22 June, 2024


Imprecise And Inaccurate Generalizations About The ICES Episode

By Rajiva Wijesinha

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha MP

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha MP

Having addressed a meeting of professionals in Kandy, I was taken back to the past on returning to Colombo and reading the last episode of Doc (the Seventh Dwarf in my series on Enemies of the President’s Promise) in the Colombo Telegraph. The comments relate mainly to my description of the Rama Mani episode, when we found that the International Centre for Ethnic Studies was being perverted from the purpose for which it had been initially set up. I did not want to respond in the Comments section of the Telegraph, since the arguments there tend to go round in circles, but since two people I know have used their own names, I feel I owe them the courtesy of a reply. I will accordingly post this on my Facebook Page, and send it to Colombo Telegraph for publication on its own.

I will not here go into the old ICES story again, but four of the comments were most interesting. One was from R Varathan, who I think was the Finance Director at the time, who had been responsible according to Radhika for the financial mess ICES was in. If it is he, I am sorry that he does not mention his own involvement in the matter. His comment is confined to suggesting that Rama Mani was treated badly, but he does not attempt to defend her conduct.

Then there is someone who calls himself Moda Putha, who was asked by Rama Mani to deliver a birthday present to Bradman Weerakoon on his 90th birthday. This would suggest he was a friend of Rama Mani, but again he does not disclose his interest.

Then Radhika Coomaraswamy weighs in with her usual disingenuousness. She claims she did not respond to my claims before because she was an international Civil Servant, but she has conveniently forgotten public statements in 2010 which appeared in the press. She also does not confess to vast amounts of private interference when she used every trick in the book to stop the ICES staff who were worried about Rama’s behavior from raising questions. She also stirred up her mother and her family so much so that my sister told me recently that I had alienated the Coomaraswamys, which I would be sorry about since most of them are sterling characters of great integrity.

Radhika denies that ICES was in dire financial straits because it had a large endowment, but admits only that it had problems raising funds for individual projects. Presumably her confessions about the financial problems were just a joke, but certainly the questions raised by the Board at the time were not funny. She also ignores the report on the institution which it had commissioned which made clear the problems.

I have no idea whether the UN Secretary General knew about ICES or not, but Radhika forgets the email she sent me in which she said that she would be giving up her involvement, after she had had a meeting with the Secretary General which took place after the controversy broke. But it is conceivable that that meeting was about something else, or perhaps only about the R2P Board which she had also been involved with.

In 2007 the R2P doctrine had already been formulated, and Gareth Evans explained it explicitly when he spoke. I do not think Radhika would lie deliberately, so I assume she has forgotten the text of his speech, and the fact that Rama Mani had specifically invited him to make waves in Sri Lanka. Radhika also forgets that ICES was cited as a Regional Centre for the R2P body which Gareth chaired, and in which Radhika was involved at the time. Rama Mani had agreed to this without consulting the ICES Board, but if Radhika says she did not know about this either, I will believe her.

Sadly Manel Fonseka also weighs in with claims she does not substantiate. Sithy Tiruchelvam was not ill at the time the ICES issue first came up and I wrote about it, seven years ago, and Manel should not create sympathy falsely without addressing the issues. And she is quite wrong in saying that NGOs should not be publicly answerable. I have argued within government that NGOs should be allowed to function freely, but this is on the assumption that their dealings are transparent. It would be monstrous for institutions that engage in activities in any country, and in particular advocacy, not to feel they are fully accountable to the government and the people of that country. Secrecy is not acceptable, and it is worse when a couple of individuals do not even keep their Boards informed. Manel should know better than to argue for double standards in this regard.

If Manel does know things I have written which are not true, I would be grateful if she would bring them to my attention so I could correct them. This was done recently by someone I much respect, and a correction was promptly made. During the conduct of the war, I also said one thing in error, a mistake I have acknowledged. In both cases I was misled by sources I thought were reliable. Manel, who was kind enough to congratulate me on my first novel, must understand the difference between a vivid imagination which writes fiction, and a commentator who has to be accurate. Any shortcomings in the latter respect should be brought to my notice, not used to make generalizations that confuse issues.

Interestingly, a similar charge of inaccuracies is made by those who find my current criticism of government incompatible with the defence I proferred during and after the conflict. They fail to understand that I will continue to defend the conduct of the war – which I did in accordance with the facts as I understood them. No credit will be given to my being the first to acknowledge civilian casualties, for which I was reprimanded by Mohan Pieris, who could not contest my answer that I had said it because it was true.

