Situation Report

26th March 2000

Wanni debacle: Where does the buck stop?

Eppawala: the sum of it all

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Wanni debacle: Where does the buck stop?

Seven officers walked the corridors, one after another, from a waiting room at Army Headquarters to the Army Commander's office last Thursday to hear the bad news they were being sent on compulsory leave for being "singularly and collectively" responsible for the devastating military debacles in the Wanni.

They are Major General Wasantha Perera, then Security Forces Commander, Wanni, Major General Gamini Gunasekera (then GOC 56 Division), Brigadier T. M. Bohran (then officiating GOC 55 Division), Colonel Athula Lankadeva (Commanding Officer, 561 Brigade), Major B.V.U. Chandrasiri (Commanding Officer, 20th Battalion Sri Lanka National Guard), Major Mora Mudali (deputy commander, 11th Battalion of the Gemunu Watch) and Major M.D. Ilangasinghe (Commanding Officer of 15th Volunteer Battalion of the Sinha Regiment).

Army Commander Lt. Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya, who broke the news, told them the action taken against them would not amount to blemish their careers since they were being retired and would be entitled to their pensions. They were to be allowed to retain their vehicles for one month. Those living in official quarters were also to be allowed to retain them for three more months.

Lt. Gen. Weerasooriya did not hide the fact that he had gone out of the way to mitigate the punishment meted out to the seven officers. Just days earlier, the Ministry of Defence had ordered him to terminate the services of the seven officers and withdraw their commissions a move that would have left them as commoners and without pension benefits.

Lt.Gen. Weerasooriya explained to senior Army officers that he immediately sought a meeting with President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and discussed the matter. During three hours of talks, he had succeeded in changing the punishment to let the officers go on compulsory leave. He was of the view that the earlier punishment was too harsh and would have an adverse impact on the morale of other officers and men.

The official letter amending the punishments to compulsory leave for the seven officers had not arrived at Army Headquarters when Lt. Gen. Weerasooriya spoke to them, one by one, on Thursday morning.

The senior most of the three officers Major General Wasantha Perera, Major General Gunasekera and Brigadier Bohran were told to return to Army Headquarters on Thursday evening. They drove from there to Temple Trees for a meeting with President Kumaratunga. Also present at the meeting were Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva and Lt. Gen. Weerasooriya.

Punitive action is also to be taken against two Navy officers Commodore T.M.W.K.B. Tennekoon (then Commanding Officer, North Central Command) and Commander N.K.D. Nanayakkara (then Commanding Officer, SLNS Walagamba). The Ministry of Defence is learnt to be studying written observations made in this regard by Navy Commander Vice Admiral Cecil Tissera.

This is the first time under the People's Alliance Government that punitive action has been taken on the findings made by a Military Court of inquiry. The Court that probed the Wanni debacles was headed by Major General Lionel Balagalle (Chief of Staff, Sri Lanka Army) and comprised Rear Admiral Daya Sandagiri (Chief of Staff, Sri Lanka Navy and Air Vice Marshal Donald Perera (Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Air Force).

Many Military Courts of Inquiry have probed previous military debacles, main among them being LTTE attacks on the Mullaitivu Military Base in July, 1996 and the Kilinochchi defences in September, 1998. No punitive action whatsoever was taken against those who were identified by Courts as being responsible for the lapses. The string of debacles saw President Kumaratunga taking direct control of the military machine.

Unlike the earlier debacles, the one at Wanni became worst for the Government since it erased substantial territorial gains made by the security forces in the Wanni. This has left the Government with the re-capture of the Jaffna peninsula as the only success story during the five years of Eelam War Three.

The Military Court of Inquiry into the Wanni debacles sat for over eight weeks, both in Colombo and Anuradhapura, to prepare its report running into over 300 pages. The bulk of it was evidence from officers and men. It also contains the Court's observations and opinions. A separate board headed by Brigadier A.K. Sooriyabandara is now probing the loss of military equipment in the Wanni debacle.

The Court is learnt to have made some severe strictures against Major General Wasantha Perera. The Court has held that he had launched a military operation in the western flank of the Wanni when there was intelligence to confirm that attacks on the eastern defences was imminent. It has pointed out that despite the threat, he had committed troops for the operation. The Court has held that Maj. Gen. Perera had failed to inform the Army Commander of the incident.

