politicians seemed to be blind to the crisis as they desperately fight for political power, even at the expense of national interest.

On the first day (July 29, 1987), the Indian Air Force brought in two infantry battalions. Within a week, India deployed a Brigade and by end of August, a Division was in place. Obviously, India believed it could manage with one infantry Division, initially, though by Oct. 1987 there were clear signs that the LTTE was about to renege the accord.

A few days before the signing of the accord, two Indian Air Force helicopters flew in to Jaffna peninsula. They were on a top secret mission to airlift five LTTE terrorists, including its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran for a clandestine meet with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Years later, retired Indian Air Marshal Denzil Keelor is on record as having said that they received instructions from Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) to shift the LTTE delegation from Jaffna peninsula to India. Keelor discussed how Indian Air Force had sent in two choppers with specific instructions provided by the RAW to pick the LTTE delegation from the Suthumalai Amman kovil temple, Jaffna. Having flown the LTTE delegation across the Palk Strait to Trichy and then transferred to a special flight standing by, the group was flown to New Delhi via Madras to meet Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi, on July 28, 1987.

By then, India had already violated Sri Lankan air space on June 4, 1987 to air drop food.

Prabhakaran was flown back to Jaffna on Aug. 2, 1987 amidst a round-the-clock troop airlift from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran hadn’t been in Sri Lanka at the time India forced JRJ to sign the Indo-Lanka accord.

Prabhakaran declared, on Aug 4, 1987, that India forced his organization to accept the Indo-Lanka accord.

India launched a raid on the Jaffna campus, on the night of Oct 11, 1987, in the wake of a group of senior LTTE cadres, including Pulendran and Kumarappa, committing suicide in the custody of the SLA. LTTEers took their lives as the SLA was making arrangements to airlift them from Palaly to Colombo in spite of strong Indian objections.

Let me reproduce verbatim what the Indian Southern Command briefly posted on Indian Army website about deployment of the Indian Army in Sri Lanka: "With the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, in 1987, the Command was tasked to ensure implementation of the Accord. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), under Lt Gen A.S. Kalkat, was raised and moved to Sri Lanka, to participate in Op PAWAN. Over the next two years, the IPKF gradually built up, and made tremendous sacrifices in their attempt to enforce the mandate. The IPKF was eventually de-inducted in early 1990, after the successful conduct of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka."

The Southern Command also referred to an operation India conducted in the Maldives.

"HQ Southern Command also controlled Op Cactus in the Maldives, in 1988, to restore President Gayoom after a coup bid in that country."

What the Indian Army had conveniently omitted was that the assassination attempt was made in early Nov. 1988 by Indian-trained Sri Lankan terrorists . Thanks to my senior colleague, Ivan Alvis, accidentally meeting Maldivian Abdulla Luthufee, at the Ramada Hotel, in Colombo (now Cinnamon Lakeside), responsible for that attempted take-over, the writer was able to interview Luthufee. It was the first interview given by the Maldivian, since his release following over two decades long detention in the Maldives. Luthufee hired an 80-man People’s Liberation Organization Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) group to seize the Maldives. The Sea borne PLOTE cadres’ bid was thwarted by the timely intervention of the Indian Army.

Subsequently, the Indian navy sank a merchant vessel commandeered by PLOTE cadres. On July 16 1989 unidentified gunman assassinated the then PLOTE leader Uma Maheswaran (44) near the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo.

Was Maheswaran shot for planning the raid on the Maldives? Who ordered Maheswaran’s killing? Did he earn the wrath of RAW for the Maldivian adventure?

PLOTE member and Tamil National Alliance MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan (Vanni District) has accused RAW of assassinating his father, a Jaffna District MP representing the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in Aug. 1985. Dharmalingham has explained to the writer how the TELO, another Indian trained terrorist group, at the behest of RAW, assassinated his father Dharmalingam and Alalasundaram. India never investigated allegations that its intelligence services ordered members of Sri Lanka parliament assassinated.

Perhaps, there should be a monument for those who had been killed and maimed due to Indian intervention.

Two of the worst Indian atrocities, occurred in Oct 21, 22, 1987, at the Jaffna Teaching Hospital and Oct 21,22, 1989 at Valvettiturai where about 70 and 60 Tamils were massacred, respectively. India never owned up and those responsible for these executions were never punished. The Indian Army has refrained from commenting on wide spread allegations directed at those who had fought under the Southern Command.

Following the Indian Arny pullout, from Sri Lanka, in March 1990, it was re-designated as 21 Corps in April 1990. The Indian Army, in Sri Lanka, later became the offensive fighting formation of the Southern Command and was based at Bhopal in July 1990.

The claim that the Indians had been eventually de-inducted in March 1990, after the successful conclusion of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Sri Lankas should be examined. India, for some reason had refrained from making reference to the first North-East Provincial Council polls conducted under the superviison of the Indian Army.

Those who demand free and fair elections today never even bothered to issue a statement condemning India for rigging important NEPC election on Nov 19, 1988. The JRJ administration couldn’t interfere with the Indian strategy, meant to ensure an administration, in Sri Lanka’s North-East, loyal to New Delhi. Having installed the EPRLF-led administration, India later created a Tamil National Army (TNA) to protect the outfit. The TNA undermined the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s government.

The Dec, 1988, the presidential and the Feb, 1989, parliamentary elections were also conducted in the temporarily merged North-Eastern Province, under the supervision of the Indian Army. At the presidential election, the then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa defeated SLFP’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike in a close race, marred by violence. Premadasa was sworn in as JRJ’s successor, on Jan 2, 1989. In February, Premadasa led the UNP to a comfortable victory in the parliamentary polling, capturing 125 of the 225 seats under a new proportional voting system. Both presidential and parliamentary polls took place before Premadasa reached an understanding, in May, 1989 to pave the way for talks with the LTTE. The Premadasa-LTTE talks collapsed in June, 1990.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991, should be probed against the backdrop of the collapse of the Premadasa-LTTE talks, as well as the change of government in New Delhi that paved the way for the Indian Army pullout.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Can foreign judges be avoided?

