Dilan Perera declines to resign as MP and take over as Uva Province Governor Uva Province Governor Maithri Gunaratne too refuses to resign Drop in tempo of  NDF campaign as candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa announces his manifesto   The passionate love of politicians for democracy is echoing far and wide with just 19 days for [...]


Sirisena wants to enter parliament as national list MP after November 16 polls



Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna’s presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa held a special meeting at Nelum Pokuna to present his election manifesto with ten key points. He is seen presenting a copy to his party leader, brother, mentor and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. GMOA president Dr. Padeniya looks on. Pic by Priyantha Wickremearachchi

  • Dilan Perera declines to resign as MP and take over as Uva Province Governor
  • Uva Province Governor Maithri Gunaratne too refuses to resign
  • Drop in tempo of  NDF campaign as candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa announces his manifesto


The passionate love of politicians for democracy is echoing far and wide with just 19 days for the presidential election.

Hardly a day passes without contenders shouting hoarsely from political platforms about their love for democratic values, loathe for corruption and faithful vows to voters for a new society without ills.

Paradoxical enough, amidst this is the saga of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. They made the very same noises five years ago. Sirisena vowed a yahapalana or good governance government free of bribery and corruption. Revelations before Commissions of Inquiry he appointed, besides investigations by the Police, have laid bare that corruption has been humongous. The levels were as high, if not more, as it was claimed to be during the previous administration.

Economic development was spearheaded by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. A lesser known fact was President Sirisena, upon assumption of office, encouraged the premier to do so without placing any restrictions. This was because he revered him. So much so, in late 2014, when secret consultations were under way to oust the Rajapaksa administration through a coalition, Sirisena was to remark that he would continue to always address Wickremesighe “Sir.” This was even after the 2015 presidential election. In the later years it became Ranil unnehe.

For this purpose, Wickremesinghe chaired a Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM). It took decisions on most matters related to economy. Some ministers, who worked hand in glove with local agents, had projects approved for their foreign principals, without much scrutiny. Questionable transactions proliferated. Only a brief account of the decision went before the Cabinet for covering approval. The CCEM turned into a parallel Cabinet of Ministers. The UNP led-United National Front’s main promise to the people – the provision of a million jobs – was forgotten. There were allegations that undeclared money was funnelled into the country through regular channels for so-called “foreign investment.”

The people continued to be burdened with more taxes. Employment generation was minimum though many a grandiose project, like an aero city, was forecast time after time. Little or nothing materialised. Premier Wickremesinghe and an entourage took part in the Davos economic summit in Switzerland, one of the world’s most expensive countries. Davos served little. Among the publicised accounts was a photograph of then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake with Chinese billionaire entrepreneur Jack Ma at a get together cocktail. It was claimed he was investing in Sri Lanka. Two years have gone by but there is no Ma and no investment. Only Karunanayake lost his finance portfolio.

There was an accumulation of issues over the CCEM, one of the main factors for the estrangement between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe. President Sirisena wound up the CCEM and replaced it with the National Economic Council (NEC) in 2017. This month, after two years, Sirisena dismantled the NEC and sacked its Secretary General (SG), Lalith Samarakoon. When he was named SG, Sirisena described him as a professional with “wide experience, knowledge and competence” and was “eminently qualified to perform his role.”

The reason for this drastic action was because Samarakoon, who was drawing half a million rupees monthly as salary, was mostly away from Sri Lanka. Sirisena told ministers in a Cabinet memorandum that Samarakoon had “failed to fulfil his obligations” and had not returned after leaving Sri Lanka in August. Samarakoon has, however, insisted that on every occasion he left, he had informed President Sirisena. He has challenged him over the claim that he had left without intimation. If that assertion is correct, Sirisena did not ensure checks and balances on Samarakoon’s foreign travel. Nor was he hands on with economic policies.

The consequence of this drama on Sri Lanka’s economy reveals a sordid story. For half the period of this coalition, Premier Wickremesinghe oversaw the economy. For the rest, it was President Sirisena. That there were serious shortcomings in the CCEM including the processes being conducive to corrupt activity is now well known. The octogenarian bureaucrat at the helm already possessed a chequered track record as an official in a previous UNP government. For the rest of over two and half years, guiding the economy has remained in the hands of President Sirisena. It is now known that he did not play his role either.

As he claims, if NEC head Samarakoon was often out of Sri Lanka, how much of economic activity was affected by this? After all, it is his responsibility to ensure that decisions made by NEC, chaired by President Sirisena himself, are carried out. Hence, Sri Lankans now know that all was not well in the economic front under the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government. They have not been able to deliver. Of course, there are ministers, who like seasoned jugglers, would produce statistics to prove Sri Lanka is the world’s most developed nation after the United States of America. That vicarious satisfaction is mostly to them and their followers, but not the Sri Lanka public.

