Tuesday, 29 January 2019

A still valid tripartite agreement on foreign judges: Foreign Ministry’s role (Part II)



Part I of this article appeared last Wednesday (Jan. 23)

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure to exploit Lord Naseby’s disclosure in the House of Commons must be examined against the backdrop of an assurance given by the government of Sri Lanka to the US in late June 2016.

The Lord made his revelation in mid–Oct. 2017 whereas the US received an assurance from Sri Lanka as regards its readiness to accept a hybrid war crimes investigation mechanism in June 2016.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Jaffna District lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran revealed the existence of a tripartite agreement on such a war crimes probe in June 2016. The TNA’s partner the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) revealed that this tripartite agreement had been the basis for the Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka.

Interestingly, no one knew of the secret agreement, the Office of the then Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan disclosed the circumstances leading to the unprecedented agreement.

Did Foreign Ministry play a part in this agreement? Did anyone or a group of Foreign Ministry officials contribute to this project? And most importantly, when exactly, was consensus reached on foreign judges and other foreign personnel on the accountability process?

MP Sumanthiran, now in the centre of controversy over moves to introduce a new Constitution, can set the record straight.

The TNA made available Sumanthiran’s statement to The Island soon after he delivered it at the ‘Congressional Caucus for Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka’ in Washington. On behalf of the TNA, Sumanthiran claimed to have reached a tripartite consensus in respect of foreign judges, defence attorneys, investigators etc., in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism to probe war crimes. This agreement was reached before the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) unanimously adopted a resolution to pave the way for inquiry.

Sumanthiran told the gathering that the government of Sri Lanka, the TNA and the US had been involved in the negotiations leading to the agreement.

The declaration was made in the presence of the then Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington Prasad Kariyawasam.

The event was moderated by Sadhanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank. The Caucus is an initiative launched by United States House of Representatives Bill Johnson of Ohio and Danny Davis of Illinois, in Nov, 2013.

In his brief remarks, Ambassador Kariyawasam provided an overview of the measures taken by Sri Lanka to promote its two-pronged policy of reconciliation and development since the January 2015 election of the current government and reiterated in detail, measures taken by the government to vindicate its commitment to these processes and explained the several challenges that militate against government efforts. A statement issued by the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington didn’t make any reference to Sumanthiran’s shocking disclosure.

Even after two years, the government never referred/responded to Sumanthiran’s claim. However, the TNA contradicted its own statement amidst severe criticism of Sumanthiran’s declaration. The following is the full text of a TNA statement dated July 03, 2016 sent to The Island: "The Tamil National Alliance rejects the rumors that have been appearing in the public media stating that the TNA, Government of Sri Lanka and the United States have come to an agreement with regard to the implementation of the UN resolution 30/1, especially with regard to the accountability processes.

The Tamil National Alliance has always held the position that the resolution must be implemented both in letter and spirit and there has been no change in this position. We will remain committed and take all necessary steps to ensure that the resolution is implemented fully in the future.

The TNA wishes to urge all Sri Lankans not to get carried away by these rumors and to remain united in restoring justice and equality among all citizens and to work towards reconciliation and building a united undivided Sri Lanka."

Obviously, the TNA lied in a bid to deceive the public. Perhaps, the UNP advised TNA leader R. Sampanthan and his right-hand man Sumanthiran to issue a statement.

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

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

The writer raised Sumanthiran’s Washington declaration with Marapana after the President’s Counsel addressed the media at the Foreign Ministry. The UNP brought back Marapana to the cabinet in Aug 2017 at the expense of Ravi Karunanayake. Standing next to Marapana was the then Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam, who had been our previous Ambassador in Washington. Kariyawasam sat next to Sumanthiran when the latter revealed the existence of a secret tripartite agreement on foreign participation in the accountability process.

In his lengthy presentation to the Congressional caucus on June 14, 2016 Sumanthiran discussed a range of issues, including the role of the US and India in the resolution of the national issue.

In response to the writer’s query, Marapana declared that the 1978 Constitution wouldn’t permit the inclusion of foreign judges in the proposed domestic Judicial Mechanism under any circumstances.

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 quite conveniently had forgotten that a government appointed body in January endorsed the Geneva Resolution. The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM) called for full participation of foreign judges, and other personnel, including defence lawyers, prosecutors and investigators, in transitional justice mechanism to address accountability issues.

The CTFRM released the controversial report on the eve of the third anniversary of President Maithripala Sirisena’s victory over his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Those who had been propagating the lie that war winning President Rajapaksa’s defeat, at the January 2015, presidential polls, would automatically save Sri Lanka from the humiliation of being probed by the international community, ended up with egg on their faces. The well compiled dossier backed calls for foreign participation in the judicial process. The writer is also of the view that the victims should not be deprived of a proper inquiry. The Yahapalana government cannot ignore its own recommendations.

The CTFRM comprised Manouri Muttetuwegama, Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Gamini Viyangoda, Prof. Sitralega Maunaguru, Dr Farzana Haniffa, Mirak Raheem, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, Visaka Dharmadasa, Shantha Abhimanasingham, PC, K.W. Janaranjana and Prof. Daya Somasundaram.

The Foreign Ministry owed the country an explanation as to its role in the Geneva process leading to first ‘yahapalana’ foreign minister Samaraweera co-sponsoring the 2015 resolution. The Foreign Ministry, obviously, approved Sumanthiran’s controversial Washington declaration and subsequently did everything possible to ensure the continuation of the project. Sri Lanka’s despicable decision not to utilize evidence available for its defence at the right place should be examined in this background.

Contrary to numerous presidential declarations and public assurances, President Sirisena, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces is yet to take tangible measures to have unsubstantiated allegations re-examined. President Sirisena never acted on Lord Naseby’s disclosure made in October 2017 though a letter of appreciation was sent to the British politician.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government warmly welcomed the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF), an organization working closely with the TNA. The TNA and the GTF, established official contact in 2011, two years after the conclusion of the war and essentially followed the same agenda. They agreed on the Geneva Resolution. The writer raised with UK based GTF spokesperson Suren Surendiran, some time ago, the possibility of them giving up the clause to have foreign judges and other personnel in judicial mechanism. Surendiran told the writer that agreement on the text of the Geneva resolution had been reached following negotiations among what he called the Core Group of members at the UNHRC, the government of Sri Lanka and representatives of Tamils. The agreement on a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the special counsel’s office of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators was certainly not negotiable, Surendiran stressed.

Both MP Sumanthiran and Surendiran are on record as having repeated that they expected the full implementation of the UNHRC resolution.

Foreign Ministry strategy

Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana and Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha recently dealt with their strategy at a certificate awarding ceremony on January 11, 2019 of the two-week long Public Diplomacy and Media Relations training programme, organized by the Ministry for its officials in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI). According to the ministry the project was meant to enhance public diplomacy and media relations skill of the officers of the 2018 intake of the Sri Lanka Foreign Service and some of mid-level officers serving in the Ministry.

