President’s initial orders not heeded by SDIG Tennakoon; “it‘s the president of the country telling you, stop this at once,” President yells at him Police Chief comes under fire, but he defends his position citing politicisation of the force Intelligence sources believe a full picture of May 9 attack may emerge if Yoshitha Rajapaksa is [...]


As the economic crisis deepens, Rajapaksas split into two power centres


  • President’s initial orders not heeded by SDIG Tennakoon; “it‘s the president of the country telling you, stop this at once,” President yells at him
  • Police Chief comes under fire, but he defends his position citing politicisation of the force
  • Intelligence sources believe a full picture of May 9 attack may emerge if Yoshitha Rajapaksa is interviewed: mystery over his whereabouts
  •  Colombage loses job; Aruni takes over as Foreign Secretary
  • President wanted to announce decision on abolition of executive presidency, now awaits constitutional amendments

This week brought home a fact which most Sri Lankans were unaware. That is the grim reality that two power centres, one under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and another under the then Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, were operating in parallel.

It was brought to the fore after the Black Monday (May 9) attacks on peaceful protestors outside both Temple Trees and at the Galle Face Green. Some Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) parliamentarians, their cohorts and goon squads, who carried out the dastardly attacks are now being identified. This is after the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) investigations which are now underway. That is not withstanding, the pace of the investigation and its ‘highly selective nature’ have cast doubts on the thoroughness of an impartial probe or its efficacy. None other than the new Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, told Parliament last Tuesday he was not satisfied at the “pace at which investigations are being carried out.”

Revealed in these columns just last week was how a top intelligence agency closely monitored gatherings in their homes by government politicians and their goon squads to discuss the plans of attacks. The Sunday Times can now reveal that reports about their activity were handed over in writing to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He, in turn, directed the intelligence boss to inform certain key Police persons and top officials so they could ensure any planned attacks were stopped. To drive the point home, President Rajapaksa, the Sunday Times learnt repeated “don’t ever let that happen.” In other words, the President of Sri Lanka, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the Minister of Defence, the head of the Cabinet of Ministers among other titles, wanted to ensure no harm came to the protestors.  This is in the light of world attention being focused on them.

Intelligence sources believe a fuller picture of the plot could have been determined further if they interviewed Yoshitha Rajapaksa, a retired Lieutenant Commander of the Navy who served as Chief of Staff of the former Prime Minister. However, in the afternoon of Black Monday he had hurriedly boarded a flight to Singapore and his whereabouts thereafter are not known. Though there were reports that he had entered Australia, this has turned out to be incorrect and intelligence sleuths called it a “bogey trail.” One of them said “he (Yoshitha) can connect a lot of missing pieces in the jigsaw.”

Pathirana exposé

What followed thereafter? One of the answers that shocked the country came from the new Plantation Industries minister and former official government spokesperson, Dr Ramesh Pathirana. He made some chilling revelations in Parliament in a forthright speech. Here are some of the relevant highlights:

“We also brought crowds to bid farewell and wish good luck to former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. It was at Temple Trees. Most of the people went there with this primary objective. I was there at the meeting. I am expressing this with great displeasure. After the meeting, some stupid politicians influenced people at the gathering. We need to accept that. It got in to less than 10 percent of those present that they should attack protestors outside Temple Trees and at the Galle Face Green.

“This is a tragic incident. The struggle by protestors had been going on for more than a month. Neither the President nor the Premier needed to throw even a stone at them. That is why it is there then and remains even today. We gave full security. Tear gas was not used.

“However, when those incidents took place and a group of people were going outside Temple Trees and to the Galle Face Green, I was at Temple Trees. I immediately telephoned Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police Deshabandu Tennakoon (who oversees the Western Province) and told him that there is going to be a tragic incident. I pleaded with him to prevent them. He said there was no issue and declared Police had set up roadblocks to prevent any attacker from reaching the peaceful protestors. Immediately thereafter, I left for the Janadipathi Mandiraya for a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.  Whilst at that meeting, a former UNP Parliamentarian Ashu Marasinghe telephoned me. He warned that a huge catastrophe was due to unfold and to immediately inform the President. I told the President that there was a huge issue. There is going to be a crisis and to please stop it immediately.  Right in front of me and other ministers, he took a telephone call and said that I told you to stop this in the morning.  Therefore, what is happening? He was speaking to SDIG Tennekoon.