Return to Parliament

And now, President Sirisena who returns to Sri Lanka today, does not want to lose any time to enter Parliament after his term expires when a successor is elected on November 16. Last Sunday, he left on a four-day visit to Japan to take part in the glamourous enthronement of Emperor Naruhito. At the end of four days in Tokyo, he left for Singapore. After spending another three days there on a private visit, he will return to Colombo today.

Even before he left for Japan, President Sirisena has been exploring ways and means of entering Parliament immediately after he ceases to be President. He had a meeting with Dilan Perera, who is now facing disciplinary action for joining the SLPP before the party concluded a deal. In fact, Perera and three others have also had a meeting with Sirisena earlier over their wish to re-join the SLFP. On that occasion, Perera was critical of the four being side-lined by the SLPP hierarchy. Perera is among those facing disciplinary action from the SLFP and SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera has appealed to SLPP leaders not to give him positions.

During a two-hour meeting with Perera, Sirisena sounded out the prospect of Perera resigning from being a National List MP. He told him that he wants to enter Parliament and proposed that Perera would be appointed Governor of the Uva Province. That seemed a funny twist of fate. When Perera crossed over to the SLPP, his father Marshal Perera, who was Uva Governor resigned from the post. SLFP sources said that the resignation was the result of a request made to him by the Presidential Secretariat. Perera later conveyed to Sri Lanka People’s Alliance (SLPA) leader Mahinda Rajapaksa the outcome of his talks with Sirisena. He said he had told President Sirisena he would have to consult his new leader as well as candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Moves to make Perera the Uva Governor also ruffled feathers among some SLFPers including their senior deputy Chairman, Nimal Siripala de Silva. However, he is not taking the post now.

In order to make way for Perera, President Sirisena also had a meeting with the present Uva Governor Maithri Gunaratne. He told Gunaratne that he had sought to enter Parliament on the National List and asked that he resign to make way for Perera. He had explained to the Uva Governor that he was still fit health-wise to remain in politics and wanted to “serve” the country. However, Governor Gunaratne told the Sunday Times, “I have considered the matter carefully. I will not resign.” Governor Gunaratne, like two other Governors Keerthi Tennekoon (Central Province) and Sarath Ekanayake (North Central Province) are supporting New Democratic Front (NDF) candidate Sajith Premadasa. They were closely associated earlier with senior presidential advisor Shiral Lakthilaka, who quit to support Premadasa’s campaign. He now operates from the Premadasa campaign’s Vauxhall Street office and features in propaganda video clips.

Now that the duo had declined, what alternative President Sirisena will seek to ensure his entry to Parliament remains to be seen. There is little doubt he will approach others in this endeavour. However, hopes of remaining an MP for long are dim. At a ceremony at the Nelum Pokuna Arts Theatre where candidate Rajapaksa’s manifesto was launched on Friday, Sri Lanka People’s Alliance (SLPA) leader Mahinda Rajapaksa declared that his alliance would consider the outcome of the presidential election as a mandate from voters to hold early parliamentary elections.  Yet, such a move notwithstanding, it will give him some three to four months’ time as MP if Sirisena succeeds. The manifesto focuses on ten key areas ranging from security to economy.  Rajapaksa launched the manifesto at a ceremony attended by representatives of more than 20 parties and civil society groups which have teamed up to back the SLPP candidate.

As reported in these columns last week, President Sirisena has already secured a “severance package” from the Cabinet. Fuller details of the package still remain a secret. Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera did not circulate the memorandum to his ministerial colleagues. Though Samaraweera has defended his actions, sections of the SLPA leadership are livid with the move. One of them pointed out that for President Sirisena’s predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, it took two years to obtain an official residence.

After the residence at Wijerama Road was chosen for Rajapaksa, it took a further nine months for it to be renovated. They also pointed out that Sirisena’s residence at Mahagamsekera Mawatha (former Paget Road) was much larger in floor space than the Janadipathi Mandiriya or the President‘s House. Even in the case of Chandrika Kumaratunga, onetime President, it took several months before she could obtain a government bungalow at Independence Avenue.

