Editorial/Opinion

Disunity among political leaders continue

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…” said well-known English historian, politician, writer, and ardent liberal far ahead of his times – John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, first Baron Acton, (1834-1902), in relation to the contemporary political atmosphere of Victorian Era Great Britain.

However, a majority of Sri Lankans still reeling from the unspeakable carnage and savagery of the Bloody Easter Sunday bombings of 21 April, who expected nothing but the bare minimum in terms of democracy and rule of law by bringing in the United National Front (UNF) regime into power, are left devastated, disgruntled, and disgusted.

The leader of Sri Lanka’s 1.5 million-strong Catholic community – His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith – who on 30 April sent shockwaves by saying that in the event the government doesn’t take strong actions, the people would take the law into their own hands, dropped another bombshell when he said that Sri Lanka had become a pawn in global geopolitics.

Be that as it may, after the Bloody Easer attacks that took the lives of more than 250 innocent people on 21 April, the Cardinal’s calls for restraint and love proved that the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka is indeed a beacon of hope.

Yet, the local prelate infuriated by Government’s apathy and indifference, roared that if civil authorities don’t find the perpetrators and put them on trial, Sri Lanka risked the community taking justice into its own hands.

“I want to state that we may not be able to keep people under control in the absence of a stronger security programme,” said the Cardinal. “We can’t forever give them false promises and keep them calm.” The prelate urged the Government to “implement a proper programme in order that the people don’t take the law into their own hands”.
This week, the Cardinal yet again reiterated that the wars in the Eastern hemisphere were nothing but innovations of the West.

“There were no major wars on European soil after the First and Second World Wars. However, there had been no wars afterwards in the West. It started with the Korean War then proceeded to Vietnam and then to Afghanistan, to Iran, to Iraq, to Libya, to Syria. We don’t know where it would go next. In order for the great powers in West to sell their arms and ammunition they need wars in the name of the capitalist economy.

Although the West harps about children’s rights, they are the ones who make mines that maim children. Although I call it the Western World, I call it with much shame, because it is connected to Christianity,” lamented the Cardinal.

“However there is no Christianity any longer in the Western World. There are churches but no church-goers. The West has new values now and they are trying to bait us into those value systems. Especially through globalisation and the free market economy, they are trying to take away our freedoms.

There is a dangerous world plan to capitulate the whole world. We know especially that the United States of America has standby naval contingents all over the world to take over any country at any given time. No one can speak against them. This is their hegemony. Therefore, they need to create conflicts in order to sell their arms. They see places where there are differences, amplify those differences and spite one race, one religion against another,” he pointed out.

“We have been two communities living in harmony for centuries. The two races which were brothers killed each other. This is purely because of them (US),” lamented the prelate.

The Cardinal charged that the Mossad (national intelligence agency of Israel) were training both the Sri Lankan Army as well as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on how to use the weapons manufactured by the West.
“The foolish Sinhalese and Tamils were killing each other whilst enriching them. We borrowed from international donor organisations which were part of the West. So we became poorer and they became richer. I believe that the ISIS is a peg in this. It is wrong to implicate Muslims in this. Islam does not allow this. This is a religion that emphasises peace and brotherhood. Their standard greeting is ‘As-Salaam-Alaikum’ meaning ‘peace be unto you’ and in return the response is ‘Wa ‘alaykum Salaam’ translating to ‘and peace unto you too’. Peace is the cornerstone of this religion. As such, this is not an issue with Islam. This is part of Satan’s plan to sell more arms through international terrorist outfits. This is the challenge before Islam. They have a responsibility not to allow this extremism,” reiterated the Cardinal.
“In the immediate aftermath I understood this underlying situation. That’s why I appealed to Catholics to not lift your hands against the Muslims because it is not the Muslims who are behind this.”