Oct. 2015 Geneva Resolution on war crimes:



By Shamindra Ferdinando

One time Attorney General and newly appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Tilak Marapana, PC, on Friday (Aug 18) declared that the 1978 Constitution wouldn’t permit inclusion of foreign judges in the proposed domestic Judicial Mechanism (JM) under any circumstances.

The declaration was made in response to a query posed to him by the writer at the Foreign Ministry soon after the National List MP took office. With new Foreign Secretary (retired veteran career diplomat Prasad Kariyawasam standing by his side), a confident Marapana strongly disputed the writer’s assertion in respect of the inclusion of foreign judges in the proposed JM in accordance with the Geneva Resolution 30/1.

Marapana succeeded Ravi Karunanayake, who gave up the foreign affairs portfolio, on Aug.10, 2017, in the wake of revelations made implicating him and his family in the Monarch Residencies penthouse controversy, while Kariyawasam replaced career diplomat Esala Weerakoon, former top civil servant Bradman Weerakoon’s son, on Aug. 15, 2017.

Karunanayake who received the foreign affairs portfolio, on May 22, 2017, in President Maithripala Sirisena’s first cabinet reshuffle, took office on May 25, 2017, and quit on Aug. 10, 2017.

Earlier Marapana, who held the defence portfolio in UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government, that was elected to office in Dec 2001, addressed the media, Ven. Thiniyawala Palitha thera, adviser to the former foreign minister (RK) and current member of the board of directors Lanka Hospitals flayed the foreign service though he conveniently didn’t refer to the failure on the part of the Foreign Ministry to address accountability issues since the successful conclusion of the war, in May 2009.

The change at the Foreign Ministry took place amidst simmering dispute over Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s strategy that had placed the UNP, as well as the government, in an extremely difficult situation.

Had the war-winning previous government addressed accountability issues in a systematic manner, the country wouldn’t have been humiliated. Ven. Palitha thera, Chief Secretary of the Eksath Jathika Bhikshu Peramuna, affiliated to the ruling UNP, received the well paid position on Feb 23, 2015. Ven. Palitha had been present and delivered anusasana on the occasion Karunanayake took office on May 25, 2017.

Now that Marapana has categorically ruled out foreign judges’ participation in the proposed JM, it would be pertinent to reproduce the relevant section from the Resolution on Sri Lanka meant to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights. Sri Lanka co-sponsored the controversial Resolution 30/1. There hadn’t been previous instance of a country co-sponsoring a Resolution, based on unsubstantiated allegations severely inimical to its national interest.

Did the political leadership consult the Attorney General’s Department or was the issue taken up at the cabinet?

With former senior Additional Solicitor General Kapila Waidyaratne, PC, with 35 years experience with the Attorney General’s Department being Secretary, Ministry of Defence, the two key ministries, foreign affairs and defence, can review the entire gamut of issues and circumstances leading to the Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution. Waidyaratne received his appointment early last month in the wake of Karunasena Hettiarachchi securing a plum diplomatic post. Marapana and Waidyaratne can be the best possible combination to meet the daunting task.

Over eight years after the eradication of terrorism, and six years after the UN falsely blamed the Sri Lankan military of massacring over 40,000 civilians on the Vanni east front during the final phase of the war, those in authority are yet to prepare a thorough defence. Had the war-winning Rajapaksa administration properly responded to the Western threat, the country wouldn’t have been in this predicament today. Their failure and arrogant behavior finally led to their downfall in January, 2015 and the passage of Geneva Resolution 30/1 that undermined the country’s sovereignty.

The amended draft text of a resolution, dated Sept. 24, 2015, on Sri Lanka tabled by the co-sponsors of the resolution with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and the United States of America, included the following: "Welcomes the government’s recognition that accountability is essential to uphold the rule of law and build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, takes note with appreciation of the Government of Sri Lanka’s proposal to establish a Judicial Mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; and affirms that a credible justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for integrity and impartiality; and further affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the Special Counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators."

As far as Geneva Resolution 30/1 is concerned, there cannot be any ambiguity in respect of foreign judges participation in the proposed JM. Perhaps, Marapana has overlooked the recommendation in respect of foreign judges made by the Sri Lankan Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM). The outfit, in the first week of January, 2017, recommended that the proposed JM, to try cases of war crimes, have at least one foreign judge in every bench. Headed by Manouri Muttetuwegama, CTFRM made it a point to add that the majority of the judges will be Sri Lankan.

Western powers moved three resolutions, targeting Sri Lanka, in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The third resolution demanded an external inquiry into accountability issues. The draft resolution, finally adopted on Sept 24, 2015 and passed unanimously on Oct 1, 2015, is largely based on the findings and recommendations made in a report prepared in accordance with the 2014 resolution. The report was prepared by UN staffer, Ms Sandra Beidas, formerly of the Amnesty International.

The CTFRM declared that the recommendation is in line with Geneva Resolution 30/1 which Sri Lanka co-sponsored. The announcement was made at the Government Information Department. The writer covered the CTFRM briefing (‘War Crimes’ probe mechanism: Task Force calls for full foreign participation with strap line ‘All perpetrators of atrocities, including the Indian Army accountable for their actions’-The Island, January 5, 2917).

CTFRM Secretary Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu who is also the Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), underscored the pivotal importance of full participation of foreign personnel while emphasizing the pivotal importance of a proper selection process for both local and foreign judges and other personnel. When the media pointed out that the recommendation in respect of foreign judges participation is contrary to the stand taken by President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and several other top government spokespersons, the CTFRM declared that the recommendations hadn’t been made in consultation with the government.

Marapana cannot afford to ignore a fresh review of the contentious matters, including the circumstances under which Resolution 30/1 came to be after Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative, in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Pandukabhaya Aryasinha, on Sept. 21, 2015, strongly opposed the same at an informal session called by the Core Group pursuing the matter. The group comprised the US, the UK, Montenegro and Macedonia.

