No reasons to object to Marapana’s appointment – GL

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By 2017-08-24

BY PANCHAMEE HEWAVISSENTI

The newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs Thilak Marapana said recently that allowing foreign judges to investigate alleged war crimes committed by the Sri Lanka Armed Forces during the final stages of the war is against the domestic legal system. Contrary to Marapana's statement, Sri Lanka agreed at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March 2017 to co-sponsor the Resolution 30/1, which facilitates the establishment of a transitional justice mechanism to address the issue of accountability.

Professor Peiris agrees with Minister Marapana's statement that allowing foreign judges to investigate domestic affairs is unconstitutional. Professor Peiris criticised the irresponsible behaviour of the government, especially when it comes to its foreign policy, saying that the government arrives at decisions in relation to foreign affairs without any forethought and squirms in its folly later on.

Professor Peiris, who held the portfolios of Justice and Foreign Affairs in former governments, in a conversation with Ceylon Today expressed his views on challenges the present government is confronted with, particularly with regard to its foreign policy.

Following are excerpts:

? What is your view on the newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs?

A: My view on the present Minister of Foreign Affairs Thilak Marapana is that he is a person who is held in high esteem. He is a qualified and respected professional. He served as the country's Attorney General and is also a President's Counsel. As far as his personal credentials are concerned, we have no reasons to object to the appointment of Marapana as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Nevertheless, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is obliged to carry out the policies of the government and its foreign policies are hard to agree with by the citizens of this country. Pleasing of the foreign elements is in the pivot of the present government's foreign policy.

Foreign investors are provided with concessions and other benefits which the local entrepreneurs are deprived of. The government has to comply with the terms and conditions of International Monetary Fund (IMF), which are detrimental to the country's economy, in order to obtain loans.

The present government has no respect for the local elements. What is foreign is emulated and the local aspects are looked down upon.

The newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs is sure to encounter challenges as he is required to operate within the framework that is touted by the government which lacks prudence.

? Foreign Affairs Minister Marapana's statement on the involvement of foreign judges in probing the alleged war crimes of Sri Lanka's armed forces is quite contradictory to what the government has agreed at the UNHRC sessions? Would you like to comment on this?

A: The Sri Lankan Government agreed to allow foreign judges into the probing of alleged war crimes committed by the Sri Lanka's armed forces during the final stages of the war. The government co-sponsored the Resolution 30/1 which was adopted by the UNHRC on 1 October 2015. So, the Sri Lankan Government undertook the commitment of allowing the Common Wealth and foreign judges into the process of probing into alleged war crimes. With regard to the statement issued by the new Minister of Foreign Affairs a question arises as to how a minister in the government can repudiate the formal obligations which was solemnly accepted by the Government of Sri Lanka in an international forum such as UNHRC.

Although the new Minister of Foreign Affairs said it is unconstitutional, a question arises how the government has agreed for an obligation which is against the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

The High Commissioner of the UN, legislators in the Parliament of Britain, the Tamil Diaspora and the Tamil National Alliance complain that the government has not delivered on its pledges as agreed at the UNHRC. By co-sponsoring the recommendation, Sri Lanka willingly came forward to implement them. Now the international elements exert pressure on the government to deliver on pledges and if the government fails to implement them, sanctions will be applied.

This is a recurring fault of the government. The government rushes to arrive at decisions precisely not having thought of the repercussions it has to encounter. Once the government realizes that it has made a mistake, it attempts to extricate it by dodging the responsibility.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein at a press conference in Geneva stated that his report on Sri Lanka is unique. There has never been an intrusive discussion to this degree of the domestic affairs of any other country. He admitted that they would be breaking new grounds. So, if you look at the resolutions passed by the UNHRC and the reports of the office of the High Commissioner, you can learn that what they have identified as domestic issues. Devolution of power, the role of the armed forces in the Northern and the Easters Provinces of Sri Lanka, repealing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, modification of Public Security Act, issues relating to constitutional reforms etc. A question arises here so as to Sri Lanka is going to submit all these to the judges of foreign origin.

UN High Commissioner himself remarks that this has never been the case with any other country. The present government's lack of vision has resulted this scenario. No country with self respect would acquiesce to the developments of this nature. This is our complaint against the government.