Last week, we discussed Marapana’s address at the certificate awarding ceremony.

The ministry, in a statement issued two days after the certificate awarding ceremony quoted Foreign Secretary Aryasinha as having said: "...the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a pivotal role to play in public diplomacy both at home and abroad and this rigorous training programme has equipped  several groups of foreign service officers at different levels with the necessary skills to execute the public diplomacy agenda of the government for the next twenty years."

While emphasizing the necessity  for diplomats to build relationships with the media, Aryasinha said the programme provided a platform for the diplomats and the journalistic community to engage in understanding each other’s perspectives, paving the way for an enduring relationship.

The Foreign Ministry said: "The programme which aimed at helping participants understand the concepts and methods of public diplomacy, its dimensions, and its role in the information age, was oriented to train officials in the practical application of different public diplomacy tools in their line of work. It included lectures on theoretical aspects of public diplomacy and media relations by senior journalists, Colombo-based foreign diplomats, experts and practitioners, covering a wide range of issues including the history of public diplomacy, the role of media in shaping public opinion, social media, interaction with media and the freedom of expression in the context of the RTI Act."

"It also included sessions with experts and practitioners including resident foreign correspondents and diplomats , on the practical aspects of public diplomacy such as news release writing, conducting press conferences, giving interviews and using social media effectively, with participants facing mock press conferences and interviews on camera. They also visited the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (Lake House) to gain first-hand experience of the functioning of a ‘news room’."

"The participating officials also had discussions with journalists as to how Sri Lankan diplomats could do better in media relations and on the needs of media in Sri Lanka and abroad with respect to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Sri Lanka Missions overseas."

The Foreign Ministry efforts in this regard should be appreciated. However, the country is in such a sorry state, a super human effort is required to change Sri Lanka’s direction. The country is certainly heading for a catastrophe, thanks to a corrupt political party system. Marapana must have realized the pathetic situation and desired improvement, hence his call to his ministry to depict Sri Lanka as a civilized nation. In other words, one-time Attorney General and President’s Counsel Marapana admits Sri Lanka is not a civilized nation.

The writer was among those invited by the SLPI to address the officers at its Kirulapone office. The opportunity was used to remind those present how successive governments, including the present one neglected their responsibilities much to the disappointment of the vast majority of people. Their failures finally led to yahapalana administration co-sponsoring a resolution against the country. Sri Lanka will be dealt in terms of the Oct 2015 Resolution when the human rights council convenes in March 2019.

Political crisis causing havoc

Perhaps, Sri Lanka entered a new phase of conflict with the Ceasefire Agreement between the government and the LTTE in Feb 2002. Norway arranged the CFA. The Foreign Ministry was largely overlooked in that endeavour. However, the ministry never examined the CFA even after the collapse of the one-sided agreement that seriously jeopardized national security. Sri Lanka paid dearly for the obvious negligence and the Foreign Ministry cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for the overall crisis thereafter leading to war winning Sri Lanka beinghauled up before the international community. The country coming up for discussion in March 2019 is a reminder of Sri Lanka’s dilemma.

In spite of the Foreign Ministry’s failure, serving Foreign Service officer Dr. Chanaka Talpahewa comprehensively dealt with circumstances leading to Eelam War IV in Aug 2006 in his ‘Peaceful Intervention in intra-state conflicts: Norwegian Involvement in the Sri Lankan Peace Process.’ Dr. Talpahewa’s work should be examined against the backdrop of a recent admission made by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in New Delhi early this month. The statement couldn’t have been made at a better time for those who despised the Norwegian intervention here. Addressing the media on January 07, 2019, Soloberg acknowledged Norway’s engagement in the Sri Lankan peace facilitation was a fiasco. She was in New Delhi on a three-day state visit.

Foreign media quoted the Norwegian PM as having said: "nobody from the outside can make peace or make changes". Acknowledging Norwegian efforts weren’t a success, Solberg said: "I’m sorry to say I don’t think our Sri Lanka efforts led to a big success and I’m still sorry for the way the conflict in Sri Lanka ended."

Dr. Chanaka Talpahewa, dealt with a range of contentious issues, including the finalization of the CFA in February, 2002, under controversial circumstances, the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, in early August, 2005, as well as secret negotiations between the government and the LTTE meant to facilitate LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham’s evacuation from Sri Lanka.. Dr. Talpahewa discussed Norway’s failure in Sri Lanka due to multiple reasons. The serving foreign service officer explained that the personal affinity between the Norwegians and the LTTE leadership, had a significant impact on the peace process.

Foreign Ministry neglected its responsibility to convince the government to commission a comprehensive study, soon after the conclusion of the Vanni offensive in May 2009. Instead, the previous government squandered massive sums of taxpayers’ money on expensive US public relations firms foolishly thinking they could change the mindset in Washington in our favour. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), too, lacked the required mandate to conduct a comprehensive study, though some aspects of the Norwegian role were examined.

Did Talpahewa receive the required support for his efforts? Should he be commended for courageous no-holds-barred approach in examining an extremely sensitive issue?

Lord Naseby’s selfless efforts gave Sri Lanka an opportunity to defend itself in Geneva though our corrupt political set up squandered that chance. Sri Lanka did not take any notice of honour bestowed on Lord Naseby. Lord Naseby, on Oct 13, 2018, received the BRISLA (British Sri Lanka Association) award for being an Outstanding Friend to the British-Sri Lankan community from British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and Ambassador to Maldives, James Dauris. Non-profit organization BRISLA recognizes achievements and contributions made in the spheres of Healthcare, Literary Arts, Performing Arts and Entrepreneurship. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government was represented at the recently concluded event by Sugeeshwara Gunaratna, the Acting Sri Lankan High Commissioner in the UK.

The inaugural BRISLA awards ceremony was held on Nov 15, 2015 at Grange St Paul’s Hotel in London. Sri Lanka cricket great Kumar Sangakkara was also among those honoured at the inaugural event.

Did Lord Naseby deserve Sri Lanka honours?

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Sri Lanka at the mercy of a treacherous setup (Part I)




(Standing) Officers of the 2018 intake of the Sri Lanka Foreign Service and several mid-level officers serving the Ministry with Minister Tilak Marapana. Seated (L-R) CEO of the Sri Lanka Press Institute Kumar Lopez, Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha, Minister Tilak Marapana, Director General Public Diplomacy and Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Saroja Sirisena and Head of the Sri Lanka College of Journalism Shan Wijethunge

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, PC, recently urged Sri Lanka Foreign Service (SLFS) to enhance the country’s image overseas through efficient and effective execution of public diplomacy, utilizing its intrinsic brands such as Buddhism, gems, tea, spices, high-end export products and the warmth of traditional Sri Lankan hospitality.

