By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
The Attorney General (AG) has reportedly instructed the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to commence a criminal investigation against Hemasiri Fernando, the former Defense Secretary (DefSec) and Pujith Jayasundara, the former Police Chief (IGP). The primary objective is to ascertain reasons for ignoring advance intelligence warnings of the Easter Sunday bombings by ISIS backed Sri Lankan jihadist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath.
Two interim reports by the three-member committee headed by a sitting Supreme Court judge is believed to contain strong strictures against the two bureaucrats.
The cost in human life resulting from the six suicide bombings and two secondary explosions amounted to over 250 dead and more than 500 injured. The anti-Muslim riots which erupted nearly three weeks later took the life of one innocent Muslim trader. The material cost of the bombings and riots amount to millions of dollars. The impact on the economy of explosions and riots run into billions of dollars.
There is no argument against investigating the former DefSec and IGP for failing to act on advance intelligence reports and keeping their political masters (if that is true) in the dark.
But there are more significant issues involved.
The political and administrative leadership provided by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and former DefSec Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the armed forces to defeat LTTE terrorism is a given. A significant contributing factor was the appointment of Sarath Fonseka, Wasantha Karannagoda and Roshan Goonatileke as commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force, officers eminently suited for their roles.
However, the same cannot be said of many other appointees of the Rajapaksa administration.
Commencing January 9, 2015, the country’s governance underwent a paradigm shift. The nation moved from a stable structure of executive power flowing from the Executive President to a disjointed structure of power sharing between the President and Prime Minister, two individuals as diverse as chalk and cheese in their thinking.
The position of DefSec, along with Secretaries to the Treasury, Foreign Affairs, the Economy and Foreign Investments are critical in any country. Such posts should be preferably handled by professional careerists (there can be merit-based exceptions) with a proven track record rather than political lackeys. Even in the case of career administrative officers, experience gained as provincial administrators does not necessarily equip them with the knowledge base and expertise required for appointment as Secretaries to Defense, Treasury, Foreign Affairs, etc.
By no means can the President escape responsibility for his handpicked DefSec. Ministry Secretaries is no doubt the President’s prerogative. That said, that prerogative need be used wisely with the nation’s best interest at heart.
In the past, officers of the caliber of N Q Dias have held the post of Permanent Secretary for Defense & External Affairs (the combination of Defense and Foreign Affairs). A member of the old Ceylon Civil Service, he in 1963 foresaw Tamil militants taking up arms against the state with Indian assistance. A chain of garrisons in the North was his counter strategy (refer ‘Exorcising the past and holding the vision’ by Neville Jayaweera – page 79). Visionaries of the likes of NQ Dias were giants who walked tall compared to some of the pigmies who have occupied the DefSec position since 1977, some military men included.
In January 2019, the former DefSec, after his appointment claimed he had, at last, got his dream job. During a public gathering, he stated, “Minimaruvo’ (murderers) cannot become ‘Ranaviruvo’ (war heroes).” He continued, “Everyone who joins the Army does not become a war hero. To become a war hero, a soldier has to earn a medal, and their accomplishments should be announced by way of a gazette. As of now, there are only 39,000 war heroes in Sri Lanka.”
It was an inhuman and insensitive remark unworthy of the administrative head of the armed forces. Seasoned bureaucrats do not speak in that manner. Only political hacks do so. The Head of State would have been placed in an awkward position in case our men in uniform and kith and kin of soldiers who gave life and limb without the benefit of a medal taken exception to this statement. It could also have had unwanted political ramifications.
The President’s failure to realize his appointee’s unsuitability to the position and dismiss him forthwith amounts to criminal negligence and incompetence. Nature course corrected the President’s shortcoming in April, albeit at a substantial human and material cost.
The Prime Minister cannot escape his share of responsibility on the pretext of not being invited to the National Security Council (NSC) since December 16. In June 2016, he required no invitation before storming into President Sirisena’s office. He demanded the appointment of a new Governor for the Central Bank be left to him as the institution came under his purview.
