Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Why GR should be grateful to yahapalana chiefs

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 284

 

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Gotabaya and wife, Ayoma at Atamastanaya, Anuradhapura, following his nomination as SLPP prez candidate (pic by Kamal Bogoda)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Wartime Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in early 2016, emerged as the Rajapaksa Camp’s leading presidential election aspirant, thanks to yahapalana grandees causing unprecedented political chaos. The trouble erupted, within the UNP-SLFP coalition, within weeks after the January 08, 2015 presidential election, consequent to the unprecedented treasury bond scam.

The yahapalana leadership, comprising UNP-SLFP chiefs, paved the way for the tough-talking retired Lieutenant Colonel to formally receive SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) nomination on Aug 11, 2019. The yahapalana administration caused so much destruction, turmoil and uncertainty, since the last presidential election, the public cried for a person capable of restoring normalcy.

If not for them, Gotabaya Rajapaksa wouldn’t have got an opportunity to contest the presidency that his older brother Mahinda held twice with distinction,  as he did not waver one bit while the country defeated the most ruthless terrorist outfit, the LTTE, which many a pundit claimed could not be defeated, coupled with an unprecedented worldwide economic crisis of 2008 and unannounced Western sanctions unofficially imposed for defeating the Tigers against the advice of the so-called international community The unofficial sanctions were in the form of delayed IMF credit lines, withdrawal of GSP Plus etc. Against all such odds Rajapaksas somehow carried on with the economy humming in all fronts, till Mahinda decided to go for early elections probably fearing greater sanctions by the West on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations of war crimes.

Yahapalana heads worked overtime to destabilize their own government. Their scandalous conduct allowed the Rajapaksa Camp to make swift headway, in spite of the previous administration, too, being tainted. Although the previous government didn’t rob the Central Bank, it was as corrupt as the yahapalana administration. That is a fact. The previous administration was so corrupt; it blocked the National Audit Bill meant to empower the Auditor General.

Having repeatedly promised transparency and accountability, the UNP caused immense harm to the administration by robbing the Central Bank, on Feb 27, 2015. The unprecedented fraud, involving primary dealer Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL), caused irreparable damage to the party. The main suspect, the then Governor of the Central Bank, Arjuna Mahendran, being a Singaporean and a close associate of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, made matters worse for the UNP. Unfortunately, the top UNP leadership refused to change its style. President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved parliament, in late June, 2015, to prevent COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) Chairman DEW Gunasekera from submitting the explosive report on the treasury bond scam to the House. The UNP ignored continuing protests over the treasury bond scam, both in and out of parliament. Those responsible for the Feb 2015 treasury bond scam perpetrated a bigger fraud, in late March 2016. Having saved the UNP from the first COPE report, President Sirisena paved the way for the second fraud, following the August 2015 parliamentary election. President Sirisena owed an explanation as to why he waited till January 2017 to appoint a Presidential Commission of Inquiry.

The yahapalana administration never recovered from the treasury bond scams. The current dispensation also earned the wrath of the vast majority of people by co-sponsoring a resolution against the country, on Oct 01, 2015, at the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) in Geneva. The Geneva betrayal turned the country against the yahapalana administration. The yahapalana chiefs bent backwards to appease the TNA (Tamil National Alliance), Western powers, the civil society and the foreign-funded Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The current dispensation neglected national security to such an extent that a group of Muslim extremists, under the leadership of Zahran Hashim, triggered seven suicide blasts in six locations, in Colombo, Batticaloa and Negombo. The PSC (Parliamentary Select Committee), inquiring into the Easter Sunday attacks, revealed as to how those responsible for the safety and security of the people caused the deaths of nearly 270 perosns and injuries to approximately 500 others. Reportage of the Easter Sunday massacre caused immense damage to the UNP government. Although, the SLFP quit the government, on Oct 26, 2018, the party cannot absolve itself of the responsibility due to its leader President Sirisena being the head of the cabinet, as well as the National Security Council (NSC). The bottom line is that the electorate felt the need for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, because of the prevailing instability. The deployment of armed forces, at schools and churches, countrywide, in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks, is a grim reminder of uncertainty. The continuing presence of armed forces, on the streets, is nothing but free promotion for Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s candidature.

Gotabaya made his first deliberate move to attract the public, in early 2016. On February 04, 2016, at an informal gathering at his Mirihana home, a decision was made to launch Viyath Maga (The Intellectual Path). Among those present were former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, one-time Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).The Viyath Maga concept was Godahewa’s, who played a pivotal role in the overall project. Those present at Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s home included Prof. Janitha Liyanage, Manouri Unambuwa, Shermila Rajapaksa, Indika Liyanahewage, Damitha Wickremasinghe, Sandamali Fernando, Theshara Jayasinghe, Nivantha Fernando, Devalochana Ranasinghe and former Navy Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera. One-time lawmaker Weerasekera is one of those outspoken officers who played a significant role in naval operations during the conflict.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa launched Eliya (Light) in early Sept 2017 amidst deepening political turmoil. Both Viyath Maga and Eliya attracted professionals, including many high-ranking ex-military personnel. Retired Rear Admiral Mohan Wijewickrema and retired Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri are two of those seniors who made valuable contribution to Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s project. Pivithuru Hela Urumaya leader and attorney-at-law, Udaya Gammanpila, and National Freedom Party leader, Wimal Weerawansa, threw their full weight behind the project. As the situation rapidly deteriorated, the majority of UPFA lawmakers, aligned with the Joint Opposition (JO), also pledged their support.

The yahapalana grandees, with the support of the UPFA/JO on the advice of President Sirisena, enacted the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The much publicized 19th Amendment disqualified Mahinda Rajapaksa from entering the presidential fray again by bringing back the two-term limit. The new law also disqualified Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the basis of him being a dual citizen. Gotabaya Rajapaksa renounced his US citizenship, in mid-April 2019.

Basil Rajapaksa, in early Nov 2016, registered the SLPP against the backdrop of SLFP leader Sirisena joining the UNP-led government. One-time External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris accepted the challenging task of being the SLPP’s first Chairman, while former State Counsel, attorney-at-law Sagara Kariyawasam, functioned as its Secretary. The SLPP turned the tables on both the UNP and the SLFP at the first election it faced. It became the most powerful political force, less than two years after its inception. Having comfortably won the last Local Government polls, in Feb. 2018, the SLPP named Gotabaya Rajapaksa as its 2019 presidential candidate, whereas the leading UNP candidate, its Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa, is still struggling to secure nomination. The crisis within the UNP is also helping Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in a big way.

It would be pertinent to mention that as to how Basil Rajapaksa, having secured control of the Sri Lanka Jathika Peramuna (SLJP), re-registered it as Ape Sri Lanka Nidahas Peramuna (ASLNP) in preparation to contest the 2015 general election. Wimal Weerawansa and Vasudeva strongly opposed the move, on the basis the Rajapaksa Camp could sort out problems with President Sirisena. The decision to contest the last general election, in 2015 August, was taken on the basis that problems could be ironed out. But, once that effort went awry, the ASLNP was again registered as the SLPP, on Nov 01, 2016. Kariyawasam’s father, Albert Kariyawasam, served the SLFP as an MP, from 1960 till he lost the Benthara-Elpitiya seat in March 1965. However, he re-entered parliament, in July 1965, having won the by-election for the Benthara-Elpitiya seat, and remained a member of parliament, till 1977. Those astrologers consulted by the leadership of the newest party overwhelmingly approved its name. They were of the view Basil Rajapaksa couldn’t have opted for a better name.

The overall political project achieved success or, in other words, prepared a solid platform for Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In spite of claims that Basil Rajapaksa, too, aspired for the presidency, the former SLFP National Organizer categorically denied plans to renounce his US citizenship.

