Posted on November 13th, 2009

By Gamini Gunawardane Rtd. Snr. DIG (Published in “ƒ”¹…”The Island’ of 12th Nov.2009)

The rarest commodity under the free market economy, in this country today appears to be Integrity. Not only in this country but in the whole world, judging by what is happening around the world including the British Parliament. Not only in public life, but even in personal life. It appears as if almost nobody could be trusted particularly with power, authority, money or property or even with love! We are told, “trust the camel, but tie the camel”! It no longer seems to be a cherished value in human relationships. It may be that it is not in vogue anymore; so much so that when one comes across Integrity, it is looked upon as an embarrassment, an inconvenience, an irritant and a “pain in the neck”.

 A politician of today would regard Integrity of a Public Servant as insolence, nonco-operation and /or a saboteur and the latest, “ƒ”¹…”conspirators’ kumanthrana karayas !         

 I have come across young people who genuinely ask you “ƒ”¹…”what really is wrong in paying a bribe if that is the way to get something done?’ What’s the fuss? Then we are told by the younger generation, with a twinkle in the eye, of “ƒ”¹…”krama saha vidhi’ to open doors which seem closed according to rules and regulations. After all what matters is getting things done? It appears that in the new environment, the place of Integrity has been usurped by expediency.    

 We have heard that C.W.W. Kannangara in his day, had many powerful forces that opposed his free education project. But they could not stop him. In today’s terms, a thumping bribe deposited in a bank account abroad in his name would have settled the issue once and for all, for him to live the rest of his life comfortably. But they could not. And Mr. Kannangara lost his parliamentary seat and died a pauper! But it is not even possible to realize fully today, the magnitude of the revolution his project achieved for our country in this era. Same with T.B. Illangaratne who went ahead resolutely with nationalizing the foreign owned Oil Companies and Insurance Companies. And today we have two great milking cows for the “ƒ”¹…”robber barons’ to milk freely and get way with it. Those who tried to punish the miscreants are found fault with, for not following procedure.

 Prior to 1977, we heard but rarely of a chink in the armour of our Judiciary. Today we hear of troubling stories regarding the Integrity at the highest temples of justice. It seems they are ready to barter their Integrity for surprisingly low incentives. I yet hope all this is untrue.

 This entire preamble was said, to focus on a silver lining in a dark cloud. A little spoken of important factor that contributed to the devastating success in the final Eelam war, was in my view, the Integrity of the Defence Establishment.

 It will be recalled that the bane of the all three previous attempts at war was the allegations of corruption both in the purchase of military hardware at the top level and at the other levels of the military even to the extent of illicit timber racketeering and thievery in every sphere of activity. The “ƒ”¹…”war correspondents’ of the time were filling the news paper columns with the gory accounts of these transactions. So was the grapevine. In fact a few military persons both big and small were charged with fraud, but hardly any was convicted. Yet some others are said to have acquired condominium complexes in Australia. The off spring of some highly placed officials were alleged to have been acting as local agents of foreign military equipment suppliers. Some said, probably mischievously, that the one reason for boom in the local stock market at that time was the unconscionable monies made by the arms dealers out of such shady transactions. There are some others who are now unable to enjoy their ill-gotten commissions deposited in foreign banks owing to the Money Laundering laws now operating at both ends. In short, it was finally made out that this war could never be won due to this mass scale corruption. The war was called by the cynics, a “hingannage thuwalaya”, a beggars’ wound. It was believed by the public for this reason that both the governments of the time and the military too did not want to end the war which was a hen that laid the golden eggs, for some people, while some other people lost their life and limb in the battle field. “ƒ”¹…”The Island’ editor referred to such people in passing, in his editorial of 14th October “”¦”¦..the failed military commanders of yore who enjoyed the perks of office, marked their time and retired leaving the war unfinished”¦.” The “perks” included the filthy lucre that some of them made.

 All this murky details had to be re-visited in brief in order to highlight the importance of the role of Integrity of the current Defence Establishment as a key factor of success. The new Defence Secy. Gothabhaya Rajapaksa who set about his task before a disbelieving public of his genuine intention of finishing the war, probably identified the Integrity of the Defence Establishment, as a cardinal precondition. Perhaps, his experience as a serving officer in the army in his time helped him to gain this insight. And he may have realized that the allegations of corruption in the purchase of military hardware as the bane of a genuine military campaign. In order to put this right he apparently got the government to agree to the setting up of a state purchasing agency, a company owned by the Secy. Treasury, Secy. Defence, Chief of  Defence Staff, the three service commanders and the IGP, under the Defence Ministry, named Lanka Logistics. The person who became its CEO was Jayantha Wickremasinghe, a little known self effacing man yet of high Integrity who was too simple a man that could be bought over for a high price. He operated from his unostentatious little office in the rear of the BMICH. He drove his own car unescorted by security crews, so attracted no threat.

