Opposition’s Silly Hullabaloo over the Final Report of the PCoI
Posted on March 10th, 2021

By Rohana R. Wasala

Sri Lankan Catholics, led by His Eminence Malcom Cardinal Ranjith, Bishop of Colombo, marked Black Sunday on March 7, with the participation of representatives from Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim religious communities, demanding justice for the victims of the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks carried out by local Islamist Jihadists two years ago. The Archbishop threatened further activism including asking for international help unless there emerge sure signs before April 21 that the real masterminds behind the horrendous crime are clearly identified and duly punished so that no repetition of the like will occur in the future. The event was immediately provoked by what was perceived by them and members of the opposition as well as some law-makers of the ruling alliance, and sections of the civil society, as foot-dragging by the government over punishing the guilty. 

That questionable perception was prompted by the president’s appointment on February 19 of a six-member ministerial committee to study the Final Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Easter Sunday Attacks which had been presented to him nearly three weeks before, and also the report  submitted to parliament by the Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security, which was also appointed by the previous government in the wake of the April 21, 2019 suicide bomb attacks. The SOC report, after about one year’s sittings, was presented  to the yahapalana parliament in February, 2020, just eleven days ahead of the dissolution of parliament. Its recommendations were also meant to prevent the recurrence of extremist violence.

I, for one, do not question the appropriateness of the president’s move; it must be part of the proper procedure he has chosen to deal with the matter. Considering the dismal history of commissions of inquiry in our country, which a past left politician in parliament once likened to a ‘loo visit’ – sitting, deliberating, reporting and dropping the matter- , what is at present happening under President Gotabaya is quite efficient and quick. Significant initial progress has already been made under the new administration although people are not still aware of it. Those who are waiting to fault the government on the slightest pretext jumped to conclusions when it was revealed that 22 out of the 87 books (with a total of 69,770 pages according to Minister Wimal Weerawansa) each of an average length of 800 pages were being withheld for security reasons. True, this was something unexpected. The alleged decision to keep the information contained in the 22 books even from the attorney general sounded absurd, but most probably it was a temporary decision. Generally though, as Minister Udaya Gammanpila explained in a separate context, certain confidential pieces of information provided to the Commission by private witnesses, such as what some Muslim women told it in camera about their husbands’ criminal dealings with Islamic terrorists, have to be kept under wraps for the safety of those individuals. Such unavoidable censorship will not prevent that information from being made available for the prosecutors when the hearings against the suspects actually start. Anti-government detractors, especially the members of the yahapalana regime who intentionally or unintentionally facilitated the April 21 attacks, are doing their damnedest to propagate the false claim that this (probably temporary) secrecy imposed on a part of the information recorded by the PCoI is meant to conceal the present government’s culpability. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is utterly wrong to suggest that the Easter Sunday attacks alone overwhelmingly contributed to Gotabaya’s election or the success of the SLPP at the subsequent parliamentary polls, for the SLPP swept the island-wide local government elections in February 2018, that is, more than a year before the Islamist terror attacks.

The ministerial committee is required to hand over its report on or before March 15. Committee member Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said yesterday (March 8) that the report will be submitted on March 15, as scheduled. The PCoI was appointed by (previous) president Sirisena in September, 2019, and its term was extended several times by incumbent president Gotabaya without introducing any change to the composition of its membership. In fact, the president was reported to have personally asked the Cardinal whether he would like to see the composition of the committee changed; the latter had answered in the negative. It is not likely that the unacceptable practice of interfering with the judiciary or in due legal processes for which the previous yahapalanaya was severely criticised and was made to pay a heavy price in the form of a humiliating electoral defeat would be repeated by the present government, least of all by Gotabaya, given his immaculate professional record and his impeccable personal probity. (Incidentally, something I frequently observed in Gotabaya’s campaign speeches in Sinhala was his studied avoidance of noncommittal promissory statements containing {First Person Singular} verbs ending in the suffix -nnam, e.g., karannam {I shall/will do}; he always used the present affirmative forms like ‘mama karanawa’ ‘I do’ instead of the future optative ‘karannam’ {I’ll do} form; ‘karanawa’ expresses a solemn pledge, not a casual promise.  Gotabaya has already amply proved that he is a man of his word, just as much as he is a man of action.) Meanwhile it is unlikely that the Cardinal has lost his trust in the president, who had repeatedly reassured him that the culprits won’t be allowed to go free, though the former has found it fit to observe a Black Sunday. That must be to provide a shot in the arm for the president and the government to reaffirm their commitment and renew their resolve for expediting the commencement of due processes for ultimately meting out justice to all affected persons; but that kind of coaxing is redundant, in my opinion. 

A day before the Black Sunday was marked (i.e., Saturday 6), the president held the 13th session of his ‘Gama Samaga Pilisandara’ ‘Conversation with the Country’ programme with the people of the village of Giribawe, Weragala, in Kurunegala. He had a copy of the Final Report (probably, a summary, still massive) and spoke turning its pages, which showed that he had a good idea of its contents. He explained to the people that he got the report on February 1, and that the commission was appointed by the previous president. President Gotabaya pointed out that the Report clearly blames the attacks on the (Yahapalana) government. It identifies governmental inefficiency as the principal contributory factor that led to the Easter Sunday attacks. He stressed the fact that the Report apportions blame not only to former president Sirisena and the ex-premier (Ranil), but also to the ‘rajaya’ or the government (that they headed). President Gotabaya laid emphasis on the word ‘rajaya’ (government) from the Report in this context.