Gotabaya leaves Army

Those opposed to Gotabaya Rajapaksa seeking Office of the President, attacked him over his early retirement. They depicted him as a deserter. The writer sought an explanation from Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in June 2013, as to why he quit the Army. The Island dealt with the issue in an article titled Ayoma wins the day (The Island, July 01, 2013)

Gotabaya Rajapaksa had been under heavy pressure from his wife, Ayoma to quit the Army for quite some time. With the war taking a turn for the worse, with the departure of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), in March 1990, Ayoma wanted to migrate to the United States, where her parents were living. In spite of Gotabaya’s reluctance to quit the Army, Ayoma relentlessly raised the issue with senior officers, particularly the then Brigadier Wijaya Wimalaratne, who was at that time in Colombo.

Ayoma, like the wives of many other officers, had been quite adamant that Gotabaya should leave the SLA to pursue some other career.

Ayoma had stepped up her efforts to convince her soldier husband to leave the Army, following the outbreak of Eelam War II, in June 1990, with devastating attacks on the security forces. The Army faced a heavy defeat in the Jaffna peninsula in the wake of the LTTE making significant battlefield gains, within the first couple of months in the Jaffna and Vanni theatres.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa said: "The LTTE resumed hostilities during the second week of June 1990. During the latter part of 1990, we moved to the married quarters at the Summit Flats. My apartment was situated opposite the residence of Brig. Wimalaratne. Our families were close. During that period, Wimalaratne was attached to the Joint Operations Command. He was one of the most influential officers whose opinion was taken seriously by those in power."

Gotabaya Rajapaksa recollected the then State Minister for Defence ,Minister Ranjan Wijeratne, angrily reacting to a brief front page news item published by The Sunday Island, titled Lt. Col. Gotabaya Rajapaksa to retire. Minister Wijeratne had been furious as he felt Gotabaya’s brother, SLFP Hambantota district MP, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was responsible for the move. Minister Wijeratne had inquired from MP Rajapaksa why he wanted his brother to quit the Army. Mahinda Rajapaksa had denied Minister Wijeratne’s allegations, insisting that he wasn’t in anyway responsible for Gotabaya’s decision.

Brig. Wimalaratne in bid to thwart Ayoma’s plans



Gotabaya Rajapaksa said: "Later, I came to know that it was Brigadier Wimalaratne, who got The Sunday Island to publish the news item. Wimalaratne was reacting to my wife constantly requesting him to release me, as we wanted to migrate to the United States. The Brigadier probably felt that the news item would cause a major scene, leading to government intervention to get me transferred to Colombo. At that time, Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s battalion––The first battalion of the Gajaba Regiment (IGR)––was deployed in the Weli Oya region. Both Minister Wijeratne and Brigadier Wimalaratne went out of their way to prevent me from leaving the Army."

One day, the then Lt. Col. Rajapaksa received a call from Lt. Gen. Wanasinghe directing him to meet Minister Wijeratne, immediately. However, Rajapaksa pointed out that he couldn’t leave for Colombo immediately as his Area Commander, Brigadier Janaka Perera was away. The I GR commander asserted that he couldn’t take the risk of leaving Weli Oya in the absence of his superior officer. Having heard Lt. Col. Rajapaksa’s excuse for not responding to his summons, Minister Wijeratne decided to visit Weli Oya.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa said: "Suddenly, army headquarters alerted me to the arrival of Minister Wijeratne to Weli Oya. I was really surprised. Obviously, Minister Wijeratne felt that my brother was somehow responsible for my decision to quit the Army. Minister Wijeratne flew into Weli Oya. The then Northern Commander, Major General Denzil Kobbekaduwa accompanied Minister Wijeratne. Brigadier Janaka Perera, too, was present at the briefing given to Minister Wijeratne. Having had lunch, Minister Wijeratne wanted to speak to me privately. As he walked out of the premises, I followed him."

Gotabaya Rajapaksa quoted Minister Wijeratne as having told him: "I know you are tired. You have been in the field for a long time. I’ll get the Army Commander to move you out of Weli Oya. Don’t worry; you’ll receive an appointment in Colombo."

In spite of Minister Wijeratne’s offer for a posting away from the operational area, Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that he wanted to serve with his battalion, wherever it was deployed.

At the behest of Minister Wijeratne, army headquarters appointed Lt. Col. Rajapaksa as the Deputy Commandant of the Kotelawala Defence Academy (KDA), in late 1990.

Gotabaya quits SLA

Gotabaya. Rajapaksa was at the Summit flats when he heard a massive blast. The former Defence Secretary said: "The entire area shook. We felt the blast. Soon afterword’s, I heard the target was Minister Wijeratne."

Minister Wijeratne was killed on the morning of March 2, 1991, along with six of his police commando bodyguards. Shortly after Minister Wijeratne’s assassination, Gotabaya Rajapaksa sent in his retirement papers. Army headquarters swiftly endorsed Lt. Col. Rajapaksa’s retirement. Much to Ayoma’s relief, Gotabaya quit the Army on November 1, 1991.

It was the writer who contributed that short piece to The Sunday Island on the basis of information provided by Brig. Wimalaratne. Obviously, it was a psychological operation initiated by Brigadier Wimalaratne to compel Lt. Col. Rajapaksa to remain with the SLA. Although Brigadier Wimalaratne had been successful in prompting Minister Wijeratne to intervene, his assassination changed the ground situation.

Commenting on the events leading to the resumption of hostilities in the wake of the Indian pullout, Gotabaya Rajapaksa said: "Many officers were disgruntled with the situation. Although we felt the then government was wrong and acting in a manner detrimental to the national interests, the security forces were unable to intervene. The military was supposed to act on political directives. Although the LTTE was preparing for war, we did absolutely nothing to discourage them from resuming hostilities. Had we bolstered our military strength, it would have been a powerful deterrent. Unfortunately, the government weakened the military presence in the northern and eastern districts, instead of increasing the strength."

In his inaugural address, on Aug 11, 2019, as the SLPP presidential candidate, Gotabaya Rajapaksa assured he would ensure the security of the State and its people. Gotabaya Rajapaksa vowed that he wouldn’t, under any circumstances, succumb to terrorism and extremism. The former Defence Secretary made no reference to the much-touted slogan in previous presidential elections that the executive presidency would be scrapped. With the country in turmoil and administration in total disarray, abolition of the executive presidency is unlikely to be the priority for Gotabaya Rajapaksa whose style of governance will certainly differ from his predecessors.

Recalling his two decades long military career, as well as his decade long tenure as the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Gotabaya declared that he wouldn’t hesitate to go beyond accepted norms to fulfill obligations.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa recalled a letter of commendation received 35 years ago from the then senior most military officer Gen. Cyril Ranatunga referring to him as ‘an officer who takes initiative over and above the normal call of duty.’

The ex-infantry officer said that he had been able to provide strategic guidance and administrative support to wartime President Mahinda Rajapaksa as he always acted out of principle which earned him Gen. Ranatunga’s praise.

The LTTE, obviously, considered Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s strategic thinking a serious threat hence an attempt on his life at the onset of Eelam War IV. Had the LTTE suicide cadres succeeded in their attempts to eliminate the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on April 25, 2005, and Dec 01, 2006, respectively, the LTTE would have still retained its conventional military power and a key influencing factor in the forthcoming presidential election – the third since Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE, in May 2009.