Ambassador Aryasinha responded to the draft Resolution in accordance with the Foreign Ministry stand adopted during the previous administration. The government overruled the Foreign Ministry’s objections immediately after the US, and other interested parties, brought the situation to the notice of the government. Sri Lanka accepted the so called amended draft resolution though it was essentially the same.

Obviously, the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera hadn’t been consulted and the Foreign Ministry felt confident in pursuing the same strategy. Assuming it had the backing of the new Minister, the Foreign Ministry, as well as the Geneva mission, released a comprehensive media release on the Sept 21 unsuccessful talks. The US delegation included the then US Ambassador in Geneva, Keith M. Harper, who had been a partner at the law firm of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, and newly appointed US Ambassador in Colombo, Atul Keshap. Keshap, who had presented his credentials to President Maithripala Sirisena exactly a month before the Geneva meet.

Let me also reproduce the relevant section pertaining to foreign judges included in the draft resolution, presented on Sept 21, 2015: "Welcomes the government’s recognition that accountability is essential to uphold the rule of law and build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, takes note with appreciation of the government of Sri Lanka’s proposal to establish a Judicial Mechanism, with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; and affirms that credible transitional justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for integrity and impartiality; and calls upon the government of Sri Lanka, to involve international investigators, prosecutors and judges in Sri Lanka’s justice processes."

Our giant neighbour India whose murderous policy vis a vis Sri Lanka, resulted in a bloodbath, backed the resolution. In the wake of Sri Lanka co-sponsoring Geneva Resolution 30/1 after having succumbed to Western and Indian pressure, the then India’s envoy in Geneva, Ajit Kumar, declared: "We reiterate our firm belief that the meaningful devolution of political authority, through the implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution of Sri Lanka [adopted in 1987 as a sequel to an agreement between India and Sri Lanka] and building upon it would greatly help the process of national reconciliation."

One-time Foreign Secretary, Bernard Goonetilleke, has been strongly critical of the Geneva resolution. Pointing out that the draft resolution contained 24 preamble paragraphs and 26 operative paragraphs. Goonetilleke declared, "It looks like a novel to me."

The veteran career diplomat basically echoed Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha that sections of the current draft were counter-productive to reconciliation efforts. Although The Island has carried Aryasinha’s response to the Sept. 21, 2015 draft, the writer felt the need to reproduce the relevant comment against the backdrop of Marapana’s interpretation of the recommendation regarding foreign participation in the ongoing process.

Ambassador Aryasinha said: "At a time when we have a new Government that is adopting a calmly different path to that which was followed in the era, before 8 January, 2015 the expectation is, naturally, that there would be a similar change in tone, tenor, and even strategy on the part of the Council as well."

"In this context, my delegation is of the view that a lengthy resolution of the nature of the current draft before us, which contains 24 preambular paras and 26 operative paras, which is repetitive, judgemental and prescriptive, is not in keeping with the spirit of the process of reconciliation and reform that is underway in my country under the National Unity Government. Neither is it helpful in adopting a collaborative approach to reaching consensus. Many paragraphs, in the current draft, are, in fact, counter-productive to the reconciliation efforts of the government, and have the tendency to polarize communities, vitiate the atmosphere on the ground that is being carefully nurtured towards reconciliation and peace building and restrict the space required for consultations. There is a real danger that the current approach will leave room for negative interpretation, thus, only helping ‘spoilers’ in this process.

"Further, given that both the HCHR’s report (A/HRC/30/61) and the Report on the OHCHR investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) (A/HRC/30/SRP.2) recognizes that the report represents a ‘human rights investigation’ and not a ‘criminal investigation’, emphasizing excessively on the criminal justice aspects, makes the resolution imbalanced. It would be more helpful to have a holistic approach when making recommendations in this resolution on promoting reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

"We also remain concerned regarding the formulations provided in several of the Operative paragraphs. Certain terminology used such as ‘verification’, is new and intrusive language to be presented in a human rights resolution, especially when the country concerned is engaging with the international community including with the OHCHR.

"I therefore, urge that in order to enable consensus, this resolution be sensitive to the constitutional and institutional difficulties that will have to be overcome in implementing its recommendations as well as political realities. It must also observe clear, cogent language that the people of Sri Lanka find respectful."

The writer raised the issue of foreign judges with Marapana in the presence of Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador in Washington Prasad Kariyawasam who had been present when the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.A. Sumanthiran declared agreement on foreign judges.

The Island received a statement from TNA Leader R. Sampanthan’s Office in mid June 2016 requesting coverage. The lengthy statement dealt with representations made by attorney-at-law Sumanthiran in respect of international involvement in the accountability process.

Declaring that the Geneva Resolution had been adopted on Oct 1, 2015, following tripartite negotiations involving the Sri Lankan government, the US and the TNA, MP Sumanthiran declared that they had agreed for a hybrid court with foreign judges, prosecutors, defence attorneys and investigators.

The TNA, in a statement, issued on June 16, 2016, quoted MP Sumanthiran as having told the congressional hearing: "I was personally involved in the negotiations, with the United States of America also participating in that particular process. 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 and that is how that phraseology was agreed upon. And so, to us having negotiated and compromised and agreed that there would be a hybrid tribunal to try these mass atrocities, it is not open for the government now to shift its stance and say "well, international involvement yes, but it’s in a different form, now...’. That is not acceptable to us all."

Strangely, the Rajapaksa administration never made an attempt to inquire into the conduct of the TNA during the war and the period Norway-managed Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was in operation. Having recognized the LTTE in late 2001 as the sole representative of Tamils and worked closely with the LTTE throughout the war, the TNA emerged unscathed in the wake of Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism.

The TNA-LTTE relationship, partnership or whatever one may use to describe the destructive alliance, is a fact even pointed out by the European Union, way back in June 2004. Unfortunately, the government, the Election Commissioner and foreign-funded election monitoring bodies never took up the issue.

The EU blamed the TNA for securing the lion’s share of the electoral seats in the northern and eastern districts with the backing of the LTTE. The EU directly blamed the LTTE for unleashing violence on candidates challenging those who had been fielded by the LTTE. Successive governments never bothered at least to comment on the EU report. Shame on spineless and useless politicians and the Election Commissioner who failed to act on the EU report.