‘But today’, he added, ‘those who were in that government speak as if they weren’t in it. During president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time, we gave priority to state security……This report makes it abundantly clear that a situation like this resulted from the discontinuance of that security framework. We completely reject the absurd, baseless allegation that our government must be held responsible for the Easter attacks……The Report has recorded who is accountable for them. It is, however, our responsibility to see them punished, because we are the government now. We will properly execute that (duty). We have not only this report, but also (reports from) the CID, the TID, and intelligence sectors. Since we came to power, we have apprehended many other new suspects. We are continuing (with this process). Punishments will be meted out to these people and those..’  

My feeling, for what it is worth, is that the president and the government must be allowed time and freedom to deal with the burning issues in the current unprecedentedly critical circumstances. A local, Sri Lanka bashing, propagandist tabloid has started calling the president ‘Nandasena’ (from his full name ‘Gotabaya Nandasena Rajapaksa’). This is clearly meant to be derogatory, for it acoustically links him with his failed predecessor Sirisena, who in actuality, through his ungrateful 2014-November betrayal of his elder brother the then president Mahinda, has brought endless disaster to the country. Such inimical portrayal of president Gotabaya as a failure is wrong. (It is tragic that some prominent monks who helped bring Gotabaya to power, have now been duped to look away from him in apparent disillusion and defend Sirisena instead who is being justly threatened with possible prosecution in connection with the Easter attacks). With a little hindsight Gotabaya supporters may draw fresh inspiration. 

The newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa handled with aplomb the sham kidnap episode which had been staged courtesy the Swiss embassy in Colombo on November 25, 2019 and which had certainly been meant to embarrass and undermine him internationally. The alleged abduction and rape of a local female employee of the embassy by the unusual name of Gania Banister Francis was soon revealed by the police to have been a gimmick set up by some anti-Sri Lanka-politics driven hirelings. Having been elected president without a burdensome backpack of a professional political background, he was able to adopt a confident, unperturbed, and matter-of-fact approach to get at the truth, and suitably dispose of the filthy stuff. The naive embassy officials who had been knowingly or unknowingly taken for a ride by the plotters of the prank had egg on their faces; but the president treated them with the respect and dignity that their posts deserved, without any rancour. He even offered them a piece of friendly advice about the importance of guarding against being misled by fabrications of liars against the country (or something to that effect). 

Currently a worse, more damaging, drama is being acted out by the powers that be centering on the release of the Final Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday Attacks. This must be intended to bamboozle the SLPP government under Gotabaya’s presidency to veer off its course into floundering in the stormy seas of geopolitics. This time however, the issue that is to be tackled is not so straightforward as the silly embassy skit. It will need Gotabaya’s hard-nosed practical approach as well as a seasoned politician’s pragmatism. Unfortunately, according to my lights, at present, Gotabaya is not getting the undivided support of those who are closest to him, but who are apparently pulling in different directions, though their loyalty may be unquestioned; this is  an unacknowledged dichotomy in the government’s inner circle, which is good for his and the country’s enemies. This must be remedied immediately.

This unnecessary division of opinion or lack of unanimity has significantly stymied the resolution of a range of issues including the trivial burial problem fraudulently blown into international proportions by Jihadist apologists and others illdisposed towards the country and the present government. How the government ignominiously embarrassed itself through needlessly bungling the issue is now common knowledge. Mandatory cremation of Covid-19 dead was a sound scientific decision. It was just yesterday (March 8) that 9NEWS, the national news service of the Nine Network in Australia, reported Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Chris Lease revealing at a press conference held the day before (March 7) that a ‘very strong positive’ COVID-19 sample had been detected in Adelaide’s wastewater and that in response to this South Australia had been put on coronavirus alert. Doesn’t this suggest that Sri Lankan experts’ initial caution regarding possible contamination of groundwater was correct and still remains valid? Mandatory cremation (condemned as ‘forced cremation’ by vested interests) was not politically motivated to hurt the feelings of a particular religious community. 

The ad hoc use of plots of land on the edge of environmentally sensitive forest reserves for rural poverty alleviation in these hard times is a process that must be strictly supervised by state officials and utilized by a properly informed, responsible civilian population with the least environmental impact. This need not be a basis for attacks on the government. Of course, it is absolutely necessary to protect the forest reserves from endless encroachments in the future by unscrupulous elements. It is the authorities’ responsibility to turn the local beneficiaries of the concession into committed environment protectors. This can be done by injecting into them a dose of patriotism. Issues relating to the development of important sea ports with or without foreign collaboration, and the findings and recommendations of various commissions of inquiry appointed to look into bank scams, political victimizations, and the Easter Sunday attacks of April 21, 2019, etc., should be dealt with as national issues that should not be politicised or mishandled inviting detrimental foreign intervention in our domestic affairs.    

One Response to “Opposition’s Silly Hullabaloo over the Final Report of the PCoI”

  1. Gunasinghe Says:

    It is good analysis. Now looking at SLFP members reluctant to believe My3’s incompetent is one of the major reason for the Easter Sunday attack. Listening to Dayasiri Jayasekera make me sick. All these opportunist SLFP members in the process of destroying the current regieme for petty selfish reasons. Another thing people like Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gamanpila acting like jerks. Thees buggers are are trying to score some points is disgusting. It is so clear that some buddhist monks are in the process of bringing down the government. It seems to me BBS has some Norwegian connection. Norway is not friend of Sri Lanka. 2015 Sobitha thero spire headed to defeat MR. Currently, some of the monks are knowing or unknowingly behaving like dirty politicians. Any government can not run the country according to each and every persons opinion. In fact most snaga opinions are self centered and does not make any sense. I hope they preach damma instead of getting into absurd politics.

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