National Security key for a Gotabaya victory
Posted on September 12th, 2019

By Amila Wijesinghe Courtesy Ceylon Today

With the UNP (at the time of writing) yet to decide on their choice of candidate for the upcoming Presidential Election, former Secretary to the Ministry of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa, representing  the SLPP seems to be leading the race for the presidency.

The will of the people should never be taken for granted, and this election may well swing either way – but it is worth considering the potential impact it could have on national security and best course of action for the country if the frontrunner, Gota, manages to win. The tragic events of 21 April have once again brought the subject of national security to the fore as the most pressing issue in this country.

Now Sri Lanka faces threats from groups few expected to manifest on this small island of ours. ACLED, the conflict monitoring body, has reported that ISIS has initiated an unprecedented emphasis on its global presence and operations in 2019, following their loss of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2018. Nearly 60% of Islamic State’s activity in 2019 has taken place outside of West Asia – mainly across South Asia and Africa. 

Clearly, national security will be an utmost concern to those casting their votes in the upcoming election. 

National Security policies

The current surge in popularity of Gota’s candidacy can to some degree be attributed to the people’s disgust at the apathy and sheer negligence by some in the current administration towards national security. The political dismantling of the security apparatus, coupled with a failure to address the warnings provided resulted in one of the most horrific acts of terrorist violence witnessed by this country in recent history. When the citizens of this country head to the polls, many will cast their votes to the candidate that can win their confidence in remedying the egregious failures and lapses of judgement that led to the horrors of the Easter bombings. Gotabaya’s head start in this regard and his (and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s) record of eradicating LTTE terrorism will place him in a strong position at this election. 

Gotabaya has repeatedly emphasised that national security will be his top priority if he is elected. 

National security is of course a continuing obligation, and what is more important than election-time platitudes, is the action taken once the next government is in office. The mistakes that led to the Easter attacks must be addressed. This will have to involve difficult, forthright and introspective analysis within the Government agencies. The rush to dismantle the security apparatus by the present regime was criticised by many, but few expected the consequences to present themselves so soon. 

The overhaul of Sri Lanka’s national security strategy will be a difficult but vital process and must include; 

Provision for the National Security Council to be established as a legal institution with a clear mandate and agenda – Its functions must be officially set out with consistent meetings to assess and strategise in relation to security. The NSC should have specialised national security advisors and a permanent secretariat to ensure that the functions of the agency are carried out systematically and efficiently. 

Co-ordination of agencies

Different sectors of security such as the intelligence, police and civilian sectors often operate according to competing interests and rivalries. Such disunity is clearly inimical to the interests of security. Strong leadership is needed to harmonise the workings of these different sectors. 

Move beyond reactionary policy-making

 We often see an intransigent and short-sighted approach to making policy, which should never be the case for security. Concerns should not only be viewed individually, but as a whole with a long-term strategy. Policy development should be clear in its strategy and must have contributions from a wide range of expertise. It will not be enough to react, ad hoc, to each threat – but to analyse the root causes behind radical ideology. The focus should be on identifying risk factors and operating on preventative steps to pre-empt extremist activity. 

Tackle corruption and inefficient at bureaucracy at all levels

 This is a pervasive issue in Sri Lanka and one of the largest barriers to the nation’s progress and the citizen’s confidence in its security. 

Ensure adequate expertise

Security is often viewed as the exclusive domain of the military, but it is in fact a multi-faceted issue that benefits from a wide range of input. Academics and professionals can provide invaluable contributions of expertise in areas such as international relations, law, economics, public relations, defence analysis, technology. Effective security policy requires a cumulative effort of combining all these different fields of research.  

Business confidence

The steep drop in business confidence in Sri Lanka has been drastic. May 2019 saw the lowest level of business confidence in over a decade. There is an intrinsic relationship between a country’s economy and its national security. A stable country promotes investment, attracts foreign expertise, encourages domestic talent to remain, brings in tourists and boosts business confidence. On the other hand, a strong economy allows a country to invest in its people, to raise people out of poverty and to eliminate the harsh living conditions that allow violent extremism to fester. 