“SDIG Tennakoon, we learnt, replied that the Inspector General of Police (Chandana Wickremeratne) has told him not to use tear gas or water cannons to disperse crowds. He said the call was received from the Police Chief at 12.40 pm. SDIG Tennakoon also told President Rajapaksa directly that the Inspector General had told them not to stop this. The President had shouted at him, saying, ‘it‘s the president of the country telling you, stop this at once’. Only after that, did they use tear gas to stop the attack. The attack came to a halt only after the interference.

“What Anura Kumra Dissanayake (told Parliament) was true. SDIG Tennekoon and two others had testified before the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, saying that the Police Chief had ordered them not to stop “the stupid people who” wanted to carry out the attacks.” The SDIG named Law and Order Ministry Secretary retired Major General Jagath Alwis as the second person who had ordered the Police not to stop the attackers.

“After that attack, thousands of persons who were not involved and were trying to make their way back home were assaulted. During that unfortunate evening, they burnt our houses. My house was the first to be set on fire in the Galle District.  My house not only belongs to me. It is the house of my sisters and the only property which was left to me by my parents. When it was burnt, I was hurt.

“We lost our property and houses. The police did not operate, the Army did not extend assistance, and I have no hope that we would have any relief through the law. According to the things happening in the country I am not expecting relief from one of these.”

IGP under fire

On Thursday, Fort Magistrate Thilina Gamage warned that the CID, (once a premier institution of the Police Department), was not acting impartially. He said in open court that they were adopting double standards and asked why SDIG Tennekoon was not produced in courts after complaints from the protestors. He warned the CID not to be biased in its investigations.

This is the second occasion when SDIG Tennekoon’s immediate superior, Police Chief Wickremeratne came in for bitter criticism. It was first on May 14 when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa chaired a meeting of the government parliamentary group, Several MPs heaped criticism on him prompting the President to summon the Police Chief. MPs charged that the Police did not help when their houses were being destroyed. Wickremeratne boldly defended his position. He said that Officers-in-Charge of Police stations were those recommended by ruling party MPs. He did not even have the power to transfer them from their stations. If they did not act, he told the MPs, the matter should be raised with them. Alas, in trying to defend himself, the Sri Lanka Police Chief ended up making a damning self-confession — that he was head of a law enforcement empire that was run at the Police Station level by MPs of the ruling coalition. How does the public expect justice and fair play? Worse enough, he waits till an issue crops up so he could point out a problem that seemingly dogged him. Do not ruling party politicos control police stations? Is this why most in the public are reluctant to step into a police station if they can help it? Is this a main cause for the erosion of confidence in the police?

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) parliamentarian Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, however, defended the Police Chief. He told Parliament: “What could the IGP do when the Senior DIG (Western Province, Deshabandu Tennekoon) was working hand in glove with the lawbreakers?” SDIG Tennekoon has been accused of being a staunch backer of the SLPP. He is alleged to have been behind a move to get two hotel managements, one after another, to complain to the Police about the ‘great inconvenience’ caused by protestors outside their premises. This was to initiate action against the protestors and oust them. One hotel had refused whilst the other did only to draw strong protests later from the management. The Commission of Inquiry into Easter Sunday incidents also made adverse references to him.

It is not only Police Chief Wickremeratne who has come in for strong criticism. Even Law and Order Ministry Secretary retired Major General Jagath de Alwis has been chastised at the highest levels. In the event of serious complaints against them both, a critical question that begs immediate answer is whether they defied or even undermined President’s orders. Were they acting as lackeys of the parallel power block?   What measures would government leaders, including the President, take to ensure that the legitimate chain of command is not subverted? If this is not done, as is clear from the Black Monday incidents, is it not the pubic who will suffer?