A senior SLPA leader, who did not wish to be identified, claimed that besides the house, President Sirisena has been allowed bullet proof vehicles. He alleged that one or both were new Mercedes Maybach bullet proof cars. The cost of one such vehicle, which can withstand the blast of two hand grenades detonated simultaneously, would be around US$ 285,000 each. Components in the four-wheel drive car such as the battery, are reinforced and armored as well to provide additional protection. It could also run on rims if the tires are damaged.  However, the veracity of this claim cannot be confirmed since the cabinet memorandum remains a secret. Though most of the cabinet decisions were publicised last week, there was no reference to the benefits proposed for President Sirisena. Some civil society groups opposed to the ruling party are readying to move the Supreme Court over the perks President Sirisena has received on the claim that Minister Samaraweera’s cabinet memorandum is illegal – an issue that is highly debatable.

Premadasa campaign

For Wickremesinghe who is confident he will be Prime Minister even after Sajith Premadasa becomes President, the biggest worry appears to be the ongoing election campaign. He noted during a meeting with those dealing with Premadasa’s campaign that there was a marked drop in the campaign tempo. He wanted it stepped up.  The news came as one of the major advertising outfits pulled out of the media campaign. There appears to be some confusion in the ranks with different groups pulling in different directions. However, Minister Malik Samarawickrema, a key player told the Sunday Times “there are no problems and we are doing very well.”

The NDF’s manifesto will be announced early next month. NDF Media Committee Chairman and Minister Mangala Samaraweera told the Sunday Times, “The manifesto will have three main sections: the state, economy and communities. There will also be a special section on three wars that the new President will declare: against waste and corruption, drug trafficking and religious extremism. Education, economic competitiveness, national security, legal delays and public transport are areas where especially detailed proposals are offered. The conflict affected areas and plantation communities have not been ignored.”

A noticeable feature of Premadasa’s campaign, particularly at different meetings, is the criticism levelled against SLPA candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It is reminiscent of both the presidential and parliamentary election campaign in January 2015 and August of that year. At that time, they were criticising the previous administration and its actions. Now almost five years later, the same issues have become the focal point. Is it the lack of a catalogue of achievements on their five-year rule? Or is it the lack of a well-coordinated campaign strategy. Ironic enough, the UNF government failed to take action on the allegations that are being repeated now.

When Gotabaya Rajapaksa told a campaign rally that he would provide fertilizer free of charge to paddy farmers, Premadasa improved on it. He said he would provide them free even to other farmers who are producers of agricultural products. Premadasa declared he would also provide a free mid-day meal to schoolchildren. These cost a considerable volume of money and there is no development plan where these measures have been juxtaposed. This highlights the degree of ad hocism in Premadasa’s campaign.

Another formidable threat that the NDF faces are moves now under way behind-the-scenes for members from two smaller parties to join the SLPP. Crowning such a move, expected just a few days before the election, is the change of allegiance by a southern politician very closely associated with a ruling party leader. He has formally denied it, but the Sunday Times learnt talks were on.  When in power, the minister, was accused on a few occasions at the Cabinet of not towing the government line and engaging in efforts to save opposition leaders. His move to join the SLPP ranks is double edged.

On the one hand, it may enhance votes for Premadasa on the grounds that he was in the government representing “the other side.”  On the other, for the SLPP, with that gain, it could boast that it has pulled out an icon who is the closest confidant of the leader. There are two other ministers (one a former) who is expected to join him.  Winning other MPs to SLPP ranks also has another rationale. In the event Gotabaya Rajapaksa is elected president, they want to have enough numbers to form their own government until an early parliamentary election. That will mean that the present UNF government will be out of office within days if candidate Rajapaksa wins. To counter this, the NDF is also wooing some SLPP backers but the prospects are dim. That will also mean a new Sri Lanka People’s Alliance (SLPA) Prime Minister and a Cabinet of Ministers.

Much of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s campaign is centered on national security and related issues, his own priorities if he becomes President. That could see some revolutionary changes. One is sure to be the reversal of the Sri Lanka co-sponsored US backed resolution which, among other matters, seeks to probe alleged war crimes by Sri Lankan troops through a hybrid tribunal. Another, which he pledged at the Anuradhapura rally, will be the release of “war heroes” who are in jails on “absurd” charges.

President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe vowed before the 2015 elections to pursue legal action against troops for violations of the law. However, President Sirisena reneged on the move and directed that arrest of top officers be halted. By this time, a few cases have been investigated by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) which had filed action in courts. These cases are now pending. A few cases relate to corrupt activity and financial misappropriation too.

PSC report

Amidst the ongoing presidential election campaign, the UNF leaders believed that the report of the “Select Committee of Parliament to look into and report to Parliament on the terrorist attacks that took place in different places in Sri Lanka on 21st April 2019,” would be an important factor. Last Wednesday, Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri, who chaired the Committee of eight members tabled the PSC report. The members were from the UNP, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). With their proxies, it amount to an almost UNF exercise.