 This organization cut off the role for local commission agents of foreign arms dealers . The company directly dealt with the government agencies who supplied military equipment that the Services needed. So there was no role for the intermediaries. Thus, the government military purchases became transparent to that extent where the users had a direct role to play in the purchasing and selecting what their men required to prosecute the war successfully. They could not turn around later to say that what was supplied was not what they wanted or that what they ordered failed to deliver, on the battle field. They were accountable to themselves.

 Another significant measure of corruption elimination undertaken by Secy. Defence had been the standardization of military equipment bought, to be reduced to three sources, thus cutting out complicated purchasing and promoting economizing. This had needed some heavy handed measures by the Secy.  

 I think the 1970 ULF government had similar intentions when they vested the importation of food and provisions, in CWE. This effort failed mainly because of the corrupt, politically selected officialdom that was appointed by the government, which was perhaps one of the reasons for its eventual downfall. Provisions lorries unloaded their goods in the stores of private dealers of Pettah instead of the Multi Purpose Co-op Union stores in Hanguranketha. Thus, the very people whom the government wanted to serve were starving while the black market thrived.   

 The rank and file was happy because they found the military equipment they required were available to them in right time at the right place. And the ammunition did fire! Approvals came back sooner than they were asked. Hence they believed in the Military Establishment. That in turn raised their morale. This is special, in view of what we read in the news papers these days re allegations of the many millions of US $ funneled into Pakistan by the US government to fight the terrorists, not being used on the military but diverted elsewhere. It was reported that Pakistan at war with Taliban had only a single serviceable helicopter on the battle front! Thus, fighting a loosing battle.

 There was however allegations in the news papers on the MIG 27s that were bought for the Air Force. The Defence Establishment explained on their website, the reasons why they were bought and what the advantages there were for buying them in the way it was done. These allegations were not countered by further facts by the accusers. Of course, it is not known whether they were made to shut up by any “ƒ”¹…”extra judicial methods’. But we  know that one such news paper was taken to courts by the Defence Secretary against it making spurious allegations and did not want to settle the matter outside court as offered by the respondents. It is difficult to imagine a person taking such a firm stand unless he was sure that his hands were clean. There have been only few people in this country who have dared to challenge such news paper accusers, because the newspapers always have the final say! However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It was the same “ƒ”¹…”controverted’ aircraft that successfully performed all the precision bombings and all the other heroics that we saw, particularly in the final phase of the war. Also pertinent is the fact that none of these aircraft either crashed or failed under operational conditions, unlike the previous purchases.

 In the meantime, Lt. Gen, Sarath Fonseka, in his heavy handed ruthless style, is reported to have minimized the corruption within the army, and driven hard the field the commanders who had the daring, towards their goals. He was uncompromising  in his approach. As a result of these dual strategies, in the height of the war, the energies of the Defence Establishment were not squandered on fighting the media, the political opposition of the government and the rumour machines churning out corruption charges. It left them with little room for allegations. We saw the disgraceful levels to which the opposition descended in scraping the barrel for allegations to make. Some “ƒ”¹…”war correspondents’ probably went out of business. Thus, the Defence Establishment became free to concentrate on the battle field strategies, with less distractions.

 Of course, Gothabhaya had a huge advantage on his side, which a normal public servant would not have. He had as his brother, as the president of the country who had unreserved confidence in him. He gave him a free hand. On the other hand, Gothabhaya on his part never abused his position or over play his hand unlike say, Sanjay Gandhi. This indeed is Integrity. He passed down all that insulation to the three Services. In fact, he did unto the Armed Services what the 17th Amendment was intended to do to the Public Service and the police etc. Why he did not give the same insulation to the police which was under the same Ministry, is not known.                     

