No cause to panic that LTTE will raise head again – DEFENCE SECRETARY KAPILA WAIDYARATNE PC

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By 2017-09-24

WITH RAVI LADDUWAHETTY

The position of Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has always been a coveted one in independent Sri Lanka. It was once held by eminent members of the now defunct Ceylon Civil Service (CCS) when the Ministry was known as Defence and External Affairs (DEA) until 1977.

The first Secretary of the DEA in independent Sri Lanka, was Sir Kanthiah Vaithianathan KBE CCS, a member of the Senate and Minister of Housing and Social Services.

The second was Sir Velupillai Coomaraswamy, CMG CCS who was also a diplomat. Some of the others were, M.S.P. de Silva Jayaratne who was Ambassador to Washington during the tenure of US President John F. Kennedy and G.V.P. Samarasinghe CCS who was former Permanent Secretary to the DEA in the Dudley Senanayake Government and later Secretary to President J.R. Jayewardene's Cabinet. Neil Quintus (N.Q.) Dias, CCS was also former Permanent Secretary of Defence and Foreign Affairs and the Registrar General. He also served as Ceylon's High Commissioner to India from 1970 to 1972. Gunasena de Soyza CMG OBE who was High Commissioner for Ceylon in Britain from 1960 until his death, was an eminent CCS member and Secretary to the DEA. Eminent CCS member WT Jayasinghe, who was Secretary to the DEA in the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Cabinet was later Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the JR Jayewardene Cabinet.

With the advent of the UNP Government in 1977, there was a tendency for military personnel to hold that coveted position. The first was Colonel C. A. Dharmapala, followed by General Deshamanya Don Sepala Attygalle (also former Army Commander, founding Chairman of Airport and Aviation Services [Sri Lanka Ltd] and High Commissioner to London), Joint Operations Commander, General Cyril Ranatunga and Lieutenant General Hamilton Wanasinghe (also Army Commander).

There have been a few civilians and some military personnel like former Elections Commissioner Chandrananda de Silva, Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS), Austin Fernando SLAS, Cyril Herath (former IGP), Major General Asoka Jayawardena and Lieutenant Colonel Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

However, this is the first occasion in independent Sri Lanka that a legal luminary has been appointed to the post and that is, former Solicitor General, Acting Attorney General and President's Counsel, Kapila Waidyaratne.

In his first interview with the media since his appointment, here he is, in conversation with Ceylon Today the (Sunday Edition):

Q: You are the first legal luminary to be appointed as a Defence Secretary in independent Sri Lanka's history, with your predecessors being either very eminent civil servants or high ranking armed forces personnel. What are your sentiments?

A: It is a matter for conjecture as to whether I am a legal luminary or not. I have served the Attorney General's Department as a State Prosecutor for 34 years. I had a break for five years, working as a civil servant in the international tribunal. I was Senior Additional Solicitor General until I was invited to take up the position as Defence Secretary.

Q: How you see the transition and paradigm shift from Senior Additional Solicitor- General to Defence Secretary?

A: There is a big difference between the two. However, my experience as a State Prosecutor is quite helpful in serving as Defence Secretary.

Q: Did you have an affinity for politics, given that your father Norman Waidyaratne was Deputy Speaker of Parliament in the J. R. Jayewardene Government of 1977-1989?

A: My father was the MP for Balapitiya and was later Deputy Speaker. I was close to my father's political affairs at the time I was in school at S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia and later at Sri Lanka Law College. But, after I joined the Attorney General's Department, I divested all my political connections. I had no involvements with politicians and politics as State Prosecutor.

Q: Now to some core issues; This Government released 5000 acres of land held by the Army to civilians, as soon as it came into power. There is a further 5000 acres which are to be released to civilians with proof of deeds. What is happening there and is there a current impasse?

A: The transfer of lands which have been held by the Army began with the previous Government and the process is on-going. But the figure of 5000 acres is wrong.

