By Rusiripala Tennakoon –
Strange revelations and unfolding theatrics now getting exposed hidden behind the disastrous event on the Easter Sunday of 21st April that shocked the whole world, make us to ponder over the disorderly and the primitive state of affairs that has existed in the country then. Grotesque enough and highly farcical, nevertheless lamentable, state of affairs arising out of the statements made by the former Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, deserves a closer examination not because of the personal alibi involved in those but the horrifying wickedness of the hocus focus in the Public Affairs that had prevailed then.
Defense of a country is an area that no sensible government would dare to compromise whatever the level of the imprudence is of the persons associated. People are shocked with the revelations made by Fernando, casting aspersions not only on certain high officials but even the then Chief Executive of the Country. Most important role of a Government is to protect the citizens from national security threats. Under a President who is the Commander in Chief, the Secretary of defense has to exercise authority, direction and control over the departments responsible for the internal and external security of the country. It is the duty of a Defense Secretary to act with diligence to prepare the forces under him to fight threats not only from Nation–states ( more in a theoretical sense), but in a more realistic sense external influences coming from determined groups of terrorists like ISIS, al Shabaab, and al-Qaeda, organizations the peace loving world has recognized as Groups who seek to cause havoc to people.
The pathetic role as confessed by Fernando that he admits to have played in his capacity as the Defense Secretary, make us ‘shiver in our timbers’ when we realize how matters of utmost importance have been treated so shabbily while holding on to that extremely important and vulnerable post. Administratively, the role of the Secretary of Defense is to be the principal defense policy advisor to the President and is responsible for the formulation of general defense policy related to all matters of direct and primary concern in relation to defense, and for the execution of approved policy.
Alas, according to Fernando, he had on his own reconciled to a position and a situation best known only to him, to naively watch and wait till his subordinates perform and report, and to report such, if and when he gets an opportunity to the Commander–in –Chief and the chief Executive of the country. What he is spelling out today and heavily publicized through the media is definitely harmful, damaging and dangerous to the future security of the country. Because any Terrorist outfit watching carefully for fresh and free breeding grounds for their activities, will no doubt take advantage of such glaring lapses, shortcomings and the weaknesses in our systems. No sensible citizen would like to send such bad signals.Therefore we have to make it known that the People of the Country have taken note of this fraudulent farcical events in the past and taken steps to put an end to such a state of affairs( in fairness to the change they have brought about) in consigning such irresponsible characters to where they belong.
Hemasiri Fernando’s admissions as well as pronouncements reflect in extreme in a roundabout way about the poor and utterly whimsical administrative practices that existed during the Maithri-Ranil era. Even if these positions are contradicted or countercharged later, choice of his appointment to hold a highly vulnerable position of this nature will continue to remain unanswered in the context of certain problematic issues connected to him in his previous positions. Hemasiri Fernando was functioning as the Chairman of the Peoples Bank immediately prior to his appointment as the Defense secretary. It is public knowledge that during his tenure as the Head of this State Bank several controversial issues had cropped up involving allegations of corrupt deals which became subjects of several inquiries, ministerial, government audit, bank supervision department etc.etc., finally culminating into an inquiry at the parliamentary COPE committee. Some directors who were serving as members of the Board during this period resigned and complained to the Prime Minister’s office about alleged irregularities connected to a Tender of a very big value. Very strangely immediately following his resignation from the post of Chairman PB, he was appointed as the chief of Staff of the Presidential secretariat and almost simultaneously as the Secretary to Defense.
Hemasiri Fernado’s defense against some of the charges levelled against matters arising out of his administration in the PB at the COPE committee publicly demonstrated how wanting his decision making has been. When the Board of Directors of the Bank and the full cadre of Senior Executives were summoned before the parliamentary COPE committee on 5th September 2019 to inquire into certain irregularities involved in a tender given by the bank totalling to a value of 11 Million US $, in connection with a Digitalization contract, after a lengthy exposure by the Auditor General, Hemasiri Fernando made a statement to the Parliament Committee.
He said that it took 2 1/2 to 3 years for him and the Board of Directors of bank to realize things. He said that they acted on the recommendations of one person…… “After 3 years we realized that we have paid 200% in excess. Initially we were told that the total cost would be 745 million US$. But after 3 years we had paid more than 2 billion…..sometimes we look at it superficially because we do not understand……..When there is a strong recommendation we pay.”
This is how Hemasiri Fernando responded to his responsibility as the Chairman of the Board of Directors when he had to justify excessive payments of Public money running into millions of dollars in an irregular manner. But to those decision makers in the government such things were not reasons to be considered with any value for any assessment or disqualification in establishing the suitability of a person to be appointed as the head of the Countries’ Defense. The way he answered when queried about his shortcomings then is exactly the same how he answers now before a Presidential Commission of Inquiry about his responsibility in a matter connected with a human carnage costing more than 300 human lives, and injuring (de- capacitating) several hundred in addition to huge damages to Public and private properties. The incident made a serious black mark to the country’s Reputation arising out of the gross dereliction of responsibility and authority.
The citizens of the country are at a loss to understand whether such people who have callously disregarded their duties and now trying to evade the responsibility by pointing the finger at others will finally get off scot free. Will it be the people who have to ultimately expiate for the sins of the sinners?
But there appears to be something more important going beyond this. Who was interested in appointing Fernando as the Defense Secretary?
Why did the appointing authorities ignore his background that was exposed at the COPE investigations?
When we read the denial issued by the former President’s media unit, given wide publicity in the media, we begin to wonder whether there had been some unseen force manipulating and operating above the appointing authorities (specially very high and vulnerable) in this country! What transpires from the statements made by both Hemasiri Fernando and the media release from the Ex-President’s office is the extremely unhappy relationship that had existed between the Defense Secretary and Presidents’ office. Things have continued unabated despite heavy displeasures tolerated bitterly. The question that goes unanswered is why and for what reason such tolerations were endured. It appears that there have been wheels within wheels, resulting in flare ups every now and then but the affairs continuing unhindered. Soon after the Easter Sunday Terrorist attack the American backed MCC conveyed its approval of 480Million dollar grant aid to our country hailed as a silver line in a dark cloud by the then Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera. A few months before the April 21st incident there arose a confusion about an aircraft belonging to the American Air Force landing at Katunayake International Airport and unloading some items unidentified by the authorities there. It is interesting to recall what Hemasiri Fernando had to state as explanation on that occasion to certain queries that had been raised.
Once a UNP stalwart MP Harin Fernando’s reaction, explanations and questions about the 21th attack is equally intriguing. Worse indeed was his reference to His Eminence Cardinal Malcom Ranjith. Being absolutely unfounded and admittedly wrong, the statement reflects a kind of antipathy by certain political quarters against the strong interest of His Eminence the Cardinal in the affairs of the investigations regarding this attack. How and where this distaste originated is yet to be seen. But citizens of this country owe a boundless and immense gratitude to His Eminence the Cardinal and some other religious prelates for the exceptional meritorious services rendered by them in preventing a backlash and another blood bath in the country following this heinous man slaughter at a time when people had lost faith in the state machinery to provide them security.
Under the circumstances the question arises whether at any stage of time during this occurrence and in the immediate preceding period there has been any willful dereliction of duties, and whether any officials have acted under some external influence or whether it happened due to the actions of some inexperienced, indolent, incompetent, ill-endowed characters occupying the higher ranks that deal with appropriate decision making. Whatever the quality of their status or the degree of negligence is, there is an equal responsibility falling on the persons who appoint such guys.
Let us all look forward to the outcome!