(Full Text of Letters Sent by Prof.Rajiva Wijesinha M.P. to President Maithripala Sirisena on January 13th 2015 after being appointed State minister of Higher Education and on February 10th 2015 giving Notice of resignation.Prof. Wijesinha who was one of the original group of Govt MP’s to cross over with President Sirisena has subsequently crossed back to the opposition third row from the side of the treausury benches. The letters are published here in order “explain” the circumstances of Dr.Wijesinha’s cross over)
January 13 2015
Thank you for appointing me to the State Ministry of Higher Education. It involves work I will enjoy, and I will try to fulfil the commitments and the principles in your manifesto as best possible in the next 100 days.
However, in accordance with the practice you set yesterday, in taking up office, of speaking straight, I thought I should express too my sense of disappointment that I am not a member of the Cabinet.
This violates the commitment in the manifesto that there would be a Cabinet consisting of representatives of all parties in Parliament. In this regard I believe that Mr Radhakrishnan too might feel disappointed, and I hope remedial action can be taken in his case too.
I was the more disappointed in that I have been the only member of the previous government who expressed the need for reforms over the last couple of years.
The Amendments I proposed to Standing Orders would do much to help with accountability and re-estabishment of the basic principles of the Westminster system. It was a pity the Hon Speaker did not even allow them to come before the house. Sadly, other parties in Parliament were not at all interested.
The Liberal Party was also the first to break ranks with government and come out in support of Your Excellency’s candidature. Our proposals to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Reform also foreshadow many commitments in your manifesto.
Though we are a small party, we were the first to point out, in the eighties, the need for checks and balances, and our understanding of political principles and practice elsewhere is unrivalled. We cannot understand therefore why, given the pressing need for reforms, our expertise and commitment will not be used.
On another matter, I notice that the Cabinet does not seem to lay stress on Human Rights and Reconciliation. We failed to move swiftly on these in the last five years because no one had specific responsibility for these vital areas. I hope that you will look into this matter and ensure progress.
The suggestions I made as Adviser on Reconciliation to the President, before I was dismissed, may be useful in this regard.
Finally, I must express my disappointment too at the fact that the Hon Vasantha Senanayake, the first to propose a constitutional amendment to limit the size of the Cabinet, and the first individual to leave the government after the Presidential election was announced, is only a Deputy Minister.
His courage and talent and commitment should be used, and will prove invaluable to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party when you are in charge of the Party. I would urge Your Excellency therefore to reconsider the matter and empower him to implement radical changes on behalf of our rural people.
Your Excellency noted the contribution of his great-grandfather in your inaugural address, and a subject close to their hearts such as Rural Development, including Value Addition and Entrepreneurship Training, neglected in recent years, would give better rein to his abilities.
I look forward to hearing from Your Excellency, and perhaps discussing these matters, when the current very busy phase is over.
February 10th 2015
I am writing to tender my resignation from the position of State Minister of Higher Education. When the appointment was made, I discussed with you my disappointment that I had not been made a Cabinet Minister. This was in violation of the commitment in the manifesto that the Cabinet would consist of representatives of all political parties in Parliament. But both Mr Radhakrishnan of the Upcountry People’s Front and myself from the Liberal Party had been left out.
Nevertheless I took up the task since I felt I had much to contribute in the field of Higher Education. However I have long realized that it is not possible to work effectively if one has lost the confidence of those in authority. Initially I assumed that I was working directly under you, and was content. But then it was announced that Mr Kabir Hashim had been appointed Cabinet Minister of Higher Education, in addition to his other portfolios of Highways and Investment Promotion.
I did not object then because I believe that Mr Hashim is one of the more honourable people in politics and also comparatively able. He also told me, when we first spoke on the subject, that he wanted me to take full responsibility for work in Higher Education, since he would be busy with the forthcoming election. He also added that he assumed I would also be responsible for Vocational Training.