Colombage out

One of the mistakes President Rajapaksa has continued to make is the appointment of retired military officers to positions in the state sector hitherto confined to the public service. Most of them have turned out to be square pegs in round holes. This has also drawn angry protests in the past weeks. Such officers are not conversant with the inner working of the Police Department and the tendency in the past has been to guide themselves only by political and personal considerations. This has led to a crisis of confidence among officers in the state sector.

At least one such position is now being righted. President Rajapaksa has approved the appointment of Aruni Wijewardena as the new Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She is being recalled from premature retirement and is the senior-most officer in the career foreign service counting valuable experience. Efforts by retired Admiral Jayanath Colombage to retain his position failed and he had to clear his office last Tuesday. The appointment of Ms Wijewardene was proposed to the President by Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris.

On Black Monday, ahead of the incidents, FM Peiris summoned a meeting of Colombo-based diplomats for 11 a.m. but the meeting began 45 minutes late. He showed them video clips and blamed the protestors for attacking the Police and other ‘innocent’ people. This is whilst the entire world knew it was one of the most peaceful protests until goons attacked. Is he not ruining whatever is left of the government’s credibility with such rhetoric? He projected the protestors as the ‘oppressors,’ a position which even the government has not taken. As the event was nearing completion, Canadian High Commissioner David McKinnon raised issue about attacks on protestors. He had received an SMS on his mobile phone. The question was not answered.

The revelations of minister Pathirana have only gone to confirm that two different power centres have been operating over matters relating to governance. That has also sent a dividing line in the Rajapaksa family.

An example is an interview Udayanga Weeratunga, the alleged mastermind behind the MiG-27 procurement scam and later enjoyed the monopoly of tourist traffic from Russia and Ukraine, gave a television interviewer whose coverage is posted regularly on You Tube. Weeratunga, a cousin (mother’s sister’s son) of President Rajapaksa bitterly criticized him for treating the then Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa badly. He said differences arose only because President Rajapaksa listented to those in Viyath Maga, an organisation the latter headed. “How could a President who could not look after the graves of his parents protect a country,” he asked during the interview. He was alluding to mobs destroying the mausoleum built in memory of the late D.A. Rajapaksa and his wife at Weeraketiya in the Rajapaksa homeland.

Later, in a statement, Weeratunga said that “pressure” had been brought about and the interview had been pulled out from the You Tube. He published a post of the interview in his Facebook account. Whoever did that, he charged, would be held responsible if any harm was to come his way. When Mahinda Rajapaksa was President, he appointed Udayanga Weeratunga as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Russia. Earlier, he owned and operated Club Sri Lanka, a restaurant in Kiev, Ukraine.

Chamal’s complaint

A speech by Chamal Rajapaksa, a former minister and the eldest of the Rajapaksas in Parliament also highlighted the differences in the family. Here are highlights: “I am sorry about the May 09 incident, particularly about the people who gathered at Temple Trees going to attack on someone’s wrong advice. The people who came from the villages are innocent people.  They are party supporters. They came to express their sorrow and well wishes to the then Prime Minister who was to resign.

“Some action or some provocation which occurred during that moment resulted in a huge issue. During the evening hours between 6.30 pm and 8pm, the houses of the SLPP parliamentarians, supporters and organisers were set on fire and subjected to attack at every village. Some persons were killed. This happened because there was no patience.

Police officers were there. They were everywhere, and they just observed the goings on. The police officers could have stopped this. However, in Tissamaharama police took down the number plates of the vehicles which came there.  Now they are tracing them and taking steps to arrest them. Why did Police become silent?

“When people were heading towards Galle Face from Temple Trees, why didn’t police stop them? They have failed to perform their duties. Because of that person from our side says that there is no IGP but a PIG, I don’t know the meaning.  That is what is told now. Did someone give them orders to allow the attack to be carried out? We must find out, and there should be persons responsible. There is Secretary of Defence. They could have stopped this and put a stop to loss of lives and damages to properties. The investigations are handed over to the same persons. We would not know what is happening.