The retired Attorney General was addressing officers of the 2018 intake of the SLFS at a certificate awarding ceremony on January 11, 2019 at the ministry following the conclusion of a two-week long public diplomacy and media relations training programme jointly organized with the collaboration of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI).

One-time TV journalist/anchorman Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha was among those serving and retired SLFS officers present.

The following is the Encyclopedia Britannica definition of Public diplomacy, also called people’s diplomacy: Any of various government-sponsored efforts aimed at communicating directly with foreign public. Public diplomacy includes all official efforts to convince targeted sectors of foreign opinion to support or tolerate a government’s strategic objectives. Methods include statements by decision makers, purposeful campaigns conducted by government organizations dedicated to public diplomacy, and efforts to persuade international media to portray official policies favourably to foreign audiences."

The Foreign Ministry, in a statement issued two days after the event stated that such a professional training programme hadn’t been organized before. The ministry certainly owed the public an explanation as to why those who had served the ministry during a turbulent period were denied the required expertise.

The Foreign Ministry statement, dated January 13, 2019, quoted Marapana as having stressed the importance of depicting Sri Lanka as a civilized nation with people full of loving-kindness who feel for each other and an abundance of talent. "That message has to be given loud and clear," the Minister said. Marapana urged diplomats to be innovative in this image-building exercise and in changing perceptions about Sri Lanka. The Minister asserted that skills in public diplomacy and media relations would be extremely useful in these endeavours.

In the wake of an abortive bid by President Maithripala Sirisena to sack Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka is in deepening turmoil with the UNP still unable to prove its simple majority in parliament, even several weeks after Mahinda Rajapaksa quit the premiership.

Rajapaksa quit the premiership on Dec 15, 2019 soon after the Supreme Court upheld an interim Appeal Court ruling in respect of quo warranto petition filed by 122 lawmakers. The judicial stand humiliated the SLFS. Having had assured foreign governments that President Maithripala Sirisena acted in terms of the Constitution, judicial action stunned the already mauled SLFS. It would be pertinent to mention that Ambassador Aryasinha had to represent the country on more than one occasion at diplomatic functions for want of a legitimate government during the constitutional crisis.

The SLFS cannot depend on public diplomacy or any other specialized programme to save the country if our politicians are determined to ruin the country.

Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy in Nov, 2018 told a P Col (Presidential Commission of Inquiry) 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 did not mince his words when he 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", he said.

The CB Governor’s statement, made before the PCol on irregularities at SriLankan Airlines, SriLankan Catering and Mihin Lanka, couldn’t have been made at a better time for those who hoped for 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 questioned the suitability of people’s representatives in parliament.

In addition to parliament, that can be considered perhaps the most corrupt institution in the country, the Provincial Council and Local Government systems, too, are utterly corrupt.

For want of overall political leadership and political will, the Foreign Ministry, obviously suffered over the years. In fact, all key ministries experienced setbacks and debacles due to the pathetic political leadership during the conflict. Unfortunately, nearly a decade after the conclusion of the war, the country appears to be in a far worse situation with political parties pulling in different directions.

All political parties are too sharply divided over various contentious issues, particularly positions, perks, privileges and opportunities.

Can public diplomacy help Sri Lanka as it struggles to cope up with accountability issues and a weakening national economy?

Sri Lanka faces the Geneva gauntlet in March this year with the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF) taking up the appointment of wartime General Officer Commanding (GOC) the celebrated Task Force 1, Shavendra Silva, as Army Chief, of Staff with the international community. Last week, the writer explained how the war winning military suffered as a result of Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure to counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.

The failure on the part of the Foreign Ministry to inquire into the Mannar mass graves even after Colombo based diplomats and other foreign representatives visited the site late last year, underscored the need for the powers that be to identify priorities and responsibilities.

Marapana’s return to cabinet

MP Marapana received the foreign ministry portfolio in Aug. 2017, over two years after the last parliamentary election. The UNP with President Sirisena’s approval replaced Assistant Leader of the party, Ravi Karunanayake, who had been embroiled in a kickback controversy over treasury bond scams involving disgraced primary dealer Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) perpetrated in Feb 2015 and March 2016.

After the change of government in January 2015, Marapana, accommodated on the UNP National List, received the law and order and prisons reforms portfolio. Marapana received the wrath of some of his cabinet colleagues for strongly defending the controversial Avant Garde Maritime Services (AGMS), the lucrative business owned by former Army Commando Major Nissanka Senadhipathy. Marapana resigned the ministerial portfolio in November 2015, though he continued as an ordinary MP.

Marapana should earn the appreciation of the public for unhesitatingly taking a stand on any controversial issue regardless of the consequences. The Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) holds Marapana in high esteem for intervening on its behalf at the time of the Aturugiriya fiasco at the onset of December 2001 UNP-led United National Front (UNF) government.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government pursued the AGMS accused of serious offences, including operating an offshore illegal armoury though it was known that the company had provided security to those vessels operated in high seas threatened by pirates. Another ‘yahapalana’ minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, too, was attacked by his colleagues for throwing his weight behind the AGMS.

Wijeyadasa Rajapakse never ever contemplated giving up the justice ministry though finally the UNPer was removed in August 2017 on the basis that he interfered in investigations. The President’s Counsel was accused of being the guardian angel of wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the target of several investigations.

Ministerial spats, too, inevitably contributed to the deterioration of the administration. A vital arm of the government-the SLFS was also badly affected.

When it transpired before the P CoI on treasury bond scams that Karunanayake benefited from the PTL owner Arjuna Aloysius, the top UNPer was unceremoniously replaced. Marapana re- entered the cabinet at Karunanayake’s expense. No wonder Karunanayake often flays those on the National List, flaying them for being the bane of the party. Karunanayake, who had always led the party from the front will never forgive Marapana. The National List MP recommended that Karunanayake be prevented from exercising his duties and responsibilities as the Assistant Leader of the ruling party. The recommendation obviously infuriated Karunanayake who lashed out at his National List colleague at every available opportunity. Karunanayake has targeted another influential National List colleague on several occasions.

Karunanayake, who held the finance portfolio in the ‘yahapalana’ government at the time of both treasury bond scams, exchanged portfolios with Mangala Samaraweera in May 2017.

President Sirisena moved out Samaraweera, at that time under heavy fire over co-sponsoring the Oct 2015 Geneva Resolution in spite of the then Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva Ambassador Aryasinha opposing the text at the first informal session there.

In spite of the change at the top, the Foreign Ministry followed Samaraweera policies.

The ‘yahapalana’ government was in a mighty hurry to finalize the Geneva Resolution though the accusations directed at the military weren’t proved or at least verified. Sri Lanka never challenged the primary accusation regarding the massacre of 40,000 Tamil civilians on the Vanni east front. The war winning Rajapaksa government simply neglected its responsibility by the armed forces and towards end of its second term, squandered taxpayers money by hiring US and other public relations firms to counter war crimes allegations. In other words, the Rajapaksa administration outsourced the responsibilities of the Foreign Ministry.