They did nothing when the TNA on behalf of the LTTE ordered Tamils not to exercise their franchise at the Nov. 17, 2005 presidential polls. The LTTE-TNA move was meant to deprive UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe of certain victory at the presidential poll, help UPFA candidate Malinda Rajapaksa to win to set the stage for an all out war. It was to be their final war. Those who claim that Rajapaksa bribed the LTTE to ban Tamil voting for presidential candidates should ask TNA chief and the Opposition Leader Sampanthan, MP, whether he was aware of the clandestine transaction.

Rajapaksa managed to beat Wickremesinghe by less than 200,000 votes.

Whatever Sampanthan may say, wouldn’t those wanting Sri Lanka to address accountability issues wanted to know whether the LTTE had accepted money to deprive Wickremesinghe of certain victory, how it created the environment for its own battle-field destruction a couple of years later, the TNA was party to the alleged Rajapaksa-LTTE deal and most importantly Western powers knew of the grand strategy.

These issues should be examined thoroughly with the TNA decision to back war-winning Army Chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s candidature at the January 26, 2010 presidential polls. A decision made following US intervention about which Sri Lanka never had knowledge until whistle-blowing Wikileaks revealed the US Embassy role in forming the UNP-TNA-JVP alliance.

In spite of alleging Fonseka’s Army of mass murder and rape, the TNA voted for General Fonseka. Its political rivals never bothered to ask the TNA whether its decision meant it no longer pursued war crimes allegations against the military. Although, that operation failed, almost a similar coalition project ensured wartime SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena’s resounding victory over Rajapaksa at the January 2015 poll. Since then, US funding for 2014-2015 project had been revealed. The 2015 project thwarted Rajapaksa’s attempt to secure a third presidential term at the expense of democracy here. Whatever the crises today due to waste, corruption, mismanagement and directionless yahapalana administration, prevention of another six-year term for the war-winning president should be applauded. That certainly brought relief to the people. Unfortunately, the UNP couldn’t refrain from perpetrating Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries bond scam in Feb 2015 and President Sirisena acted too late and allowed far a bigger March 2016 scam to take place. Had that not happened, the Joint Opposition wouldn’t be in existence today. Don’t forget, bonds scams of Feb 2015 and March 2016 were CERTAINLY not the only fraudulent transactions perpetrated since the change of government.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Bond scams, Geneva process and RK’s resignation



By Shamindra Ferdinando

The unprecedented political crisis caused in the wake of the alleged Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries bond scams has threatened the continuation of the UNP-SLFP coalition.

Perpetrated in Feb. 2015’ and March 2016, the alleged scams, compelled President Maithripala Sirisena to appoint a three-member Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) by January this year to probe the complicity of the then Governor, Singaporean Arjuna Mahendran, his son-in-law Arjun Aloysius, as well as the UNP, in the deceitful transactions.

Although the UNP put on a brave face and engaged in various damage control measures, the shocking revelation that Ravi Karunanayake, who had held the finance portfolio, at the time of the alleged scams, stayed at a luxury penthouse, at the Monarch apartment complex at Colombo 03, paid for by Arjun Aloysious, in 2016, before purchasing it at a staggering Rs 165 mn later the same year under controversial circumstances, sealed the top UNPer’s fate.

Karunanayake received the foreign affairs portfolio, on May 22, 2017, in President Sirisena’s first cabinet reshuffle. Newly appointed Finance Minister Karunanayake was named, by Premier Wickremesinghe, as a member of the ministerial committee to coordinate and implement recommendations, in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1 adopted on Oct 1, 2015. The committee comprised Karunanayake, Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sagala Ratnayake, Tilak Marapana, Ruwan Wijewardene and Dr Harsha de Silva. Rajapakse is under fire, from a section of the government, for severely criticising the UN in respect of its human rights/accountability stand on Sri Lanka as well as over the leasing of the Hambantota harbour to a Chinese firm for 99 years.

Many an eyebrow was raised when Karunanayake’s predecessor Mangala Samaraweera, who had really worked hard to secure the Western backing for the new administration was unceremoniously dropped from the ministerial committee.

Karunanayake’s testimony before the CoI, comprising Supreme Court judges K.T. Chitrasiri (Chairman), Prasanna Sujeewa Jayawardena and retired senior deputy Auditor General Velupillai Kandasamy, on Aug. 2, 2017, really embarrassed the government.

State Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, on behalf of President Sirisena, on Aug. 8, delivered a two-week deadline for the UNP to decide on Karunanayake. State Minister Abeywardena warned that unless the UNP got Karunanayake to give up his foreign affairs portfolio, President Sirisena would remove him the way he replaced Arjun Mahendran with economist Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy, on July 2, 2016.

President Sirisena, in mid-July 2015, in the run-up to the parliamentary polls, the following month, revealed how he tried to convince Premier Wickremesinghe to get Mahendran to quit in the wake of allegations. "I have a personal opinion and there is an opinion among the people in the country that (Prime Minister) Wickremesinghe is not a corrupt person, a thief," President Sirisena told a group of journalists at the Presidential Secretariat. "In this background, I said the best thing was for the Central Bank Governor to resign."

Had President Sirisena allowed the first Special 13 member COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) sub-committee, headed by the much respected Communist Party leader, Dew Gunasekera, to present its disputed report to parliament, in late June 2015, the second, much bigger scam wouldn’t have taken place, in March 2016. Unfortunately, President Sirisena had no option but to dissolve parliament to protect his 100-day administration until early general election could be held. The dissolution also thwarted JO attempts to move no faith motions against the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration.

Karunanayake quit the foreign ministry portfolio, on Aug. 10, 2017 (afternoon) to avoid the Joint Opposition (JO) no-faith motion handed over on Aug. 3. Karunanayake faced the risk of losing the no-faith motion much to the embarrassment of the UNP as well as President Sirisena, who secured the presidency at the January 2015 polls, thanks to the UNP.

