President Sirisena’s unfulfilled promises Ignoring security
Posted on May 16th, 2019

By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha Courtesy Ceylon Today

It is not surprising that security scarcely figures in Maithripala Sirisena’s manifesto. He talks about food security and energy security, which are of course both most desirable, but their promotion by government must come after the provision of physical security, which is its first and foremost obligation. But we had obtained this, irreversibly it seemed, with the destruction in 2009 of the LTTE and the lifting of the terror that had shrouded us in darkness for a quarter of a century.

So when Sirisena talked of the total breakdown of the rule of law” he could dwell on fraud and corruption, not the threat of sudden death that the LTTE had held over us for so long. And one cannot blame him, for we were all complacent. But whereas a high proportion of citizens continued grateful to President Rajapaksa for what he had achieved, others forgot that. Sadly amongst these was Sirisena, even though in time he tried to take some credit for the achievement in recalling his role as Acting Minister of Defence when the war was almost over.

I need not have to say that I was amongst those who did not forget, even though I felt in 2014 that we needed a change. But this was not because of anything wrong Mahinda Rajapaksa and the country he led had done during his first term as President, which sadly became the theme song of many of those who supported Sirisena. My worries were the indulgence the President showed to many who were more interested in themselves than the country, as also the total neglect by those he had put in charge of international relations – principally the Peiris twins in their different fashions – of the post-terrorism threat hanging over us and the need to deal with that firmly. And it was because I did not feel he should be held personally responsible for what had gone wrong, that I kept arguing in 2015 for restorative justice, not retributive, which had also been the theme I stressed in the Reconciliation Policy I had drafted a couple of years previously, only to have it ignored by the President even though I was supposed to be his Adviser on Reconciliation.

Early in 2014, I tried to draw the President’s attention to the need to do more for Reconciliation and to get over the international criticism we were facing, with the support of the more civilized members of his government. The letter I drafted, signed by half a dozen government party Ministers and MPs, was delivered to him early in 2014 by Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Vasantha Senanayake. They had not wanted me to come because they thought the President had been filled with reasons to resent me by those around him I was critical about, and they were a bit nervous that he would react angrily. But in fact, he proved most understanding, and agreed that something needed to be done. Unfortunately, he then gave priority instead to electoral triumphs and, even though it became clear that year that the old magic was fading, he still went ahead with a premature Presidential Election.

Vasantha Senanayake

I was sad that only Vasantha and I of those who had identified the problems he was creating for himself supported Maithripala Sirisena initially, but in retrospect I can understand why the old left, which had deplored the chauvinist approach Mahinda Rajapaksa had adopted – which had early on been identified with Champika Ranawaka – stuck with him. They knew Maithripala Sirisena better than I did, and that he would prove weak, allowing himself to be dominated by Ranil.

So it proved. And though I had not worried too much about that, not for a moment thinking that Sirisena would continue for a few months with the obsequious attitude to Ranil that he had manifested on the day he declared his candidacy, it soon enough became clear to me that Ranil was infinitely worse in terms of corruption than Mahinda had been. That was why I welcomed Sirisena’s decision to accept Mahinda Rajapaksa’s candidacy at the General Election of August 2015. I had no doubt that Mahinda, working together with Sirisena as President would be much better for the country than Ranil and Sirisena, and I am only sorry that Sirisena took three long years more to recognize this – and I am also sorry that many of those around Mahinda did not accept Sirisena as the President, and issued threats on platforms which allowed those around Sirisena to put him into a panic, so that he virtually sabotaged the UPFA election campaign.

And in turn the extremists in the SLFP, now running the SLPP, sabotaged Sirisena’s plan to make amends last October, by turning away Muslim members of Parliament who had been willing to be sworn in as Ministers. The argument it seemed was that they were not enough in number – even though their swearing in ensured a majority – and they should come back with their leader, principally Rishad Bathiudeen, who had been pampered during Rajapaksa’s second term, but then crossed over to Sirisena, on condition that he was given the Ministry he had enjoyed previously.