“I don’t need to talk about Rajapaksas’ politics. it started in 1931, over 90 years ago. I believe that it should have been better if the Prime Minister (Mahinda Rajapaksa) bid farewell to politics after the two-year term of his presidency. He did not and he is subjected to all sadness and pain…”

Another area of serious concern has been the Ministry of Defence which is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring national security. Defence Secretary retired Major General Kamal Gunaratne told a news conference last week that he received no intelligence reports of attacks on protestors outside Temple Trees and Galle Face Green. Other highly placed sources are disputing this. “He was not only warned of what was ahead. He was also asked to initiate certain measures. However, they were not executed,” said one of them. Added another “The MoD had a bigger role to co-ordinate the activities of the troops and Police to prevent any mayhem. The question is whether this happened or did anyone fail.”

MR returns to Colombo

After a weeklong stay at the Navy Commander’s bungalow at the Dockyard in Trincomalee, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and members of his family arrived in Colombo last Monday. Though he was due to attend parliament sessions that day, the take off in a Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) helicopter was delayed due to bad weather. On Tuesday, he spent nearly an hour in Parliament but was absent on Thursday. A Navy source at the Eastern Naval Command confirmed that he spent all his days at the Commander’s bungalow. He did not go to a hotel in Sober Island as claimed in sections of the social media, the source said. In Colombo, the former Prime Minister has been assigned the onetime official residence of a high-ranking military officer and is in a heavily secure area.

Ranil to the rescue

Just days before he swore in United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was considering going public with a proposal to abolish the executive presidency. This was by either introducing or supporting a bill in Parliament and committing to a date by when he will conduct a referendum to give the people an opportunity to choose the type of governance they want. Towards this end, he did consult several legal and political brains.

However, by accepting the Premiership without any conditions, Wickremesinghe has given the breathing space for the President to potentially hide behind the process of an interim government where he could remain executive president.

Premier Wickremesinghe’s first statement in Parliament last Monday (May 16) was double edged. On the one hand, he laid bare the status of the economy and the current finances of the country. He put them in simple, understandable language with verifiable numbers to give credibility to his assessments. On the other hand, he used that opportunity to expose the former Prime Minister (and Finance Minister), Mahinda Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa, the finance minister. He also subtlely laid the blame on the President for the status of the country. For example, he said, “At present, the Sri Lankan economy is extremely precarious. Although the former government’s budget projected a revenue of SLR 2.3 trillion, SLR 1.6 trillion is the realistic projection of this year’s revenue.”

Further he said, “In November 2019, our foreign exchange reserves were at USD 7.5 billion. However, today, it is a challenge for the treasury to find USD 1 million. The Ministry of finance is finding it difficult to raise USD 5 million required to import gas.”  Perhaps he was meaning that since the presidential election in November 2019, poor decisions and poor management had brought Sri Lanka to this!

He used the speech to elevate him as a potential saviour of the suffering people. – “I am undertaking a dangerous challenge. In the Caucasian Chalk Circle, Grusha crossed the broken rope bridge carrying a child that was not her own. This is an even more difficult undertaking. The precipice is deep, and its bottom cannot be seen. The bridge is made of thin glass and there is no handrail. I am wearing shoes with sharp iron nails that cannot be removed. My task is to safely take the child to the other side. I am accepting this challenge for our nation. My goal and dedication are not to save an individual, a family, or a party. My objective is to save all the people of this country and the future of our younger generation. I will undertake this task willingly risking my life if needed and will overcome the challenges facing us.”

Although it was a good fact-based commentary on current affairs but there was nothing in it to show how we are going to start generating dollars or attract Foreign Direct Investments and how we are going to grow our economy, how are we going to bridge the balance of payment gap, what our future fiscal policy, rules and regulations are going to be etc. Some even said that the speech was backward looking rather than forward looking.