President Sirisena is certainly beholden to the UNP. But, in spite of that, even at the risk of his alliance with Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, he took brave action. The political alliance was meant primarily to achieve two objectives. One of the two objectives had been to check growing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka. Western powers and India wanted the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe alliance to halt Chinese projects. However, their tall order went awry due to cash strapped Sri Lanka having to re-launch the flagship Chinese project, the USD 1.4 bn Colombo Port City and lease the Hambantota harbor, to state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings (CMPH), to develop, manage and operate the facility which is on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Sri Lanka and China finalised the Hambantota deal on the morning of July 29, 2017, in spite of strong opposition from trade unions. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government earlier cleared the Colombo Port City Project. In addition to them, the Chinese remained engaged in a spate of major projects in Sri Lanka, including the Colombo Lotus Tower, funded by Exim Bank of China.

The second major Western/Indian objective had been to ensure post-war reconciliation process, based on Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, on Oct. 1, 2015.

In the wake of their failure to thwart the Chinese projects here, those who had sponsored the new administration wanted to save the second operation, meant to implement the Geneva Resolution 30/1. The Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries alleged bond scams threatened to undermine the UNP-SLFP coalition as the latter blamed the UNP for the highly questionable transactions. The fact that top UNPer Karunanayake’s family had rented a penthouse, courtesy Arjun Aloysious, threatened to unravel the partnership. The UNP-SLFP marriage of convenience, built on the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, that had been introduced in late April 2015, is meant to bring in the required constitutional changes.

Sri Lanka reached an understanding with the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, in March this year, to fully implement the Geneva Resolution within two years. The Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries episode threatened the partnership. Obviously, the JO no-faith motion scared the daylights out of those sections of the government, as well as their foreign sponsors hell-bent on keeping the constitutional making process on track.

Karunanayake had to quit the foreign affairs portfolio as part of the overall damage control measures.

Karunanayake’s move, at the behest of President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe, had taken the heat off the government, to some extent though the issue, at hand, remained to be exploited by the JO. The JO’s moves will be certainly influenced by ‘explosive’ testimonies of Arjun Mahendran and Arjun Aloysious.

However, Karunanayake’s resignation has cleared the way for the UNP and the SLFP to extend their post-Aug 2015 parliamentary polls agreement. State Minister Abeywardena had publicly speculated about the possibility of the SLFP having to quit the agreement depending on the CoI recommendations and subsequent judicial proceedings. Although, Karunanayake’s resignation had saved the coalition for the time being there is a school of thought that CoI recommendations can be devastating and place the government in an extremely embarrassing and difficult situation.

The Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries transactions involving the Bank of Ceylon, Employees Provident Fund (EPF), Pan Asia Banking Corporation, DFCC Bank et al had become the biggest scandal to shatter the much touted claim to good governance and financial accountability. On the basis of the testimonies so far before the CoI and the forthcoming evidence of Arjuna Mahendran and Arjun Aloysius that can certainly cause quite a stir, recommendations in respect of future action are certain to be inimical to those in power.

It would be pertinent to mention that the failure to take tangible measures in the wake of the February 2015 bond scam, which Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe estimated to have caused a staggering Rs 1.6 bn loss immediately, though the losses spread over 30-year period due to Perpetual Treasuries buying Rs 5 bn worth bonds at a sharply higher interest rates, can cause irreparable damage to the national economy.

TNA reiterates stand on Geneva Resolution

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan’s appeal to the US, in respect of the Geneva Resolution, a few hours before Karunanayake gave up the foreign affairs portfolio, on the afternoon of Aug 10, 2017, underscored the Tamil party’s concern over the current situation.

Sampanthan and Jaffna District MP and TNA spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran made representations to Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (Republican New Jersey), Chairman, House Appropriations Committee and Rep. Henry Cuellar (Democrat – Texas) at the Opposition Leader’s Office at 11 am. The meeting lasted about an hour and was attended by US Ambassador Atul Keshap.

The TNA has told the US delegates that the Trump administration should hold the Sri Lankan Government responsible for the commitments it had made to the international community, particularly with regard to the Geneva Resolution.

The Geneva Resolution has proposed the setting up of a hybrid war crimes court, including foreign judges, among other things.

A statement issued by the Opposition Leader MP Sampanthan’s Office quoted the veteran politician as having said "Sri Lankan Government cannot shirk its responsibility of fulfilling its commitment to the international community."

Sampanthan faulted the UNP-SLFP coalition for delaying constitutional making process in accordance with the Geneva Resolution. Sampanthan called for a referendum, following the proposed draft constitution, received two-thirds approval in parliament.

However, there hadn’t been any reference to the Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries bond scams in the statement issued by the Opposition Leader’s Office, following the talks. Sampanthan and the US delegates having failed to take up Sri Lanka’s biggest scam against the backdrop of much publicized US commitment to help Sri Lanka tackle corruption blamed on the previous administration, should be ashamed of themselves.

Sampanthan didn’t hesitate to lie as regards Tamils seeking ‘asylum’ abroad. The TNA statement quoted Sampanthan as having said: "Over fifty per cent of the Tamil population has left the country due to the unresolved national question, and if we don’t find a reasonable solution more people will leave, we don’t want that to happen."

Sampathan claim can be compared with unsubstantiated allegation that the Sri Lankan military killed 40,000 to 100,000 Tamil civilians during the last phase of the offensive, generally referred to the period between January-May 2009.

Having faulted the ruling coalition partners for not implementing the Geneva Resolution, Sampanthan rushed to parliament where he lavishly praised Karunanayake for giving up his ministerial portfolio that had direct bearing on the Geneva-led process.

The Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries bind scams had placed the US, the UK and India in an extremely embarrassing position.

In the wake of the Rajapaksas defeat, in January 2915, both the US and India announced their readiness to help Sri Lanka’s new government to track down stolen wealth, stashed abroad,while US Secretary of State John Kerry also pledged help when he visited Colombo, in May 2015.

Kerry assured that any assets robbed from Sri Lanka and hidden in the US would be returned to the people of Sri Lanka.