The Central Bank, too, played a significant role in the wasteful project meant to influence the US. Having lost the Geneva vote on war crimes thrice during the Rajapaksa administration (second term 2010-2015), Sri Lanka co sponsored an unprecedented resolution against its own in October 2015 under the UNP led ‘yahapalana’ regime.

Sri Lanka created history by being the first country to accept extremely hostile resolution in addition to recommendations meant to undermine the unitary status of the country. Marapana, too, followed the same policies.

Marapana lost the foreign ministry to Dr. Sarath Amunugama in Oct, 2018 though he regained it late Dec 2018 following the judicial intervention forcing the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine to give up its project.

During the crisis triggered by Wickremesinghe’s sacking, an influential section of the international community openly threw its weight behind the UNP. The diplomatic community went to the extent of visiting the parliament during proceedings held therein. A delegation that included the EU assured Speaker Karu Jayasuriya of its continuous support. Having met the delegation, Speaker Jayasuriya issued a dire warning to Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine.

Those who had backed the US sponsored resolution as part of their overall project to humiliate the Rajapaksa administration are determined on the continuation of the UNP government.

Since those at the helm of political power had caused such vast scale destruction, Marapana should realize that the SLFS can never ever repair damage by adopting public diplomacy strategies alone at this stage. Marapana cannot absolve himself of the responsibility for the current state of affairs even if he quits the government now.

Both the Rajapaksa and the current administrations caused havoc by depriving the foreign service of its rightful place. Had the SLFS received its due place and the politicians sought the expertise of the once proud arm of the State, the country could have handled difficult situations much better.

Contentious issues

The Foreign Minister still owed the country an explanation as to how Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington Prasad Kariyawasam contributed to TNA heavyweight M.A. Sumanthiran’s strategy meant to promote foreign judges in war crimes investigation mechanism.

The writer firmly believes that foreign judges and other experts should be part of the accountability mechanism to ensure public faith in the system. However, those responsible for the Geneva Resolution should re-examine allegations against the backdrop of revelations made in the House of Commons in Oct 2017.

Lord Naseby, on the basis of wartime dispatches (Jan-May, 2009) from the British High Commission in Colombo countered the primary allegation that the military massacred 40,000 civilians in the final phase of the assault on the Vanni east front. The Conservative Party politician made his declaration on the strength of documents (from the British High Commission in Colombo) obtained from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) with the intervention of the UK Information Commissioner’s Office.

The British dispatches estimated the maximum number of dead at 8,000. Wartime British Resident Defence Advisor (RDA) in Colombo Lt. Col. Anton Gash on the basis of information available to him from both parties to the conflict placed the number of LTTE dead at one fourth of 8,000. The British assertion tallied with the still confidential UN survey (Aug 2008-May 2009) carried out in the Vanni region with the help of NGOs, INGOs and government officials based there.

The British revelation obviously sent shock waves through the Sri Lanka government. The British, too, were shaken. The British did everything possible to deny Lord Naseby’s request for information from the FCO made on Nov 06, 2014. Had the British made available the required information immediately, the West would have found it difficult to pressure Sri Lanka over a Geneva Resolution. The House of Commons revelation in respect of war crimes in Oct, 2017 underscored the urgent requirement to re-examine the case.

The UN Secretary General’s spokesman, in response to a query from the writer said that Sri Lanka had an opportunity to appeal for re-examination of accusations. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government squandered a valuable opportunity. The Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine, too, did nothing during 50-day premiership of Rajapaksa. Having regained government and formed a new UNP cabinet on Dec 20, 2018, the administration is yet to do anything on the Geneva issue.

Marapana’s appeal to SLFS to protect Sri Lanka’s interests should be examined against the failure on the part of the political leadership to counter Geneva lies, even after the Lord Naseby created an opportunity.

Marapana should explain what he, in his capacity as the Foreign Minister, has done since August 2017 to counter the Geneva project. When the writer sought Foreign Ministry response over 10 days after the Lord Naseby’s Oct 12, 2017 House of Commons revelation, the following response was received from the Foreign Ministry on Oct 27, 2017: "The Government of Sri Lanka remains committed to national processes aimed at realizing the vision of a reconciled, stable, peaceful and prosperous nation.

Engaging in arguments and debates in the international domain over the number of civilians who may have died at a particular time in the country will not help resolve any issues, in a meaningful manner, locally, except a feel good factor for a few individuals who may think that they have won a debate or scored points over someone or the other."

The writer secured this response through normal procedure without resorting to the Right to Information Act. It would be interesting to know whether the Ministry cleared the above statement with Marapana before sending it to The Island. The public also have a right to know whether the Foreign Ministry consulted the Attorney General, the Defence Ministry and Army Headquarters as regards Lord Naseby’s revelation. The writer believed one-time Senior Additional Solicitor General Kapila Waidyaratne who held the post of Secretary Ministry of Defence at that time could have done something. Unfortunately, the former Attorney General (Marapana) and former Senior Additional Solicitor General (Kapila Waidyaratne) failed Sri Lanka.

About six weeks after the House of Commons revelation, Marapana side-stepped the issue in our parliament. Marapana assured parliament on Nov 26, 2017 that Lord Naseby’s statement would be used as ‘an ace’ when the time comes and at the right place.

Responding to a question raised by Joint Opposition Leader MP Dinesh Gunawardena, as to why Lord Naseby’s statement was not used especially at the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Minister Marapana said that the Government would use Lord Naseby’s statement at an appropriate forum.

Marapana said, "We are not saying that we will not use Lord Naseby’s statement. We certainly will use it at the proper time and at appropriate forums. There may be a time when the UNHRC will ask us to conduct investigations into the allegations of war crimes. We will use this statement when such a time comes. Otherwise, our opponents will find counter arguments so we must use it as an ace."

MP Gunawardena alleged that the Foreign Ministry had not properly made use of Lord Naseby’s statement which categorically proved that the Sri Lanka security forces did not kill 40,000 civilians in the Northern Province during the final phase of the war.

Sri Lanka is yet to exploit Lord Naseby’s statement 14 months after Marapana’s assurance.

The Joint Opposition/Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna loyal to war winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, should take the blame for the current situation. The JO never really pushed the government over the Geneva issue. The JO never took up the Geneva resolution when Mahinda Rajapaksa functioned as the Prime Minister for 50 days (Oct 26-Dec 15, 2018).

Last week, the writer dealt with the Rajapaksa administration’s failure to address the Geneva issue. The article titled ‘A General’s plight’ discussed how the war winning government neglected its responsibilities.