Once again, in such a short time, the Cabinet of Ministers have changed. Politicians yearning for portfolios have even discarded their party writ to take up positions. The Premier and the Cabinet of Ministers, at least for the moment, have delivered a message to the international community and the western world that they are in place to ensure further normalcy. But for the Sri Lankans, fuel queues remain with more outlets closed. Gas is in short supply. So are medicinal drugs and food supplies, particularly garden produce that cannot be transported. Schools are closed. So are restaurants. The biggest question is when these problems are going to be solved. It is no secret that their patience is running out even if politicians fail to read the warning.

President wants to give up defence portfolio

  • Basil Rajapaksa’s hand seen in political manouvres; Ranil’s move to pick woman deputy speaker scuttled
  • Super ‘one-stop’ ministry to expedite foreign investments; Alles in Cabinet as Wimal-Gammanpila nominee


Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

A fter more than 15 years dealing with security related matters, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, wants to give up the defence portfolio.

He conveyed this wish to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe when they discussed the assignment of portfolios to the new Cabinet of Ministers on Thursday. In any event, if the 19th Amendment to be reintroduced in the guise of the 21st Amendment, the Executive President will not hold any portfolio after President Maithripala Sirisena. The 19th Amendment was abolished by 20th Amendment and President Rajapaksa retained ministries.

Later, President Rajapaksa offered the portfolio to Ramesh Pathirana, the Galle District parliamentarian and former government spokesperson. He, however, declined to accept the assignment. It is only thereafter that he was sworn in as the Minister of Plantation Industries, the portfolio he held previously. Government sources said yesterday that efforts are still under way to have him change his mind. “If he still does not want to take it, another choice would have to be made,” the source added.

Though Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe continues to overlook the finance portfolio, plans are on the drawing boards to set up what is being described as a “super Ministry,” a one stop shop for foreign direct investment and all matters related to economic development projects. This will include finance.

Sections of the government, fully supportive of the interim government by some political parties, are worried about the role of former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa to stymie efforts of both President Rajapaksa and Premier Wickremesinghe.

With the endorsement of President Rajapaksa, Wickremesinghe had suggested that he would support Rohini Kaviratne of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) be picked as an uncontested candidate for the post of Deputy Speaker. He had spoken about this to Sudarshani Fernandopulle, who heads the Women’s MPs Group in Parliament. Pavithra Wanniaratchchi is the senior most in the group followed by Sudarshini Fernandpulle, Talatha Athukorale and Rohini Kaviratne. The first three among them had agreed that was a good idea.

When the parliamentary group meeting began, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena rose to say President Rajapaksa had expressed the wish that the unanimous nominee should be Ms Kaviratne from the SJB. However, a group backing Basil Rajapaksa had contested his argument saying there should be democracy in the party and they should be allowed to make their own choice. That was how the Basil Rajapaksa faction won in having Ajith Rajapakshe nominated as a candidate for the post.

In the ensuing election between Kaviratne and Rajapakshe, the latter won comfortably, but was unable to muster the 113 votes, the majority of the House.

Decisions to join the new government and to accept portfolios was made by each individual party and conveyed among others. In the case of Tiran Alles, he made it known to other political parties within his group, known as the Wimal Weerawansa-Udaya Gammanpila group, that President Rajapaksa had asked him to take over the portfolio of Minister of public security. One of the main reasons why the eleven-party group that now sits in the opposition did not accept portfolios is because of their complaint that Basil Rajapaksa was still manipulating matters from behind the scenes. “We have already brought this to the attention of the President,” one of them who did not wish to be identified said. The Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe leadership treated Alles’ name as coming from the 11-member Weerawansa-Gammanpila group.

Premier Wickremesinghe has declared that the new ministers would not draw a salary.

Both the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) have decided to take disciplinary action against their members who have obtained cabinet positions.

Another political development of some significance is a meeting the SJB and the Tamil National Alliance, both represented in Parliament, held with the Peratugami or the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) whose supporters have joined the protestors in a big way. They discussed constitutional changes and the abolition of the executive presidency. Paradoxical enough, a show of strength at the protests appeared to have wilted even the SJB and the TNA to seek solace in parties not present in Parliament. Among those taking part were Kabir Hashim (SJB), Abraham Sumanthiran (TNA) and Shanakiyan Rasamanickam (ITAK).

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