The UNP fielded Sarath Fonseka, at the2010 January presidential election, to deprive Mahinda Rajapaksa of the advantage of war victory. Fonseka lost by a staggering 1.8 mn votes. The UNP, obviously, miscalculated the electorate. Having underestimated Mahinda Rajapaksa’s strategies, the UNP suffered a major setback, though Fonseka won all the predominately Tamil-speaking electoral districts, including Digamadulla. The TNA backed Fonseka’s candidature to the hilt, counter the main war crimes allegation directed against the Rajapaksa government that it killed over 40,000 civilians on the Vanni east front in 2009.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

How Modi exploited Thowheed bombings

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 283

 

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Modi has paid tribute to the victims of the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, visiting St. Anthony’s church targeted by suicide bombers.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka should examine whether the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) suicide bombing campaign helped India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to win the recently concluded general election. The NTJ struck amidst India’s staggered general election that began on April11 and continued till May 19.

Did the NTJ operation influence the Indian electorate? Sri Lanka cannot afford not to examine every possibility to prevent the NTJ, or its affiliates, undertaking fresh terror projects. Who is the mastermind behind the devastating attacks which caused irreparable damage to the national economy? In other words, who really provided the wherewithal to the perceived leader of the terror project Zahran Hashim?

The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), probing Easter Sunday attacks, didn’t inquire into external factors in the presence of the media. However, the PSC had an opportunity to seek the opinion of those who provided evidence in camera as regards external factors. Perhaps, the PSC never bothered to vigorously inquire into external factors or it lacked the mandate or the capacity to do so.

The PSC consists of its Chairman Ananda Kumarasiri (UNP/Moneragala District), Ravi Karunanayake (UNP/Colombo), Dr. Rajitha Senaratne (UNP/Kalutara), Ashu Marasinghe (UNP National List), Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka (UNP National List), LSSPer Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne (UNP National List), M.A. Sumanthiran (TNA/Jaffna District) and Rauff Hakeem (UNP/Kandy District).

The government proscribed the NTJ, on May 13, 2019 - 23 days after the Easter carnage. The Jama’athe Milla’athe Ibrahim (JMI) and the Willayath As Seylani (WAS), were also banned in terms of regulation 75(1) of the emergency regulations.

The NTJ struck between the second and the third phases of the Indian elections. The first phase, conducted on April 11, covered 91 constituencies in 20 States. The second (95 constituencies in 13 States) and the third (117 constituencies in 15 States) were held on April 18 and April 23, respectively. The remaining four phases were held on April 29 (71 constituencies in 09 States), May 06 (51 constituencies in 07 States), May 12 (59 constituencies in 07 States) and May 19 (59 constituencies in 08 States).

Counting began on May 23. Modi scored a resounding win. His triumph plunged his political opponents into crisis.

India provided specific information as regards the impending terror attacks, to Sri Lanka, on April 04, about a week before the first phase. India identified its High Commission, in Colombo, as one of the NTJ targets. During the PSC proceedings, the Commandant of the elite Special Task Force, DIG M.R. Latiff, in response to a query, revealed that he provided security to the Indian High Commission on April 10, consequent to a warning received the previous day.

Latiff is on record as having told the PSC, on July 25, the Indian High Commission appreciated security provided by the STF. Did NTJ refrain from attacking the Indian High Commission due to the deployment of the STF? What was the status of STF security? Did the STF deployment cover India House?

Sri Lanka, in deepening political turmoil, is yet to really inquire into the Easter Sunday operation. Incumbent political leadership and those seeking to regain power, at any cost, seem obviously blind to security threats. The PSC proceedings revealed negligence on the part of the political leadership, law enforcement authorities, intelligence services and the Attorney General’s Department. The PSC proceedings also revealed as to how the Finance Ministry weakened the Central Bank vis-a-vis its regulatory powers in respect of foreign financial transactions. However, so far no effort has been made to inquire into possible external factors. Did the planners of the NTJ operation take into consideration the Indian election?

Further scrutiny is required on the NTJ bomber’s failure to detonate himself in the five-star Taj Samudra, owned by Taj Asia, a joint venture between India’s Tata and Cinnovation, a firm owned by Nepali entrepreneur Binod Chaudhary. The hotel is operated by Taj Resorts.

It would be pertinent to examine the selection of targets - four in Colombo, one in Negombo and one in Batticaloa. The PSC never bothered to probe as to why the NTJ deliberately targeted a church in Batticaloa and the Tamil service at St. Anthony’s Church, Kochchikade. Over 60 Tamils perished in Batticaloa and Kochchikade bombings. Over 100 received injuries. The deliberate targeting of the Sri Lankan Tamil community was even ignored by the largest Tamil coalition led by Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK). Its spokesman and Jaffna District lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, a Christian, went to the extent of justifying the Easter Sunday carnage. President’s Counsel Sumanthiran did so at a public event held on April 29 at the BMICH. Why did the NTJ target both Sinhala and Tamil communities?

Why did the NTJ select a church in Batticaloa, especially against the backdrop of Kattankudy, the focal point in the whole operation, also situated in the Batticaloa district? Interestingly, the original target in Batticaloa had been St. Mary’s Cathedral, a church far bigger than the Zion Church, a little distance away. The bomber triggered the blast at the main entrance to the Zion church after he was prevented from entering the premises by a suspicious devotee, R. Ramesh. Had the bomber reached St. Mary’s Church before the service ended on that fateful day or allowed to enter Zion Church, many more Tamils would have perished.

The blast, inside St. Sebastian Church, claimed the lives of over 100 people. It was the worst of the six blasts because the assassin triggered the blast in the main wing of the church. The writer’s godmother, Nalini de Livera and her husband, Claude, seated on the left side of the front row, survived the blast. One small iron ball, which entered Claude de Livera’s shoulder, didn’t cause serious injury. But, the loss of lives would have been much more if the bomber entered the church before the end of service. At the time of the blast, Chaminda Priyadarshana, a member of the Katana Pradeshiya Sabha, was delivering a vote of thanks at the end of service. The blast took place after a significant number of people left the church.

2019 Indian general election

Narendra Modi was the first foreign leader to condemn the Sri Lanka attacks. The Indian leader condemned the Easter Sunday attacks on the same day - two days before the Islamic State claimed responsibility. However, no less a person than Senior DIG Ravi Seneviratne, the senior officer in charge of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), declared, before the PSC, that there was no evidence to link Islamic State thereby contradicted the much publicized government claims. Seneviratne appeared before the PSC on July 24.

Addressing an election rally in the Western State of Rajasthan, hours after the serial blasts in Sri Lanka, Narendra Modi played politics with the issue. The media quoted Modi as having said the electorate should give him a second term as only he could beat the terrorists threatening India.

"Should terrorism be finished or not?," he asked. "Who can do this? Can you think of any name aside from Modi? Can anybody else do this?"

"In our neighbouring Sri Lanka, terrorists have played a bloody game. They killed innocent people," Modi said.

At another rally, in Rajasthan, also on Sunday, Modi again mentioned the attacks in Sri Lanka and said that India, too, continues to suffer because of militants.

"India has now ended its policy of getting scared of Pakistan’s threats," Modi said, "‘We have a nuclear button, we have a nuclear button’ they used to say."

"What do we have then?" he said, to cheers from the crowd.

The Easter Sunday carnage certainly influenced a section of the Indian electorate.

Modi directly blamed Muslims for the Sri Lanka attacks.

Having comfortably secured a second term, Modi visited Colombo, on June 09, on his way to the Maldives. President Maithripala Sirisena is on record as having said that he requested Modi to visit in the wake of many countries issuing travel advisories. During his four-hour stop over, Modi visited St. Anthony’s church, where many Tamils perished.

A week after Modi’s visit, Indian High Commissioner Taranjit Sandhu assured the prelates of Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters India’s commitment to Sri Lanka’s security.

The Indian High Commission issued the following statement, following Sandhu’s visit to Kandy: "High Commissioner of India Taranjit Singh Sandhu paid respects at Sri Dalada Maligawa and received the blessings of the Most Venerable Thibbatuwawe Sri Sumangala Mahanayake Thera of Malwatte Chapter and Most Venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Mahanayake Thera of Asgiriya Chapter in Kandy on May 17. 

