There was a time when those untutored in technological advances were told that it takes just 60 seconds to send a message round the world. Today it must be even quicker, perhaps a few nano seconds or whatever they are called. The irony is this. While communication becomes increasingly speedier it takes so much longer [...]


When will they ever learn?


There was a time when those untutored in technological advances were told that it takes just 60 seconds to send a message round the world. Today it must be even quicker, perhaps a few nano seconds or whatever they are called.

The irony is this. While communication becomes increasingly speedier it takes so much longer to penetrate half an inch of human skull. Not that one wants to chip away with hammer and chisel at thick heads. But it sure takes a long time for some people to absorb ideas and advice or they are too stubborn to listen to wiser counsel.

So, there, surely, were many who breathed a sigh of relief when President Sirisena appointed an acting Defence Minister before he took off to China even before the dust had settled on the multiple suicide bombings that killed so many of our own citizens and those of other countries on Easter Sunday.

Many a time the citizenry has wondered why the President, who constitutionally assumes the portfolio of Defence Minister on being sworn-in, fights shy of passing on the baton whenever he travels abroad.

One can understand if President Sirisena hops across to foreign climes for a breath of fresh air or whatever those nations to the west, east or north of us have to offer. But his travel abroad is more than a mere now and then.

Mr Sirisena said the other day that he was the country’s sixth president and all his predecessors had bombs going off during their time. If he was intending to convey the thought that the experiences of Easter Sunday were nothing new then he seems to have got things all mixed up and missed the significance of the attack by Muslim extremists.

But never mind that. The problem is that his travels abroad are not now and then. Since our current President is intent on reminding the people of the experiences of his predecessors, maybe he should be reminded that no other president travelled abroad as often as he has done and continues to do, never mind even if men from Mars dropped in on Sri Lanka for a good look at this land like no other.

There was a joke doing the rounds during the time of President J.R. Jayewardene, who had A.C.S. Hameed as his foreign minister. As Sri Lanka’s first foreign minister he travelled abroad so often that some wags said his initials stood for All Countries Seen. The story went that his constituents hardly saw him. So each time a plane flew over Akurana, his supporters would look at the sky and wave enthusiastically believing that their MP would spot them at 35,000 feet.

But even the affable Hameed during all those years as foreign minister, could not have beaten Sirisena’s travel record achieved in just four and half years. It is being said that Sirisena is desirous of a second term as president — which he said he would abjure even before he sat on the throne — so that he could set an unbeatable record that Polonnaruwa’s great king Parakramabahu would applaud from wherever he is.

Maybe he knows something we do not know. Maybe in the coming years very small islands that dot the Pacific and Atlantic oceans will emerge as independent nations and await a presidential visitation, so to say.  Or maybe there are a few countries hidden away in vast continents that have not had the supreme pleasure of a visit by our head. I mean there are very small specks in the oceans such as the  Falkland Islands in the south Atlantic and some further north that provide succour to those who wish to hide their ill-gotten gains.

But one positive thing happened the other day. The widespread criticism that President Sirisena avoids appointing an acting Defence Minister whenever he travels out of the country appears to have finally gone home.

So when our president took off last week to China while mobs were running amok in some parts of the country burning and destroying homes and shops and others were sharpening their weapons for the days ahead, he made it a point to appoint State Minister for Defence Ruwan Wijewardene acting Defence Minister.

It was just for three days, mind you. But then one has to start somewhere. Perhaps the President felt he should give the young Wijewardene a few days of practice.

Never mind. It would be better he assumes the role for just a few days before all the blame for anything that spells trouble comes crashing on his head.

What is more important for the country to know is whether this arrangement would endure and it is not a one-off move to show that the head of state is amenable to public criticism.

Having handed the baton to young Wijewardene, the President took off with 27 others (or so we gather) to tell the Chinese and other Asians about Sri Lanka’s glorious civilisation which they were told is 5,000 years old.

Appointing an acting defence minister is a good start. But there is more to be done. Given the state of the country just then with mobs going around looking for targets to demolish or destroy, there is an urgent need to reconstitute, as it were, the National Security Council (NSC). It is a body that discusses important security issues, where vital information relating to the country is made available and decisions are taken which probably should be confidential.

It cannot be treated so lackadaisically that politicians rejected by the people can stroll in and out of meetings as if it is a public park. What is discussed there should remain confidential and not distributed for public consumption like a horse-racing sheet or a “kela pattaray”.

If the importance of the NSC is not recognised and it is reduced to some nondescript weekly or fortnightly meeting where a cup of tea with biscuits are offered, this body will be of little use to the country, or it might be described as not fit for purpose.

If the NSC is to function, as it did in days gone by, then it must be reconstituted as a tight-knit body consisting only of relevant political and administrative/security functionaries.

Those in the government need to realise that the NSC was established to protect the state and its people and warn of impending danger and prepare to meet it. It was not meant to be a body that serves the governing party or parties and protects them from their political adversaries.

It seems a great pity that in all their travels, our political big-wigs do not appear to have learnt how such security bodies operate in other countries and how politicians are not permitted to interfere in security issues.

To give one example, in Britain, the group called “Cobra” headed by the prime minister meets whenever there has been a terrorist attack or a threat or perceived threat to the country from attacks, and assesses the situation to take appropriate steps. A member of Cobra being dropped or not invited to attend because the prime minister does not like that representative’s face is unheard of here.

Unless this government takes its responsibilities — particularly with regard to security and intelligence — seriously and does not treat institutions dealing with such vital issues cavalierly or as the plaything of politicians, what happened on Easter Sunday could happen again though differently.

It is now known that it was not the lack of intelligence that allowed the Easter bombers to operate successfully. It was the complacency of our political class and the over-confidence and lack of analytical skills and perceptions among its bureaucrats, who under-rated the enemy, that led to the massacre.

Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
Comments should be within 80 words. *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.