The Tamil National Alliance(TNA) is now directing its anger towards Northern Province Council(NPC) Chief Secretary Ms.Wijiyaludchumi Ramesh instead of Northern Governor GA Chandrasiri as it did earlier.
The TNA despite winning 30 of the 38 seats of the Northern Provincial council seats at elections held on September 21st 2013 has been unable to ensure the smooth functioning of the new provincial administration so far. The TNA which earlier blamed Chandrasiri –described as a “military governor by it- for this situation is now re-directing its wrath against the NPC Chief Secretary Ms. Wijiyaludchumi Ramesh in this respect.
TNA Jaffna district MP and accredited spokesperson Kandiah Premachandran alias Suresh addressing a media conference in Jaffna on January 18th 2014 strongly articulated his view that the democratically elected Northern Provincial Council was unable to discharge its functions efficiently due to the conduct of chief secretary R.Wijiyaludchumi. Elaborating further Suresh stated that Ms. Wijiyaludchumi who had been appointed as chief secretary at a time when the elected council had not come into existence should have voluntarily tendered her resignation after an elected dispensation took over so that the democratically elected chief minister CV Wigneswaran could appoint a person of his choice for the post.
Instead of resigning gracefully the chief secretary was not only refusing to depart but also obstructing the chief minister and board of ministers in discharging their duties efficiently thereby disrupting and undermining the elected provincial council charged Premachandran. Continuing to level charges, the TNA spokesperson accused the Ms. Wijiyaludchumi of not implementing decisions taken by the board of ministers or following up on resolutions passed by the Provincial council. The chief secretary was refusing to submit to the authority of the chief minister and board of ministers he further stated.
The TNA Jaffna district MP also accused the chief secretary of not submitting a report of expenditure incurred by the Northern provincial council for the past three years as requested by the chief minister Wigneswaran. Furthermore Ms. Wijiyaludchumi had also failed to table an interim budget estimate in the council as required.This had caused problems in formulating a budget for the council.
Suresh Premachandran also stated that the chief secretary and other secretaries should have been present in the council throughout the budget debate proceedings of the council. But Ms.Wijiyaludchumi and other secretaries had not done so. After marking a token presence at the council sessions on the first day the chief secretary and others has kept away from proceedings thereafter. This was an act of brazen violation of established norms.
Premachandran who is also leader of the TNA constituent party the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front(EPRLF)went on to allege that Ms. Wijiyaludchumi had been appointed chief secretary by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the recommendation of Risad Badhiutheen ,Cabinet minister of Industry and Commerce.In return for being recommended for this post by Wanni district MP Badhiutheen,the chief secretary had allocated around 700 to 800 million rupees for the benefit of returning Muslim IDP’s in Mannar district alleged Premachandran.
The TNA spokesperson went on to explain that despite several allegations against Ms. Wijiyaludchumi the TNA had hitherto refrained from criticising her publicly or demanding that she quit.This was because she was a woman and also in view of the fact that she held a high post.The TNA had expected that she would resign on her own but she was not only refusing to do so but also defying and disobeying the elected chief minister, ministers and council. Therefore the TNA has no choice but to come out openly and express criticism of the chief secretary explained Premachandran.
Though TNA leaders had been uttering remarks critical of the chief secretary for quite a while this official press conference by its accredited spokes[erson amounted to an open declaration of war. As if on cue ,Premachandran’s public critique of Ms. Wijiyaludchumi Ramesh was followed by a media onslaught on the chief secretary.Several media organs amidst the global Tamil diaspora have begun attacking her very viciously.If she was criticised as a puppet of Governor Chandrasiri earlier the charge by Premachandran about the influence of Minister Badhiutheen in her appointment paved the way for a new angle.Much of the fresh media attacks were on a low,personal level about her alleged Badhiutheen link.
The low media attacks on Wijialudchumi are aimed at creating an intolerable situation where the chief secretary to avoid the vicious slander would simply throw in the towel and quit.Besides fuelling vilification of the chief secretary the allegations stated by Premachandran also send out an ominous signal to Ms. R.Wijiyaludchumi.The references to Minister Badhiutheen and the allocation of funds for returning Muslim IDP’s convey a veiled threat that the TNA will vigorously pursue action regarding these accusation and bring about her removal on charges of professional misconduct if the chief secretary refuses to vacate voluntarily.What is implied here is that the matter would be dropped if Ms. Wijiyaludchumi quits on her own.