Then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera is on record as having said that Sri Lanka had secured support from four countries to locate and bring back an estimated $18 billion in assets stolen by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family. The writer was among the journalists who covered the briefing given by Samaraweera at UNP headquarters, Sirikotha.

Addressing a large gathering at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute, Kerry said: "We are also ready to help with asset recovery and the enforcement of anti-corruption rules. Our investigators are prepared to work with your investigators. Our prosecutors are prepared to work with your prosecutors and we commit that any stolen assets in the United States will be returned to their rightful owners."

The US commitment should be examined against the backdrop of millions of USD spent on a high profile project to thwart twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa securing an unprecedented third term at the January 2015 presidential poll and also to sustain the new administration. The US recently admitted the release of millions of USD in support of project/projects in Sri Lanka, in response to a query raised by the US-based Hassina Leelarathna. According to information made available by the USAID on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), USD 3.4 mn had been released from Complex Crises Funds (CCF) which was meant to make available USD 40 mn in support of governance, rule of law and economic reform in Sri Lanka.

In addition to that, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Burma had been categorised as ‘democracy projects’ that received USD 585 mn during 2015. Although specific amount of funds, made available to Sri Lanka, through the US State Department, hadn’t been revealed, Sri Lanka received CCF amounting to USD 13,589,951 in 2015.

The British, too, had supported the new government high profile anti-corruption drive. The former deputy British High Commissioner in Colombo Laura Davies, in Dec 2015, declared the formation of an international coalition to help the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to stamp out corruption.

Davies said that the UK was working closely with the US, Australia and Switzerland to help the new administration.

Davies said that the UK was in the process of enhancing Sri Lanka’s capability to handle international cases.

In accordance with an understanding with the government of Sri Lanka, the UK provides legal advice, training as well as English language training.

She asserted that the training provided to Sri Lankan personnel by the British had enhanced their confidence as well as their skills.

The diplomat revealed that the UK had committed Rs. 15 million to support Sri Lanka’s anti-corruption project. The UK would continue to focus on capacity building and training for all the professional branches involved in anti-corruption work. Funding for anti-corruption project is in addition to the 6.6 mn pounds sterling made available for military reforms and post-war resettlement of the displaced families, etc.

Strangely, both the US and the UK remain silent on Sri Lanka’s largest financial crime in spite of independent experts and the media here pointing the finger at the government in power.

The UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF), that had been quite critical of waste, corruption and irregularities, allegedly taken place in Sri Lanka during the 2005-2015 period, remained silent on the massive bond scams. Those foreigners who had been used to preach good governance and accountability remained silent today as the government struggled to cope up with the deepening crisis caused by the UNP’s folly.

Perpetual Treasuries Limited has received the appointment as a primary dealer on Sept. 30, 2013, and commenced handling government securities on Feb 5, 2014. At the time of the first alleged scam, the enterprise had been fully owned by Perpetual Capital Holdings Pvt Limited (PCHCL). However, before the second much bigger allegedly corrupt transaction, the ownership of the controversial outfit changed to Perpetual Asset Management (Pvt) Limited.

It would be interesting to know whether the CoI had received a copy of an on-site examination of Perpetual Treasuries undertaken by the Public Debt Department (PDD) of the Central Bank on Sept 30, 2015. The PDD examination that had taken place during Mahendran’s tenure as the disputed Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka exposed all those involved in the alleged bond scams. Against the backdrop of such shocking revelations, how the interested parties had manipulated the entire system, to their advantage, at the expense of the national economy, is no longer a secret. The CoI cannot turn a blind eye to the PPD’s findings even if it had not so far received a copy of the report headlined ‘Perpetual Treasuries Limited-Findings of the on-site examination.’

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Bid to derail ‘One Belt, One Road’surmounted




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka finalized an agreement with state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings (CMPH) to develop, manage and operate Hambantota port, which is on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The agreement was finalised on July 29, 2017, with the participation of senior members of the UNP-SLFP coalition. The signing of the agreement, between the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and Hongkong headquartered CMPH, took place consequent to UPFA/SLFP National List MP Mahinda Samarasinghe receiving Ports and Shipping portfolios in May, 2017.

Samarasinghe succeeded Arjuna Ranatunga, who had been elected to parliament at the August 2015 parliamentary polls, on the UNP ticket. Ranatunga succeeded in forcing some changes to the agreement before he was named Petroleum Resources Development Minister.

China will invest USS 1.2 bn in accordance with the 99-year lease agreement. The Chinese investment is part of its strategic ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative, launched in 2013. India strongly opposes the Chinese project.

The port is situated within 10 nautical miles of the main shipping route from Asia to Europe.

Although, the Joint Opposition, comprising 52 members of parliament, loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, had strongly opposed the agreement on the basis of its being disadvantageous to Sri Lanka, it was the former leader who reached an understanding with China on building the Hambantota port, along with an international airport in the region at Mattala during the eelam war.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009.

In fact, the former President, accompanied by post-war External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris visited Beijing, after the change of government, on the invitation of China, to explore ways and means of reaching a consensus on the Hambantota port. Had they succeeded, there could have been an understanding among China, Sri Lanka and the JO.

Whatever the post-presidential polls rhetoric, the Rajapaksas couldn’t have deprived China of the Hambantota port after having built it with Chinese funds. It would be pertinent to mention that China accommodated Hambantota in its ‘One Belt, One Road’ imitative at a time Western powers believed the LTTE might couldn’t be militarily defeated. Port construction commenced in January, 2008, as the Army was struggling, on the Vanni front, with the liberation of LTTE - held Kilinochchi, seemed too a difficult task. China steadfastly backed Sri Lanka throughout the war. The Previous government received continued Chinese backing at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) as the US-led coalition, including India, vigorously pursued Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. The project culminated with Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the US spearheaded Geneva Resolution 30/1 on Oct 1, 2015 to pave the way for a hybrid war crimes court, constitutional reforms et al.