Perhaps, TNA spokesman Sumanthiran’s declaration in June 2016 in Washington is evidence that the Foreign Ministry fully cooperated with a section of the international community and one-time LTTE’s cat’s paw, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on hybrid war crimes court as recommended in the Geveva Resolution.

Lord Naseby’s challenge couldn’t have taken place at a worse time for those seeking to humiliate Sri Lanka. But, the writer’s understanding is the primary objective of Geneva is not war crimes but creation of an environment here to introduce a new Constitution. (Please refer to the then Human Rights Commissioner Hussein Zeid Raad Al Hussein statement dated June 28, 2016 which can be accessed online)

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

A General’s plight



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka is under fire for naming Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva as the Chief of Staff of the Army. Various interested parties stepped up attacks on Sri Lanka in the wake of the Gajaba veteran, the wartime General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the 58 Division, receiving the due recognition.

President Maithripala Sirisena elevated the officer on January 10, 2019.

Early last year, Sri Lanka earned the wrath of Yasmin Sooka, a member of three-member UN panel that blamed Sri Lanka for the deaths of over 40,000 civilians, for naming Silva as the Adjutant General.

Sooka, in her capacity as the Executive Director of South Africa-based International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), flayed the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government over Silva’s appointment.

Maj. Gen Silva had been the GoC, 53 Division at the time he received the 2018 appointment.

In a Johannesburg datelined statement, Sooka, who had been a member of UNSG Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, alleged that the appointment, made immediately after the conclusion of the 34th session of UNHRC, ‘is an outrage and shows the Government is not serious about accountability or security sector reform.’


Calling the Gajaba Regiment veteran a war criminal, Sooka referred to the celebrated 58 Division (Task Force I) as a notorious fighting formation on the basis of the controversial UNSG Panel of Experts’ report on Accountability in Sri Lanka (March 31, 2011) and the report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL report / released on Sept. 16, 2015).

Sooka led the attack on the new Army Chief of Staff, with other foreign-funded agents, too, throwing their weight behind the latest project. The UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF), while condemning the appointment, urged the international community to take appropriate action in respect of the Sri Lankan government.

Under Silva’s command, the 58 Division achieved what no other fighting formation did during the entire Eelam war, though it would never have been the case if other formations and support services failed. At the end of the war, the political and military leadership found it difficult to share the glory.

Even a decade after the end of the conflict, Sri Lanka is mired in controversy over the conduct of her armed forces.

The Island last year dealt with the circumstances under which Gajaba veteran and Maj. Gen. Silva’s colleague, Chagie Gallage retired. "Gajaba was engraved in golden letters on the annals of the history of the Sri Lanka Army, if not in the history of Sri Lanka … and I’m certain it will never be reversed by any.

"So, I’m happy to be retired being a tiny particle of that proud chapter of the history, though designated as a ‘War Criminal."

Gallage is the first officer to make such a declaration, regardless of the consequences. Even after Gallage highlighted the plight of those who held command appointments, the government did nothing, absolutely nothing at least to examine the crisis.

Now, it’s Maj. Gen. Silva’s turn to face stepped up attacks. With the next Geneva sessions, scheduled for March, 2019, the Army Chief of Staff can expect a major propaganda offensive, directed at Sri Lanka, at his expense.

Maithripala Sirisena’s tenure as the President should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s failure in Geneva.

SLFP spokesman Mahinda Samarasinghe, on January 09, 2019, faulted the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera for co-sponsoring the hotly disputed Geneva Resolution 30/1 titled ‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’ much to the disappointment of President Maithripala Sirisena.

Although, Samarasinghe conveniently refrained from naming UNPer Samaraweera, the reference as regards Geneva Resolution was clearly directed at the former Foreign Minister.

Samarasinghe dealt with the issue at a media briefing at SLFP headquarters, especially called to explain President Sirisena’s four years (January 09, 2015 to January 09, 2019) Office. The National List MP Samarasinghe discussed the contentious accountability issue at the onset of the briefing, his first since he lost the Ports and Shipping portfolios on Dec 20, 2018 in the wake of the UPFA quitting the UNP-led government.

Recollecting his role as wartime President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s human rights envoy, Samarasinghe declared that President Sirisena strongly opposed the Geneva Resolution 30/1 meant to set up a hybrid war crimes mechanism, comprising foreign and local judges. Samarasinghe called the accountability issue the biggest major challenge faced by President Sirisena.

A decade after the successful conclusion of the war, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, the accountability issues remained a formidable challenge with a section of the international community pushing Sri Lanka to adopt a new Constitution or introduce far reaching constitutional reforms meant to abolish Sri Lanka’s unitary status.

The Geneva Resolution, adopted on Oct 01, 2015, on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, is the basis for the division of the country on ethnic lines.

Although President Sirisena, on several occasions, vowed not to allow foreign judges in an accountability mechanism, the UNP-led United National Front (UNF) government did absolutely nothing to counter the despicable Geneva project, though Sri Lanka received credible evidence to disprove accusations.


The war-winning Rajapaksa administration, too, should accept the responsibility for the current situation as it neglected its responsibility. The top leadership owed an explanation as to why it refrained from building Sri Lanka’s Geneva defence on the basis of a declaration made by US Defence Adviser in Colombo Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith. in early June, 2011. The statement couldn’t have been made at a better a time for Sri Lanka, at that time struggling to cope up with UN accusations: (A) Sri Lanka ordered UN/INGOs to vacate Kilinochchi in September, 2008 to conduct ‘a war without witnesses’ (B) Vanni population denied medicine, food and other basic needs (C) Coordinated mortar/artillery/MBRL (multi-barrel rocket launchers) attacks on civilian population causing deaths of over 40,000 civilians. The UK’s Channel 4 News alleged that then Secretary Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and then Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka executed the operation (D) Rape of combatants/civilians. Subsequently, the military was accused of abusing/raping men. (E) The use of cluster bombs

Samarasinghe, in spite of being Rajapaksa’s human rights envoy. never exploited the US statement made at the inaugural Defence Seminar 2011. In fact, the previous administration was determined not to explore ways and means of using the US statement. Having reported the controversial US statement exclusively, the writer, on several occasions. personally made representations to several officials, including the then Chief of Defence Staff General Jagath Jayasuriya and the then Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem regarding the urgent need to take remedial measures.

In response to a question regarding the alleged move by some LTTE cadres to surrender during the last few days of the war, the US official denied that possibility, thereby effectively contradicting those propagating the story that security forces massacred surrendering persons. The US official was responding to a query posed by retired Indian Maj. General Ashok Metha. (Metha served in Sri Lanka during the deployment of the Indian Army in the late ‘80s in accordance with the Indo-Lanka accord). The Island exclusive on the US official’s reaction was ignored by the GoSL. It would be pertinent to mention the Indian’s question was posed to the wartime General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the celebrated 58 Division, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva.

