‘There is absolutely no discipline in this country’
- Sarath Weerasekara says military training will impose strict discipline on all citizens
By Dinitha Rathnayake
In some nations, military service is voluntary, and citizens may either opt out of signing up for military service, or choose it as their career. In other nations, there is a conscription system, also known as a draft. A draft is where a group of people must sign up for mandatory military service, but would not report for duty unless they are called to serve. Other nations have mandatory military service, where all citizens, or the select group concerned, must mandatorily serve their country. Some nations have a combination of these systems.
For example, males in South Korea are required to complete 21 months of national service in the Army, 23 months in the Navy, or 24 months in the Air Force. In Switzerland, military service is compulsory for men between the ages of 18 and 34. Military service is compulsory for 18-year-old men in Brazil, and the service lasts between 10 and 12 months. Men and young, unmarried women in Eritrea are required to undertake 18 months of national military service. Military service is mandatory for all Syrian men, while it is also compulsory for men and women in Israel, according to BBC.
Recently, Minister of Public Security Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara stirred a hornet’s nest by proposing to make military training mandatory for Sri Lanka’s youth, especially as it came as international and local voices have raised concerns about what they perceive to be an increasingly militarised Sri Lanka under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The Morning interviewed Weerasekara, who was appointed a Cabinet Minister in late November, to discuss the need for and wisdom of this proposal, as well as his two months in charge of Public Security.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
Considering that there have been concerns expressed both within and outside Sri Lanka that your Government is increasingly militarising Sri Lanka, do you think this is a good time to make such a proposal?
The opposition’s interpretation of this proposal is wrong. This is not militarisation. This proposal is about leadership training for school-leavers. The objective of presenting such a proposal is to create a more disciplined and law-abiding society in Sri Lanka. This is still a personal request made by me, and not a Government decision. Introducing such a programme will boost self-confidence among the people and develop leadership. According to my knowledge, the Sri Lanka Army is the only facilitator equipped to conduct such a high-capacity training programme. This is the reason I billed this as military training.
The troops have assisted disaster management at a national level in every instance, so why would people oppose military training? There is no need to fear military training. It is through military training that a person will be able to stand strong, and build personality and leadership skills. Military training will ensure that we have law-abiding, disciplined, and responsible citizens.
There is absolutely no discipline in this country. From 20 December last year up to now, more than 100 people have died on the road without adhering to road rules, and more than 180 have been reported permanently disabled. This proves that there is no discipline in society. Hence, we must provide military training for young men and women above 18 years of age. This is why I will table this proposal in Parliament.
Don’t you think that there should be a separation between civil society and the military?
In the military we also have civilians, but much more disciplined than normal citizens. I cannot understand why people try to maintain a separation between these two segments. Militarisation is something that happens through law enforcement officers, but that is not what I am talking about, not a military rule as such.
This is a democratic country, but the civilians should be disciplined. If a society lacks discipline, it would lead to mayhem and anarchy. Strict discipline must be imposed on all the citizens in a country. The prevention of crime comprises strategies and measures that seek to reduce the risk of crimes occurring, and limit their potential harmful effects on individuals and society, by instilling in them a fear of committing crimes.
Do you think only military personnel should exist in Sri Lanka?
Due to the war, 29,000 soldiers died and 14,000 were disabled. Now Sri Lanka is one of the most peaceful countries in South Asia without any conflict. I firmly believe this is why we have to be grateful to all our heroes who sacrificed their lives in order to protect our lives. We need to stop being ungrateful and hypercritical against the military, and stop trying to exclude them from society. Sri Lanka’s military is playing many roles in the Covid-19 battle, from contact-tracing to running quarantine centres, which we need to appreciate.
What are the specific activities that would be part of this training programme?
This leadership training widens thinking abilities to help leaders think in innovative and creative ways, helping them in decision making, personality development, and self-defense. We are also considering giving them a wide knowledge of history, resources, and law enforcement in the country. This programme will develop certain areas like self-awareness and development, interpersonal interaction, group dynamics, civic responsibility, communication, strategic planning, and personal behaviour.
What is the duration of the course?
It will be a maximum of four months.
What is the age group?
18-year-olds who pass out from schools will be ideal for this programme, to build a proper foundation for their early life, and so far, even though this is a proposal, we are already getting sponsorships for this programme. We have also received positive feedback from people who appreciate this initiative. Nobody should fear the idea of military training.
It is with military training that a man can learn to stand up straight and look a person in the eye. It builds personality, and instills leadership qualities, respect for the law, discipline, and a sense of responsibility. These are the expected outcomes. Nobody should be apprehensive of it. The proposal is to mandate military training for young people, both male and female, but not to specify an upper age limit.
Were you inspired by someone to implement something like this?
I was inspired by my parents and school to create such a proposal, and also by countries like Singapore and Thailand, which have put this into practice.
How does a country benefit from such training?
Disciplinary processes serve a number of important functions, and especially change the behaviour of the public to make them responsible citizens.
Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka opposed your proposal, saying: “Assume training is provided to everyone between the ages of 18 and 26; approximately 3.5 million Sri Lankans fall under this category, so it will cost the Government Rs. 75 billion.” What is your response?
Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka is a good Army officer, but he is an unsuccessful politician. Party people call him as “wel widane”. Field Marshal Manekshaw from India was well recognised for his work and remembered by everyone. We will show Field Marshal Fonseka how we do this. I ask him not to interfere, and I don’t take into consideration what he, Harin Fernando, or Manusha Nanayakkara have to say.
When and how is this going to be implemented?
It is too early to comment on that, and it is up to the Parliament to decide on it.
What if people say no to this proposal?
We will implement this programme with the people who agree to do this.
Has President Gotabaya Rajapaksa commented on this proposal?
Not yet. But the President does not oppose our personal ideas.
What are your views on the negative reaction to the decision made by you to publish photos and descriptions of criminal suspects?
The whole purpose was to make the people aware of these people’s faces and details, so that they would be prevented from committing such crimes in the future due to the fear or shame. Anyone can dial and complain on 118. On that, we have strong teams and vehicle facilities and the mechanisms in place to catch criminals in the event of a crime. The main aim of this exercise is to deter such perpetrators, as their identities would be known by the public and they would be named and shamed.
My responsibility is to create a society free of crime, where people can live without fear or suspicion. Even if the suspects aren’t wrong in the eyes of the law, if he or she is wrong in the eyes of the people, they should be punished. However, I need to clarify that the pictures would be published only if the suspects are convicted as criminals, and not as mere suspects. In the face of objections by lawyers, etc., I decided to publish photos of only the criminals who were convicted by the court.
Are you satisfied with the work you have done after being appointed the Minister of Public Security?
What are your future plans?
To ensure a society free from fear and suspicion for all Sri Lankans. To achieve this goal, we need to eradicate the underworld, drugs, child abuse, abuse of women, extortion, and abductions from Sri Lanka. The Police Department and the Civil Defense Department have been given the responsibility of creating a society free of fear and suspicion. These departments are administered by us. It is our duty and responsibility to increase the morale of the people in these departments. 119 and 118 will be strengthened with more facilities, vehicles and manpower. We are also working on implementing trials at bar proceedings to hear cases on crimes such as child abuse and rape.