However subsequently he told me that the Prime Minister had wanted this area kept with him. That too would not have been a problem. But I found that meanwhile he was issuing instructions to my Secretary without informing me.
First, he asked for information about appointments by the Ministry in the last few months as well as information about the usage of vehicles. I suspect this is for political purposes, but I would have not objected. However, as I wrote to him, it was unethical for the request to be made to the Secretary of the State Ministry without the Minister being informed.
Subsequently, again without keeping me informed, it transpired that he had asked for the resignation of the members of the University Grants Commission. Previously, before I was aware that he was the Cabinet Minister, he had suggested that vacancies should be given to UNP academics who had suffered under the previous government. I told him I thought any vacancies should go to non-academics who understood the need for social relevance in the university system. Though he did not demur, I suspect that he has now subscribed fully to the belief that appointments should go to political supporters. This may also explain the determination to keep Vocational Education under him, since a number of bodies in that field need to be reconstituted.
I believe a coalition government is necessary at this stage, but it must be a genuine coalition of those members elected through the UPFA who support Your Excellency as well as the UNP. I did not respond positively to the request of Mr Senaratne that I support your candidature, nor did Mr Vasantha Senanayake and myself, who had been pressing for reforms from within the government, come unhesitatingly to the press conference at which your candidature was announced, in order to entrench a UNP government.
Though the UNP has much to offer with regard to economic discipline, I believe this country also needs the commitment to social equity exemplified by the two great leaders you mentioned in your Inaugural Address, Mr D S Senanayake and Mr S W R D Bandaranaike. Unfortunately, from the seventies onward, the party of the first moved towards simple capitalism and the belief that the trickle down effect of economic growth would be enough to satisfy the social aspirations of our people. Contrariwise, the SLFP sank into an extreme form of state socialism, just when the rest of the world realized this did not work.
I believe subsequent leaders of the two parties did try to move towards a median position, but they have not been able to conceptualize this, and it is not well understood by many of those they have chosen to exercise Executive powers in Cabinet. I had hoped however that, under your Presidency, we could develop a coherent politics of moderation, an ethical approach to governance, and effective systems that are not subject to personal prejudices or predilections.
The manner in which the Cabinet Minister of Higher Education has completely sidelined me indicates that we should not be complacent, and that constant vigilance is needed. I should not therefore continue in my present position. But I shall be happy to continue to serve in government if you appoint me to the Cabinet so that I can function effectively. But if the Prime Minister and Mr Hashim believe they can handle university and vocational education on their own, I would be happy to serve in a different area such as Human Rights and Reconciliation, which requires concerted action at this state.
In particular, instead of reinventing the wheel, we should adopt the draft National Policy on Reconcliation which I prepared with the assistance of two of the finest Parliamenarians we have, Mr Sumanthiran and Mr Eran Wickremaratne, as well as representatives of Civil Society. We should work more coherently on implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, which was drafted when I was Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights. And we should adopt the Bill of Rights, also drafted during that period, after I reactivated the Committee set up under the Chairmanship of Mr Jayampathy Wickremaratne in accordance with the pledge in the 2005 Mahinda Chintanaya.
But I may also be able to serve you better through working to build up the UPFA. This was the grouping through which many of us who supported your candidature early on, such as Mr Hunais Farook and Mr Radhakrishnan and Mr Senanayake and myself, were elected to this Parliament. If the UPFA accepts the request for an agreement which the Liberal Party has made, perhaps I could contribute towards rebuilding it as a force for moderation, able to work constructively with the UNP without permitting the restricted vision of that party to dominate your government.
I would be grateful if my resignation could be effective only from February 17th, since I have made some appointments I would like to keep. I would also like to submit draft Cabinet Papers on the establishment of a Universities Press of Sri Lanka and on providing useful skills to students in the period now wasted after public examinations. If you approve, you could ask the Cabinet Minister to take these ideas forward. But I shall of course be happy to vacate office tomorrow if you feel this would be more appropriate.