First to some edited excerpts of the Executive Summary of the 274-page report which gives an idea of what happened though not a full picture:

“On 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, suicide terrorist bombings that took place in three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka killed around 277 people (including 8 suicide bombers) and wounded more than 400 people as per the information provided by Police Headquarters.  At least 40 foreign nationals and at least 45 children were reported to be among the dead.

“Investigators identified Zahran Hashim, one-time leader of the National Thowheed Jamaath, as the main suspect behind the execution of these co-ordinated attacks. Subsequent to the attacks, incidents of ethnic violence and tension targeting the Muslim community occurred in several parts of the country. The PSC held 24 sittings from May to October 2019 and heard evidence from 55 persons. The present report is endorsed by all members of the PSC.

“Below are key findings: Following the attacks, evidence emerged that prior intelligence information was available. That intelligence information related to the attacks was first received by the Director, SIS (State Intelligence Service) on 4th April 2019 but there were delays in sharing it with the relevant intelligence and security personnel. The Director, SIS was called by name by the then Secretary MOD (Ministry of Defence) to brief the ICM (Intelligence Co-ordinating Meeting) on 9th April 2019 but failed.

“A major failure from the Director SIS, the lead in the intelligence apparatus who had received pride of place at the ICM and NSC was to act up on the subsequent intelligence information received after the explosion on 16th April 2019 in Kattankudy. The PSC notes that the Director SIS bears the greatest responsibility. This is compounded by the fact that since 8th April 2018, a full one year before the incident, he had in writing to the IGP requested for the shutting down of investigations by others into Zahran, which resulted in the SIS becoming the sole investigator into Zahran. PSC also observes that the SIS missed a series of events that should have alerted the state security apparatus to the impending attacks and demonstrated to them the importance of the intelligence information received. This was in the context of intelligence already known on Zahran and his allies including police reports on him and arrest warrants issued on him dated March 2017.

“Other incidents since 2018 demonstrate how the lead intelligence party should have been more vigilant and taken steps to keep the ICM, NSC and other relevant parties informed. This failure by the SIS has resulted in hundreds of deaths, many more injured and immeasurable devastation to Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans and that must not be treated lightly. The PSC makes this observation considering attempts made to shield the culpability of key individuals and the need to hold all individuals responsible without further delay.

“The PSC further notes, that whilst the greatest responsibility remains with the Director SIS, others too failed in their duties. Within the security and intelligence apparatus, the Secretary MOD, IGP (Inspector General of Police), CNI (Chief of National Intelligence) and DMI (Director of Military Intelligence) failed. All were informed of the intelligence information prior to the Easter Sunday attacks but failed to take necessary steps to mitigate or prevent it.

“The PSC also observes that further investigations will be needed to understand whether those with vested interests did not act on intelligence so as to create chaos and instil fear and uncertainty in the country in the lead up to the Presidential Election to be held later in the year. Such a situation would then lead to the call for a change of regime to contain such acts of terrorism. Coincidently or not so coincidentally, the security situation and fear would be unleashed months away from the Presidential Election. The PSC also notes that this occurred in the context of changes in the leadership in the Sri Lankan Army and DMI in 2019. These are extremely serious observations that can impact the democratic governance, electoral processes and security of Sri Lanka and must require urgent attention.

“In addition, the PSC observes that the President failed numerous occasions to give leadership and actively undermine government and systems including having ad hoc NSC meetings and leaving out key individuals from meetings. Whilst the fissures in Government were evident in 2018, amplified with the Constitutional Crisis, these also impacted the security apparatus. Several others are listed in the report as having failed in their duties including the Prime Minister and State Minister for Defence and the Attorney General’s Department.

“A critical introduction would be an independent and robust National Security Council with a National Security Advisor, essential in addressing evolving security challenges. The PSC also highlights the need for legislative reforms in several areas such as initiatives to counter fake news and irresponsible reporting, work in the education sector, the need for greater Parliament oversight, among others.

“The PSC notes the rising extremism in Sri Lanka. Evidence received indicates that Zahran started a campaign to radicalise Muslim youth and motivate them to use violence to achieve their ends post March 2018 attacks on Muslims in Digana. However, investigations to date have not shown any evidence that Zahran had direct links with the ISIS. The PSC observes that several people of Kattankudy and several local Muslim groups made complaints against Zahran as early as 2013/2014 to the authorities. Testimony also showed that investigations had commenced into some of his speeches and activities. The rise in extremism was also in the backdrop of increasing levels of Islamaphobia.