The US and India, working closely to oust the Rajapaksa administration, is certainly not a secret. As the writer pointed out in last week’s column, former US President Barak Obama had publicly referred to the Indian role in Sri Lanka. The US, India, Japan and EU felt the Rajapaksas’ relationship with China gravely undermined their overall security, political and economic objectives, hence the regime change project.

Recent sensational revelation made by former Times of Ceylon journalist Hassina Leelarathna, in respect of USAID making available urgently required funds to the tune of US 3.4 mn, to the UNP-led 100-day administration, in the run-up to the August 2015 parliamentary polls, is the latest illustration of US intervention. The funds had been meant to provide, what the USAID called, visible support to the newly elected administration. US made fresh commitments though the USAID in spite of contemplating a lesser role for the agency here a few years ago.

The US-based Leelarathna, who co-edited with her husband Deeptha, the first Sri Lankan newspaper published in the US years ago made the disclosure on the basis of information she had obtained from USIA on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Accordingly, USD 3.4 mn had been released from Complex Crises Funds (CCF) which was meant to make available USD 40 mn in support of governance, rule of law and economic reform in Sri Lanka.

In addition to that, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Burma had been categorized as ‘democracy projects’ that received USD 585 mn during 2015. Although specific amount of funds, made available to Sri Lanka, through the US State Department, hadn’t been revealed, Sri Lanka received CCF amounting to USD 13,589,951 in 2015.

Who received such large amounts of US funding? Did political parties, NGOs/civil society organization, journalists and individual members of parliament benefit from US funding? Did any other country, or international organizations, provide funds required for regime change operation?

Those sponsors would never have anticipated The Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries bond scams, in Feb 2015, and March 2016, that had jeopardized their well planned, well-funded project. The UNP-led administration, in spite of drawing support from the US-India coalition, to oust seemingly unbeatable Rajapaksas, ended up joining the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative.

Extremely serious allegations

Sports Minister and Co-Cabinet spokesman, Dayasiri Jayasekera on August 2, alleged that the JO had disrupted an adjournment debate on SLPA-CMPH on Aug 28, 2017. Jayasekera claimed that the decision to sabotage the adjournment debate had been taken by an embassy and was carried out by JO members. Both Jayasekera and his cabinet colleague, Dr Rajitha Senaratne, refrained from naming the country though it was clear government spokesmen targeted the Chinese embassy.

Subsequently, a section of the press reported Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s directive to the Foreign Ministry to inquire into the alleged embassy intervention.

Jayasekera declared that the embassy had intervened through a top JO politician. Was he referring to former President and Kurunegala District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa?

Now that cabinet spokesmen had claimed of foreign intervention, the government should take it up with the Colombo-based diplomatic mission without further delay, if it hadn’t taken up the issue already.

Interestingly, on the day the JO had disrupted the adjournment debate, Parliament received a consignment of computers from the Chinese embassy in Colombo. In addition to 225 computers, for members of parliament, including the Speaker, there were 40 more computers for the use of parliamentary staff. China had gifted computers, each estimated to be worth Rs 140,000, on a request made by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.

In the wake of government allegations in respect of China interfering in parliamentary proceedings, tough talking Chinese ambassador in Colombo Yi Xianliang visited parliament on Aug 4, 2017 to officially hand over the computers.

Did China direct JO to disrupt parliamentary proceedings? Will recently appointed Foreign Secretary, Prasad Kariyawasam, raise, the issue with Chinese Ambassador Xianliang?

JO MP Udaya Gammanpila is on record as having said that had government ministers really believed a Colombo-based diplomatic mission intervened, it would have had influenced Speaker Jayasuriya, who called off the day’s proceedings. Gammanpila pointed out that it was the Speaker who had adjourned parliament till August 4, 2017. Kariyawasam recently replaced Esala Weerakoon, who opted to leave the ministry. Career diplomat Weerakoon’s move seems to be timely. The former top envoy to Oslo and New Delhi now functions as Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism.

Xianliang sets the record straight

In Nov, 2016, Xianliang strongly disputed the then finance minister Karunanayake’s assertion that the previous government had obtained ‘expensive loans’ from China. Xianliang responded to Karunanayake, at a seminar organised at the Chinese embassy. The Chinese envoy wouldn’t have chided Karunanayake without consulting Beijing. Xianliang said some Sri Lankan ministers and the media had talked about ‘expensive loans’ from China. He added: "I talked with Ravi [Karunanayake], the Minister of Finance. I asked him, if you don’t like this one [loans from China] why have you spoken to me about getting another one?"

The ambassador explained that the interest rate for loans from China’s Exim Bank was 2 per cent for friendly countries. He asked why this was considered expensive, when the rate for commercial loans from Europe was 5 per cent.

Xianliang said claims that China’s loans were expensive were ‘really unfair.’ He added: "The Sri Lankan people, and the government, should have a more thankful attitude towards China. For a long time, we have supported and assisted Sri Lanka in international forums and bilateral business fields."

Yi also voiced his concerns over the slow progress of China-funded projects in Sri Lanka. Xianliang stated: "I do believe that political in-fighting should not be linked to Chinese assistance."

Immediately after the change of government in January 2015, Sri Lanka stopped the China’s flagship, the US 1.4 bn Colombo Port City Project, launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping and the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in September 2014.

 UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe declared, on Dec 16, 2014, that the Colombo Port City Project would be scrapped immediately after the change of government, in the following month. The government had no option but to renegotiate the Colombo Port City Project leading to resumption of the plan about one and half years later.

 The UNP propagated that corruption couldn’t be tackled as long as high profile Chinese investments continued. China was flayed for corrupt transactions here.

In the wake of the latest allegations, directed at China, in respect of its intervention in parliament, it would be necessary to examine various perks and privileges received by members of parliament from various governments. Sri Lanka should decide on a policy, regarding receipt of benefits at the expense of taxpayers’ of various developed countries. Recently (July 2017), Speaker Jayasuriya’s Office announced that another group of parliamentarians toured China subsequent to a request made by Speaker Jayasuriya on their behalf.

The code-of-conduct for members of parliament should include specific instructions in respect of acceptance of foreign tours. Members of parliament certainly cannot be allowed to benefit at the expense of the country.