Equally, I have not tried to defend recent practices which I have found regrettable, and I made a public protest with regard to the killings at Weliveriya. But recent excesses do not mean that we were at fault in the determination and the methods we used to eradicate terrorism from these shores. Indeed my worry now is the failure of government to defend our forces from unfair criticism, but to do this I agree with the LLRC that we must have a credible inquiry into allegations that have some substance. I am glad that after man contradictions about this, Mahinda Samarasinghe now agrees that this is essential, a point recognized by the President in expanding the mandate of the Disappearances Commission. But I also believe that, given its record, government will not swiftly hold a credible internal inquiry, which is another reason to hope that we will have a change of government on January 9th.

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  • 0

    Would the following by Rajiva himself throw some light on some of the issues debated?


    Paymasters and Godfathers of Centres for Poisonous Accusations
    Prof. Rajiva WIJESINHA

    The last couple of weeks have seen much verbiage expended over what might be termed the ICES issue, with a predictable range of skilled polemicists rushing to the defence of Dr Rama Mani, the once and future head of the Colombo branch of that once august institution.

    Her defenders have clearly followed the time honoured technique of obfuscating issues, by attributing nasty motives, and making dramatic claims as loudly as possible in an effort to convince the world that what they say is true. In the process they have completely ignored the facts.

    Judge the character

    I have long believed that you can judge the character of people from the allegations they make against others. It is in this light that we need to see the assertion by Bradman Weerakoon that ‘some people can be unreasonable and vicious. It’s like a village feud where you have a problem with someone and you poison his well or something.’

    Characteristically, his whole interview is replete with snide allegations against Pradeep Jeganathan, who was appointed to look after ICES when Dr Mani was dismissed.

    Interestingly Dr Saravanamuttu, who has now rushed in to comment on what he sees as a urge to ‘rid our pure paradise isle of alternative perspectives to the militaristic, majoritarian Chinthanaya’, was under the impression that it was the opposition to Dr Mani who had first politicized the issue.

    The sanctimoniousness with which he criticized this when he discussed her case with me did not seem feigned, though he soon enough remembered that initially the matter had been raised in the ‘Daily Mirror’ on January 26th, before the Nation expose.

    That first article had quoted ‘An ICES board member’ (obviously Bradman Weerakoon) who claimed that ‘ICES staff were supportive of the former Executive Director and were now under pressure following her removal, which he alleged was done with the purpose of making a ‘favoured’ appointment in her place.’

    Not entirely coincidentally, Bradman Weerakoon, himself appointed to look after ICES by the time his interview appeared, spearheaded a move to close the office down to protest at Dr Mani’s expulsion.

    A petition from a member of staff to the Prime Minister on this matter indicated however the bullying that was done, so as to show the solidarity with Dr Mani that he had reported to the ‘Daily Mirror’.

    Before the ‘Daily Mirror’ reported on ICES however, there had been an even more emotive story in a website called ‘Lanka Dissent’, claiming that a raid on Dr Mani’s house had been stopped by interventions by the Indian High Commission, calling up both the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry.

    This had not happened, and the Indian High Commission made it clear that Dr Mani was not even an Indian national. She had indeed gone to the High Commission to make extravagant claims about the threats she was facing, but this like the reporting is indicative of a desire to create a wedge between India and Sri Lanka.

    That interpretation seems the more likely inasmuch as the driving force behind Lanka Dissent is Ruwan Ferdinands, the National Organizer of the SLFP dissident group.

    It is no coincidence obviously that the initial leakages regarding ICES were to this individual’s website and to the ‘Daily Mirror’, the editor of which was in the forefront of the campaign to denigrate the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, a campaign that took in even the hyper-enthusiastic British High Commissioner, Dominick Chilcott.

    Dr.Saravanamuttu seems to have swallowed wholesale the assumption that the initial problems of ICES had to do with ‘the prize of institutional capture…a grubby power struggle’. The fact that for many months those who objected to cavalier and essentially illegal uses of money sought internal reform has evidently escaped his notice.

    That crude blackmail was used on some of them, along with vituperative name calling, would be dismissed by him as simple ‘incivility’, making no distinction between those at fault and those who tried to correct those faults, quietly at first until it became clear that the juggernaut would brook no dissent.

    Having cursorily dismissed the initial problem, Dr Saravanamuttu then moves on to the main issue, which he describes as ‘the use of R2P to turn Dr Mani into a national security threat’.

    He claims that ‘ICES was to be associated with the R2P Centre to be established in New York’ and refers to ‘Dr Mani’s interest in associating her institution with R2P’.