Fighting radicalisation

An expert on Islamic terrorism, retired US Army Reserve Col. Dr. Lawrence Sellin who served in Afghanistan and Iraq with wise expertise in special forces, infantry, chemical, and medical services, in an interview with Sri Lanka Guardian on the prevailing threats by the extremists and the Easter Sunday attack in Sri Lanka, stated that the country needed to implement a three-pronged approach (instead of the current single-pronged approach) consisting heightening national security, tighter involvement of the Muslim community, and greater collaboration with the international community to fight terrorism.
“Primarily, I recommend heightened national vigilance, maintaining contact with responsible members of the Sri Lankan Muslim community and close cooperation with international partners dedicated to the reduction of Islamic extremism. Radicalisation is the first step in the recruitment of violent jihadis, where the monitoring of social media has an important preventative function as well as the adjudication of local grievances. International connections and the movement of suspects involving terrorist financing, training or links to the intelligence services of facilitating nation-states are of equal importance.”
Dr. Sellin confidently said that there was a nexus between global drug trade and terrorism financing.
“There is no doubt that Islamic extremists use drug trafficking and other criminal activities to support their violent operations. It is a means to an end. The Easter Sunday attack was ideological, not a response to Sri Lanka’s actions to prevent illicit drug sales. If anything, the bombings should motivate the Sri Lankan authorities to undertake greater efforts to block that source of terrorist financing.”
“I think Sri Lanka is aware and increasingly wary of China’s debt-trap diplomacy. Of course, the US does not wish Sri Lanka to become overly dependent upon or obligated to China. Any concerns that the US may harbour, however, could be easily resolved through normal discourse within the context of the decades of friendly relations between the US and Sri Lanka.”
He dismissed the notion that ISIS was an innovation of the US and that the US was privy to the Bloody Easter bombings.

Adding fuel

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in the face of a mounting anti-government campaigning, decided to visit the Mahanayakes of the three sects in Kandy last Thursday (9) to brief the religious leaders on the actions being taken to safeguard national security while moving to revive the country’s economy that has been dealt a severe blow by the Easter Sunday attacks.
After meeting with the mahanayakes of the Malwatte and Asgiri chapters as well as the chief prelate of the Ramanna nikaya, the Prime Minister returned to Colombo to attend Parliament.
After returning to Colombo, Wickremesinghe, upon being questioned on the outcome of the discussions with the mahanayakes, told United National Party (UNP) seniors that he had held a frank discussion with the prelates.
The Premier said that he had explained the Government’s plan on getting the country back to normalcy.
The UNP seniors opined that certain members in the Opposition were not allowing the situation to ease and continued to add fuel to the fire. They added that most campaigns by the Opposition are targeted at alienating the minority communities from the UNP.
Leader of the House, Minister Lakshman Kiriella noted that while United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MP Piyal Nishantha, who made false claims that 11 forces personnel were killed in the East, had to only give a statement to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), three individuals who were arrested while trying to post letters containing an article published on a website were still being held behind bars.
The Prime Minister responded by saying that the country’s laws permit the President and Prime Minister to be criticised verbally or in writing. “Besides, if the translation and distribution of an article viewed the world over on a website is considered an offense, even the President will have to give evidence in courts,” he has said.
The group of UNP MPs then discussed how the controversial copper factory that is believed to have been used by the Islamist extremists had received support from the Presidential Secretariat while the controversial university being built in the Batticaloa District had also received presidential approval.
However, the Prime Minister and the rest of the UNP MPs agreed that it was essential that the country stands united in order to move forward.
“We must continue with our development programmes as planned,” the Prime Minister has said.
The statement by international expert on terrorism, Rohan Gunaratne, that 95% of terrorism has now been wiped out and that there should not be any fear to return to normalcy should be taken into heart, the Premier has added.

Cabinet on power crisis

Amidst the continuous crackdown on Islamist extremists by the law enforcement authorities, the Cabinet of Ministers met last Tuesday (7) morning at the Presidential Secretariat under the patronage of President Sirisena.
The issue of emergency power purchases had figured at last week’s Cabinet meeting as well.
Power Minister Ravi Karunanayake had the previous week requested for Cabinet approval to purchase 400 MW of power from a Turkish floating power plant. Ministers Mangala Samaraweera and Patali Champika Ranawaka opposed the move at that Cabinet meeting.
However, the matter was taken up last week as well.
Karunanayake said the country would face a power crisis if approval was not granted to his proposal and that he could not be held responsible for such a crisis.
Ranawaka once again opposed the move, saying there were errors in the process.
“First, it was 100 MW, then it became 200 MW, and now it has become 400 MW. A committee comprising five engineers was appointed to look into this issue. The committee has asked to follow procurement procedures for this,” he has said.
The Minister further explained that although a unit is to be purchased at Rs. 26, it is the Government that would have to bear the taxes. The price of a unit would then be Rs. 39.
However, Karunanayake claimed that it was still cheaper to purchase power from the floating plant and that failure to do so would result in power cuts.
Ranawaka vehemently opposed the proposal.
“Please remember that all of you will have to respond to these issues one day. You won’t be in government forever. Keep that in mind,” he charged.
Nevertheless, Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said that it was cheaper to purchase 400 MW of power as proposed by Minister Karunanayake.

