28 March, 2020

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Before The Pandemic

By Asanga Abeyagoonasekera

Asanga Abeygoonasekera

“We need to find a way to empower citizens to make governments take notice.” ~ Ian Goldin

People reacted to sudden decisions. It was not the fault of our public. It was sad to see images on social media of crowded public spaces, panic purchasing of groceries and rushing to catch the public transportation to go for safety to their loved ones despite the warning of social distancing, that too after a curfew declaration. Where did we go wrong and why are we never proactive as a nation?? There were inquiries as to what the National Security Think Tank (INSSSL) is doing. Here is my response.

I have stepped down from my position on 1st February 2020 due to a rushed Cabinet paper on January 15th 2020 (Cabinet Decision: 19/3497/203/007). The Cabinet decision appointed Presidents Additional Secretary on International Relations and one-time former Navy Commander as the Institute Director General and suggested my name for a diplomatic posting as Deputy Ambassador to Berlin. This cabinet paper prepared by the Ministry of Defence and not copied to the Foreign Ministry. Subsequently, when I inquired from the Minister of Foreign Affairs Dinesh Gunawardena on this decision, he blamed the foreign secretary and the bureaucracy as he was not aware of such cabinet paper. Here is a clear systemic deficiency within the Government.

The last report prepared for the government by the Institute for National Security Studies over my term was on the ‘Coronavirus outbreak‘. It is dated Jan 29th 2020, two days before I was told to step down from the security think tank on 1st February. The report (see below) had some important recommendations to the Government, the line Ministries and the public to prepare for the outbreak from an early stage. The report was prepared by four of our brilliant young researchers (Ben Barron, Isaac Ellis, Sanoj Samuel Jayakody and Udeshika Jayasekera). How did such information go unheard?

When Governments suddenly reset think tanks, it loses direction and focus on the important work the institute conducts. Every time Sri Lanka has a new regime, they usually reset think tanks. Why? Only for political reasons. This was the second time I have faced such removal from office due to Government change, the first was in 2015 from the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute from the January 8th Government of Good Governance.  It reset the entire think tank requesting all staff to leave except the gardener and the driver. In the same manner, it happened again in 2020 January by the present Government. Apparently, this time the security think tank was reset due to advice from a Sri Lankan Professor in Singapore who visits Sri Lanka for few days to advice on National Security and a former Minister heading a local think tank promising to show the path ahead.

The role of a think tank is for critical thinking and analysis. It is to assist the Government to make sound policy decisions based on expert advice and public discourse. Unfortunately, critical analysis is seen most of the time as bad news. In a sense acting like ancient kings who punished messengers who brought them the bad news. This did not change the news, it simply slowed up its delivery. On most occasions, it meant that the kings were ill-informed and, lacking truth, made serious errors in judgment and strategy. Think Tanks are there to bring the naked truth from evidence-based research to the policymaker. If the Government wishes to have a think tank to say everything that they do is correct, then the Government should transform the think tank into a political propaganda office.

Local expertise is not valued nor appreciated in many instances. This was clear in January 2019 when the Monthly Threat Forecast (MTF) addressed to the President through Secretary Defence highlighting the significant national security threat from the extremist group and my request to find the external links of this group.  My family and I witnessed the Easter Bombings of 2019 with our lives spared by a matter of minutes. After the attacks, when I was called on by the former President on 20th May 2019 at his office he said ‘all these reports were not presented to him and one Secretary came drunk and another came like a mad man, do they get this job for retirement?’.

So, where did we go wrong? We would have prevented the attacks if we acted timely on the reports. I have submitted a 13-page statement on 17th February 2020 with the all relevant reports to the newly appointed Presidential Commission on Easter Sunday bombing. Hopefully, I will be called to this commission. At the previous PSC probing the Easter Sunday attacks despite my name was mentioned by CNI Sisira Mendis I was not called. Why? One day the public will see my 13-page statement and I have told the police officer who recorded my statement to make it available to the public to understand the systemic deficiencies and the bureaucratic inertia within our system blaming each other. We need to correct these systemic deficiencies to ensure such errors will not occur in the future.