This is what Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith had to say.: "Hello, may I say something to a couple of questions raised. I’ve been the defence attache here, at the US Embassy, since June 2008. Regarding the various versions of events that came out in the final hours and days of the conflict, from what I was privileged to hear and to see, the offers to surrender, that I am aware of, seemed to come from the mouthpieces of the LTTE – Nadesan, KP – people who weren’t and never had really demonstrated any control over the leadership or the combat power of the LTTE.

"So their offers were a bit suspect, anyway, and they tended to vary in content, hour by hour, day by day. I think we need to examine the credibility of those offers before we leap to conclusions that such offers were in fact real.

"And I think the same is true for the version of events. It’s not so uncommon, in combat operations, in the fog of war, as we all get our reports second, third and fourth hand from various commanders at various levels that the stories don’t seem to all quite match up.

"But I can say that the version presented here so far in this is what I heard as I was here during that time. And I think I better leave it at that before I get into trouble."

The GoSL refrained from at least referring to the US statement. The GoSL, for some strange reason, ignored the INCREDIBLE statement made over two years after the LTTE’s defeat. As the senior Colombo-based US military official, he would have certainly had access to all relevant information and wouldn’t have responded that way if he was not sure of the actual situation.

The US State Department asserted that the US military officer hadn’t been at the Defence Seminar on an official capacity. The GoSL remained silent. The State Department NEVER contradicted the statement. Instead it disputed the military official’s right to make that statement.

Maj. Gen. Silva’s plight should be discussed, taking into consideration both negligence on Sri Lanka’s part as well as external factors. Let me reproduce verbatim what Zeid-Hussein stated in his June 28, 2016, address in Geneva, to pressure Sri Lanka into adopting a new Constitution:

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

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

Collective failure of political party system

Sri Lanka created history by becoming the first country co-sponsoring a resolution against itself in spite of it being severely inimical to its interests. The entire process leading to the 2015 October Resolution was based on unproved allegations whereas US statement that cleared the country of such accusations were ignored. The Resolution paved the way for a new Constitution, in addition to the implementation of four specific measures meant to address accountability issues, namely (1) a judicial mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international human rights law (2) A Commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence (3) An Office for Missing Persons (OMP) and finally (4) An Office for Reparations.

Those seeking to haul Sri Lanka before hybrid accountability mechanism exploited Sri Lanka’s failure to pursue their objective. The writer firmly believes the issue at hand is not foreign judges in an accountability mechanism but Sri Lanka’s deliberate failure, since the end of war to-date, to present all relevant facts before Geneva. Western powers and the civil society shouldn’t be blamed for the failure on the part of the corrupt political parties to defend the country.

The SLFP spokesman conveniently ignored the fact that in March 2017, Sri Lanka asked for and obtained two years more to fully implement the October 2015 Geneva Resolution. The SLFP cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for taking it up with the UNP, thereby allowing the Geneva process to continue.

The SLFP also turned a blind eye to the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM) in January 2017 calling for full participation of foreign judges, and other personnel, including defence lawyers, prosecutors and investigators, in transitional justice mechanism to address accountability issues.

Having repeatedly assured the country that the change of government, in January, 2015, had ended the likelihood of foreign participation in proposed war crimes inquiry, the government struggled to cope up with a report released by CTFRM, headed by attorney-at-law, Mrs Manouri Muttetuwegama.

The eleven-member committee stressed that foreign participation was required as those who had suffered during the conflict had no faith in local judiciary, which lacked expertise to undertake such a task. They endorsed Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein declaration made in Colombo, in February, 2016, that the judiciary here was incapable of undertaking the process. The Jordanian questioned the integrity of the local judiciary.

The CTFRM comprised Muttetuwegama, Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Gamini Viyangoda, Prof. Sitralega Maunaguru, Dr Farzana Haniffa, Mirak Raheem, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, Visaka Dharmadasa, Shantha Abhimanasingham, PC, K.W. Janaranjana and Prof. Daya Somasundaram.

Sri Lanka also ignored invaluable representations made by Lord Naseby in Oct, 2017, in the House of Commons on behalf of Sri Lanka on the basis of wartime British High Commission dispatches (January-May 2009). Sri Lanka turned a Nelsonian-eye to the highly respected Briton’s assertion that the number of dead couldn’t have exceeded 8,000 and one fourth of them were LTTE cadres. Foreign Ministry initially dismissed Lord Naseby’s move. The British High Commission in Colombo, too, adopted a similar stand.

Former Ministers, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Sarath Fonseka and Mahinda Samarasinghe in response to queries raised by this writer, at separate press conferences, admitted that cabinet never discussed how Lord Naseby’s revelation could be used to our advantage. While The Island took up the issue with Jayasekera at a post-cabinet media briefing in Nov. 2017 several weeks after Lord Naseby revelation, Fonseka and Samarasinghe were confronted at the Sustainable Development, Wildlife and Regional Development and SLFP Office, T.B. Jayah Mawatha, respectively.

The war-winning Army Chief admitted that there hadn’t been any Cabinet discussion on how Sri Lanka should respond to Geneva allegations of war crimes against the country. (SF: Cabinet never discussed how to counter war crimes allegations with strap-line...responds to PM’s 2030 leadership change move, The Island, Sept 8, 2018).

Mahinda Samarasinghe acknowledged that Sri Lanka’s decision to co-sponsor the Geneva Resolution 30/1 in Oct 2015 hadn’t been discussed by the Cabinet of Ministers nor the Lord Naseby’s revelation (Cabinet never discussed 2009, 2015 Geneva Resolutions – MS, The Island, Aug 18, 2018).

Jayasekera said that a statement made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords would be used by the government appropriately at the right time, though the Cabinet was yet to discuss it. Jayasekera asserted that there were far more important issues than Geneva while accusing the writer of raising an unnecessary issue (War crimes: Cabinet spokesman provoked by query on govt. response to Naseby move, The Island, Nov 16, 2018)

One-time Attorney General and Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, PC, in spite of promising parliament in late Nov 2017 to use the Naseby disclosure at the appropriate time and the venue, never kept the promise. This assurance, given in response to a query raised by the Joint Opposition, is yet to be fulfilled.

Had Sri Lanka properly used Lord Naseby’s disclosure obtained from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) following an intervention made by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office in terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 along with US Defence advisor’s declaration made in June 2011, the Geneva lie could have been countered.

It would be important to know Lord Naseby made his request in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 on Nov 06, 2014 though the required information was denied on the basis of false claim public disclosure would undermine their relations with Sri Lanka whereas the actual situation was other way around.

Can anyone dare to name a country that deliberately denied its armed forces an opportunity to clear their name?

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Secret ‘payments’ and financial scams



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Last week’s piece headlined Treasury bond scams ‘mother of all problems’ discussed how 2015 February and 2016 March transactions caused rapid deterioration of yahapalana relationship, finally leading to the collapse of the UNP-SLFP arrangement, on Oct 26, 2018.