Very modern Muslim lady

Interestingly, when I was congratulated on behalf of her community by a very modern Muslim lady after I had appeared with Sirisena when he declared his candidacy, and told her I hoped the Muslim political leaders would join us, she said forcefully that she hoped we would not accept those crooks. But they did join us, after what seemed the statutory trip abroad to seal the deal (and in Rauff Hakeem’s case a meeting after Christmas lunch with Ranil, who told me he was going to discuss the amount that was required).

Even more interestingly, Sirisena’s strategy last year was conclusively defeated when all the Muslim MPs went off to Saudi Arabia, and came back with what seemed a unified determination to support Ranil. What incentives they received, either abroad or here, I was not informed of this time, but we can guess at one, a significant pound of flesh. For we saw last month that Ranil, having importuned Sirisena to make Rishad Minister of Vocational Training and Skills Development, finally got his way albeit after some brief initial resistance.

Did Sirisena know what he was doing? There is some evidence in his manifesto that he was not entirely ignorant of what was going on. In the section on cultural and religious freedom and reconciliation, he notes that Religious disturbances are developing in the country due to the activities of extremist religious sects. In this situation, the extremist groups mutually nourish one another and are expanding their activities.” Though his primary intention here may have been to win over Muslims worried about the activities of the Bodu Bala Sena, he shows here that he understood there were also extremist Muslim sects.

He pledged then in his manifesto that: In order to control this situation, I will establish regional and national councils comprising religious leaders who will boldly work for religious coexistence and against extremism, without giving room for extreme elements of all religions. These Councils will be empowered to investigate into all problems associated with places of religious worship and arrive at final conclusions. Issues unresolved at regional level will be referred to the National Council.”

But far from doing anything of the sort, he seems to have exacerbated the situation, with unthinking promotion of his own favourite Muslim politician, Hizbullah, who was recently appointed Governor of the Eastern Province. The evidence that has now emerged about the connections of Hizbullah’s associates with extremism suggests the President really should remove him from that position, but it seems that nothing of the sort will happen.

Both Hizbullah and Rishad were given carte blanche by the last government, with virtual control of development activities in the various Divisions that were under their control. In those days of course there was less understanding of the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. Even though our capable intelligence agencies were doubtless aware of the content of the schools patronized by this pretty pair, they would not have thought it politic to raise too many objections.

‘University’

That will explain how what now is claimed to be a university was set up through an agreement with the then Minister of Vocational Training. Hizbullah seems to have been in charge then, and again seems to have been given a free hand, for I cannot recall the Ministry knowing anything about this when I chaired the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission. Whether it has now passed from Hizbullah to Rishad is yet to be clarified, or whether indeed as a university it has been passed on to Rauff Hakeem. He one can hope will not be as indulgent to extreme perspectives, but one also must recognise that he too will be under pressure to conform.

Meanwhile, Sirisena has done nothing too about the pledge in his manifesto about secondary education, that international schools will come under full supervision of the Government. International schools will be included in the national education policy. Their curricula will have to conform to the national educational policy. Aesthetic education, Laws of Nature, principles of duties and obligations, general personal ethics etc. should be included in all subject streams.”

Though he may have meant this to apply to secular English medium schools, he must realise now the need to regulate religious schools of all denominations, and also to check carefully on the training and the perspectives of the staff they employ – and to disallow foreign teachers completely.

One Response to “President Sirisena’s unfulfilled promises Ignoring security”

  1. Randeniyage Says:

    QUOTE “In those days of course there was less understanding of the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.”

    NOT TRUE ! Some government ministers wrote books about it, many youtubes about it and held press conferences, although had no back bone to expose the names.
    How about Aluthgama incident ? It is actually Muslim extremism than BBS who were blamed on.

    QUOTE “Both Hizbullah and Rishad were given carte blanche by the last government, with virtual control of development activities in the various Divisions that were under their control. ”

    VERY TRUE. 2009 onward showed rapid escalation of Hizbullahs and Rashids concentrating on “extremist” arm of militancy and Hakhims leading “moderate” pretending arm of the same militancy.

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