By Rajiva Wijesinha –
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.