IGP urged to take responsibility: Frmr. Defence Secretary

Former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando says he had not been on good terms with former President Maithripala Sirisena in the lead up to the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Testifying before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing Easter Sunday attacks, Fernando also noted that there had been mistrust between them.

The former President attempted to coerce former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara into claiming responsibility for the entire travesty and resign with the promise of an ambassadorial role and other privileges, Fernando said further.

Giving evidence before the panel for the third day on Friday (18), Fernando said: “Every report given to me by the State Intelligence Service (SIS) was limited to mere information devoid of any analysis. There is no course of action that can be taken based on such information. They are required by the Police, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), and the Counter-Terrorist Investigation Division. What I should receive is analysed information.”

The PCoI then asked the witness if he had informed former President Sirisena of the lack of proper conveyance of information, to which the former Defence Secretary responded in the negative. “I did not attempt to inform the former President of it, since the capacity to understand it or to explain it any further was not there.”

When the members of the Commission asked the witness if he underestimates the former President, he replied: “Not underestimate. People who were present during a certain meeting, at which I made a controversial remark, had lied to the President. Afterwards, there were no direct links with me citing a lack of trust. One cannot work if there is no cordiality between the line minister and the secretary.”

The PCoI asked Fernando if that uncertainty prevailed until the Easter Sunday terror attacks and if it was a cause for the slip up in security matters.

“It was rife and it escalated day by day and did not reduce. As the Secretary, I took numerous important decisions. On each occasion, the President shouted at me and changed them; I had to face 25-30 incidents like that,” the witness responded.

The Additional Solicitor General then questioned Fernando as to why the former President was not given the forewarning of an attack, to which he replied that he could not believe for a single instance that former SIS Director Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena did not inform the former President of the forewarning.

“They were that close. On most instances, reports of the Director of State Intelligence were given to the President by Nilantha himself before. In any case, it was Mr. Maithripala who appointed Nilantha as the Director of the SIS. Owing to the political differences which arose following the constitutional crisis of 2018, the SIS became a political police. During that time, the prime focus of the SIS was to spy on political matters and give information.”

The former Defence Secretary then went on to make a controversial revelation. “I went to meet with the President on 24 April. By then, the President had told Pujith Jayasundara: ‘Pujith, take responsibility for this and resign, and I will get the Malalgoda Committee Report altered. Don’t you worry, you will be given your pension and privileges and be given an ambassadorship in a suitable country’.

“However, Pujith Jayasundara had not agreed to the proposal made by Maithripala Sirisena. I asked the President as to who was responsible, whether it was Nilantha, Pujith, or I for not informing him, as stated by him. I told him that it was Nilantha who worked closely with him. Then the President fell silent and looked down. I told him again not to keep a secretary from speaking at least for 10 minutes; if that happens, this Ministry cannot function and that I’m resigning. I asked him to at least let my replacement meet with him and speak for half an hour each day. My integrity is in question owing to what he said addressing the nation. I said that and left after paying my respects and conveyed my resignation.”

The Chairman of the PCoI then asked the witness if Nilantha Jayawardena had informed him of an attack on the night of 20 April, to which he responded in the affirmative. “Yes. Nilantha sent me a message via WhatsApp. It said an attack could happen within the next 24 hours. At that time, I told Nilantha to discuss with the IGP. When I contacted the IGP, I was told that he was in the process of informing the DIGs.

The Commission then asked him as to why this piece of information was not conveyed to then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe or then State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene. Fernando said: “Mr. Maithripala Sirisena had prohibited speaking with both of them, asking not to even attend a meeting which they participate in.”

The PCoI subsequently asked the witness to clarify the comments he made to the media after the attacks, where he said there was knowledge of an attack but did not think it would happen to a larger extent. “I was tired by then after being without sleep for around 48 hours. I cannot recall what was said to foreign media at that moment,” the former Defence Secretary responded.

The statement made by Fernando to foreign media near St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade, aired by Ada Derana, was then played before the Commission.

“We cannot see the 48-hour tiredness he was referring to. You look to be fresh when answering,” the PCoI said.

The former Defence Secretary’s response was that he became fresh since he was angered by the questions.