SF says he was offered Dy. Defence Minister post, Cabinet portfolio
Posted on August 6th, 2019

By Saman Indrajith Courtesy The Island

Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, MP, yesterday, revealed that he had recently been offered the post of the Deputy Minister of Defence and a Cabinet portfolio by the Minister of Defence.

President Maithripala Sirisena is the Minister of Defence.

The former army chief said that he had turned down the offer because it was intended to silence him. He said he could not keep his mouth shut, given the situation in the country.

Fonseka said so when State Minister for Defence Ruwan Wijewardena told the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday attacks that the UNP had wanted him to take over the law and order portfolio.

The PSC members present, yesterday, were Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, Prof. Ashu Marasinghe, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, M.A. Sumanthiran, Minister Ravi Karunanayake, Chairman Ananda Kumarasiri, Dr. Jayampathi Wickremaratne and Minister Rauff Hakeem.

State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said that intelligence services had not conveyed any information regarding the warnings of Easter Sunday attacks to him.

Testifying before the Parliamentary Select Committee probing the Easter Sunday carnage, the Minister said he should have been informed of the warning of attack.

The minister said: “There had been disagreements between the Defence Minister who is also the President and the government following the constitutional crisis. Thereafter I was not even invited for the National Security Council meetings.”

Minister Wijewardene: The National Security Council, in 2017, discussed Muslim extremism in Kattankudy. The issue under discussion was that there were rival Islamic groups and some mosques had been attacked. There was no discussion on terrorist activities while I was there. We did not get the warning. The NSC did not discuss any such warning. After the attack the issue was discussed at the NSC level. We met soon after the attack and took action to mitigate it. I was in contact with the Prime Minister.

M.A. Sumanthiran: Did you chair the NSC meetings?

Minister Wijewardene: I sat as the head, but the meeting was content by the Secretary of Defence. He presented the agenda for the meeting.

Sumanthiran: What was the role of the intelligence heads at the meeting? Isn’t it the purpose of the meeting to share intelligence?

Minister: I think so. We discussed several matters but there was no discussion on the formation of a terrorist group or preparations being make by such a group to launch an attack.

Sumanthiran: There were incidents in Digana in March 2018. Was there any issue related to the radicalization of Islamic groups discussions?

Minister Wijewardene: We discussed the factions.

Sumanthiran: When did you attend the last NSC meeting before Oct 2018?

Minister: I attended the NSC meetings before the Constitutional Crisis. I did not attend the NSC meetings during the crisis time. I was not invited to NSC meetings thereafter. The last time I attended was on Oct 7, 2018. Thereafter I attended the meetings of national intelligence only in April 2019.

Sumanthiran: Did you ask why you had not been invited

Minister Wijewardene: I asked the Secretary Defence. He told me that there had been no NSC meetings per se. The President had met only the persons heading various security establishments.

Sumanthiran: Apart from the secretary defence, did you ask your minister, who is also the President?

Wijewardene: No, I did not. I believed that the situation had arisen after the Constitutional Crisis and there were some disagreements between the President and the government. I assumed that I was not invited as a result.

Sumanthiran: How about Intelligence review meetings? Did you ask about that?

Minister: I asked the Defence Secy. He told me that I would be called for the meetings after mid-March.

Sumanthiran: Did you know that such meetings took place?

Minister: The usual procedure was for the Defence Secretary to contact my secretary and inform him such meetings. That didn’t happen.

Sumanthiran: Usually, where did such meetings take place?

Minister: At the Ministry of Defence

Sumanthiran: Your office is at the same ministry. When such meetings take place in the same ministry did you not ask you had been overlooked?

Minister: I was not invited or I was not asked not to come to those meetings.

Minister Karunanayake: Do you think that there was a serious lapse of coordination?

Minister Wijewardene: Absolutely, there was a serious lapse of coordination. The stability within the Ministry of Defence too was questionable. There had been five secretaries since 2015.

Field Marshal Fonseka: Was there any other responsibility apart from the duties assigned to you by the Gazette?

Minister: No, I attended the meetings I was asked to I visited foreign countries when I was told. I attended the functions of the forces as the chief guest.

Field Marshal Fonseka: Ceremonial functions?

Minister: Yes

Field Marshal Fonseka: They were not operational?

Minister: No. I did not have decision making powers in operational matters.