The Court is also learnt to have made references to the withdrawal of Navy personnel from the front lines during the Tiger guerrilla attack on Wanni defences a move by a high ranking Navy official which led to panic and belief among others including Army personnel, that the men were deserting their positions. However, it later turned out that the men were being summoned for a meeting with the high official. The Court is learnt to have said this action contributed to the worsening of the situation.

Since the inglorious setbacks for the Army in the Wanni, the conflict in the north and east has been at a stalemate except for the unsuccessful attempts by the LTTE to break through the Elephant Pass defences. Despite a mounting death toll from skirmishes at the Sub Unit level, there have been no gains or losses, or victories or defeats by either side.

The "war" appears deceitfully stagnant, overtaken by political parrying to open negotiations. This in itself is delusory considering the many issues standing in the way of the government as well as the Tamil parties and the LTTE before agreeing to agree to talks.

In this state, the question is whether the stalemate is prelude to a new phase in the military conflict or whether it is a prelude to negotiations. That the LTTE have in the stalemated military situation stepped up their campaign of suicide bombing in the city cannot inspire much confidence that they are serious about talking. The Balasingham theories on the expectations of the LTTE further complicates issues and makes mutual positions more intractable. This situation only generates greater opposition for talks with the LTTE.

No doubt, there is a general feeling that a solution should be found to the vexed problem that has dogged the economy and development of the country. But there is also a parallel opinion as to how or why the Government should negotiate with an enemy hell bent on destabilising the country and its political leadership. In other words not to negotiate at any cost even though, a solution to the problem is essential.

It is in the backdrop of this perplexing situation that the security forces have to operate. Little wonder that they are finding it difficult to attract recruits.

Last week, Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Weerasooriya, raised eye brows, both in government and diplomatic circles, with an appeal to parents to encourage their sons to join the Army. It was not over the appeal itself but his assertion that a shortage of troops was the "only obstacle to defeating the LTTE".

Be that as it may, there is a clear contradiction here between Lt. Gen. Weerasooriya's appeal and the "no military solution" voicing by some quarters in the government, further confusing the country and the armed forces.

Mobilisation of human resources to the security forces, by voluntary recruitment or conscription has been a necessity in many countries during wars and at times of similar national crises. Generally, the motivation for such mobilisation is either from the top, that is from the government or as a dynamic process inspired from the bottom, that is from the people themselves.

The success of former is best illustrated in the national service for the World Wars. It can also fail as was seen in the opposition to the draft in the US during the Vietnam War. Mobilisation from the bottom on the other hand is a spontaneous process energised by the belief in the righteousness of the cause.

The government and the security forces need to examine whether the lack of recruitment could be as a result of the lack of motivation. The confusion in the public mind whether the government policy is to fight the LTTE or not needs to be cleared if the youth are to be motivated to contribute to the struggle.

In this regard, the censorship of the media from reporting the correct war situation also clouds the public mind from knowing the factual situation. The skeleton reporting of the war situation removes the reality of the struggle and makes it remote from public concern and participation. Without public support, no war can be won.

The Military Court of Inquiry on the Wanni debacle has found seven officers at fault and they have been called upon to resign their Commissions. All these officers were in command appointments when the Army withdrew from the Wanni. It is salutary that some action has at last been taken to determine responsibility for military disasters that invariably have been accompanied with the loss of many lives.

The question that arises in this instance, and indeed in all other earlier instances, is whether it is only those officers in actual field command are at fault for these disasters. Quite obviously, the technical aspects of command and control are the responsibility of those holding command appointments in the field.

At issue, here is the degree of responsibility that should be attributable to the higher defence establishment that directed strategic planning.

It is an open secret in the defence establishment that operational and strategic planning was often done at levels higher than that at Field Commands and that often these plans were to suit political expediencies. In such situations, field commanders are merely those that execute directions. That is not to say that field commanders should not advice higher planners of any impracticability in executing operations, nor is it to suggest in any way that in this instance of the Wanni inquiry that such a situation prevailed.

But it is to beg the question of whether there could be a mismatch between military and political aims that in the course of time could expose weaknesses that could be exploited by the enemy. The aborted "Operation Jaya Sikurui" best illustrates the point. Such situations demand a higher level of inquiry. This will be in the national interest.

In the many issues and questions that have been raised now and earlier regarding operations, their planning, military debacles, procurement etc. what appears to be wanting is continuous and coordinated national planning and direction of defence policy. Until then, the war will continue its wayward path in fits and starts to the benefit of a few and to the suffering of the many and the bleeding of the country.