The public criticism of the Northern chief secretary by the TNA’s official spokesperson is illustrative of a more serious malaise. It shows that the glimmer of hope discernible on January 2nd 2014 when President Mahinda Rajapaksa met with Northern chief minister CV Wigneswaran has now been darkened by the clouds of confrontation.The optimism generated then that the imbroglio affecting the Northern provincial council would cease has now evaporated. What is worse is that another round of political confrontation around the chief secretary issue between the Govt and TNA seems imminent.What led to this sad situation ?
Chief minister C.V. Wigneswaran accompanied by Tamil National Alliance (TNA) National List MP and lawyer M.A. Sumanthiran met the President at 12.30 pm on Thursday January 2. Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Cabinet Secretary Sumith Abeysinghe and Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundara also participated in the discussions held at “Temple Trees”.
Various issues and problems were thrashed out at the cordially-conducted meeting. As was customary, President Rajapaksa lent a receptive ear to Wigneswaran’s woes. The Chief Minister raised several matters described as “impediments to the effective functioning of the Northern Provincial Council’. Among these were issues such as “the appointment of key officials, the provision of required finances and enabling the Provincial Council to exercise the powers currently devolved under the Constitution and moving beyond to make devolution meaningful”.
Before the meeting with the President the TNA was training its guns on the Northern Governor Chandrasiri saying that he was primarily responsible for the failure of the Northern provincial council to get off the ground. The chief secretary was also criticised but to a lesser extent. She was depicted as a puppet of the Governor only. The Governor was painted as the main villain.If Governor Chandrasiri was removed all else would fall in line was the TNA assertion.Besides the removal of the Governor was a major demand on the TNA platform during the election campaign.
When the issue of removing the governor and replacing him with a civilian official was raised President Rajapaksa agreed in principle to a civilian official being appointed but stated unambiguously that General Chandrasiri could not be removed at the present juncture. Earlier he wanted to change the Northern governor along with a few others as part of a general reshuffle but the situation was now different.Pointing out that by raising public demands and politicising the issue the TNA had created a situation where removing Chandrasiri alone at this point of time could create a controversy the President refused to oblige the TNA as it would be exploited by elements opposed to the govt.
President Rajapaksa however suggested a viable compromise. He said that Chandrasiri had been appointed Governor for a five year term on July 12th 2009.His term of office was due to expire on July 11th 2014. Since there were only six more months for this to happen,President Rajapaksa said that it would be better for everyone concerned to wait until July instead of creating a controversy by demanding an earlier removal.Therefore the President said Chandrasiri will be Governor till his full term ends.
Disappointed on that issue, the chief minister then raised the matter of chief secretary. Wigneswaran wanted Ms. R. Wijiyaludchumi to be replaced by S. Thiruvakaran who was currently the chief minister’s secretary and also Secretary of the Ministry of Local Government, Cooperative Development, Industries, Social Welfare and Lands.Thiruvakaran who was born on December 30th 1964 had entered the Sri Lanka administrative service on 19th April 1991.He had been promoted to class 2 of the SLAS on 19th April 2001 and to class 1 on July 1st 2005.
While discussing the matter further President Rajapaksa said that he was always prepared to respect the wishes of the elected chief minister and queried the reasons for Wigneswaran’s objection to ms. Wijiyaludchumi. The chief minister replied that she was not cooperative and was acting hostile to him.Citing an example chief minister Wigneswaran said that recently he had compliled a list of appointments and transfers of provincial council officials and given it to the chief secretary for implementation. The chief secretary had rejected his list on grounds of alleged administrative impropriety.
President Rajapaksa then responded by saying that the elected chief minister’s say in these matters should be respected.He had then stated that he would go into the question of replacing Wijiyaludchumi with Thiruvakaran favourably and instructed his secretary Lalith Weeratunga to go into the matter and take appropriate action. Secretary Weeratunga had then said he would do so within two days time.President Rajapaksa had left Sri Lanka later on a trip to Jordan,Palestine and Israel.
When news about Wigneswaran meeting the President was reported in the newspapers many in the TNA were taken aback as it twas sudden and unannounced. TNA parliamentarias and provincial councillors who met in Vavuniya on December 24th 2013 had discussed the issue of TNA leaders participating at meetings with President Rajapaksa. The majority were of the opinion that there should be no meetings with the President until the UNHRC March sessions in Geneva were over.So the January 2nd meeting with the President created shock waves within TNA folds and supporters from the Tamil Diaspora.
In a bid to quell the uproar the TNA hierarchy was compelled to project the meeting with the President as a success. A spin was put on the issue of the removal of Governor Chandrasiri. Instead of admitting that President Rajapaksa rejected the demand to replace Chandrasiri the TNA stated that agreement had been reached to permit Chandrasiri remain till his term of office was over.Thereafter a civilian governor would be appointed.The TNA also announced that chief secretary R.Wijiyaludchumi would be replaced by their choice K.Thiruvakaran immediately.