    He never mentions that the association had in fact occurred, on the basis of Dr Mani’s agreement to the proposal from Gareth Evans, an agreement given fraudulently on behalf of the ICES Board when she invited Evans to Sri Lanka to make what she described as much needed waves.

    Far from R2P being about other countries, as she disingenuously put it in an interview, she talks of ‘confronting governments and supporting the international community and R2P advocates with hard evidence from the ground’.

    When Dr Saravanamuttu claims that ‘Hard evidence of this has not been made public’ he fails to make clear what ‘this’ is, a not untypical instance of a prose style that privileges platitudes over precision (if I might make bold to caricature the splendid parade of ‘p’ she perennially practices, doubtless justifying Dr Mani’s characterization of him in Galle as the most eloquent of our wordsmiths).

    Favourite practice
    Instead of discussing the evidence, through an analysis of the material made available in the ‘Nation’ the previous week, he goes on to his favourite practice of berating the government, which he has long assumed is a monolith, dominated by an ideology he loathes.

    Obviously, with eloquence such as Dr Saravanamuttu’s at its disposal, the campaigners for R2P, or even for a UN Monitoring Mission in Sri Lanka, may not actually have needed ICES.

    But the shifty way in which the operation was conducted, Bradman Weerakoon still being in denial about facts that Rama Mani’s own correspondence makes clear, suggests that the ICES link was considered important.

    Certainly the revelation by one of her lawyer associates, that $4 million dollars had been lost because of her removal makes clear the high stakes that were involved, as does the strange very strong-armed intervention of the Canadian High Commissioner.

    Advocacy that is already relentless would have become irresistible with over 400 million rupees to help build up capacity / inclination or whatever else the Global Centre wanted to promote R2P.

    Towards the end of his mock philosophical insights, Dr Saravanamuttu comes to the point that he makes endlessly in all his articles, a point that underlies his own support for external intervention, namely that there is something wrong with the government. This time his assertion is that ‘We are being turned into a silly and vicious little country by silly and vicious little men.

    They are mean and dangerous and have no compunction in playing dirty.’ Evidently he does not mean Bradman Weerakoon, who used every trick in the book to keep Rama Mani on, beginning with the vicious denigration of ICES staff through his political associates in the press and trying to involve the Presidential Secretariat in his manoeuvres.

    But how could Dr Saravanamuttu begin to criticize Bradman? Bradman was a founder Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, of which Dr Saravanamuttu has been Executive Director since its inception.

    Bradman resigned when he became Secretary to the Prime Minister in 2002 but went back on the Board in 2006. Sunil Bastian, who was appointed to look after ICES along with Bradman at the time Rama Mani was restored (but supposedly to go on leave) has also been a Director of CPA since its inception.

    Bastian, who used to act for Radhika Coomaraswamy in her absence when she was ICES Executive Director, and who was put on the ICES Board in 2005, resigned earlier this week, following the expose of ICES mismanagement, the burgeoning deficit that began in the days when, as Radhika put it, she signed whatever cheques were put in front of her by an incompetent Financial Controller.

    All this is part of the system of interlocking directorates which receive massive funding from similar sources and all, accordingly or otherwise, dance to a similar tune. CPA, according to Dominick Chilcott, used to be one of the principal recipients of British peace building funding, along with the Foundation for Co-Existence (FCE).

    More recently, he said, CPA was replaced by an organization called Facilitating Local Initiatives for Conflict Transformation (FLICT). FLICT, it turns out, has provided massive amounts of funding to organizations which are in effect run by many of those who signed a petition on Rama Mani’s part or otherwise agitated for her restoration, viz Young Asia Television – Rs.14,452,280 (Sharmini Boyle) 30,179,185 13,382,844 -64,000,000 Neelan Thiruchelvam Trust – 9,500,000 (Sithie Thiruchelvam) 19,250,000 Theertha International Artists Collective (Anoli Perera) – 8,500,000 National Peace Council (NPC) – 3,024,644 Jehan Perera – 4,077,097 Social Scientists Association (Kumari Jayewardene / Sasanka Perera) – 5,900,000 Women & Media Collective (Kumudini Samuel / Sepali Kottegoda) – 3,739,450 Foundation for Co-Existence – 67,175 (Kumar Rupesinghe/Sharmini Boyle) -12,002,292 -13,000,000 National Antiwar Front -1,000,000 (Kumar Rupesinghe) 100,000 Over 200 million rupees going to this conglomerate of like-minded interventionists is bad enough.