"High Commissioner conveyed greetings on the auspicious occasion of Vesak to the Most Venerable Mahanayake Theras and recalled the visit of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to Sri Lanka for the International Vesak Day celebration in 2017 and the exposition of the sacred Sarnath Relics in Sri Lanka in 2018.

"High Commissioner also discussed the prevailing security situation with the Most Venerable Mahanayake theras and offered India’s full support to Sri Lanka in dealing with the common threat of Jihadi terrorism.

"Both the Mahanayake Theras deeply appreciated India’s unconditional and strong support for Sri Lanka, including in the security sphere.

"High Commissioner Sandhu also reviewed the progress of the Kandyan Dancing School, being constructed with Government of India’s assistance of around 150 million SLR at the Sri Lanka International Buddhist Academy (SIBA) campus in Pallekele, Kandy."

It would be a grave mistake, on Sri Lanka’s part, to assume Zahran carried out Easter Sunday attacks on his own. Zahran couldn’t have handled the logistics alone. Zahran was used by those who exploited the political chaos in Sri Lanka. In fact, the NTJ operation caused much more harm to the Muslim community, in Sri Lanka, than any other post-independence event.

The NTJ launched its project on Nov 30, 2018 in Vavunativu, Batticaloa, by killing two policemen - a Sinhalese and a Tamil. The NTJ operation got underway at a time President Maithripala Sirisena, backed by Mahinda Rajapaksa, was struggling to take control of parliament in the wake of an unexpected UNP fightback, following the sacking of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe. Zahran’s bosses definitely took the local political scene into consideration before the launch of their despicable project. Zahran or his NTJ never demanded anything from the government or voiced concerns over their grievances, although his group backed Maithripala Sirisena at the last presidential election in January 2015 and the UNP at the parliamentary election, eight months later. The UNP allowed Zahran a free run in and around Kattankudy. Matara District lawmaker Sagala Ratnayake held the law and order portfolio at that time and was one of those summoned by the PSC. Zahran must have attracted the attention of some interested party, hell-bent on subverting Sri Lanka or causing mayhem here for their own advantage. They had never been short of cash. Of the bombers, two belonged to one of Sri Lanka’s wealthiest families. Who really motivated them? What were they promised in return for blasting themselves into thousand pieces? Sri Lanka introduced suicide bombers to the world in the ‘80s. New Delhi wouldn’t have expected one of the terrorist groups - the LTTE-trained by India, to destabilize Sri Lanka with its formidable suicide squad. The operation was meant to pave the way for the Indian Army to be deployment here. New Delhi deployed troops here in July 1987. India withdrew its Army in March 1990. India finally paid a huge price for its intervention here in the early ‘80s.

Dixit faults Indira Gandhi over

intervention in Lanka

One time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo and National Security Advisor J.N. Dixit, in his memoirs, titled ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy,’ launched in 2004, revealed as to why India intervened in Sri Lanka. The writer received a copy of Dixit’s memoirs during a visit organized by the Indian High Commission in Colombo, to New Delhi, in August 2006. Dixit faulted the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in respect of the controversial Indian decision on Sri Lanka. The NTJ, in its first operation, achieved what the LTTE couldn’t during its war against Sri Lanka. The NTJ carried out near simultaneous suicide bombings, in six different locations, with two bombers targeting Shangri-La. Let me reproduce verbatim the relevant section from Dixit memoirs titled ‘An Indocentric Practitioner of Realpolitik’ therein the veteran diplomat praised Gandhi for transforming India from an idealistic player into a force to be reckoned with. But, at the end, Dixit blamed Gandhi in respect of two matters. "The two foreign policy decisions on which she could be faulted are: her ambiguous response to the Russian intrusion into Afghanistan and her giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants. Whatever the criticism of these decisions, it cannot be denied that she took them on the basis of her assessments about India’s national interests. Her logic was that she could not openly alienate the former Soviet Union when India was so dependent on that country for defence supplies and technologies. Similarly, she could not afford the emergence of Tamil separatism, in India, by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils. These aspirations were legitimate in the context of nearly 50 years of Sinhalese discrimination against Sri Lankan Tamils. In both cases, her decisions were relevant at the point of time they were taken. History will judge her as a political leader who safeguarded Indian national interests with determination and farsightedness."

That chapter also dealt with as to how India reacted to the then JRJ close ties with the US, Israel and Pakistan in a world dominated by two superpowers - the US and the Soviet Union. China hadn’t been a key factor at that time, though the People’s Republic is now threatening US supremacy. Today, India is firmly in the US Camp, along with Japan, trying to cope up with rapid Chinese expansion. Sri Lanka has become a sort of battleground.

A massive heart attack claimed the life of Dixit, in 2005, a year after the book launch. Sri Lanka never bothered to re-examine Indian intervention here afresh following the shocking admission. Dixit’s revelation challenged the assertion that India intervened here following the July 1983 violence directed against the Tamil community. But what really happened was India provided the required expertise to terrorists to wipe out an army patrol in Jaffna. The Jaffna incident was meant to trigger a Sinhala backlash.

Mahieash Johnney, in his splendid ‘Get Real’ on Derana 24X7 asked guest attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena as to how Indian Intelligence services knew much more about Zahran’s plot than local agencies. Gunawardena, a former Director General of the Government Information Department, and a media advisor to Premier Wickremesinghe, was asked whether he believed foreign Intelligence Services, including Indian presence here. Gunawardena rejected foreign intelligence services presence here whereas the writer, also a guest on that programme, explained operations undertaken by external powers.



Wijeyadasa’s theory

Former Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, MP, recently blamed the Easter Sunday attacks on the yahapalana government handing over the strategic Hambantota port to China, in Dec 2017. Lawmaker Rajapakse explained as to how the Chinese move on Hambantota port angered foreign powers, particularly the US. UNP Colombo District MP Rajapakse warned of dire consequences unless the government took appropriate action to rescind the agreement. The lawmaker asserted that the agreement could be revoked on the basis of it being a grave threat to Sri Lanka due to constant external interventions. Rajapakse said so addressing the media at the Sri Lanka Foundation. The President’s Counsel warned those battling China would cause mayhem in Sri Lanka. A section of the Sinhala print and electronic media ignored Rajapakse’s statement. Others didn’t provide sufficient coverage. The statement didn’t receive the attention it really deserved. Those who issue statements at the drop of a hat, and at temples, churches et al, did not bother to comment on the explosive statement. The PSC, too, ignored Rajapakse’s statement though it summoned lawmaker Dayasiri Jayasekera in the wake of him publicly alleging the suicide bomber, tasked to hit Taj Samdura, refrained from doing so due to the presence of some person or persons.

Rajapakse should be asked to substantiate his serious accusations, made against the backdrop of US push for signing of SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement). The US is also seeking to finalize a five-year grant of $ 480 million meant to accelerate economic growth. The US approved the grant four days after the Easter carnage as Sri Lanka was struggling to cope up with mass hysteria. The US wants SOFA to follow ACSA (Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement) signed in early August 2017. The inking of the agreement took place with the blessings of President Maithripala Sirisena, who presented it to the cabinet in his capacity as the Defence Minister. The US-Sri Lanka military-to-military partnership should be studied taking into consideration the Japan-Sri Lanka Comprehensive Partnership, inked in Oct 2015, and overall US-Japan-India-Australia coalition taking on China.