On the instructions of President Maithripala Sirisena, UPFA General Secretary, Mahinda Amaraweera, on behalf of the grouping, requested for the termination of the coalition.

Having sacked the UNP-led cabinet, President Sirisena appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister, on Oct 26, 2018. Due to the failure on the part of the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine to prove a simple majority in Parliament, Sirisena had no option but to dissolve Parliament on Nov 09, 2018, and set general election for January 05, 2019.

Had the UNP-JVP-TNA combine not sought the judicial intervention, by way of quo warranto petition against Prime Minister and cabinet of ministers, Sri Lanka would have had a new administration by now. Altogether 122 lawmakers successfully moved the Court of Appeal against the cabinet.

In addition to lawmakers, several others resorted to legal recourse against the Sirisena-Rajapaksa move.

Civil society activist, Ven. Dambara Amila Thera, was among those who filed a fundamental rights petition, on Nov. 28, 2018, in the Supreme Court, against appointing Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister. Petitioner, Ven. Dambara Amila Thera, alleged that President Sirisena’s actions were contrary to the 19thAmendment to the Constitution.

Close on the heels of Ven Amila’s move, the outspoken monk was revealed as one of those who had received a Rs 95,000 monthly transport allowance, commencing 2016 April, from state-owned Litro Gas company. The Joint Opposition/Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna (SLPP) vilified Ven. Thera, following the revelation made in the Permanent High Court Trial-at-Bar hearing the high profile case, involving the then President Rajapaksa’s Chief-of-Staff Gamini Senarath and three others for the criminal misappropriation of Rs. 500 mn from Litro Gas Company.

Attorney-at-law Premanath C. Dolawatte, on behalf of civil society group Satya Gaweshakayo (Truth Seekers), lodged a complaint at the police headquarters against Ven Amila. Addressing the media, Dolawatte, who represented lawmaker Namal Rajapaksa on several occasions, in his capacity as Chairman Satya Gaweshakayo, accused Ven. Amila of misappropriation of public funds.

Joint Opposition heavyweight and head of its Economic Research unit, Bundula Gunawardena MP, demanded that then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake be arrested on the basis that Ven. Amila was paid on a directive given by the UNPer. The Colombo District MP held Karunanayake responsible for illegal Litro payments.

Hambantota District JO MP D.V. Chanaka alleged that the likes of Ven. Amila were paid to sling mud at former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and also to promote a new Constitution meant to divide the country on ethnic lines.

Matara District MP Kanchana Wijesekera said that Ven Amila and his colleagues had launched a protest campaign against the change of government as their payments were stopped. Wijesekera alleged Ven. Amila and his associates, including Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya, another Rajapaksa critic, had received payments from the UNP government. Wijesekera claimed that Ven Amila alone had received over Rs 1.3 mn at the taxpayers’ expense.

Kalutara District MP Rohitha Abeygunawardena and several Buddhist monks flayed Ven. Amila for receiving financial benefits at taxpayers’ expense to promote the UNP.

Ven Amila, who had often appeared on the platform of the civil society organization Purawesi Balaya wouldn’t have expected the disclosure of Litro payments made, via a secret account for services granted. A foolish bid was made, to justify Litro payments on the basis of a CSR (Cooperate Social responsibility) project. But, those who lambasted Ven. Amila over clandestine Litro payments would never have expected shocking revelations of former President Rajapaksa squandering public funds on onetime ‘Royal’ astrologer Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena. What transpired before the ongoing Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) on irregularities at Sri Lankan Airlines, Sri Lankan Catering and Mihin Lanka shocked those struggling to make ends meet. Perhaps, Abeygunawardena’s case is far more serious than Ven. Amila.

Can the two instances of misappropriation of public funds be compared?

But, interestingly, Abeygunawardena’s misappropriation didn’t receive much print, electronic and social media attention.

Sri Lanka at a crossroads

The JO/SLPP demanding a general election, to end political uncertainty, owed an immediate explanation as regards the shameful and shocking revelation made at the P CoI last Friday (January 04, 2019).

Both the UNP and the SLFP, regardless of accusations made against each other, as regards waste, corruption and irregularities, should explain their financial integrity before the forthcoming Provincial Council, Presidential and Parliamentary elections. With Sri Lanka under tremendous pressure to guarantee debt servicing, in 2019, amidst continuing political and financial turmoil, it would be the responsibility of the parliament to take meaningful measures to restore fiscal discipline.

Secret payments made to Ven. Amila, and Abeygunawardena receiving a car worth Rs 8.2 mn, from bankrupt Mihin Lanka, can never be justified under any circumstances.

Abeygunawardena has acknowledged that Mihin Lanka had brought him a Nissan at a cost of Rs. 8.2 mn, on the instruction of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in 2007.

Abeygunawardena had been President Rajapaksa’s astrologer at the time of this transaction.

Abeygunawardena revealed how he received a call from Major Nevil Wanniarachchi, former Chief Security Officer of Rajapaksa, directing him to get the car from Lanka Orix Leasing Company (LOLC) office at Rajagiriya. Wanniarachchi is still on Kurunegala District MP Rajapaksa’s security staff.

Replying to State Counsel Chathura Gunathilake, who led the evidence as to why the former President gifted him a vehicle, wily Abeygunawardena said: "I was a close associate of the former President, I think that’s why he gifted me the car. I wasn’t aware that the vehicle was owned by Mihin Lanka, I didn’t know anything of its ownership."

The revelation was made during cross examination by State Counsel Chathura Gunathilake under the supervision of ASG Neil Unamboowe, PC.

Abeygunawardena used the car till Rajapaksa’s defeat at the 2015 January presidential election. Now that Abeygunawardena claimed that he handed over the vehicle to LOLC it would be interesting to know who its current owner is.

The LOLC procured 26 cars for SriLankan airlines and Mihin Lanka. A loan to the tune of Rs. 82 million had been obtained by LOLC from Seylan Bank to purchase the cars. Mihin Lanka had paid the lease rental of these vehicles to LOLC.

The public have a right to know the identities of all those who had received cars at the taxpayers’ expense. Were all 26 recipients nominees of the then President? If not, who chose them? Did the lucky recipients serve SriLankan and Mihin Lanka or were they stooges looked after by the then administration?

For want of parliamentary oversight, successive governments had squandered taxpayers’ money on those who served the interests of the powers that be, regardless of the consequences.

Abeygunawardena is on record as having said that he advised twice President Rajapaksa to seek a third term, two years ahead of scheduled polls. Perhaps Abeygunawardena must have had a hand in other key political decisions such as the enactment of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution to pave the way for Rajapaksa to seek a third term. The new law was passed on Sept 8, 2010,with 161 members of Parliament voting for and 17 against the bill.

Abeygunawardena received his Nissan within weeks after the establishment of Mihin Lanka in 2007.