A high level parliamentary delegation, in late June, this year, toured Germany, on the invitation of Prof. Norbert Lammert, President of the German Bundestag. The visit followed Lammert visiting Colombo in April. Did Germany spend on the Sri Lankan delegation, comprising party leaders and senior parliamentary officials? If not, did those Sri Lankans struggling to make ends meet to pay for their visit. The country cannot squander money on members of parliament at a time ruling coalition leaders repeatedly say Sri Lanka lacked the wherewithal to service its massive debt.

Against the backdrop of the government attributing its decision to give controlling interests of the Hambantota port to China, due to difficulty in servicing annual loan repayment estimated at Rs 9.1 bn, Sri Lanka shouldn’t waste precious foreign exchange.

Xianliang has now said that a clarification was required from President Sirisena as to the changes Sri Lanka sought in the July 29 signed agreement. The statement was made on board Chinese military hospital vessel Ark Peace anchored at the port of Colombo on Aug 5.

Civil society campaign

 Civil society groups that had campaigned for President Rajapaksa’s defeat at the January, 2015 presidential polls are in the process of organizing a meeting in Colombo next Tuesday (August 15) to pressure the government to fulfil its promises. Purawesi Balaya co-convenor, Gamini Viyangoda, in a brief interview with The Island, emphasized the responsibility on the part of the government to take stock of the situation without further delay.

Declaring that the introduction of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, the Right to Information Act and restoration of democracy had been major achievements, Viyangoda explained that the government couldn’t, under any circumstances, absolve itself of its responsibility for failing to address several key issues, including crucial constitutional changes.

 Viyangoda alleged that the government had pathetically failed to bring in investigations into massive corruption, perpetrated by the Rajapaksas and their henchmen, during the previous administration, to a successful conclusion. Viyangoda blamed Justice and Buddha Sasana Minister Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC and Law and Order and Southern Development Minister Sagala Ratnayake for the extremely slow progress in investigations.

 The political columnist said that President Maithripala Sirisena should decide on the abolition of the executive presidency without further delay. "We’ll display a huge portrait of the former convenor of the Movement for Just Society, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha at the venue of the August 15 meeting with the government’s achievements and failures highlighted. President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe should resort to tangible measures to achieve much touted promised objectives," Viyangoda said. 

He said the Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries bond scams should be examined against the backdrop of the failure to introduce the National Audit Act during President Sirisena’s 100-day programme. In addition to the non-accomplishment of bringing those high profile corruption cases to a successful conclusion, the government failed to intervene immediately after the first bond scam in February 2015, Viyangida said. Had that happened, the government wouldn’t have been in the current predicament over shocking revelations made before the on-going three-member Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) probing the bond scams.

Asked whether the Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries scams could undermine government objectives that could be only achieved through the ruling UNP-SLFP coalition, Viyangoda admitted that CoI probe and subsequent judicial process could cause irreparable damage to good governance project. 

 One of the strongest critics of the previous administration, Viyangoda flayed the incumbent political leadership for giving the Rajapaksas and their henchmen an opportunity to subvert them. Had the government acted decisively and swiftly to recoup losses caused by the first scam and took punitive measures against those responsible, the JO would have been in a much weaker position today. 

Viyangoda said the bond scams, and various blunders and lapses on the part of the government, had diverted attention away from what the activist called primary objectives. The government was weakening due to such factors as bond scams it would make it extremely difficult for them to push for constitutional reforms.

 "There is no one to blame but itself for the current crisis."

Responding to several queries by the writer, Viyangoda emphasized that the government’s failure to bring high profile investigations against the Rajapaksa clan, and those near and dear to them, to a successful conclusion, shouldn’t be wrongly construed as they were found innocent and the allegations baseless.

Viyangoda explaining the recent talks civil society representatives had with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and President Sirisena pointed out that the JO and various other disruptive elements, always exploited reluctance on the part of the government to promptly take decisions on critical issues. The NGO activist faulted the government over its strategies, while appreciating the recent deployment of the military to neutralize petroleum workers who resorted to trade union action.

 He emphasized that the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), students and the JO shouldn’t be allowed to influence the people to such an extent it would undermine the country. "We are opposed to the widespread use of trade union action as a political tool", the anti-Rajapaksa activist said

India funds Ven Sobitha project

 If not for Ven. Sobitha’s intervention, perhaps, twice President Rajapaksa could have succeeded in securing a third term, thanks to 18th Amendment to the Constitution that did away with restrictions placed on him to contest presidential polls a third time. In fact, National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, too, accepted Ven. Sobitha’s leadership, in July 2014, in the run-up to the Uva Provincial Council polls later that year. Whatever Weerawansa said today, the one-time JVP firebrand, too, contributed to a campaign that ultimately brought down the Rajapaksas, in January 2015.

Many an eyebrow was raised when the Ven Sobitha Commemoration Foundation received a staggering Rs 300 mn from the government of India to build a new village at Elapathagama, Mahavilachchiya, in the Anuradhapura district, in memory of the late prelate. Ven. Sobitha had run a special project in support of the village during the war.

 The signing of the agreement between India and Sri Lanka took place at the official residence of the Speaker, in July this year.

The shocking decision to seek Indian funds for a project launched in memory of the good governance architect proved the ordinary people shouldn’t expect the government to be sensitive to their feelings. Had the government really respected Ven. Sobitha, it would have undertaken the project with Sri Lankan taxpayers’ money. Instead, massive amounts of funds had been allocated to acquire brand new super luxury vehicles for Ministers, State Ministers and Deputy Ministers, foreign jaunts, renovation of official bungalows belonging to members of parliament. In addition, the state had been deprived of much needed revenue by allowing members of political parties to sell their duty free super luxury vehicles. Some JO members, too, had sold their duty free vehicles at the expense of the national economy. 

Public litigation activist and attorney-at-law Nagananda Kodituwakku’s efforts to move the judiciary against corrupt members of parliament over the duty free vehicle scam, have been thwarted by political parties taking a common stand on the issue.