It does not necessarily mean that Sri Lanka should not maintain ties with any foreign country and be isolated in the modern world. There is a difference between friendship and servility. The government agreed to allow the foreign judges without any forethought and have realized the folly later on that it is unconstitutional and is now squirming in its folly.

? The government has signed the gazette notification assigning the National and the Developmental Lotteries Boards back to the Ministry of Finance under whose purview it is supposed to operate. Any guess why the former Minister of Foreign Affairs wanted irrelevant institutions under his ministry?

A: Assigning of the institutions like National and Developmental Lotteries Board to a Ministry like Foreign Affairs is a downright ludicrous act. Prior to Ravi Karunanayake entering into the scene, the Lotteries Boards were assigned to the Ministry of Finance.

Everyone knows that Ravi Karunanayake left the Ministry of Finance with reluctance. The government transferred the Lotteries Boards to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a special gift to him when he was leaving the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Generally, when the ministers are transferred, institutions that belonged to the ministry do not get transferred.

Although President Sirisena has declared repeatedly that transparency and professionalism is assured in assigning subjects to the ministries, it is observable that some of the subjects were assigned to certain ministries in a most unscientific and unmethodical manner.

We are baffled so as to what can the rationale be behind assigning Lotteries Boards to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Transferring lotteries boards back to the Ministry of Finance raises a question as to why the lotteries boards should be assigned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when Karunanayake is the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The country knows what the answer is.

Notwithstanding, Karunanayake did not assign these subjects to himself. In accordance with Sri Lanka's Constitution, allocating subjects to ministers is a sole and exclusive responsibility of the President of the country. It is President Sirisena who should be answerable to this.

Executive Presidency is required to be a strong institution and the President is expected to make independent decisions in the national interest. A question is raised with regard to the authority of the Executive Presidency when a minister pressurizes and demands the President to allocate totally inappropriate subjects to his ministry and if the President succumbs to that pressure.

? You once held the portfolio of Minister of Foreign Affairs. What is your comment on the competence and eligibility of the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in handling the affairs of Lotteries?

A: I do not think any official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is claimed to have competency over handling affairs pertaining to the lotteries board. In accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, the Chief Accounting Officer of a ministry is the Secretary to the Ministry. He is responsible for all accounts and financial matters of the ministry.

During my tenure as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Secretary to the Ministry was Romesh Jayasinghe, who was a competent and respected official. Although Romesh was an able official who could handle the matters pertaining to foreign affairs, he did not possess any knowledge with regard to the affairs of lotteries.

Had I been asked to deal with lotteries as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, anyone hardly can expect me to be adroit at it.

? Is that the reason why the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Esala Weearakoon expressed his reluctance to remaining in his position?

A: Esala Weerakoon precisely does not claim to possess competence over the affairs of lotteries. He rendered a yeoman service to the country as the High Commissioner to India. He is an exemplary professional.

How unjustifiable it is to expect Esala Weerakoon to be dexterous in handling lotteries. If anything goes wrong, he as theSecretary to the Ministry who has to be held responsible. Esala wanted him relieved of the duties of the ministry when he was required to deal with lotteries boards. He was subsequently sent to another ministry.

Situations of this nature are highly unfair by the honourable and competent officials. The act of ministers of using the competent public officials to work in accordance with their agendas is highly reprehensible.

? How ethical it is for Thilak Marapana to accept the portfolio of a minister as he once stepped down from a portfolio due to his alleged involvement in the Avant Garde case?

A: Resignation of Thilak Marapana and Ravi Karunanayake fall under two different scenarios. Ravi Karunanayake was involved in financial crimes and he had to step down from the portfolio. The witnesses at the President's Commission testified the relationship of Karunanayake with the alleged Treasury Bonds scammers.

Thilak Marapana was never alleged for personal dishonesty. The reason for Marapana to leave the Cabinet was that there was an allegation relating to a conflict of interest. The only allegation was that under professional capacity as the President's Counsel Marapana had appeared for Avant Garde. Since, there was an inquiry going on with regard to Avant Garde, he would have thought it is improper for him to remain in the Cabinet due to the conflict of interest. That is an ethical principle.

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