 During the far and apart media interviews they gave, both Gothabhaya and Sarath Fonseka scrupuloulessly refused to be drawn into controversial issues with political overtones despite cajoling by the shameless Wandibhattas of the state electronic media who coined such cheap expressions of self-praise such as such as “wishvayama wismitha kala Wijayagrahanaya” ” the victory that astounded the entire universe!” Such was the depths to which the professionalism in journalism descended to in their desperate attempts to please the political bosses. Both these gentlemen steered clear of such despicable temptations of praise offered to them, to entice them into traps of vulgarity. It was indeed a tribute to the professional integrity of both who refused to be drawn into such vulgarities. Gen, Fonseka was particularly impressive with his sharp & crisp replies strictly observing the norms of professional integrity of a military man. Indeed he seemed to be conscious that he, as a Service Commander, enjoyed less freedom of expression compared to the Secy. Defence

 This was not the only occasion when Gen. Fonseka displayed high integrity. It may be recalled that when he was Jaffna Commander during the infamous Cease Fire agreement, Norway, pressed by the LTTE wanted the then government, to remove the High Security Zone around the Palaly Camp. This was the time that the LTTE cardres/ sympathizers were showing their posteriors to and also urinating in front of Army camps and guard posts in order to provoke the soldiers to react. Gen. Fonseka took a firm stand refusing to agree to the suggestion with a very professional report, leaked to the press too. Ranil Wickramasinghe the then PM was disappointed and angry at this reaction, as this was the only officer who stood up against his great desire to please the LTTE. By today’s standards what is usual is, do as ordered and qualify for the next promotion. One does not need battlefield skills to do this! Hence, the great opportunities for mediocrites.

He thus, won the admiration of the whole nation for his courage in this instance.

Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda too took similar bold stand in regard to Trincomalee Harbour High Security Zone when the Wickramasinghe government tried to deny the presence of LTTE artillery positions within striking distance of the Trincomalee  naval area. This revelation turned out to be crucial when the Elam IV began from the Eastern Province.

 This is not to say that these two people or even the other commanders are impeccable characters. They may be having their personal weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. Who does not? “Nidos kenek mediyatha upadane netha”  “ƒ”¹…”There are no perfect people born in this world’.  The only exception may be the mythical characters of Mahaoushadha Panditha in the Jathaka tales and Arjuna in the Mahabharatha. Hence none of them could be assessed on what they are not. We assess people not their failings but on their achievements. In this case, on their integrity in relation to their cause “”…” ridding this country of the scourge of terrorism.           

 The test of Integrity is how one behaves in crisis. It is also the best situation where a person’s Integrity is on display, when his very survival is challenged. Perhaps, Gen. Fonseka has not developed the skills of dealing with the hostile political environment in peace times. He may be finding the political mine fields far more mind boggling than what he encountered in the battlefield! This is evident from the manner he behaved in the latest political whirlpool that he fell into. In this unfamiliar field, he adopted a natural defence: “Ariya tunhi bhavo “noble silence”. He refused to be enticed by civilian/ political office with which he is unfamiliar. He spoke as less as possible. But in this vicious political environment even silence, however noble it may be, is still dangerous because it gives the media and other political minions to go to town with their own mischievous interpretations! One could not envy President Rajapaksa who has to deal with this on a daily basis.

 Perhaps, Gen. Fonseka is not alone in this predicament. I believe, Gen. Patton and even Douglas McArthur experienced the same once the WW II was over. The government did not know what to do with them. Of course the only difference was that both of them had the knack shooting their tongues without thinking at times. However, McArthur was later entrusted with the task of helping re-building Japan “”…” may possibly was a way of keeping him happy and also away from the main theatre of post war United States. Only Gen. Dwight Eisenhower the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, who perhaps had “ƒ”¹…”on the job training’ managing the politics among all those great and difficult generals, Montgomery inclusive and also perhaps Sir Winston Churchill, was able graduate to the position of  US President, after the war.       

 The corrosive flames of politicization have already consumed the citadels of public service, police and the judiciary. It is fast reaching out to the Defence Establishment too. It may not be saved. What Gothabhaya had said when asked of assuming political power, is elegant. “ I was trained to defend the country in a different capacity and I believe I have done my part. The war is over and the country is free.” He said he had no interest in politics and nothing made him feel better than being in sarong breathing the fresh air of his native village.” (“ƒ”¹…”The Island’ 19th Oct.). With their mission accomplished, people with professional integrity must renounce (abhikkama) in time, before being contaminated with intoxication of power. The Buddha describes such conditions, as hino, gammo, anario, pothajjaniko “”…” “vile, vulgar, ignoble and (too) worldly”. For, intoxication with political power, is the worst of them all.


 Rather than eulogizing personalities as such, one purpose of writing this essay is to illustrate how even a few people could make a huge difference with a modicum of integrity in a fleeting situation despite flourishing corruption, which could produce such astounding achievements for a nation.

Let such fleeting moments be more frequent and there be more people of such courage.                                        

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.



Copyright © 2021 All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress