By Sharmini Serasinghe –
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly amongst the 225 Members of Parliament came to the fore yet again, on Wednesday 24th, during the Parliamentary debate on imposing a state of emergency in the wake of the Easter Sunday massacre.
While some spoke sense the rest did their best to outdo each other in a unique tragicomedy. For those of us who watched this pathetic performance on television, it was disgusting to see the lows some stooped to, to make maximum political mileage out of the Easter Sunday carnage. Their vitriol, and obvious hypocritical lamentations may have touched the hearts of only the gullible. To put it mildly, their stark lack of dignity and decorum given the tragic reasons for the debate left a bitter taste in our mouths.
At a time when an entire nation is still reeling in shock, sorrow, despair and fear, the last thing we needed to see was such a crude and ugly drama. This was a stark reminder of the quality of people – asinine, immature and irresponsible – we have elected to represent us and how politically bankrupt we are.
To say that politicians on both sides of the divide – the Government and the Opposition – have ‘screwed up big time’ is a justifiable summation.
To begin with, the Head of State of this country – Maithripala Sirisena – who is also the Minister of Defense and National Security, took off on a private overseas sojourn leaving the likes of Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando in charge of overseeing Defense and National Security related matters in the country.
This is the man – Hemasiri Fernando – who had prior knowledge of the Easter Sunday attacks. He along with several amongst the Police hierarchy and heaven knows how many others, had been alerted by the State Intelligence Service (SIS) of a probable attack being carried out targeting Christian and Catholic Churches. He is now on record for telling a foreign journalist “To how many Churches could we give protection? It was quite impossible to protect a large number of Churches last Sunday despite receiving prior information on these attacks”. The stark lack of remorse and downright arrogance with which he made this inhumane statement was shocking and disgusting to say the least.
Moderate Buddhists like myself demand to know from Mr. Fernando, if his response would have been the same had Buddhist temples been targeted on a full moon (Poya) day, instead. I don’t think so!
Are Christians and Catholics not our fellow humans, Mr. Hemasiri Fernando?
Against this tragic backdrop we now have a President and a Prime Minister who claim they were “not told/did not know” of a probable attack targeting Christian and Catholic Churches on Easter Sunday. What message does this convey to the people of this country of their ability to look after our interests and ensure our safety?
It is only now, Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesinghe tells us that he, despite being the most senior member, next to the President, of the National Security Council (NSC) – the executive body charged with the maintenance of national security – was kept out of NSC meetings along with the State Minster of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene, following the failed Constitutional coup in October last year. Why did the Prime Minster fail to raise this issue publicly, before? Had he the will/backbone/spunk, would he not have insisted on or even forced himself into those meetings? After all, he had every right to do so!
It now transpires that post October 2018, it were some members of the Opposition and not the Government who sat in on National Security Council meetings. This makes the Opposition too, responsible, for the Easter Sunday carnage. They too cannot claim “we did not know”!
Further, it is now reported quoting a member of the Badriya mosque in Katankudy that they had informed the authorities in power, way back in 2012, of the extremist activities of the radicalized suspected mastermind of the Easter Sunday massacre, Zahran Hashim. Members of the mosque had even provided dockets containing detailed and vital information about Zahran Hashim to eleven authorities including the then Secretary of Defense, the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General. However, a trustee of the mosque claims, “They all fell on deaf ears”.
The hard and unpalatable truth for some is, the battle of egos between the two leaders of this country – the President and Prime Minster – and the Opposition failing to act in 2012 when they were the government in power to nip this extremist scourge in the bud, cost the lives of 253 innocent civilians, injured over 500 and has left a nation in shock, despair and utter disgust. Hence no one has the right to point a finger at the other at this juncture because all are equally culpable.
While it may not have been possible to entirely prevent the dastardly terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday, the destruction to life and property could definitely have been minimized had those who were privy to information disclosed by the State Intelligence Service had acted responsibly. And others who obviously knew but publicly claim they did not know, will have to deal with their conscience, eventually.
At this point I recall an article I wrote one year ago (March 2018), titled Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. What I stated then, still holds true.
I repeat, “Proactive – control a calamitous situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened – is not a quality our laid-back politicians and bureaucrats are familiar with. No matter which political hue they belong to, proactive they are not!
Instead, they remain inactive until the situation goes beyond control and only then do they react. Usually, too late!
Once all hell breaks loose the blame game and finger pointing starts. It’s never the responsibility of those who are rightfully responsible but the blame is laid at the doorstep of every other Tom, Dick and Harry.
Now, the country is returned to a state of emergency, a blow to the economy with foreign governments issuing travel advisories against Sri Lanka, followed by the blanket social-media blackout leaving those dependent on it for their daily bread wondering what hit them and for no fault of their own.
An entire country is now being made to pay the price for political and bureaucratic apathy!”
Alas, nothing much has changed since I penned those word, one year ago – déjà vu!