The 2019 presidential election in Sri Lanka will be of pivotal importance to power blocs competing for regional and global dominance. The US roles, in 2010 and 2015 presidential elections, in now in the public domain. No less a person than US Secretary of State John Kerry revealed the US funding in support of the common candidate at the 2015 presidential. Wiki Leaks exposed the US role in forming the UNP - led coalition at the 2010 presidential election, also in support of the then common candidate. What would the US do at the 2019 presidential poll as political parties battle it out with the country in deep turmoil due to an unstable parliament?

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Thowheed terror fallout: Bathiudeen survives, Police, AG under a cloud

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 282

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Thanks to the ongoing Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on Easter Sunday attacks, the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Vanni District lawmaker, Rishad Bathiudeen, is no longer under heavy fire over his alleged involvement with the now-proscribed National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ).

The government proscribed the NTJ on May 13, 2019 - 23 days after the Easter carnage. The Jama’athe Milla’athe Ibrahim (JMI) and the Willayath As Seylani (WAS) were also banned in terms of regulation 75(1) of the emergency regulations.

Bathiudeen held the Industry and Commerce, Resettlement of Protracted Displaced Persons, Co-operative Development, Vocational Training & Skills Development at the time of the April 21, 2019, suicide bombing campaign.

Bathiudeen earned the wrath of the Joint Opposition (JO), a section of the Buddhist clergy, and some civil society groups, after Army Chief, Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake revealed the controversial politician’s intervening, on behalf of a person, arrested by the Army, in connection with the Easter attacks and subsequently handed over to the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID). Had Lt. Gen. Senanayake refrained from exposing Bathiudeen, he wouldn’t have attracted media attention. At one point, Bathiudeen, under fire from opponents, revealed he got in touch with Lt. Gen. Senanayake on the advice of State Defence Minister, Ruwan Wijewardene.

The PSC never bothered to seek confirmation from Bathiudeen as regards Wijewardene’s advice when the beleaguered lawmaker appeared before the parliamentary body, on June 28, 2019.

Bathiudeen identified the arrested person as a son of an advisor to Postal Services and Muslim Religious Affairs Minister M.H.A. Haleem, an UNPer elected from the Kandy district. Baithiudeen, Haleem and seven other Muslims, gave up their ministerial portfolios,on June 03, 2019.

Bathiudeen received the same portfolios on July 29, 2019. Haleem and UNP Chairman Kabir Hashim broke ranks with the group of Muslim colleagues to, once again, accept, on June 19, 2019, the ministerial portfolios they held at the time of the blasts.

 For almost three months, Bathiudeen was flayed over the Easter Sunday attacks. However, shocking revelations, regarding the negligence on the part of the TID, the Attorney General’s Department, as well as the IGP, made before the PSC in the last week of July and the first week of August 2019, diverted the attention from Bathiudeen.

Those who believed the PSC was meant to clear Bathiudeen, through some trickery, and place the blame on President Maithripala Sirisena, were quite surprised by disclosures of negligence on the part of the police and the AG Department.

With pressure being eased, the indomitable politician, last week, launched a propaganda project to counter criticism directed at him. Interestingly, the media never targeted his party. Instead, Bathiudeen was relentlessly lambasted, both in and outside parliament, until what transpired before the PSC, pointed the finger at the TID, the AG Department and the IGP.

The PSC consists of Ananda Kumarasiri (UNP/Moneragala District), Ravi Karunanayake (UNP/Colombo), Dr. Rajitha Senaratne (UNP/Kalutara), Ashu Marasinghe (UNP National List), Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka (UNP National List), LSSPer Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne (UNP National List), M.A. Sumanthiran (TNA/Jaffna District) and Rauff Hakeem (UNP/Kandy District).

The PSC, or Catholic Church, or the civil society, never really inquired about as to why the NTJ deliberately targeted the Tamil community. At least 60 Tamils perished and over 100 wounded in suicide attacks directed at Zion Church, in Batticaloa, and the Tamil service conducted at St. Anthony’s Church, Kotahena.

As the TID and the AG Department struggled to cope up with embarrassing disclosures, Bathiudeen went on the offensive. The Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi-led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) never condemned the attack on the community. Instead, TNA heavyweight, M.A. Sumanthiran, at an event held at the BMICH, on April 29, 2009, justified the TNJ terror project.

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith rejected Sumanthiran’s assertion that the failure on the part of Sri Lanka’s successive governments, to address the grievances of minorities, over the past several decades, had led to the Easter Sunday carnage.

Sumanthiran alleged that the Easter Sunday carnage was a result of Sri Lanka’s failure to ensure certain basic values. President’s Counsel Sumanthiran warned of dire consequences unless the government addressed the grievances of minorities.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, who was present on that occasion, had no qualms naming him to the PSC. Dr. Deepika Udagama, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission, too, was present, in addition to twice President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Bathiudeen seems to be on the offensive now. Immediately after resuming his ministerial duties, Bathiudeen launched a scathing attack on Sri Lanka Chamber for not condemning calls to boycott Muslim-owned shops, following the NTJ attacks. His English media outfit, managed by Joseph Thavaraja, reported his comments in a statement headlined ‘Rishad decries Sri Lanka Chamber for keeping mum as racist calls of prejudice erupted nationwide’

The attack on Sri Lanka Chamber was followed by a visit to Mannar where he reassured the Catholic community.

Bathiudeen, on August 01, assured the Bishop of Mannar, Most Reverend Dr. Fidelis Lionel Emmanuel Fernando, and Adikarana Sanganayake of the Northern and Eastern Provinces and Chief Incumbent of Sri Bodhidakshinaramaya, Ven Siyabalagaswewa Vipulasara, of his fullest support to government efforts to eradicate terrorism. The Island coverage of Bathiudeen’s unexpected meeting with the Mannar Bishop prompted Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith to clarify his position with regard to the Easter Sunday carnage.

Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith sent the following statement to The Island in respect of ‘Under fire from Cardinal, Rishad meets Mannar Bishop’ in the August 02, 2019, edition: "I have been intrigued and surprised about the news item appearing on the 1st page and continued on the 4th page of The Island newspaper of Friday, 2nd August 2019. It says: "Under fire from Cardinal, Rishad meets Mannar Bishop" and there is a photo of the Bishop of Mannar greeting Mr. Rishad Bathiudeen. The report further states:"The meeting took place close on the heels of the Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, alleging that those responsible for the heinous crime were still free".

I wish to first of all state that I have never named any particular person as being responsible for the Easter Sunday bomb attack, but have insisted that an independent, impartial and trustworthy inquiry be conducted on this matter and those responsible be exposed. In fact, soon after this attack, a delegation of Muslim Ministers and MPs came to see me and I met Mr. Bathiudeen, who was in this delegation.

So, I think as a responsible newspaper, you should have reported just the fact of Mr. Bathiudeen meeting Bishop Fernando without trying to drag me into the picture. This is to say in the least a mischievous attempt to create an unethical controversy. I think this is against media ethics. I hope this will not happen again and I kindly request you to publish this in your newspaper, giving it the same prominence as the news item, for the sake of truth and, justice."

Bathiudeen’s media team released a report on him meeting with Vavuniya-based Ven Siyabalagaswewa Vipulasara after the media reported the powwow with the Mannar Bishop.

ACMC cleared

Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, on July 15, 2019, cleared Baithiudeen of complicity in the Easter Sunday attacks. The declaration was made in Kinniya, Trincomalee, on the basis of police reports. Thavaraja interpreted Premier Wickremesinghe statement in a communiqué, titled ‘Sri Lanka clears ACMC leader Rishad.’

The police certainly acted fast, in Bathiudeen’s case, whereas a complaint made against Zahran Hashim, way back in June 2017, was never investigated. The Attorney General Department, under flak over its own lapses as regards the bungled inquiry into the Zahran’s affair, exposed the entire police department before the PSC. The AG Department team, included Deputy Solicitor General Azath Navavi, who was earlier accused of sitting on the Zahran’s file, along with State Counsel Malik Azeez.