Eppawala: the sum of it all

By Gamini Seneviratne

Eppawala Phosphate Rock:

"A mineral containing the element phorus, a basic plant nutrient, which is essential to all forms of life".

In 1992, the US Geological Survey and US Bureau of Mines assessed that the world's known reserves will be depleted in 50 years, and that the known reserves plus the base reserves will be exhausted in 150 years.

In Sri Lanka, 'informal' negotiations with Freeport began in the early eighties and the formal invitation for international tenders was made in 1992. Although some experiments had been conducted in Arizona by soil scientists of our Department of Agriculture on 'upgrading' our phosphate, the orientation of those studies had been based on the premise that Eppawala was 'for sale'.

Even when President Kumaratunga, Prime Minister at the time, promised the people of Eppawala in 1994 that she would never permit the sale of such an invaluable national asset, no comprehensive studies of the deposit and its uses had been made. Even at this point in time, our scientists and mining engineers have been debarred from making the necessary investigations to determine more fully both the quantum and the quality of the deposit. Nevertheless, the Executive Committee of the People's Alliance, chaired by President Kumaratunga, reiterated her stand of 1994 in October 1999.

The reasons for the government's decision are clear. It had before it the report of a Committee of the National Academy of Sciences, appointed by the President in 1995; the observations of the Attorney- General on the Draft Mineral Investment Agreement [MIA] in 1997; the reports presented in 1999 by a multi-disciplinary group of specialists convened by the National Science Foundation, and by the National Science & Technology Council, constituted of scientists appointed by the President, which has overall responsibility for advising the govemment on the development and protection of our natural resources.

It was also undoubtedly conscious that, particularly in the face of the protests of the inhabitants of the purana villages, not only in and around Eppawala, but in an area of 800 sq. km. in which, under the proposed project, IMC-Agrico would have free rein to do whatever it pleased.

What they would do, given the chance, is to uproot the people, have their lands compulsorily acquired by the government which will be obliged to use all the coercive powers at its disposal, including 'informal' ones, for that purpose; obliterate the archaeological remains and the living temples that encapsulate a culture which is part of the heritage of mankind; and destroy one of the most ancient systems of irrigated agriculture in the world - a system that 'modern technology' is yet to master.

It was also conscious perhaps that it had to uphold the principle, not merely of 'accountability' for whatever it seeks to do in a budgetary sense, but of the constrictions on an administration that has been elected to hold office for a limited span of time in entering into agreements that extend beyond that period.

And especially so in a matter that would violate its primary duty by the people - the protection of non-renewable resources for the use of future generations. This is a matter in which a variety of 'legislative enactments' imposed on us by the colonial administration, that, to the shame of our Republican Constitution, have yet to be abrogated. That omission on the part of our legislators, who have recently been rewarded for their concern in such matters, God bless them all, is one of such fundamental importance to the "life-chances" of the people, that the principle that any administration, in all its acts, be they legislative or executive, has as its primary responsibility, the protection of the common weal, has underscored the role of the judiciary as the final arbiter of the fate of the people.

Here we have a proposal that would ensure that a foreign company, whatever its criminal record might be, is permitted to appropriate the major life-supporting assets we possess - not only the phosphate rock but those most strategic of resources as Prof. Randolph Barker of IIMI put it some years ago - our land and water; despoil a major site of the totality of the human cultural heritage; and be "offered" terms that exempt it from all our national laws, including those relating to Income Tax, Exchange Control, lmport & Export Control, Antiquities, Irrigation, Environment and Human Rights, and to leave behind devastation on a scale that neither Magha of Kalinga nor the Portuguese nor any other invader managed to achieve.

In his comments on the draft MIA, the Attorney-General had spelt these matters out and advised the Ministry of Industrial Development that, if the MIA was 'gone ahead with'. The Government's expectations of increased foreign exchange earnings having a favourable impact on the balance of payments would not be realised."

On the contrary, quite apart from the fact that the damage it would cause would far exceed even the huge profits that the sacred cow, the 'Foreign Investor', would gain - the proposed 'agreement' would be tantamount to 'selling' an asset that belongs to the people of this country for much less than the cost of building a single cadjan-topped school-room. The Foreign Investor's entire operation is to be financed by selling raw rock phosphate which belongs to our people, and by 'borrowing' from our banks!