For his own devious reasons, the Prime Minister failed to inform the country and parliament of his exclusion from NSC meetings.
Constitutionally, the Prime Minister is the second most powerful person in the country after the President and should be an integral member of the NSC. However, the problem is when the Prime Minister is Ranil Wickremasinghe. He disqualified himself many years ago.
The UNP won the December 2001 Parliamentary Election paving the way for Ranil Wickremasinghe to form a new government. On January 2, 2002, an over-enthusiastic Superintendent of Police raided a house in Millennium City in Athurugiriya. Among the five arrested were five soldiers including Captain Shahul Hameed Nilam, Commanding Officer of the Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP). Also taken into custody was a host of military equipment and LTTE uniforms.
UNP Chairman Charitha Ratwatte (currently Finance Advisor to PM Wickremesinghe) and Deputy Chairman Daya Pelpola (now Ambassador to Italy) announced it was a hideout for assassins planning to assassinate high-level government leaders including Wickremasinghe. It was subsequently proved to be erroneous.
In reality, it was a secret hideout of the LRRP unit of the Army tasked with the assassination of senior LTTE operatives. Despite a personal assurance from the then Army Commander Lionel Balagalla of the true nature of the LRRP and scope of its duties, those arrested were kept in custody for days, photographed and fingerprinted. Their identities, along with mission objectives, were leaked and published in the local papers. Tilak Marapana, the Defense Minister at the time and then Interior Minister John Amaratunga did nothing to prevent the debacle. As a result, 24 intelligence operatives and civilian informants were either assassinated or abducted and killed by LTTE. Captain Nilam was posted to the Sri Lankan embassy in Indonesia after which he and his family disappeared. In 2004, Lieutenant Colonel Tuan Nizam Muthaliff, Captain Nilam’s deputy in 2001 was shot dead in Polhengoda by LTTE operatives while on his way to work.
LTTE Supremo Prabhakaran undertook a coordinated campaign to eliminate members of LRRP and informants.
Ranil Wickremasinghe and his government did nothing on the basis it would jeopardize the ceasefire.
Some reports termed the government’s inaction a ‘total betrayal and absolute treachery to the nation.’
Can a person responsible for such a betrayal and treachery be permitted to sit in the NSC ever again?
Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday carnage, stated he did not become a Field Marshal selling gram in the Gall Face.
Similarly, Sri Lankan born Dr. Rohan Gunaratna (RG), eminent expert on terrorism and Professor of Security Studies at the S.Rajaratnam Center for International Studies in Singapore did not attain his reputation selling noodle soup in Singaporean food courts.
Addressing a mixed gathering of educators and religious personalities at ‘Sri Lanka at Crossroads’ program sponsored by Gateway College, RG did not mince his words. He stated, the present leadership, once in power, sent the military back to barracks resulting in the loss of the interaction between the military and ordinary people of the nation. Calling it a “fatal mistake,” he attributed it to the leadership’s desire to please the international community and minority political parties such as TNA. He also referred to the transfer overseas of a very senior Muslim military officer with the “deepest expertise” of chief Easter Sunday bomber Zaharan’s group besides the arrest or fingerprinting and photographing of 500 military intelligence officers. RG further claimed, the 5,000 strong military intelligence corps was rendered impotent and demobilized. He opined, “It is a crime to have intelligence and not act on it. Easter Sunday attacks were not a failure of intelligence, it’s an operation failure. A failure to act because politicians played with national security and the security was compromised.”
RG’s verdict is the most damning yet on the traitorous conduct, criminal negligence and sheer incompetence of the Sirisena, Wickremasinghe, and Samaraweera triumvirate.
In such a backdrop, the prosecution of former SecDef and IGP is a secondary priority.
The greater need is to hold the trio of politicians accountable and prosecute them using the full force of the law.
Capital punishment would be too lenient a sentence.