Executing an Executive order

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By 2017-09-18

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe

Lalith Weeratunga's conviction shocked the entire civil administration and political sector. Many perceived the sentencing as a strong message to the Rajapaksas and their loyalists. However, it is not only the previous administration that should be worried, but also the incumbent.

Already, the Government machinery is working with all the speed and efficiency of a rusted engine for fear of the Financial Crimes Investigation Department that is summoning thousands of civil servants over deeds and decisions of the previous Government.

Finding Weeratunga and Anusha Palpita guilty of, executing an executive Presidential order, without profiting at all from it, might well grind the Government machinery to a halt.

Halt to action

Before this verdict, files got passed from table to table for signature without any willing to put his own signature to approve even the most straightforward action that needs to be taken. Now, even if the President of the country signs, none might execute it and that includes the top civil servant.

Weeratunga is known by all to be an extremely honest, decent, hard working and capable civil servant. He had served not only in the Rajapaksa administration, but also in a host of other distinguished capacities and had won the respect of all. In 2010, notes Wikipedia, he was unanimously elected as the Chairman of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization at its 50th Council Meeting.

Yet, after his conviction it came to light that since retiring as the Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka, which means as the country's top civil servant and de facto head of State, he conducted English tuition classes to help make ends meet. This is a stark difference to the other Secretaries who previously occupied Weeratunga's seat. One son of a Secretary during Chandrika Kumaratunga's tenure from minding a branded shoe shop became an overnight millionaire. He immediately closed shop and went to reside in Australia with all the U.S. dollars, thereby making that country that much more richer. It is not only during Kumaratunga's governance that children of powerful Government servants profited, but regularly, even during JR Jayewardene's times. Weeratunga, as the Secretary to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, played a pivotal role in ensuring peace to our country from 30 years of terrorism.

He was very proud of the role he played too. On numerous occasions, he replayed the scene President Rajapaksa tells the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner that Sri Lanka is no longer a British colony. It was that courageous stand that absorbed the West's opposition against our military efforts to eradicate terrorism from our country. If President Rajapaksa capitulated then, Weeratunga reminded his audience many times, we would still be victims of terrorism.

About a month and a half before Weeratunga was convicted, the incumbent President Sirisena, appointed Austin Fernando as his Secretary. Previously, he held the position of the Eastern Province Governor. It was while he was functioning thus, did Eastern Province Chief Minister Nazeer Ahamed, in his and U.S. Ambassador Atul Keshap's presence, behave disgracefully towards a Navy Officer. Later, Ahamed blamed Fernando for not giving him the respect due to his position and embarrassing him in front of his people that aggravated him and made him to behave thus.

Present Secretary

In a time before, Fernando was the Defence Secretary during the infamous and suicidal 2002 Cease Fire Agreement. At the time, he drew heavy flak for his efforts to appease the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. It was with the help of the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office and the Norwegian embassy that the LTTE got its FM broadcasting equipment to broadcast their clandestine Voice of Tigers openly, islandwide.

Apparently, the then Norwegian Ambassador Jon Westborg received the equipment to save the LTTE from paying any taxes to the Government of Sri Lanka. It was secretly cleared to the LTTE base in Wanni with Prime Minister's Secretary Bradman Weerakoon and Fernando's help. It was alleged by the then Opposition, that the broadcasting station was expected to help promote Wickremesinghe, especially among Tamils, at the next Presidential campaign. Obviously, those who were excited about the new channel to reach out to the Tamils never thought beyond election gains to realize that the same broadcasting station would be promoting racial disharmony and separatism and would even be undermining national security.

Since Weeratunga's sentencing, social media is flooded with images of Fernando shaking hands with the notorious terrorist Soosai.

He had apparently visited the terrorists with a bag of apples. It is further alleged that he had a hand in distributing the watches that had images of both Wickremesinghe's and Prabakaran's faces. The question, who funded these watches, has never come up. The comparison of that image along with his current position against Weeratunga and his current status is certainly making its rounds.

Naturally the turn of events, have left a bitter aftertaste in many.

RI for Sil Redi

The question posed in social media is that if the punishment for distributing cloths for sil is three years rigorous imprisonment with a hefty fine, then what ought to be the punishment for those who engineered the Central Bank Bond scams. Evidence emerging from the Presidential Commission screams of insider trading. The previous Commission too found enough evidence to recommend criminal charges be taken against the perpetrators, but funnily enough that file was declared confidential and then it disappeared.

Political analysts believe that this commission is not to ascertain the truth and bring criminals to justice, but to be used as political manipulation. It is speculated to be the tool to ensure that the current political marriage survives and the United National Party continues to see the incumbent President as their common candidate, even though he is now the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

If the public too discerns a truth in this analysis, an explosive situation can well develop. Already, many venerable monks are organizing the collection to pay the fines set by the Courts. A Facebook post questioned why these monks would mobilize thus when they failed to do so, when a small girl was caught for stealing coconut out of abject poverty.

Today, there is a perception among the people, not necessarily only among the Sinhala Buddhists, but across society, that this Government is taking a stand against Buddhism and those who played a pivotal role in defeating terrorism. At Dr. Nalaka Godahewa's Helidarrauwa book launch, keynote speaker President's Counsel Ali Sabri emphasized the predominant status given to Buddhism cannot even be a debate – it must be as it is. At the launch of Eliya seminar, Rushdhie Habeeb also asked the audience to reflect the times of the LTTE and warned that we are moving back to such a situation by trying to revoke a social fabric of harmonious living which has existed for centuries.

It is at a time when this Government is contemplating of revising Article Nine, imposing a tax on temples, sealing their collection and stopping State patronage to the Poya programmes that Weeratunga and Palpita are jailed for a project that was to promote Buddhism and Buddhist practices in our country. Therefore, many believe it is their duty to come forth in support of these two individuals.

It is similar to the support a number of key monks offered when military personnel, especially those in the intelligence units were detained by this Government. Again, the common interpretation was that this Government is betraying our forces to appease their foreign partners who helped them ascend to power.

Mahinda Rajapaksa too has publicly claimed that the two civil servants were simply following his orders. The website dedicated to answer charges against MR explains the background to this case in detail. It explains that the two were not charged over a financial fraud. They were charged because the monies from the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission were used for this purpose without notifying the relevant committee. The administration of the previous Government, was thus empowered to take such decisions to expedite matters such as these and were done in a transparent manner. This project was undertaken to promote Buddhism as per Article Nine of our Constitution. According to the statistics taken from temples an average of one million devotees observe sil on Poya day. Accordingly, it was decided to give five metres per devotee, paying Rs. 600 per cloth to the supplier selected from the tender process. Thus, the total bill came to Rs 600 million. It was proven in Court that distribution of all these cloths had been satisfactorily concluded.

Funds from the Buddha Sasana Ministry were already allocated to the restoration of temples. The TRC funds were created for these kinds of social work and thus used for this specific purpose. Distribution of the cloths was undertaken by the President's Secretarial Office as the TRC have no mechanism to do so.

This was a project which was started in 2014. However, there were delays in getting the necessary statistics from the temples. Thus, even when the Presidential Elections were on, these ongoing projects cannot be stopped. If it were, then the funds allocated to help those victimized by the floods too could be seen as an election bribe.

Now that MR had explained his side of the story, it behoves on the Government to explain the legal nuances that had these two civil servants sentenced. Otherwise, the public will start reacting to the perceptions that are mounting and be angered. The only winners then would be the regime changers whose only motive was to destabilize our country for their own geopolitical gains.

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