    It is worse that a couple of the signatories, Dilrukshi Fonseka and Mirak Raheem, sit on the FLICT Steering Committee, the latter working for CPA, the former being a former Berghof Foundation employee who is I believe married to Sanjana Hattotuwa who works for CPA. Hattotuwa indeed gets his own distinct tranche of funding, to run his ‘first and award winning citizens journalism website’, set up in response to requests ‘from INGOs, humanitarian aid organizations including sections of the UN, CSOs, local and international journalists as well as members from the diaspora’.

    What these sections of the UN are it would be interesting to find out, given the pusillanimous acquiescence in LTTE authoritarianism that some elements in the UN displayed in the days when Groundviews was set up. Who are the ‘Partners and Donors’ of Groundviews? Apart from CPA itself, we have IMPACS, ‘a Canadian charitable organization committed to the protection and expansion of democracy’, Infoshare, which is a ‘Non-profit technical support organization providing web media services and application development’ and CIDA and AUsAID, the Canadian and Australian aid agencies.

    The former is ‘charged with planning and implementing most of Canada’s development cooperation programme in order to reduce poverty and to contribute to a more secure, equitable and prosperous world’ while the objective of the Australian ‘aid program is to advance Australia’s national interest by helping developing countries reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development’.

    Does providing funding for Groundviews truly advance these aims? Is it really the function of such aid agencies to encourage articles that talk about Sri Lanka as ‘a country at war and democracy that’s hostage to the whim and fancy of a President and his coterie of murderous brutes’?

    Does it advance Australian national interests to propagate articles that characterize Indian support for the APRC proposals as ‘almost a case of Panglossian benevolence…Underpinning this is the containment of Chinese interests – political, military and commercial – in their back yard’? Will Canada achieve a ‘more secure, equitable and prosperous world’ through blanket generalizations about the ‘increasingly jingoistic rhetoric of ruling party politicians, bureaucrats and military top brass’?

    Dissenting views
    It could be argued that debate and discussion are important, and certainly there must be room for dissenting views. But such relentless criticism of an elected government, the determination to denigrate, exemplified most recently by the assumption of ‘extraordinary influence of the JHU and the JVP in the Rajapakse administration’ even though the JVP has come out strongly against the APRC proposals, the extraordinary levels of funding provided to just a small coterie of self-important panjandrums, suggest that many issues have been prejudged without sufficient flexibility to deal with new evidence as it emerges.

    In this context one can only contrast the approach of the Norwegian ambassador, which suggests why, despite earlier worries, the government is correct in continuing with the services of the Norwegians as facilitators. Norway provided the LTTE Peace Secretariat with a great deal of assistance, but this was with the approval of the Sri Lankan government of the time.

    When that Peace Secretariat began to glorify suicide bombers, the Norwegian ambassador promptly contacted them to suggest that the celebratory photographs be withdrawn.

    He was doubtless polite, and the LTTE did not respond positively, but the moral point had been made. In contrast UNDP, which had also, as initiated by Bradman, funded that Peace Secretariat and in particular its communications systems, stayed meekly silent.

    Though Groundviews talks about repression and censorship in Sri Lanka, the Government has no problems about it attacking what it is privileged to call the President’s ‘coterie of murderous brutes’.

    That can be countenanced as exemplifying freedom of expression. But it is outrageous that such freedom should be financed by the taxes of Australian and Canadian citizens, who are told that their money is used to alleviate poverty. And it is sad that those who administer such aid programmes continue to fund this family of self-supporting dissidents, whose rent-seeking becomes ever more successful the more relentless their recriminations are.

    The writer is Secretary General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process

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    ….”During the conduct of the war, I also said one thing in error…”
    The rest then, we can take it, you said deliberately twisting the truth, or was it just being economical?

    I detect a certain catharsis in the last two paragraphs and this bodes well for the future.

    In the words of St Luke, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance”.

    Come on Professori, let it out, warts and all.

  • 1

    I was never an employee of ICES. I knew Neelan, Reggie, Sithy and others there well – at personal level. I was also one of the many thousands who benefited from the many programmes this useful body made available for years to the Colombo public. I knew of some of the conspiracies let loose by interested parties now and then to weaken ICES. But it continued to survive and serve – both the local and foreign academic community.

    Rajiva W has much in his repertoire of learning and knowledge to continue to dazzle us without resorting to the darker chambers of
    slander, calumny and innuendo.

    Like many I hold the late Sam Wijesinghe, a respected “institution” and teacher in our Parliamentary history, with great reverence and affection. I have interacted with his sister – the personable Amila (?)
    when she was at CBSL – to whom he makes reference here. The Wijesinghes will remain in the memory of many highly thought of – across our plural society.

    R. Varathan

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