Countries such as Singapore (which Sri Lanka often aspires towards) would never have experienced a fraction of their success without the stability they could offer potential investors. In half a decade, with negligible national resources, Singapore was able to transform their economy far beyond expectations. Whichever, side comes into power after the upcoming elections in Sri Lanka, they must ensure consistent economic policies and be able to win the confidence of investors through stability. 

International relations 

The failure of the present government to react to warnings provided by Indian intelligence clearly demonstrates a breakdown in communication. It also shows the importance of collaboration with international partners to counter extremism. 

Undoubtably, many Western countries will not be thrilled at the prospect of a Gota presidency. This is the result of a mismanagement of international relations that must not be repeated. Countries such as the US have by far the most experience indealing with terror groups such as ISIS, much more than Sri Lanka. However, this does not mean that we have to capitulate to any infringement of national sovereignty. The first Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kwan Yew was famous for his integrity – once refusing to yield to the CIA who were discovered conducting illegal operations without governmental consent, who then tried to bribe him with millions of dollars to keep quiet. Instead they were forced to retract and apologise. 

China has increasingly become one of Sri Lanka’s most important strategic partners. The UNP Government’s ill-advised decision to halt Chinese development projects backfired spectacularly in a clear demonstration of the perils of being too reactionarily political with international business. Both GR and MR are well-known to have better relations with China, and we may see increased investment if GR wins the Presidency. However, many people (both domestically and internationally) are concerned about increased Chinese presence in Sri Lanka. Whether or not these fears have merit, it is less than ideal to rely entirely on one country for development. Our partnerships with many other countries still hold much potential. 

India will be closely watching this election, and their fears of Chinese influence in Sri Lanka must be assuaged. If they are diplomatically balanced, India can provide a much-needed boost to Sri Lanka’s economy with investment and trade. Furthermore, as our closest neighbour they will be highly concerned about the advent of fundamentalist extremism in Sri Lanka, and keen to collaborate to ensure security in both countries. Whilst Rajapaksas’ relations with India had decidedly cooled after the last Presidential elections, it seems that they have taken steps to remedy this – as seen in the concerted diplomatic push seen during MR’s visit to India. 

It is clear that national security is given high priority on Gota’s agenda, and the current climate places him in a strong position for the Presidential Election. However, there is a long road to establishing security in this country – and we must prioritise a holistic approach to security. We should prioritise addressing past mistakes, eradicating inneficient bureaucracy/corruption and incentivise young educated Sri Lankans with international exposure to return and contribute their skills to the country.

The writer is a Lawyer with LLB (Hons), LLM (Public International Law), Barrister-at-Law (England and Wales), Partner at the West End Law Centre and Postgraduate (PhD) Researcher at the University of Durham.

 CT Web 02:00 AM Sep 12 2019

One Response to “National Security key for a Gotabaya victory”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    This comment is off topic, but it is important that we understand why President Sirisena moved Rupavahini under his Defence Ministry.

    The following article may shed light on his decision to do so.


    Rupavahini chairperson explains Defence Min. take-over
    Friday, September 13, 2019 – 01:06

    By Camelia Nathaniel

    Instead of trying to find fault with President Maithripala Sirisena for having gazetted the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation under the Defence Ministry, it is important to take note of the incidents which compelled the President to take this decision within a few hours, said the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation Inoka Sathyanganie Keerthinanda.

    Addressing a media briefing at the SLRC premises yesterday together with the Director General of SRC Saranga Wijeratne and senior management she said during the period the SLRC was under the Cabinet Minister for Media Mangala Samaraweera the heads of five state and semi-state institutions were appointed, namely, the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd (ANCL), Rupavahini Corporation, ITN, Salacine and SLBC.