To act intelligently we must learn as much as we can about the risks we could face from local and global threats to our society. In this manner, we may thereby be able better to avoid, minimize and neutralize the harm to our society. Despite our hard work and efforts, we may someday come face to face with blunt choices on national security and we must appreciate different possibilities. We cannot ignore or wish them away.

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Latest comments

  • 2
    2

    Very interesting Asanga:
    who is Ben Barron and Issac Ellis and how did they and the INSSSL happen to prepare a report on Covid 19 in January 2020? Was this linked to the infamous Event 201 pandemic exercise?

    China is still looking for patient zero and there are claims that Covid 19 is biological warfare against Asian economies and to promote de-globalization. Which external parties advised INSSSL to draft this report?

    Just like another report before the mysterious Easter Sunday attacks claimed by ISIL – but the foreign hand not revealed.

  • 2
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    Dude Asang, sorry machan for your plight.
    This is never-never-learn land of Modayas!
    Question: do you know why Coronavirus loves Caucasian celebs, like Hollywood stars, politicians and Princes – Tom Hanks to Prince Phillip via Trudeau’s wife, Minister of health UK,, Senator Rand Paul, Aussie Ministers and the list goes on…?
    Check this out, dude something very mysterious going with this Covid panic-pandemic narrative seems to call for lateral thinking???

    https://wgno.com/news/health/coronavirus/photos-celebrities-politicians-who-are-positive-for-coronavirus/

  • 2
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    I do not know what exactly to say. If true (which is ) then there is nothing surprising. With or without any in depth analysis or report, I as a common man could see the Easter Incident months ahead (provided with the the infor the then govt had). This of course was much easier to predict as a physician. Today there is active discussion elsewhere whether GR is LKY 2.0 (Lee Kuan Yew ). What I expect from any leader including GR is not another LKY, but a honest , sincere person who is willing to work for all citizens and not for self/family/party. Right now I am in sitting in a hospital , working restricted hours, but still seeing patients who walks in, needing of help. In the mean time I am also attending all phone calls, Whats App / tele consultations ,advising and following up with older patients of mine , who are advised to not to visit hospital but strictly continue with recommendations. As a hospital we are even supplying medicines for our patients at certain drop off points to pick. By doing so I am well aware of exposing myself and my family to risk, but then again that is exactly what is expected from us doctors. . I feel humble, that we are among few who are given this responsibility, not just during a pandemic ravage , for that matter any human crisis. I only expect the same ethics if not far better from our leaders. You the readers are free to make the call.

  • 2
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    Market Sourcing/ distribution area wise People visiting supermarket division wise assisted by gramasevaka controlled by security forces to avoid crowded public spaces, panic purchasing of groceries, Food shopping is the first step in providing safe and healthy foods for your family. Food Storing and Food Storing and Issuing ControlI, Rationing made sure that people got an equal amount of food every week.

  • 0
    2

    I think Asanga is missing some point here. You need to reflect back what you are doing. You have to be very suspicious everybody. Why did you hire three people from Australia ?. Are they trust worth for defence matters ?

  • 1
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    Colleagues
    No worries
    Asanga is in a better front now vying for a more important position
    He is contesting to get into parliament where I am certain he could fill a great vacuum and a need of the times
    A person like Asanga young brilliant and educated will find a place on behalf of all of us
    Of course by his appointment he will displace one corrupt nincompoop
    Rusiripala

  • 2
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    Rusiri, what about you ????. Though I do not agree with most of your opinion, I sincerely believe you may be a better candidate than most of those corrupt nincompoops, who have currently taken up the house.

  • 3
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    Do you know where we go wrong Assanga? It is an inbred quality in our Sri Lankans to go wrong it is not in the genes but in our heads. We are a community that “follows the Camel”we have no sense of imagination or the ability to think on our own ,we claim to be leaders but we are NOT Leaders. All our life we cowed down to those who ruled us and developed a complex that now we want to rule others hence a false sense of superiority complex and we are now drowning in it. We will always go wrong now and for ever. WE need an urgent repair kit to prevent us going wrong and that would be is to come out of our false notions remove the facade and be bold to face our faults and seek remedial action. We are now caught in a political storm with a leader who has nothing but pride and arrogance surrounded by his siblings and stupid clowns and idiots who are pulling the country down so let us be frank we will always be wrong and we have no guts to correct ourselves

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