SLFP-SLPP pow wow

Meanwhile, the fourth round of talks between the SLFP and SLPP on the formation of a broad political alliance was held at the Opposition Leader’s office last Thursday morning.
The SLFP was represented by Party Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekara, MP Thilanga Sumathipala, and Prof. Lakshman Piyadasa, while Prof. G.L. Peiris and Jagath Wellawatte represented the SLPP. MP Dullas Alahapperuma, who usually participates in the meetings, was not present at Thursday’s meeting. Alahapperuma had excused himself from the meeting since he had to attend a wedding ceremony.
The SLFP-SLPP discussion had not been a lengthy one and had been limited to around 30 minutes with the current security situation in the country being the main topic of discussion.
Both parties agreed that everyone should give priority to national security and related issues.
The next topic taken up for discussion was the proposed Counter Terrorism Bill (CTB) presented by the Government. Both parties have agreed that if the Government was making attempts to bulldoze its way with the proposed legislation despite concerns being raised about certain clauses, the SLFP and SLPP would take a joint stand to defeat the bill in the House.
The issue of defeating the proposed CTB was even taken up during a recent meeting between President Sirisena and Opposition Leader Rajapaksa.
After discussing these two issues, the SLFP-SLPP meeting was adjourned and the next round of talks was scheduled for 30 May.

Counter Terror Bill

The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Parliamentary Group met on Tuesday (7) morning at Committee Room 4 at the Parliament, under the patronage of the Opposition Leader.
MP Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero, who was appointed to Parliament under the UNF national list was also present at Rajapaksa’s group meeting along with Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) MPs Dayasiri Jayasekara and Nimal Siripala de Silva.
The main topic of discussion was the two-day debate on the country’s security situation.
The “Joint Opposition” MPs have discussed the low turnout in schools despite the Government’s decision to re-open schools for the second term last Monday (6).
MP Arundhika Fernando said that it was a clear indication of the lack of confidence in the Government. “Attendance was low even at the defence college,” he has noted.
After listening to his group, Rajapaksa had said that the current crisis was not witnessed even during the period of the war.
“Akila (Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam) has asked parents to send their children to school without any fear and that in the event something happens, each child is entitled to Rs. 100,000. This comment has further angered parents,” MP Alahapperuma observed.
The group then discussed the proposed CTB.
MP Susil Premajayantha said that the proposed piece of legislation would result in the country’s destruction. He has explained that it was a dangerous bill citing several clauses in it.
“We must oppose this. This bill is supportive of the terrorists. What needs to be done is to introduce amendments to the existing legislation or else we are opposed to the proposed legislation,” Jayasekara has said.
It is in this backdrop that a group of “Joint Opposition” MPs decided to walk in uninvited to a consultative committee meeting in Parliament of the Foreign Ministry.
MPs Dinesh Gunawardena, Vasudeva Nayakkara, Sisira Jayakoday, Ranjith Soysa, and several others had walked into the meeting and questioned the motives for the Foreign Ministry to present the proposed CTB to Parliament.
Ven. Rathana Thero charged that although he had supported the Government to assume power, it would not be allowed to commit such crimes.
The MPs have continuously questioned as to why the Foreign Ministry was presenting a piece of legislation that should be presented by the Law and Order Ministry.

MS’ conundrum

Opposition Leader Rajapaksa was scheduled to speak on the country’s security situation and the proposed CTB on Wednesday (8) in Parliament.
When he made his way to the Opposition Leader’s Office in Parliament, MPs Dinesh Gunawardena, Gamini Lokuge, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, and several other were already in the office. The discussion immediately started on the country’s security situation.
It was the opinion of the Opposition MPs that every citizen in the country was feeling helpless.
“The two leaders of the country should either join forces or move aside, allowing the people to make a clear decision. There won’t be any other solution to this issue,” Gunawardena has said.
Rajapaksa and the Opposition MPs have then discussed the statement made by President Sirisena in Parliament the previous day (7).
They had noted with dismay, the fact that neither the Prime Minister nor the Leader of the House were present in the House when the President made the statement. Also, the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker had not been at the chair at the time.
“This was not the case during the tenures of former presidents,” the Opposition MPs said.