    Inoka Sathyanganie Keerthinanda was appointed on May 17th, 2018, as Chairman of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation after her name had been approved by the three member committee that had been appointed to approve these posts and the committee having deemed her qualified and suitable for the post.

    However, after the political coup in October 2018, while the heads of several of these institutions had been asked to hand in their resignations, she and two others had not been asked to resign. Thereafter, once the government was re-established she was re-instated in her position on December 22.

    “There is so much of false information regarding this incident being spread. But this false information is not just affecting me personally, but it affects the over 1200 staff, management and most of all it is tarnishing the image of this prestigious state institution. This institution has an illustrious background. If its reputation is being tarnished by such false information, it is our duty as the heads of this institution to come forward and reveal the truth and safeguard this institution’s reputation,” she said, adding that this media briefing was not intended to sling mud at anyone.

    Explaining the incidents which had led to this issue at SLRC the Chairperson said that after Non-Cabinet Minister Ruwan Wijewardena was appointed as the Media Minister, it is generally customary that the former minister makes requests to the heads of institutions asking them to step down. “However, the Chairmen of ITN Tilaka Jayasundara, Lake House Chairman Chrishantha Cooray and herself had not been instructed to hand in their resignations. Hence there was no resignations for them. Then after Minister Ruwan Wijewardena had taken office, he had appointed another Chairman to SLRC while I was still serving. In fact, he did not appoint him and send him, but had sent his recommendation to the committee and this committee had not approved.

    “First Sanjeewa Wijegunawardena had been recommended to the committee for the post of working director by Minister Wijewaardena, the committee rejected his nomination based on the provisions of the SLRC Act. Then, last Friday, we came to know that another person, the current Working Director of SLRC Kelum Palitha Mahiratne, had been appointed as the Chairman. When he had presented his letter of appointment to my office, I tried to contact the President and find out if such an appointment was approved, as none of us were aware of this move. I received a message from the President that he was not aware of this appointment. Then I spoke to one of the Committee members and he too said he was not aware of such an appointment. Then, I spoke to the Media Ministry Secretary Sunil Samaraweera in the presence of my DG and Administration Director and, the Media Ministry Secretary too said he was not aware of the appointment. Hence, there was no legitimacy to the appointment letter that was brought by this newly appointed Chairman and therefore, I did not leave my post and continued to carry on my duties in my office.”

    She added that Mahiratne had then threatened the Rupavahini staff and forced them to type a letter for him and he and several others who had accompanied him had occupied the Board Room. “Thereafter, he had got a letter head and typed a letter on it that he had taken over as the Chairman and forced her secretary to fax the letter to the Media Ministry. This is what my staff told me. I advised them to seek advice from the DG as I was not in the office at the time. I don’t know where he got the letterhead from and I have it with me as I might need it in the event I have to produce it in court or the Government Analyst. It was after the fax had been sent that the Media Ministry Secretary came to know of his appointment. After around 2-3 hours of being in the Board Room they had left.

    “This happened on Monday and after they left and as this appointment could not be accepted as it was illegally done, we notified the security personnel not to allow any outsiders in. Then again they returned with another group of persons and had threatened the security as well. By then, we had notified the STF head DIG Lathif as well. When they were becoming more hostile, I notified the DG and then on his advice, we notified the President’s office regarding the incident. We were also notified that the Media Minister was also on his way.”

    According to the SLRC Chairperson, after the President was notified, that evening, the President had issued a special gazette and taken over the SLRC under the Defence Ministry. She added that all the CCTV footage of the incident and the letter etc is all kept safely in order to be produced at any time to prove who was wrong. She also noted that during the time Minister Mangala Samaraweera had held the post, they had no interference or pressure and could work freely and independently.

    Refuting allegations by the Media Minister that SLRC was an institution which is falling in its ratings, she said since she took over the ratings of SLRC had moved from 8th place to 6th place. Further, she said that under her command 32 programmes had been planned for SLRC and already 15 of them had been implemented and is operational

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