The removal of the chief secretary was now portrayed by the TNA as a great victory. Finding it impossible to effect any replacement of Governor Chandrasiri as demanded earlier the TNA now abandoned Chandrasiri as the ‘‘enemy’’ and instead began targeting the chief secretary. Since a decision to remove her had been apparently reached the TNA once again resorted to cheap ‘‘gallery politics’’ to depict it as a great victory.In order to enhance the magnitude of the projected victory and also justify the campaign against Wijiyaludchumi the extremist Tamil media started vilifying the chief secretary.Thus the new enemy was now the chief secretary and not the Governor.
Then came the next phase of anonymous attacks which the pseudo-nationalist Tamil elements are famous for. Ms. R.Wijiyaludchumi began receiving several intimidatory telephone calls demanding that she quit her post immediately.Some other ‘‘warriors’’ from abroad also sent her death threats via SMS.Extremist elements adhering to principles of ‘‘tigerism’’were snarling and growling at what they thought was easy prey.Governor Chandrasiri was perturbed by the threats on the chief secretary and a Police investigation was ordered. Special protection was also provided to her.
The TNA going public with the information that they had demanded the removal of the chief secretary and that it had been granted was as usual one more blunder committed by the party.This act was perceived by many in the Sri Lankan administrative service as an affront on one of their esteemed colleagues.They resented the fact that a political party was seemingly victimizing for political reasons a top govt servant working faithfully .The threats and intimidation made the situation worse.
Thus on January 9th the Sri Lanka Administrative Service Association SLASA) convened a press conference at the Mahaweli centre where Ms. R.Wijiyaludchumi was present. According to news reports the SLASA accused the NPC administration of intimidating its Chief Secretary and other officials.
“SLASA officials said the NPC Chief Secretary was under heavy pressure from the NPC administration to support its agenda. The SLASA which expressed serious concern over the developments in the Northern Province warned that such interference could cause an adverse impact on the country’s post reconciliation process.The Association has called for the immediate intervention of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Northern Province Governor Major General G.A. Chandrasiri to end the intimidation of the Chief Secretary”.
“The Chief Secretary of Northern Province Ms. Vijaialudchumi said that she was receiving death threats by way of SMS from abroad and phone calls from unknown elements who wanted her and other Sri Lanka Administrative officers in the Council to vacate their positions immediately to enable the ruling party to have their favourite officials”.
“She said that public officials in provincial councils and the line ministries have no peace of mind when carrying out their duties due to political elements in the ruling party interfering in their duties. She said that their primary duty was to protect the interest of the State and ensure that no person misuses or misappropriates public wealth. She and her fellow officials of the Administrative Service had given their utmost cooperation to the members of the Northern Provincial Council within the rules and regulations of the country, she said”.
The “Sunday Observer”of January 12th 2014 in a news story quoted Public Administration and Home affairs minister WDJ Seneviratne on the matter.Here are some relevant excerpts –
“Public Administration and Home Affairs Minister W.D.J. Seneviratne said that the Chief Secretary Wijaialudchumi Ramesh has not done anything wrong and that she has acted with responsibility based on the guidelines of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service.”
“Minister Seneviratne said there is no necessity for his ministry to take action as this is a disclosure of threats received by a Government official and the police has already taken steps in this regard. She disclosed this to safeguard her life and duly informed the police. The Public Administration and Home Affairs Ministry Secretary had also inquired about this from the police. At present she has been provided security by the police, the Minister said”.
“Minister Seneviratne said when Wigneswaran assumed office as the NPC Chief Minister, the Chief Secretary had worked closely with him and the Provincial Council administration. Now they level allegations that the Chief Secretary does not cooperate with them. Information has also been received that some foreign organisations affiliated to the pro LTTE Tamil diaspora are also behind the move to remove the NPC Chief Secretary from her post”.
The SLASA facilitated press conference and the remarks of Minister Seneviratne showed clearly that the replacement of Ms.Wijiyaludchumi was not going to be an easy task as the TNA envisaged. It was no longer a matter related to the Northern governor issue alone. The matter had now received national prominence and it was blatantly clear that the highly influential Sri Lankan administrative service was firmly behind their beleaguered colleague.Moreover minister WDJ Seneviratne’s observations indicated that the issue was now being viewed as that of resistance to Diaspora dictated extremist agenda calling for her removal.