P CoI has established both SriLankan and Mihin Lanka operated, sans financial discipline, causing massive losses to the national economy both during the war and afterwards.

The writer hopes the P CoI establish whether Abeygunawardena rendered any service to Mihin Lanka at all.

An astrologer on NSB board

Against the backdrop of Abeygunawardena’s admission before P CoI that he had received a car as he was a close associate of President Rajapaksa, it would be pertinent to examine how brazenly the National Savings Bank was exploited during the previous administration. Abeygunawardena’s role as Working Director of the NSB should have been examined at least after he quit the bank in May 2012 in the wake of the exposure of the controversial share transaction involving the NSB and The Finance Company (TFC). Abeygunawardena received a car, an official residence and a range of other perks and privileges courtesy NSB. Had he practiced his craft at the NSB, Abeygunawardena could have averted the NSB-TFC scam. Abeygunawardena unashamedly sought to build his image after NSB trade unions exposed the corrupt deal. Abeygunawardena declared that President Rajapaksa had visited him at his Galle residence where his decision to quit NSB board was praised by the President. A section of the media quoted Abeygunawardena as having claimed that he received thousands of letters from people, including politicians and scholars, praising him for quitting the NSB. Abeygunawardena never explained why he was accommodated on the NSB board and what were his qualifications to function as a Working Director of the premier savings bank in the country? Abeygunawardena declared that he twice opposed NSB-TFC transaction though he was overruled. Perhaps, Abeygunawardena should reveal whether he sought President Rajapaksa’s intervention to stop the corrupt transaction after his pleas weren’t ignored.

Abeygunawardena had simultaneously used two vehicles provided by the government in addition to various other incentives over a period of time.

Abeygunawardena’s resignation was followed by NSB Chairman Pradeep Kariyawasam’s, the husband of the then Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. Bandaranayake was impeached under controversial circumstances in the following year.

The allegation against Kariyawasam was also included in the impeachment motion brought against Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake.

Abeygunawardena and Kariyawasam resigned after the media slammed the bank over the corrupt transaction executed by the latter by securing a staggering 7.8 mn shares of TFC for Rs 390 mn on the floor of the Colombo Stock Exchange. The media pointed out the absurdity in the NSB paying 60 per cent above the prevailing price of TFC shares.

Contrary to Abeygunawardena’s claims, his resignation took place against the backdrop of heavy trade union pressure.

The government cancelled the questionable deal. The government action compelled Taprobane Securities Private Limited to buy back TFC shares that were traded in a controversial deal.

The broker company sold TFC shares to NSB on the 27th of April, 2012.

Seven years after the cancellation of the NSB-TFC deal, Kariyawasam, in late November 2018, received a suspended jail term of five years for his role in the transaction deemed illegal.

Kariyawasam was found guilty of causing losses to NSB by purchasing TFC shares

Colombo Chief Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake sentenced Kariyawasam to the suspended term of imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 300,000.

The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) moved the Colombo Magistrate Court against Kariyawasam for corruption in a transaction involving TFC perpetrated in April 2012. Kariyawasam was accused of acquiring over 7.86 million shares of TFC for over Rs. 391 mn in his capacity as the Chairman of NSB through four separate transactions.

Kariyawasam was charged with four counts of corruption under Section 7 of the Bribery Act for knowingly getting involved in a procedure that could cause losses to the Government.

In the absence of strict public sector oversight, successive governments provided employment to various people and looked after those who served their interests at taxpayers’ expense. Those who had criticized Ven. Amila for receiving secret payments, cannot ignore Abeygunawardena greedily taking advantage of the NSB and Mihin Lanka.

Many an eyebrow was raised over Charlie Mahendran’s piece titled ‘A Bourne Identity: How My Son was Made to Look Like a Criminal’ that dealt with treasury bond scams. Having reminded the reader how he had served the country from 1957- 2004 representing the Sri Lankan government’s interests abroad, heading diplomatic missions in China, Japan, South Korea and the UN mission in New York, Charlie Mahendran single handedly cleared his son, Singaporean Arjuna Mahendran of wrongdoing whatsoever in respect of 2015 and 2016 treasury bond scams. Mahendran dealt with an issue that may have not caused such political mayhem if not for quick witted action of the then Superintendent of Public Debt Department Deepa Seneviratne who guaranteed Mahendran’s subsequent exposure by placing a note as regards his controversial directive in respect of issuance of treasury bonds, on the morning of February 27, 2015.

One-time Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, in an interview (Treasury bond scams: Wijeyadasa alleges House blocked swift legal action-The Island January 02, 2019) with this writer alleged all political parties represented in Parliament on Oct 12, 2018 prevented the passage of the Presidential Inquiry Commission Amendment Act. Rajapakse asserted that the move deprived the CIABOC required power to utilize available evidence against those who perpetrated treasury bond scams. No less a person than President Sirisena has repeatedly alleged that the vital act had been held up for more than six months by the parliament.

A wartime financial deal with P’karan

Let me briefly discuss how Treasury Secretary R. Paskaralingam, in 1989 and 1990, on the orders of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa, released funds to the LTTE. UPFA MP Bandula Gunawardena during recent battle, in and outside Parliament, following the sacking of Premier Wickremesinghe, recently made available photocopies of treasury documents which revealed what the then government called confidential payments. Paskaralingam still serves the administration. Gunawardena said that he was in the possession of payment vouchers and relevant cheque numbers to prove the Treasury provided Rs 125 mn to the LTTE from August 09, 1989 to November 05, 1990

The payments commenced soon after President Premadasa entered into direct dialogue with the LTTE. The intimidating presence of the Indian Army didn’t deter President Premadasa and payments continued even after the LTTE resumed hostilities in the second week of June 1990. India withdrew its Army in late March 1990. Interestingly, the largest single payment amounting to Rs 50 mn had been made on November 05, 1990 several months after the LTTE resumed hostilities. Altogether, there had been 16 payments, 15 of them amounted to Rs 75 mn in equal Rs. 5 mn installments and the largest one after the LTTE launched eelam war II. Premadasa obviously didn’t care about the LTTE massacring several hundred surrendered policemen. By the time the LTTE received the last installment, it had overrun all detachments north of Vavuniya up to Elephant Pass.

Did President Premadasa receive cabinet approval to fund the LTTE to the tune of Rs 125 mn? Why did the Treasury pay Rs 50 mn after the resumption of war?

Parliament never bothered to inquire into Premadasa funding the LTTE. Although, the then President must have had good reason to provide arms, ammunition, equipment and funds to the LTTE after he entered into direct negotiations with the group, but can funding be acceptable after the resumption of the war by the terrorist group. Why did the President allow Rs 50 mn payment to the LTTE several months after fighting erupted in the East and quickly spread to the northern theatre?

Who negotiated the funding of the LTTE on President Premadasa’s behalf?