Q: The 'Aava' Group in the North is supposed to be involved in a lot of crime and have shot people in the middle of the road. How do you see this and what preventive action are you hoping to take?

A: The fact that people are being shot in the middle of the road is totally wrong. There has been only one sporadic instance like that.

I would not like to comment on that, as investigations are on, and that is sub judice. The rule of law is in operation. However, to say that there is a lot of crime is totally incorrect. The suspects of the Aava Group have been taken into custody. Legal proceedings are going on, and action has been taken.

Q: It is not that these situations are not prevalent in other countries, but there is regulation and management. What new courses of action do you hope to take?

A: There is no need to take preventive action and the law will take its own course as there is a rule of law operating in the country. There have been a few sporadic instances, but it is not as widespread as perceived.

Q: Even after the end of the war, the Defence Ministry budget is still the highest. Why?

A: It is true that the war is over, but the Armed Forces need expenditure for strategic reasons that the Government has in mind.

Q: What are the new developments to warrant that kind of expenditure?

A: Even with the war over, the tri-services are engaged in humanitarian work like providing flood relief. There are other community based services such as the prevention of dengue, involving over 7000 troops. The procurements in the future will be only for what we need as key replacements. We must also realize that eight years have passed since the end of the war and we need equipment to suit modern trends. Sri Lanka is in a strategic location in the Indian Ocean which is why we should equip the Navy well. The Air Force is also involved in border controls and rescue operations.

Q: There is speculation that the LTTE is trying to raise its ugly head again. Are you ready for any eventuality?

A: The Government, the MoD and the Armed Forces are prepared. Right now, the focus of the government is rehabilitation. Whoever is in government would consider these matters very seriously. But, there is no cause for panic at all in any quarters.

Q: The Sri Lanka Army, especially in the 1970s and well before the war, were productively used for development like agricultural farms. What is the position now, with the war over?

A: The Armed Forces will continue development activities, while maintaining the dignity of the men. They are heavily involved in the UN Peace Keeping process. There are other community based commitments as well. The Navy is involved in search and rescue operations. There are issues with cyber crimes to deal with as well.

Q: There is an inflow of drugs such as Kerala Ganja to Sri Lanka by sea. What arrangements have you made in this regard?

A: The Navy is very seriously involved in the detection and combat of drugs such as Kerala Ganja. We take all the precautions not only in the North but also in the Southern seas as well.

Q: What were the highlights of the recent Defence Seminar that was held and what were the lessons learnt?

A: The theme of the conference was on extremism and the global issues surrounding it. I must congratulate the Army Commander and the other two Armed Forces for having organized a very successful seminar with over 40 countries participating. The respect that the Defence Attaches of various countries had for the Sri Lankan Armed Forces was very high after the conference. They were pleased that Sri Lanka had not only come out of a war but handled the post-war operations very successfully. Sri Lanka's image as a hospitable nation was also helped by this conference.

Q: What are the government's plans for illegal immigrants?

A: The government will take very serious note of this and will do everything within its ambit to stop it.

Q: What is happening to the MIG Aircraft deal for the Air Force which was supposed to be from Pakistan first and then India?

A: There is no final decision taken on this. But, whatever acquisitions made would be in line with the best practices and procurement guidelines issued by the government.

Q: There are also complaints and protests that some of those affected by the Salawa tragedy have not been compensated. Why?

A: It is also a matter of strange coincidence that this matter was brought up at a sectoral meeting on Thursday. The group that met involved no less than Secretary to the President, Austin Fernando. I also met those affected, the last time they protested and they dispersed after I gave them a firm assurance that all their grievances would be addressed. There was one man who was late for the meeting and Mr. Fernando listened to him very attentively.

Q: There was a recent protest by disabled members of the Armed Forces. Why?

A: We would also like to invite the media to show the true picture of what is really happening. A majority of payments in terms of their salaries, gratuity and compensation had been made even before I took over. I would say they have been held in high regard.

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