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Predicament of anex-president

2 years ago

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Maithripala Sirisena once famously boasted that he used all of his vast political acumen, spanning 40-plus years, to secure the presidency in 2015. In hindsight, it can be inferred that the acumen he refers to is in fact the art of deceit he seems to have mastered over the years. This is the poser staring the nation in the face today in light of the questions being asked on whether his actions in those five years were based on personal benefit or the causes he was purportedly fighting for in the context of what has been transpiring at the ongoing Presidential Commission of Inquiry probing the Easter Sunday attacks.  At the time Sirisena secured the Opposition nomination as its common candidate, he was sitting pretty as Health Minster of the then Mahinda Rajapaksa-led Government. Therefore, the announcement came as a huge shock not only to the rank and file of the United National Party (UNP)-led Opposition, but also to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)-led Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which saw Sirisena as the reincarnation of the biblical Judas, having made the announcement of his parting soon after having his last supper of hoppers with the then President. Having secured victory in January 2015, owing to the support of the common Opposition while his own SLFP voted en masse for the incumbent President, it didn’t take long for Sirisena to prove himself to be a misfit in the role. From the word go, he failed to understand the fundamental purpose for which he was put in that chair. Soon enough, it became clear that he was more a court jester than a politician of any principle or substance. Having assumed leadership of the SLFP by default on assuming the presidency, he paid little heed to its founding principles. So much so that he was a conspicuous absentee at its Founder’s Day commemoration last week. Today, it is becoming increasingly clear with the evidence being revealed before the Presidential Commission inquiring into the Easter Sunday attacks that Sirisena has more to answer for than what initially met the eye. He is becoming increasingly isolated with his own chosen appointees in the former defence establishment pointing the finger at him as the individual most responsible for what took place on Easter Sunday 2019. What is shocking, according to the evidence presented before the Commission so far, is that Sirisena is reported to have specifically instructed the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) of the Police, headed at the time by DIG Nalaka de Silva, to drop its investigation into the extremist activities of the National Thowheed Jamath and hand it over to the State Intelligence Service (SIS), which in itself is not an investigation unit. It has been claimed that Sirisena was regularly briefed on the activities of this organisation, but for reasons best known to him no action was taken on the ground to put a stop to them, leave alone arresting the head of the outfit who had by then been identified for his extremist ideology and hate speech. If this was not bad enough, things took a turn for the worse following Sirisena’s arbitrary decision to sack his own Government and issue specific instructions to the defence establishment not to keep the then Prime Minister, State Minister of Defence, and even the IGP abreast of certain developments. As a result, these individuals had not been invited for Security Council meetings ever since, according to witness accounts. It has been reported that the Former President and Defence Minister even glossed over the multiple intelligence warnings of an imminent attack and did not think twice about leaving the country on a private visit days before the attack without even appointing an acting minister to oversee this critical subject. It also transpired before the Commission of Inquiry that Sirisena had subsequently allegedly made overtures to the IGP to take responsibility for the security failings with the assurance of being “looked after” with an ambassadorial post. What is intriguing is the fact that Sirisena, in an unprecedented move, chose to personally “observe” the proceedings of the inquiry even as the IGP made his controversial revelations from across the hall. We do not know whether Sirisena’s presence was intended as an intimidatory tactic to silence the IGP, but the fact of the matter remains that the top cop has stood by what he said. In an effort at damage control, the former President then hastily issued a press release disputing what the IGP had said, only to see him land in more hot water. He was subsequently summoned before the Commission and severely reprimanded to desist from such action which was perceived as being in contempt of the Commission. Three Catholic Bishops who followed Sirisena in issuing a press release based on proceedings before the Commission were also reprimanded on the same grounds. The no nonsense attitude of the Commission must be commended. Given what has already transpired, it begs the question as to what exactly Sirisena was playing at given his lethargic, non-committal attitude in the job as described by witnesses that resulted in colossal damage not only to life and property, but the country’s image as a whole, which will take years to rebuild. The mandate of the Commission of Inquiry is to find out if there was any lapse on the part of the government in preventing the attacks and if so to identify those responsible for the lapses. The Commission, for its part, has gone much further and deeper into the matter than any of the other commissions that were appointed by the previous administration for the same purpose, which offers some sort of hope and consolation to the hundreds of victims, some of whom are still nursing physical wounds while thousands of family members of the victims will forever suffer with the mental scars. Meanwhile, in an interesting development last week, Minister Prasanna Ranatunga had a chilling message for those who may be found guilty of negligence in general and for former President Maithripala Sirisena in particular. Ranatunga went on record stating that if Sirisena is found guilty of negligence or wrongdoing with regard to the Easter attacks, he will be punished irrespective of whether he supports the Government or not. He went one step further and accused Sirisena of supporting the Government for his own protection. Given this state of play, Maithripala Sirisena must surely be a worried man these days. What is at stake here is not just justifying the relevance and existence of yet another presidential commission, but the establishment and strengthening of the premise that all who hold public office will henceforth be held accountable for their actions and/or inaction and will have to face the consequences. It will go a long way in rebuilding public trust in the individuals, institutions, and Government itself in executing the duties and responsibilities thrust on them through the people’s mandate. It goes without saying that when the example is set right at the top, its effects will trickle down to the lowest rungs and that cannot be a bad thing in a country struggling to discipline a bureaucracy that has long been used to passing the buck. This Commission will define where the buck stops and therein lies the positive aspect of all the negativity associated with that dreadful Easter Sunday.   

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