Azath Navavi’s father, M H M Navavi, served the parliament as a member of the UNP National List. The politician quit his seat after having served about half of his five-year term. Of course, Navavi didn’t forget to procure a super luxury Toyota Land Cruiser with a tax exemption amounting to Rs 33 mn before giving another party member the opportunity to receive the massive exemption. The UNP accommodated Navavi on its National List on Bathiudeen’s request. Navavi handed over his letter of resignation to the Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Dassanayake, on May 23, 2018. It would be pertinent to mention that UNP leader Wickremesinghe accommodated Navavi on the UNP National List after the people of Puttalam rejected him. Navavi is the only defeated UNP candidate to enter through the National List and the second to quit National List. In January, 2018, SLMC member Mohamed Hafeel Mohamed Salman quit to pave the way for his party to appoint another member. Salman, too, acquired a super luxury Land Cruiser, like most of his colleagues. Most politicians, in the current parliament, preferred Toyoya Land Cruiser, a vehicle with good second hand value.

The National List seems to be part of payoffs at the taxpayers’ expense, the vast majority of who are struggling to make ends meet.

Did Navavi and Salman sell their vehicles like their colleagues? Of the 225 members in parliament, the vast majority sold their duty free vehicles. Attorney-at-law Nagananda Kodituwakku made an abortive bid to have the vehicle permit scam halted.

In spite of the police and the AG Department trying desperately to shift the blame to each other, there is no doubt as to how negligence facilitated the Thowheed project. The police and the AG Department should examine the circumstances leading to an attack, described as worse than any of those carried out by the LTTE during the entire war.

Bathiudeen fights back

Following Bathiudeen’s meeting with the Bishop of Mannar, the media received two separate statements, with pix ,from the ministry. When the writer made inquiries as to why Bathiudeen’s ministry issued two different statements, on the same meeting, it came to light that the controversial politician had hired media specialist Prasanna Adikari, who, until recently, managed Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne’s media team. Bathiudeen, in spite of having the services of an exceptionally good media team, brought in Adikari as his political opponents stepped up pressure on him. Having been accused of destroying Wilpattu, Bathiudeen was overwhelmed when the JO launched a devastating attack on him over the Easter Sunday attacks. The campaign was essentially based on Lt. Gen. Senanayake’s revelation that Bathiudeen called him thrice to inquire about a terrorist suspect in custody. Interestingly, no one bothered to attack Bathiudeen over him seeking State Defence Minister Wijewardene’s intervention. The arrest of Senior House Officer (SHO) Dr. Seigu Siyabdeen Mohammed Safi, attached to the Kurunegala hospital, on the night of May 24, 2019, over amassing of wealth, in a suspicious manner, amidst accusations he conducted a clandestine sterilization project, was quickly leaked to Bathiudeen. A section of the media reported as to how Bathiudeen nominated Safi to contest the Kurunegala district on the UNP ticket at the last parliamentary election, in August 2015. Safi resigned his post to contest the election. When the electorate rejected him, he was again accommodated on the health staff through a special cabinet paper. There is no doubt Bathiudeen intervened on Safi’s behalf. S.B. Dissanayake and Udaya Gammanpila, of the UPFA, repeatedly accused Bathiudeen and his wife of buying land in the Mannar administrative district over a period of time. However, inquiries revealed that some of the questionable land transactions had taken place before Bathiudeen switched his allegiance to UNP leader Wickremesinghe, in Dec, 2014, in the run up to the presidential poll, the following month.

The JVP accommodated the father of two Thowheed suicide bombers on its 2015 National List. The JVP never explained as to how Mohamed Ibrahim, one of Sri Lanka’s wealthiest businessmen, ended up in its National List. Don’t forget Zahran himself advised those who contested the Batticaloa district, at the last general election, as to how they should conduct the campaign. Zahran’s outfit backed Maithripala Sirisena at the last presidential election.

Struggling to cope up with massive media onslaught, Bathiudeen sought Adikari’s advice as part of his overall efforts to counter the campaign against him. Adikari provided the required wherewithal to meet the media offensive as Bathiudeen prepared to face the PSC. There hadn’t been a previous instance of the police headquarters requesting the public to lodge complaints against a member of parliament. This was in addition to the No-Confidence Motion (NCM) moved by the JO and UNP National List MP Ven Atureliye Rathana against Bathiudeen. However, Ven Rathana engaged in a much publicized fast into death in the Dalada Maligawa premises which, in the end, helped Bathiudeen to survive the NCM. Wickremesinghe, under heavy pressure to sack Bathiudeen over the Easter carnage, too, heaved a sigh of relief for obvious reasons. Citing Ven. Rathana’s fast unto death, launched on May 31, 2019, Bathiudeen resigned on June 03, 2019. Eight other Muslim lawmakers, representing the UNP, SLMC and his ACMC, resigned to express solidarity with the Vanni District MP. They made the announcement at Temple Trees with the blessings of Wickremesinghe. One may ask as to how Ven. Rathana facilitated Bathiudeen’s project. The fast unto death gave an excuse to Bathiudeen to resign. The resignation made the NCM irrelevant as such a move can be made only against a minister. The giving up of ministerial portfolios enabled Bathiudeen to side-step the issue against him.

Adikari served the JVP at the beginning of his career as the media officer for the then Agriculture Minister, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, during President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s tenure as the president.  Subsequently, Adikari served the then Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, followed by Tourism Minister Achala Jagoda, North Western Province Chief Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, Megapolis and Western Province Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka and Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne before taking over Bathiudeen’s assignment recently.

Bathiudeen’s parliamentary group consists of five members, including him. In spite of the ACMC having just five members, it wielded immense influence. Immediately after Bathiudeen meeting the Bishop of Mannar, the Minister’s  media officer, Joseph Thavaraja, in a statement issued quoted the Mannar-based priest, Right Reverend Dr. Fidelis Lionel Emmanuel Fernando, as having said: "Being a Cabinet Minister in the government enables one to render services to the public in a much bigger way. "I commend your decision to return to your Ministerial portfolio. This shall sustain your capacity to serve the public better." Thavaraja, who handles the English media for Bathiudeen, headlined his statement ‘Rt. Rev Bishop of Mannar commends Rishad for resuming cabinet portfolio.’ How clever?

Bathiudeen entered parliament, in 2001, on the UNP ticket. At that election, he was nominated by the SLMC. Bathiudeen returned to parliament again, at the 2004 April general election, on the UNP ticket. On that occasion, too, he was an SLMC nominee. At the 2010 general election, he contested on the UPFA ticket and was one of the most influential ministers at that time. In spite of the UNP accusing him of clearing Wilppattu and corruption, he was rewarded with the important Trade and Commerce portfolios, following the last parliamentary elections in 2015 August. Bathiudeen switched his allegiance to the UNP, along with the then SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena, in Dec 2014.

Bathiudeen has now cleared the way for a crucial role in the forthcoming presidential election, scheduled for late Nov-early Dec 2019. The SLMC Chief seems confident that he can proceed with a kingmaker role with the backing of a high profile media campaign. So far, Bathiudeen appears to have succeeded in surmounting the multi-pronged offensive directed at him. Bathiudeen recently took a common stand with Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem regarding the formation of the National Democratic Front (NDF). Their move, along with other minority parties, in the current dispensation, and the Sajith Premadasa group, compelled the UNP to put on hold the formation of the NDF. All of them want consensus on their candidate before the finalization of the agreement on the NDF. Bathiudeen is obviously back in a high profile political project. Let us await the PSC report on the Easter Sunday carnage, expected to be released before nominations open for the 2019 presidential poll. Will it confirm the Premier’s declaration that the police intelligence cleared him of complicity in the Thowheed project?

