BY SHIVANTHI RANASINGHE
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera crossed swords with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa over his recent statement. The latter called for politicians in Sri Lanka Freedom Party and United National Party in government to protect our country from dangerous amendments to the Constitution. Samaraweera disagrees.
Ex-President’s statement titled, ‘Constitutional and Legal Reforms to Destroy the Nation’ cautions these proposed amendments as, “firstly, punishing the armed forces for winning the war, secondly devolving more and more power to the provinces until the Central Government ceases to be relevant, thirdly, destroying the ability of the Sri Lankan State to respond adequately to a breakdown in law and order, fourthly, demoralizing and breaking the will of the majority of the population and the armed forces, and fifthly, creating as favourable space for separatism as possible. If these provisions are implemented, what we will be left with will be a fragmented Sri Lanka made up of nine federal States with a very weak Central Government which is legally prevented from responding effectively to situations of internal disorder. From that point, it will be just one step towards a separate State.”
Samaraweera, accusing the ex-president of seeking to ‘deliberately cause division in Sri Lankan society by misleading the public,’ refuses to apologize for:
1. The noble attempt to bring all Sri Lankans of all communities together;
2. Listening to all in our country, including our political opponents, and for engaging them in debate and discussion, rather than intimidating, isolating and persecuting them;
3. Restoring our country’s good name on the international stage to foster trade and prosperity for all in our country, rather than antagonizing our existing and potential partners;
4. Taking steps to combat corruption and root out the decay that has devoured precious State resources for far too long;
5. Considering a reform agenda to contribute to long term peace and stability.
Yet, the current situation does not agree with Samaraweera’s assertions.
1. Bringing all Communities together
After the war on terrorism concluded in 2009, for the first time in 30 years, all Sri Lankans and not just the northern Tamils were able to visit the North. Buddhists were able to visit the Nagadeepa Temple and the Port of Dambakola – two most important historic Buddhist sites.
The Nagadeepa Temple, in the Jaffna District, as part of the Solosmasthana, is one of the holiest Buddhist shrines in Sri Lanka.
Lord Buddha, after five years of attaining Enlightenment, visited Sri Lanka for the second time and was at this very site.
Dambakola Port, north of Jaffna, is equally important to the Buddhists. Sanghamitta Thera disembarked at this Port. With her, she brought a branch of the Bo-tree under which Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment and established the Bhikkhuni Order in Sri Lanka.
Yet, today there is opposition to Buddhist presence in Jaffna. In early 2016, the Government Agent of Jaffna ordered to immediately stop the construction of the proposed Buddha Statue at the Nagadeepa Temple. There is also an effort to remove other Buddhist symbols from the Northern Province.
Those justifying this move ask the purpose of Buddhist symbols in areas where there are no Buddhists. The root question should be why aren’t there any Buddhists in the Northern Province? However, there are Hindu kovils, Muslim mosques and Christian and Catholic Churches are all over the island. Then, why there are no Buddhist temples in the North is questionable.
1981 census shows that 19,334 Sinhalese in Northern Province that comprises the Administrative Districts Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and Mannar, had lived and owned land. However, overnight, they were driven off from their homes and lands, with almost nothing more than the cloths on their backs.
Yet, when in 2014, efforts were taken to settle 30 such families in Navatkuly – close to Jaffna, the US Embassy inquired why they were been resettled.
On a regular basis, media reports the lands released back to the Tamil civilians. These lands were grabbed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam terrorists, which was then taken over by the Sri Lankan military. There is relentless pressure from the northern Tamil political entities as well as from the West-led international community to release these back to the Tamils. As no such pressure is discerned on behalf of the displaced Sinhalese or the Muslims, Samaraweera must explain the steps the incumbent government has taken to bring all communities together, especially from where they had been displaced.
Today, Buddhist temples and other symbols in the East are also being increasingly attacked. Buddhist statues are increasingly vandalized and temple lands are being encroached.
2. Giving a hearing to all political opponents
If that is indeed the case, then Samaraweera must explain on what grounds R. Sampanthan was appointed the Opposition leader.
Sampanthan is a leader of a political alliance representing only one community – Tamils from only North and East Provinces, with only 16 seats in Parliament. On the other hand, Joint Opposition is the largest opposition group with over 50 seats and representatives from all ethnicities.
If Sampanthan’s sole qualification was being Tamil, then that amounts to racism.
Another point that Samaraweera must clarify is the persecution of only JO members. Our economy suffered severe blows with the Central Bank Bond scam and the tender coal deal.
Despite the commissions that have been appointed from time to time to investigate the Bond scam, a decisive action to address the scam has not yet materialized.
3. Restoring our country’s good name on int’l stage to foster trade and prosperity
How this government set about to restore our good name is perhaps the most contentious act that they had committed. They co-signed a resolution brought against Sri Lanka. Our all-weather friends like Russia, China and Pakistan were ready to stand by us.