“The PSC also observes increasing levels of Wahabism and Arabization in parts of Sri Lanka in recent years. A physical change had taken place in recent years in Kattankudy town with the emergence of Date-Palm Trees and Arabic lettering on public sign boards. The Batticaloa campus buildings also prominently display Arabic architecture and landscape, making it drastically different to any university building in the country. Evidence received by the PSC indicates that Arabization commenced and was fostered in Kattankudy by Hon. M.L.A.M. Hizbullah. The PSC notes that the spread of Wahhabism and the Arabization of Kattankudy contributed to the growth of extremism….”

A careful analysis of the 274-page report, released just three days ago, is a difficult task. However, a few points that are glaring are worth mentioning. There is little doubt that the report including the findings has deep rooted political connotations, much the same way the report of the PSC on the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) bond scam. In the case of the CBSL probe, it became abundantly clear not all the facts surfaced in the PSC report. Some even complained that it was nothing more than a “cover up.”  Now, Sri Lankans would have to await another Commission of Inquiry that is going into the incidents to submit its report.

In the same way, the latest PSC report is a political missile directed at President Maithripala Sirisena. It is true that he sits at the apex of the establishment. The sting is in the finding that he “failed in numerous occasions to give leadership and actively undermined government and systems including having ad hoc NSC meetings and leaving out key individuals from meetings.” Where he failed, how he failed and how he undermined the systems are not convincingly explained and are only a general accusation. That gives the show away. This is by no means to say that President Sirisena has no questions to answer. He has many. He was in Singapore on a private visit during the attacks. He did not get in touch with his own Prime Minister or tell him what to do though innocent lives were lost and the country suffered economically.

A somewhat amusing finding by the PSC is another political twist. “Whilst the fissures in Government were evident in 2018,” the PSC report said, “amplified with the Constitutional Crisis, these also impacted the security apparatus. Several others are listed in the report as having failed in their duties including the Prime Minister and State Minister for Defence and the Attorney General’s Department.”

That was again to place the blame on President Sirisena. The PSC does not back up this ludicrous claim with any testimony, either from those in the political or security establishment. Military leaders decided that they should remain loyal to their Commander-in-Chief. There have been instances where a top UNF leader, during the October crisis, urged one senior Commander for support. “You all fight your own battles. We will do our duty taking our orders from the Commander in Chief,” he retorted and banged his telephone.

Premier Wickremesinghe has declared publicly that he took “collective responsibility” for the Easter Sunday incidents. Therefore, blaming him for failing in his duties is understandable. However, surprising enough, the PSC is unaware that as Minister of State, Ruwan Wijewardene, does not have any operational responsibility. How then could he summon conferences or even officers for follow up action?

As for most of the other recommendations, the PSC has quite rightly confirmed that was wrong and how the Easter Sunday incidents had occurred. As is clear, President Sirisena has remained in the habit of naming wrong persons to some of the most important positions. He has had five different Defence Secretaries. Another such instance is the appointment of Nilantha Jayawardena, SSP, as Director of the State Intelligence Service. At 46 years, Sirisena promoted him as a Senior Deputy Inspector General (SDIG). The PSC has noted that Jayawardena had a full one year before the incident, had in writing to the IGP requested for the shutting down of investigations by others into Zahran, which resulted in the SIS becoming the sole investigator into Zahran.”   It is no secret in the intelligence community that political leaders did favours and in return used them to spy on their opponents neglecting their primary responsibilities.

Questions over ISIS links

The PSC, like the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), has not been able to provide an answer to the most important question over the Easter Sunday tragedy. It has concluded that there is no evidence. It is basing its finding on the position of the CID, which is now less efficient than a Minor Crimes Unit in a provincial Police Station. From the time the CID began its probe in April, it is yet to find who funded, aided and trained those who carried out the attacks. If not the ISIS, who were they? The answer remains a mystery. The PSC  is simply repeating that position.

They should take a lesson from Alice G. Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asia at the State Department in Washington DC. She told the House Foreign Affairs Sub Committee on Asia and the Pacific just last Tuesday: “Following the April 21 ISIS inspired terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, the government was initially slow to counter threats of reprisals against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims. However, by May, authorities had moved to protect minorities, including refugees and asylum seekers, and prevented large outbreaks of communal reprisal violence.”

Just after the Easter Sunday massacres on April 21, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents were in Sri Lanka for weeks. Here is evidence that the ISIS inspired the Muslim extremist group. There is a long felt need to overhaul the intelligence services of the State and their investigation arms. They have become a privileged lot servicing the politicians’ needs than those of the people and the country.

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