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

How AG Dept., facilitated Thowheed project revealed

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 281

 

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Parliament on Friday, July 26: Attorney General Dappula de Livera listening to Additional Solictor General Nerin Pulle. Additional Solicitor General Sumathi Dharmawardena, PC sits between them. State Counsel Malik Aziz looks on. This was taken before de Livera left the PSC having declined to particptate in the process.

by Shamindra Ferdinando

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) made quite a revelation on Friday, July 26, 2019, before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday attacks.

The CBSL team comprised the Governor of the Central Bank, Indrajit Coomaraswamy, Director of Financial Intelligence Unit, D.M. Rupasinghe, and Director of Department of Supervision of Non-Bank Financial Institutions R.R. Jayaratne. Rupasinghe testified in-camera on a request made by Dr. Coomaraswamy.

Dr. Coomaraswamy succeeded disgraced Singaporean, Arjuna Mahendran, in early July, 2016.

 Jayaratne and Dr. Coomaraswamy set the record straight as regards the Finance Act of 2017, after Power, Energy and Business Development Minister, Ravi Karunanayake, challenged CBSL condemnation of the Finance Act. Having stated that the Batticaloa Campus Limited and the Heera Foundation had received funds from Saudi Arabia on seven and 15 occasions, respectively, Jayaratne didn’t mince his words when he declared the new Act weakened the CBSL regulatory role, vis-a-vis illegal transactions.

M.L.A.M. Hizbullah is under investigation over clandestine money transactions, amidst accusations that both Batticaloa Campus Limited and the Heera Foundation were involved with the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ), responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks. At the time of the Easter Sunday attacks, Hizbullah functioned as the Governor of the Eastern Province, having served the current parliament as a UPFA National List member. Hizbullah moved to the East, in early January, 2019.

M.A. Sumanthiran, head of the Public Finance Committee, was present on the panel of lawmakers at the time CBSL made the shocking revelation. The PSC consists of its Chairman, Ananda Kumarasiri (UNP/Moneragala District), Ravi Karunanayake (UNP/Colombo), Dr. Rajitha Senaratne (UNP/Kalutara), Ashu Marasinghe (UNP National List), Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka (UNP National List), LSSPer Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne (UNP National List), M.A.Sumanthiran (TNA/Jaffna District) and Rauff Hakeem (UNP/Mahanuwara District).

When Jayaratne explained as to how the Exchange Control Act, introduced by the incumbent government, had impeded CBSL and was weaker than the one previously in operation, an irate Ravi Karunanayake, one-time Finance Minister, challenged the CBSL.

Ex-Finance Minister Karunanayake switched ministries with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, in May 2017. President Maithripala Sirisena removed Karunanayake from the cabinet of ministers, in early August 2017, in the wake of shocking revelations, in the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) on CBSL bond scams involving the disgraced Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL). Karunanayake was again accommodated in the cabinet of ministers, in Dec 2018, in the wake of the failed constitution coup.

RK vs CBSL

Karunanayake: Where does it say such transactions cannot be inquired into in terms of the new Act?

Jayaratne: In accordance with 2017 Exchange Control Act, Section 30, action cannot be taken.

Karunanayake: You prepared that Act. Why are you pretending as if you don’t know anything, about it?

CBSL amended it several times and sent it back.

Perhaps Jayaratne could have faced a ministerial onslaught if not for Dr. Commissary’s swift intervention. Had Dr. Coomaraswamy opted to remain silent, Jayaratne, probably would have had to suffer in silence unable to talk back to a powerful Minister

Dr. Coomaraswamy: No Sir. The Act actually was not drafted by us.

Karunanayake: Why not?

Dr. Coomaraswamy: No Sir. It was done outside. We were actually very upset about it.We were not included. That was drafted without the CBSL being involved. We were asked to comment on it

 JVP MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa: If Batticaloa Campus last received money in 2017, Hizbullah was aware of the new Act being drafted.

Jayaratne: Yes.

 Nalinda Jayatissa: It could have had happened.

Jayaratne: Present Act does not at least interpret what it meant by wrong.

Jayaratne: Unauthorized money transactions were taking place all over the country. Foreign currencies are kept illegally. Transactions do not come into official banking system, not even one USD.

The exchange between Karunanayake and the CBSL erupted when lawmaker Ashu Marasinghe, sought a clarification as regards the difference in the current and the previous Exchange Control Acts.

Chief of the Public Finance Committee Sumanthiran remained silent during the exchange between Karunanayake and the CBSL.

Surprisingly, the PSC refrained from questioning Hizbullah over widely reported clandestine meetings he had with several Saudi nationals, at a Pasikudah hotel, soon after the Easter attacks.

The circumstances in which the Finance Act had been introduced have been disputed by no less a person than the CBSL Governor. It would be pertinent to recall the advice given by Dr. Coomaraswamy to the electorate late last year. Dr. Coomaraswamy issued the advice before President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved parliament at midnight on Nov 09, 2018 following the sacking of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Crucial advice to electorate

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."

The shocking CBSL revelation, before the PSC, certainly justified Dr. Coomaraswamy’s statement, before the P CoI late last year. Jayaratne deserves to be publicly applauded for his forthright stand before the PSC. If Jayaratne hesitated, Dr. Coomaraswamy, probably, wouldn’t have had an opportunity to expose an utterly corrupt procedure adopted through the enactment of the new Exchange Control Act. Parliament should inquire into the circumstances under which the said Act was brought in.

With the 2019 presidential election, scheduled for Nov-Dec, followed by the general election, Dr. Coomaraswamy’s advice is of crucial importance.

The CBSL stand before the PSC didn’t receive the coverage it really deserved. The media, both print and electronic, should review their coverage, pertaining to vital developments. Perhaps, the July 26 proceedings, in the PSC, were the most important, since the sittings began in early June 2019 - about eight weeks after the Easter Sunday attacks.

In spite of the PSC being accused of being a Temple Trees project, meant to save the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen, MP, alleged to have been involved with the NTJ, some members of Deputy Speaker Kumarasiri’s outfit proved their mettle.

The UPFA obviously failed to take advantage of the PSC. The UPFA, comprising the JO and the SLFP, missed a golden opportunity to question those summoned by the PSC. They probably felt comfortable in boycotting the PSC. Gampaha District Catholic MP Dr. Kavinda Jayawardena, too, squandered a chance to grill those summoned by the PSC.

Thanks to the PSC, it has been proved beyond doubt the negligence on the part of the Attorney General’s Department led to the Easter Sunday attacks. It has been established that local security authorities quite correctly recognized the growing threat posed by Zahran Hashim, in early 2017. Having inquired into Zahran’s activities, and that of the NTJ, the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), in June 2017 sought the AG’s approval to neutralize the threat. The AG didn’t respond to the TID request till the NTJ squad carried out near simultaneous attacks, on three churches, in Colombo, Battcaloa and Negombo, and three luxury hotels in Colombo.

The PSC was told as to how the AG summoned the police, for a meeting on March 12, 2019, to discuss Zahran’s matter, in response to the TID’s request, made in June 2017.

Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, served as the AG at that time. Jayasuriya now functions as the Chief Justice. It was also revealed, before the PSC, as to how Senior State Counsel, Malik Aziz, handling Zahran’s file, delegated the responsibility for watching video clips of Zahran to another person. Perhaps, the PSC should summon that unidentified person and ascertain how he felt when Zahran’s gang struck devastating attacks.

Shocking lapse

The following question and answer session, involving lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, Prof. Ashu Marasinghe, Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne, Senior Deputy Solicitor General Sumathi Dharmawardena as well as Malik Aziz, is revealing:

M.A. Sumanthiran: The police sent you CDs containing video clips of Zahran, did you receive them?

