Editorial/Opinion

The heat is on

Exactly a week ago in these very columns we predicted that a big fat can of worms was about to be opened. Well that prospect has now come to pass and its stench has reached all corners of the country, including the highest office in the country.
President Maithripala Sirisena is no doubt reeling from the battering he received from the ousted IGP and former Defence Secretary, who dropped bombshell after bombshell while making their submissions before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) appointed to probe the Easter Sunday attacks. The President is understandably fuming at the probe committee and its method of operation, calling it a witch hunt against him.
Ironically, at a hurriedly convened Cabinet meeting on Friday evening, the President insisted on disbanding the probe committee but neither denied nor offered any response to the startling allegations made by the two former defence strongmen. For, if what the former Defence Secretary and IGP are claiming is untrue, all the President has to do is to say so. But no such denial has been forthcoming other than the crude, ill thought out attempt to stifle the ongoing probe. His other contention is that the probe committee revelations may endanger national security.
The fact of the matter is that it is the people of this country that demanded a proper probe in the first place to identify those responsible for the security lapses as everyone in authority including the President himself, kept passing the buck. It is this people’s call for a probe that manifested through the people’s representatives in Parliament. Therefore, if the President has an issue with what is being revealed by the witnesses, he should do what any normal citizen of this country would do by seeking recourse to the law. Instead of doing this, he now wants the whole committee thrown out, lock, stock and barrel.
One salient point that needs to be emphasised is the fact that the breakdown in the defence apparatus at the very highest level only occurred after the illegal sacking of the Government in October last year.
Going by the evidence presented by witnesses before the select committee so far, indicates that the President purposely crippled the smooth operation of the National Security Council by leaving out key individuals including the Prime Minister, State Minister of Defence, and even the IGP subsequently based on personal political animosities.
It was further alleged that instead of relying on the IGP and Defence Secretary for intelligence updates, breaking all known protocols, the President had relied on a DIG who he considered a faithful lieutenant.
Having got off scot-free after wrecking the economy as a result of the political coup orchestrated by none other than himself, the President is now attempting to move heaven and earth to vindicate his actions and non-action as Commander in Chief, Defence Minister, and Minister of Law and Order.
Our prediction that this latest political battle is going to get as ugly as it possibly can is already coming true with both sides, the executive and the legislature, digging in their heels for a prolonged firefight. The outcome of which may well shape the contours of the presidential poll due later this year.
What is intriguing is that it is this same President that went hell for leather by appointing a special presidential commission to probe the Bond Scam, a commission to probe the activities of the national carrier after 2015, and also another commission to investigate and report on corruption since 2015.
No one in his right mind should have a grouse with the appointment of these probe committees and exposing the misdeeds of the high and mighty, but what is wrong is the belittling of the appointment of the PSC to probe the Easter attack, the fallout of which dwarfs the other losses. This is in terms of loss of lives, damage to property and the economic carnage that was caused.
For instance, the loss from tourist arrivals alone which plummeted overnight by nearly 90%, will dwarf the losses caused by the Bond Scam and others. Which is why a proper investigation on the failure of the defence apparatus which hitherto has not taken place, is a must in the national interest.
The President’s contention that a separate probe is unnecessary since the deposed IGP has already filed a fundamental rights petition, smacks of mischief as the court is not an investigative arm but only sits in judgment of what is presented before it.
The President’s issue it seems is that the heat generated from the parliamentary probe revelations is too close for comfort. As a result, a huge battle of wits is on the cards between the executive and the legislature as to who will blink first, but whichever way that goes, there is no way the President can absolve himself from accepting responsibility for the systemic security failures since last October.
That does not mean that the supine UNP Government can absolve itself of the collective responsibility of ensuring the security of all citizens of this country. As a government, it is duty bound to pull up any Minister, State Minister, or for that matter, the President himself, if it becomes apparent that national security is being compromised through their action or inaction.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet of Ministers cannot simply wash their hands claiming they were not invited to crucial defence meetings when it was their business to be sitting at those meetings invited or not.
If they were prevented from doing so as publicly claimed now, the least they could have done was to bring it out into the open over a period of six months.
It is said that a terrorist needs to be lucky only once, while a government needs to be lucky all the time to prevent an attack. It is entirely possible that NTJ Chief Zahran was privy to the dysfunction in the defence establishment and may well have capitalised on this.
Given the enormity of the damage caused, heads have to roll but now that the two gentlemen, handpicked as the fall guys, are firing back even after being promised ambassadorial positions in return for their silence, is bound to open a whole new can of worms.
If anything has to stop, it is the blame game and certainly not the PSC which has made headway in finding out where the buck must stop.