Yet, guided by the Obama regime players, we accepted the charges brought against us.
As such, MR explains, we have thus been recommended by the PM’s Consultation Task Force (CTF) on Reconciliation, “apologies should be rendered to the victims of regular armed conflicts,” but not from “any terrorist organization or political groupings that backed the terrorists…LTTE cemeteries should be restored… However, no proposal has been forwarded to commemorate the war heroes died fighting terrorism or the victory that was achieved by them…all LTTE detainees who have not been charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act or other laws are to be released…members of the armed forces suspected of committing crimes are to be arrested.”
Samaraweera has not addressed these charges specifically, but has endorsed the efforts of CTF. He explains that not all their recommendations will and can be accepted. However, it is clear from events since 2015 that the disproportionate justice MR refers to is not an exaggeration. A number of high profile terrorists, including the current president’s would-be assassin, had been released.
In the same breath, key Military and Navy intelligence officers have been remanded. All this done to assure an outside world, that “as an independent, sovereign and responsible nation, “we are capable of pursuing reconciliation and accountability by national processes,” explains Samaraweera. It must be noted though that this outside world we are trying so hard to please has not been able to offer more than a pat on the back instead of solid investments and for that we have exposed our intelligence network, their workings, agents and systems.
Furthermore, when FDIs dried up, we had to go hat-in-hand to the Chinese, whom this government initially snubbed as an economic hit man. Today, the Chinese are back with more clout as evidenced by the resurrection of the Colombo Port City Project, with more terms in their favour.
4. Combat corruption, root out decay that’s devoured precious State resources
Dr. Nalaka Godahewa’s speech at the recent Rotary Club points otherwise. “Today, the government machinery has come to a standstill.
“There are no government-led projects visible. We see only opening ceremonies and signing of MoUs. Investors are leaving saying that they have been sent from pillar to post with no one taking decisions. Virtually nothing that was stated in the two election manifestos of the present government has been implemented.
“Why has this happened?
“You may notice that the government officers are no longer cooperating with their political masters.
“Several months ago a friend of mine won a government tender. Value of the tender was about Rs 80 million, well within the approval limit of the procurement committee. The Chairman of the institute had the power to award the tender to the winning bidder. My friend waited for the purchase order. It didn’t come. Finally he inquired from the CEO of the relevant institute why the tender has not been awarded. He was told that the Chairman does not want to sign the paper, so it has been sent to the Additional Secretary of the Ministry to sign. There was absolutely no need for a Rs 80 million tender to have ministry approval.
Ministry approval is required only for tenders exceeding Rs 150 million.
“The Additional Secretary also kept the document on his table for several weeks and then sent it to his boss, the Ministry Secretary to sign. The Secretary kept it for a few more months without signing. Several months later my friend was told that it would be sent for the Minister’s approval. The Minister recommended that a paper be submitted to the Cabinet for approval.
“Do you see the irony here? This is just a simple operational matter that could have been easily handled with the institute concerned. It is going up to the Cabinet because no one wants to take responsibility for a decision.
“This is the situation that the present government has created for themselves. By taking more than 2,000 public officials to FCID, Bribery Commission and Presidential Commission over the last two years they have brought fear into the minds of government officers who are no longer willing to take any initiative. What the leaders of the current government started with a political motive has backfired. No government can function when government officers take this stance.”
He also explained that the government committed harakiri by discrediting the figures of the Central Bank. Politically driven, they claimed that the figures published by the Central Bank were false, just “to show that 2014 growth was not as high as what the previous administration claimed.” Naturally, we lost investor confidence.
5. A reform agenda to contribute to long term peace and stability
For peace to be regained there must be national security, economic stability and firm leadership. Whether the country is driven by West-funded civil societies or whether the current leaders think alike as these societies is difficult to say. A case in point is the Hybrid Courts.
Both President and PM had rejected it. Samaraweera explained, it is their personal opinion as if Sirisena and Wickremesinghe are not the leaders of our country, but mere agents without actual say. M.A. Sumanthiran too revealed that the Hybrid Courts were their compromise when in fact they wanted an International Court.
The government, Samaraweera in a recent media briefing at the Foreign Ministry said, will ask for two years from the Human Rights Council to implement this resolution fully. Professor G.L. Peiris had stressed the importance of not signing this second resolution as was revealed by this newspaper. Samaraweera, he pointed out, has pledged to stand by every word of this first resolution whose paragraph six explicitly refers to Foreign and Commonwealth Judges. Thus, not inviting Foreign Judges is only for local consumption.
The one thing that the Ex-President and Samaraweera agree on is the driver of this 2015 resolution. MR explains that even after the change of the U.S. regime, this government has not tried to amend the resolution in our favour. Thus, he states, “it is not the American Government that is carrying forward the resolution against Sri Lanka, but our own government.” Samaraweera agrees; “The decision to co-sponsor resolution 30/1 was not imposed on us, and we will co-sponsor of the timeline of this resolution by two years.”