By Laksiri Fernando –
Dear Mr. Speaker,
I write this with reference to the Media Statement issued by your Office, on your behalf, dated 8 June 2019, regarding the current controversies over the proceedings of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on the Terrorist Attacks of 21 April 2019.
The Statement explains the background within which the present PSC is appointed, and no one would have any concerns or objections over the presumed good intentions. As much of the controversies are related to the opening of the proceedings to the media and recordings (now You Tube), I like to draw your attention to some of the discrepancies between the claims of the Statement and the reality.
First, the statement says, “The proceedings of this select committee, conducted according to the new standing orders, Parliament has also approved the opening of those proceedings to the media.” This at best is misleading. Nowhere in the Resolution of the Parliament, adopted on 23 May 2019, says the proceedings would be open to the media let alone electronic recordings. Now we can see the whole proceedings circulated in the social and other media, many of the matters related to the national security.
Second, in the same paragraph, the statement justifies such open revelations of the matters discussed at the PSC, referring to recent questioning of the Attorney General and the CIA Director of the United States broadcasted all over the world! However there is a difference. Those questionings were not related to an immediate security situation or a terrorist attack.
Third, we are not yet even two months away from the ‘investigated’ terrorist attacks. Given the second security lapses on 13 May, the security situation of the country should be considered still not settled. Some of the political rifts leading to the weakening of the national security in April still prevail and enhanced. Therefore, the public revelation of many of the matters and the weaknesses of the security apparatus could further hamper the national security and public safety.
Fourth, if Sri Lanka or the PSC wanted to follow the USA on similar matters, the best example or the model to follow should have been the Congress Commission appointed to investigate the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks in November 2002. Not the recent congressional committees appointed for allegedly for political purposes that your media statement refers to.
Fifth, the 9/11 US Congress investigation was conducted after one year and two months of the event, not to jeopardize the ongoing security situation and criminal investigations. The purpose was not simply to find fault with some selected personnel or absolve some others, but thoroughly investigate the failures behind and rectify the future. It was also a bipartisan committee with equal number from the government and the opposition. There were women in the committee, unlike the present PSC!
Sixth, your official statement says, “It is clearly notified that everyone who comes before the select committee could give evidence without media coverage, after taking oath, when that evidence could endanger the national security.” This is of course some precaution. I have also noted some members of the PSC clearly stating to some witnesses that they don’t need to reveal certain matters. However this has not been the case of all or some others. Most clearly, some of the witnesses go loose and talk; and some matters could be quite sensitive. Even at present, major weaknesses of the security system are roundly exposed, and this could be quite detrimental to the national security.
Seventh, when one goes through the Resolution of the Parliament pertaining to the present PSC, it is very clear that it has not at all considered the possible national security implications of the PSC proceedings. The term ‘national security’ does not appear at all. No mention even about the media coverage and its parameters. It appears the purpose is political and there is a section included to investigate “whether allegations levelled against any Member of Parliament, Governors or any other persons are true or not.” There can be a conflict of interest between some members and the above matters when investigated.
Eighth, what does it mean by ‘any other persons’? This can be a reflection of bad formulation, but if this section is followed literally, the PSC might try to take over the whole investigations of the terrorist attacks. Any allegations on the MPs or Governors also should have been left for the law and order authorities to investigate, whatever their apparent weaknesses. It is not correct for the PSC to intervene and interfere.
Ninth, it has to be stated that the mentioned letter of the Attorney General in the Statement which was sent to you by the Secretary to the President should be taken much more seriously, although we are not aware of the full contents.
According to your official Statement, “It [the letter] claims that some of the matters that could reveal during the select committee proceedings can hamper the now ongoing investigations” to mean the terrorist attacks and the people who have aided and abetted. This is a serious concern coming from the AG, although your statement mentions that you have informed and advised the PSC to take necessary precautions.
Tenth, it should also be noted that MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe (PC) has written to you particularly regarding the implications of the present PSC proceedings on ‘official secrets and national security’ based on the Official Secrets Act. This should also be taken seriously. Not so long ago, he was the Minister of Justice of the present government.
Eleventh, your office Statement expresses the opinion that if the opposition fully participated in the present PSC (particularly the Joint Opposition), most of the present defects and/or controversies could have been ironed out. It may be or may not be the case. This is however a good political wish for cooperation. This is also an admission of defects/weaknesses of the PSC procedures, if not inbuilt dangers. How far and how long are you going to be behind the PSC to rectify the situation?
However my/our concerns are national, security and people’s lives.
Twelfth, with or without the PSC proceedings or the findings, it is very clear that the national security of the country has been in jeopardy mainly because of the infights within the government. President of the country is pulling in one direction, while the Prime Minister is pulling the other way. Both were elected from the same political sources and for the same purposes of ‘good governance.’ It is apparent that many of the security officials are either divided between the two, or paralyzed as a result of the infights. Who is the monk that conducted a fast unto death in recent days, adding more fuel to the fire! He is or was a member of the governing party.
Therefore why should the country and Parliament allow the PSC to surreptitiously fuel these infights and personal struggles further? It is obvious that most of the members of the PSC belong to one faction of the government, directly or indirectly.
As the Speaker of the Parliament, who is supposed to be neutral and should work on broad national interests, I appeal you to intervene to stop this insanity, factionalism and personal agendas and at least try to bring some understanding between the President and the PM until the next elections are held. Please don’t let the national security to be further damaged.
Dr Laksiri Fernando (former Senior Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, University of Colombo)
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