Field Marshal Fonseka: But in Parliament when there is a question you are supposed to give answer. You are inconvenienced when you are asked questions in Parliament

Minister: Yes there were occasions where I was inconvenienced.

Field Marshal Fonseka: Did you have any experience in defence related matters before you were given that position?

Minister: No. I did not have defence experience. Now, I have some knowledge since I was in the ministry for the past four years. We wanted you to become the minister of law and order. We had hopes. But that did not work out

Field Marshal Fonseka: I was recently invited to take over deputy minister of defence and a cabinet portfolio. The invitation was sent to me by the Minister of Defence. But I did not take it up because I was expected to take it and keep my mouth shut. But considering the situation now prevailing in the country one cannot take the position and keep the mouth shut. Did Zahran’s name come up or was there any attempt by Intelligence to look into the matter to curb the menace?

Minister: The police had been instructed to continue investigations

Field Marshal Fonseka:  There had been instructions to continue investigations. Investigations had been continuing till the bombs went off. Did anyone issue instructions to suppress the operations of the Zahran’s group?

Minister: No such instructions were issued

Field Marshal Fonseka: Don’t you think that if action had been taken early this disaster could have been prevented?

Minister: Yes. Certainly, it could have been prevented. There were several such occasions as far as I know. For example if the Kattankudy police had done their job properly when there were clashes among the two rival Islamic groups on that day, this disaster could have been prevented.

Dr. Jayatissa: You have been given four institutions the Ranaviru Seva Authority, Defence Services Command and Staff College, Defence College and the National Cadet Corps.

Minister: Yes, later on some others including the Civil Defence Force were placed under my purview.

Dr Jayatissa: So the institutions coming under you were not serious enough to be taken for discussion at NSC

Minister: No

Dr Jayatissa: What is the responsibility and role of yours in attending the intelligence review meetings on Tuesday?

Minister: I am asked only to help ensure national security. It is summoned by the Defence Secretary. He prepares the agenda together with the Chief of National Intelligence.

Dr. Jayatissa: On April 9 Director State Intelligence Service sent a letter to CNI and Defence Secretary warning of the attack and where the attack would take place and who would carry out the attack. Did you see it?

Minister: I saw it after the attacks

Dr. Jayatissa: So, the State Defence Minister saw the letter only after the attack, is it so?

Minister: Yes

Dr Jayatissa: You have been provided security by the Ministerial Security Division. They got the letter. Among those who got the letter was the Personal Security Officer assigned to you by the MSD. Didn’t the PSO of yours give that letter to you?

Minister: No, after the attack I summoned the PSO and asked him. He told me that his duty was to protect me not to forward the letters he received. He said he received similar letters occasionally but they only took actions necessary without passing those letters to me.

Dr Jayatissa: What is the nature of relationship between State Minister of Defence and the Director SIS?

Minister: We are in contact. I think he gives us all important information. He decides what he give me. He calls me and gives information that he thinks I should know.

Dr Jayatissa: The SIS Director had the information but he did not pass it on to you, isn’t it so?

Minister: No, I was not given that information.

Dr Jayatissa: What do you think of that now?

Minister Wijewardene: I am saddened by the fact that I was not informed of the warning of attack beforehand. Only after the attack the Director SIS told me that he had received prior information.

Dr Jayatissa: There was information of radical groups operating in the East, and of their terrorist activities. There was information that such groups were organising themselves. Weren’t those threats discussed at the NSC?

Minister: We discussed it but there was no discussion of Islamic fundamentalism developing into terrorism.

Dr Jayatissa: Soon after the attack there was an NSC meeting. At that meeting it was stated that only six out of eight bombs had gone off and there were two more left. There had been also a talk at that meeting that the ministers should protect themselves till the remaining bombs were found.

Minister: Director SIS said so. But there was no talk of ministers increasing their security. But it was mentioned that couple of more bombs would to go off.

Prof Marasinghe: Now, it is clear that you had not been informed of the prior warning till the attack took place. Whom do you think is responsible to provide that information to you?

Minister: Secretary Defence should have done that.

Prof Marasinghe: Who informed you of the attack first?

Minister: The Prime Minister informed me. Then I contacted the Secretary Defence who confirmed it. The Secretary told me that there would be an NSC meeting and asked me to come and attend it. I did so.

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