SDSG Dharmawardena: Yes

Prof Marasinghe: Did you watch them?

SDSG Dharmawardena: You cannot ask me whether I watched them.

Prof Marasinghe: I am not asking from you as a person but I am asking from the Department.

SDSG Dharmawardena: Senior State Counsel Malik Aziz had instructed another official to watch them and, as per the minute we have here, they have compiled a report on May 12, 2019.

Dr Wickremaratne: So you commenced the inquiry, in June 2017, and compiled the report only one month after the bombs went off?

 Sumanthiran: Did the Department ask for reports on updated situation from the police?

SDSG Dharmawardena: No

 Sumanthiran: Isn’t it the usual practice to rely on contemporaneous evidence?

SDSG Dharmawardena: I need to refer back to the file to respond to that question.

At the onset of the proceedings, lawmaker Kumarasiri raised serious lapses on the part of the AG’s Department, from Dappula de Livera. Livera succeeded Jayasuriya, in early May this year.

On the part of Kumarasiri, there was absolutely no hesitation to seek an explanation as to why the AG’s Department neglected its responsibilities, thereby paving the way for Zahran’s murderous endeavour.

Dappula declined to answer on the basis his statement before the PSC could undermine his role as the AG. Livera asserted that if he testified before this commission, rather this committee, as a witness, that would compromise his functions as AG in the discharge of his duties in cases in respect of the Easter Sunday attacks. President’s Counsel on behalf of the PSC accepted Livera’s position following consultations among the members.

What transpired after Livera left the PSC, bared the criminal negligence on the part of a department. Ashu Marasinghe exposed the irresponsible conduct of Senior State Counsel Malik Aziz who sat on the file for nearly two years while Zahran made meticulous preparations for the operation.

Ashu Marasinghe a posed contentious query to Aziz as to how he felt after the Easter Sunday carnage? Aziz, obviously, struggled to cope up with Marasinghe’s line of questioning. Marasinghe reminded Aziz as to how he ignored a note dated May 31, 2018, that reminded him of Zahran’s matter.

Proceedings on July 26, 2019 proved beyond doubt that Sri Lanka could have thwarted the attack on its own. Proceedings also underscored that though some attributed Zahran’s success to the arrest of DIG Nalaka de Silva in charge of the TID, in late Oct 2018. Before him being given bail, in early May 2019 pending investigations, the police headquarters named DIG Waruna Jayasundera as DIG, TID. Nalaka de Silva is under investigation for conspiracy to assassinate President Sirisena and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The police, too, appeared to have not done enough to secure the required approval especially after Zahran carried out an attack on Kattankudy - based opponents.

Contrary to claims that arrest of intelligence personnel by the yahapalana government weakened the intelligence apparatus so much that Zahran was able to launch attacks, the police had sufficient evidence to zero in on Zahran, though the AG felt otherwise.

Marasinghe sought an explanation from Aziz whether he was conversant with the ICCPR (The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) and could Zahran be dealt with that law. Aziz, reluctantly acknowledged that Zahran could have been dealt with the ICCPR. It was nothing but admission of guilt on the part of the Senior State Counsel.

Marasinghe pointed out as to how those who neglected their responsibilities in Zahran’s case pounced on award-winning writer, Shakthika Sathkumara, allegedly for a story on a gay monk. Marasinghe explained the utilization of ICCPR to remand Sathkumara pending investigations. Sathkumara is still in prison.

Role of the CNI

Indian Intelligence services obviously had followed Zahran, and his cohorts, much more closely than our own law enforcement authorities. The PSC should definitely inquire into as to why the police immediately didn’t get in touch with the AG after the Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) retired DIG Sisira Mendis - a member of the National Security Council (NSC) - the received the Indian alert on April 04, 2019. The country knows all about how the NSC neglected its responsibility. Police headquarters owed an explanation as to why an immediate threat assessment wasn’t done as regards Zahran and the NTJ in the wake of the Indian warning. Strangely, the PSC so far made no attempt to establish as to why Army’s Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), Sri Lanka’s premier intelligence agency, was deprived of the Indian warning. The previous Rajapaksa administration created the post of CNI to accommodate top intelligence veteran Maj. Gen. Kapila Hendavitharana. As the CNI, Hendavitharana oversaw the entire intelligence apparatus, since 2007 till January 2015. However, soon after the presidential poll, Hendavitharana was replaced by retired DIG Sisira Mendis, a very experienced investigator. Unfortunately, he lacked experience in running an intelligence service. It would be interesting to know as to who decided that the CNI shouldn’t share vital information with the DMI.

Mendis retired amidst a media furor. President Sirisena again entrusted the duties of the CNI with the military. Maj. Gen. Ruwan Kulatunga now functions as the CNI.

Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake is on record as having said that DMI was deprived of the Indian warning. Senanayake said so in response to a query from Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith when he visited the Catholic leader at the Bishop’s House, Borella, immediately after the Easter attacks and at the President’s House, in response to the writer’s query at a meeting chaired by President Sirisena.

The PSC never bothered to ask DIG Mendis whether he received instructions to stop sharing information with the DMI or who issued such instructions, if any. The PSC should have asked Lt. Gen. Senanayake when DMI realized the halt in intelligence sharing process.

The AG’s failure and the enactment of the Exchange Control Act, detrimental to the national economy underscored the urgent need to overhaul the current system. Have you ever heard of a parliament bringing in a law that impeded existing regulatory systems, especially those run by the CBSL. The pivotal importance of CBSL cannot be ignored. The current opposition in parliament should take up CBSL revelation as well as the pathetic AG’s Department. The AG’s Department cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for the Easter Sunday attacks. The Department allowed the time and space for Zahran to go ahead with his operation.

Close on the heels of revelations in parliament as regards the dismal performance of the AG’s Department, the Buddhist clergy lodged complaints with police headquarters, demanding the immediate arrest of Senior State Counsel Aziz. Law enforcement authorities cannot, under any circumstances, afford not to investigate whether the Senior State Counsel was subject to any sort of pressure by interested group/groups not to authorize police action.

Zahran had access to many, including politicians. In response to a query posed by the writer, National Front for Good Governance (NFGG) leader and entrepreneur Abdul Rahuman, in late May, 2019, admitted as to how Zahran summoned those contesting the Batticaloa district for a meeting in Kattankudy, in the run up to the 2015 August 17 parliamentary election. The Island raised the issue at a special media briefing, called by NFGG, at Mandarina Hotel, on the Galle road.

When The Island sought an explanation from Rahuman as to how he had contested the August 2015 parliamentary polls as his NFGG received recognition only in 2017, he said that he contested on the SLMC ticket. Rahuman disclosed how he secured nomination as a result of what he described as a tripartite agreement involving the UNP, the SLMC and the NFGG. "The SLMC contested in Batticaloa on its own though in Trincomalee all contested under the UNP ticket. The NFGG fielded a medical doctor in the Trincomalee District." Rahuman alleged that photographs taken at the meeting arranged by the NTJ, in Kattankudy, way back in 2015, had been used to link the NFGG to those involved in the Easter Sunday carnage.

With the father of two of Zahran’s suicide bombers on the JVP National List (was arrested soon after the blasts), a hardcore NTJ operative infiltrating the parliament staff (was taken into custody) in addition to Dr. Seigu Siyabdeen Mohammed Safi of the Kurunegala making an abortive bid to enter parliament on the UNP ticket at the last general election (Safi received nomination due to Rishard Bathiudeen’s intervention - given bail pending investigations into alleged sterilization project) the threat faced by Sri Lanka is not yet over. Anyone trying to dispel fears of fresh NTJ attacks for political reasons will only invite trouble.