The licence for mining this area belongs to Lanka Phosphates Ltd., a wholly owned enterprise of the government. In other words, Lanka Phosphates Ltd. OWNS the right to mine and is to be required, under the draft MIA, to hand it over to the Investor for a 10% share in the proposed new Joint Venture Company, although the assets that Lanka Phosphates would bring to such a 'joint-venture' amount to over 80% of the total 'investment!

It should also be noted that the Negotiating Committee [which included a Secretary who had long been distinguished for his willingness to "take notes", - whether he is skilled in stenography is not known], did not include the Commissioner-General of Inland Revenue, or the Controller of Exchange or the Controller of Imports & Exports or the Director-General of Customs.

In terms of the draft MIA, IMC-Agrico has demanded and been offered a 5% rate of tax [though the Inland Revenue Law prescribes a minimum of 35% even for the smallest companies]; exemption from the withholding tax on dividends; exemption from the Advanced Company Tax; exemption from Sri Lanka Income tax for all IMC-Agrico employees, including 'Management Consultants, Architects, Engineers, Quantity Surveyors, Construction Managers or in any ancillary field' [that's where the big jobs will be generated for Sri Lanka].

The MIA is 'supported' by other agreements which are yet to be made public. They include a Technical Advisory Services Agreement, an Export Distributorship Agreement, and a Shareholders' Agreement.

The royalty payable for OUR rock phosphate is 5.5% of the 'published Morocco price', which IMC Global controls and could mis-report with a little help from 'friends' in Sri Lanka. Income to Sri Lanka from the company's road and rail transport development, for which our government will have to evict more people and misuse existing laws, enact new ones and so on, would be negative in relation to the costs to be incurred by the government and more directly by the people.

And what of poor risk-taking IMC-Agrico? What would be the extent of their losses in trying to bring us into the 21st century of High Technology and 'globalised' Bank accounts?

Well, besides the profits they would make from the phosphate itself, and from other rare earths and minerals this deposit may contain [including gold, uranium and thorium], they would get 4% of the construction fee plus 2% of net revenue from the sale of products. They would get 4.5% of gross selling price 'in respect of distributorship' for the processed product and 2% for the export of raw rock phosphate.

They are protected 'against minority share-holder interests' - that means the government of Sri Lanka acting through Lanka Phosphates Ltd. !

Despite all the unlawful concessions on income tax, tariff and exemption from the application of other laws, the Joint Venture Company will be: registered in Sri Lanka; the Memorandum and Articles of Association can be changed at will by a majority of 80% of the shareholders - the foreign shareholders' share proposed is 90%; the foreign shareholders have refused to sign the MIA even in its present form though, says the Negotiating Committee in its Report, "A serious attempt was made to get the two foreign investors also to sign the MIA. However, they did not agree and stated that they have followed the present pattern everywhere". Maybe they were thinking of Indonesia and the USA: - they would have been hoofed out of any other SAARC country - this draft MIA has regional implications as well.

The Joint Venture Company can, however, take any "disagreement" with the Government or any resistance from the people, - either of the North Central Province, or from Trincomalee, where a minimum of 750 acres of prime land by the harbour are to be reserved for IMC-Agnco, or the rest of this country, before an international tribunal for "arbitration", by-passing our Courts.

While Lanka Phosphates itself could produce our total national requirements of Single Super Phosphate [SSP] through a low-cost beneficiation process, what IMC-Agrico proposes is the production of Di-Ammonium Phosphate [DAP], - of which our annual requirement has ranged from as little as 17 to 160 tons. It is also now recognized that DAP is a hazardous material with toxic properties that contaminate ground water when used in agriculture.

Under the draft MIA, there is no guarantee that the company would supply even the quantity of rock phosphate we now mine to Sri Lanka; indeed whether and when to provide supplies is left entirely to the discretion of the company!

The certainty of spoliation of this most valuable natural resource under the draft MIA, with adverse impacts on the people and their land from Kalawewa to Mannar in the west and Trincomalee in the east, with the ancient city of Anuradhapura at the epicentre of the cataclysm, has not been lost on the people of this country and of concerned scientists in the USA and Japan.

Hence, perhaps, the decision of the Executive Committee of the People's Alliance to entrust the prudent development of Eppawala to our engineers and scientists .

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