There were also other developments. According to informed sources Presidential secretary Lalith Weeratunga had dutifully followed up instructions from the President to look into the replacement of Ms. Wijiyaludchumi with Mr. S. Thiruvakaran.When the matter was deeply scrutinised it was revealed that the chief secretary had been well within her rights in refusing to adhere to chief minister Wigneswaran’s instructions in appointing and transferring administrative personnel.Apart from amounting to violation of certain administrative guidelines and norms, the implementation would have amounted to a political “purge”. Officers regarded as faithful to the state would have been replaced by TNA loyalists with ultra-nationalist opinion.Complicating the situation further was the negative report received about Mr.Thiruvakaran over his suitability for the chief secretary post.
Under these circumstances it was obvious that Ms.Wijiyaludchumi was not going to be removed or replaced at this juncture. The TNA seemed to have once again botched up a simple exercise.However the party was not going to accept this hence the “official” declaration of war against Ms. Wijiyaludchumi. The press conference by TNA spokesperson Suresh Premachandran is a forerunner of a savagely intense anti-Wijiyaludchumi campaign.
The current hostility towards Ms. Wijiyaludchumi also evokes a sense of déjà vu. The chief secretary is the grand daughter of respected Tamil lawyer,politician and statesman Sir Waithilingam Duraiswamy. He contested the Kayts constituency in the State council elections of 1936 and was elected unopposed. Sir Waithilingam was elected speaker of the State council in 1936 and held that office until the dissolution of the State council in 1947. He was knighted in 1937 by King George the sixth.
One of Sir Waithilingam Duraiswamy’s sons and uncle of Wijiyaludchumi was former diplomat Yogendra Duraiswamy who contested Kayts in 1977 and lost .He was later appointed by JR Jayewardene as Government agent of Jaffna. The Tamil United Liberation front(TULF)which won all 14 Northern province seats in Parliament was firmly opposed to Yogendra Duraiswamy. The attacks on Yogendra by TULF leaders and by the party tabloid”Suthanthiran” were many. The nasty attacks ceased only after Yogendra Duraiswamy was replaced by civil servant Devanesan Nesiah in 1981.Against this backdrop it appears that Wijiyaludchumi who is the daughter of Yogendra’s brother Thevendra is going to be targeted by the Tamil ultra-nationalist lobby as in the case of her uncle.
Wijiyaludchumi who graduated from an Indian university is a Grade I officer of Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS). She has worked as AGA at Kandawalai, Asst. Secretary of Provincial Public Administration, Director of Social Welfare, Asst. Secretary of Ministry of Education, Asst.Secretary of PPSC, Commissioner of Local Govt. Department, Director of Rural Development, Secretary of Provincial Public Service Commission, Secretary of Ministry of Local Government, Deputy Chief Secretary of Administration, Secretary to the Governor and as Secretary of Local Government Ministry.She was appointed chief secretary of the Northern provincial council on 8th December 2012.Ms. Wijiyaludchumi was married to a Police officer Ramesh who passed away a few years ago. She signs her name as R. Wijiyaludchumi.
When Ms. Wijiyaludchumi was appointed there was no elected chief minister but now there is one and the most appropriate thing was for her to tender her resignation after the election. But in this instance such a course of action was not followed due to the unnecessary politicisation of the issue by the TNA. Wijiyaludchumi in a sense was caught in the crossfire between the Governor and chief minister. However the reality is that if a chief minister does not want someone as chief secretary then that person has to go.There may be delays but a chief secretary who does not enjoy the confidence of an elected chief minister cannot continue functioning in that post indefinitely.
The important aspect lost sight of in the frenzy surrounding the chief secretary removal issue is the future of the person holding that office. If the chief secretary is to be replaced the incumbent must be given a parallel posting within the province. If such a posting is unavailable then an alternative posting of less status could be given with the proviso that all perks and privileges afforded currently be retained.If the chief minister is opposed to that person holding office in the province then alternative postings in other provinces or under line ministries in Colombo must be provided.In a worst case scenario there is always the Public administration “Pool “.What is necessary here is a flexible accommodative approach and not rigid hardline positions.
According to the law a chief secretary of a provincial council has to be appointed by the President with the concurrence of the chief minister. “Concurrence”is a two-way street and not a one-way street.Just as the President must appoint someone as chief secretary with the chief minister’s concurrence the President also must concur with the chief minister’s choice of chief secretary.Basically the appointment of a chief secretary must be undertaken in a spirit of cooperation and not confrontation. Both the President and chief minister must concur with each other.As long as genuine “Concurrence”remains elusive, the crisis will continue.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org