By Gagani Weerakoon
Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in an interview with Ceylon Today said he takes pride in saying that he did everything possible to defeat terrorism in his capacity as the Defence Secretary, even though it resulted in projecting him as an evil human rights violator.
You have previously said that you are ready to contest the 2020 Presidential Election if your two brothers (Mahinda and Basil) agree to it. Have you received their consent now?
A: We have not sat together and discussed it yet. I think there’s more time left for that and it is a bit too early to discuss the 2020 election. President Mahinda (Rajapaksa) will discuss and reach a decision with other parties when the right time comes.
Even though you sometimes imply you are not yet ready to enter fulltime active politics, most of your recent statements are political and often criticizing the government?
A: I think every individual should have a political ideology. I too am politically opinionated and have a political ideology. That is how this country should be governed and on what sorts of policies and principles we should adopt. I sometimes voice my viewpoints on certain issues. They can be political or not, and they can be critical of the government.
Even though you said there is no decision on contesting the 2020 Presidential Election, Joint Opposition members like Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila, Mahindananda Aluthgamage claim that you are the 2020 Presidential candidate. Are they making such claims with your approval and blessings?
A: No. Those are their personal views. Not only these parliamentarians but various others have also expressed the same sentiments. I think any political party will take a serious note on the prevailing political situation in the country when fielding presidential candidates. The best person that particular party or group considers as the most suitable will contest. Likewise, our faction that consists of people who believe in sovereignty of Sri Lanka will decide on the most suitable individual to be fielded as their presidential candidate. Basically, the candidate will be decided, or rather would surface, given the need of the hour.
Don’t you think the process of establishing/surfacing that candidate has already begun?
A: It would be best if the candidacy comes as public opinion and as a demand by the masses rather than my saying, ‘I am the candidate’. At least, this is how I see the proper process should be. In my opinion, the next Presidential Election is extremely decisive. Definitely, an individual who loves this country and who could protect the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unitary status of this country, should be the candidate. He should be able to ensure that life of war heroes is safe. The prospective candidate should be a ‘character’ that could work hard, develop the economy and should be somebody who doesn’t engage in revengeful, venomous politics. Such a character should come to limelight from the masses.
What if by chance that ‘character’ becomes you?
A: If that character becomes me, I defiantly will have to accept it.
You have only worked as a public servant and have no experience as a politician. Do you think people will like to have a Head of State who has not even been a member of a Pradeshiya Sabha?
A: I think so. Not only Sri Lanka, if you look at global politics, people have been rejecting this so-called traditional politicians and are electing those who have never been elected to any governing body, be it a Pradeshiya Sabha or a similar institution. USA elected a person like that as their President. Trump comes under the category you mentioned. People are looking for such characters who are from other fields. I think your political career does not necessarily need to start from the scratch. Anyone who has a fair understanding of politics and being an administrator could become a successful politician or a political leader. The actual problem is when you have done nothing other than politics in your life. One should be employed in public or private sector at one point in your life before becoming a politician.
However, you are a dual citizen and our law doesn’t provide for such individuals to contest. Are you willing to give up your American citizenship?
A: I have to give that up.
Aren’t you going to ally with a group who is accused of various frauds and corruption, when you are contesting?
A: No. It is not like that. What matters most is the policies and ideologies I represent. Anyone can accuse anybody of doing anything. The Western forces always bring two charges against any leader who gives priority to nationalism, culture and traditions of that country. He’s either a corrupt fraudster or an imperialist. This is common anywhere in the world. Spreading those accusations is so easy now through social media. They spread baseless allegations and the mainstream media pick up those. Now, take a look at what this government has charged the previous government with. The so-called massive frauds involve distributing aluminium pipes, carom boards and ‘sil redi’, during election campaign period. Didn’t such things occur right throughout our history? Didn’t any past government engage in such activities? Forget about the past, what did this government do when the election was called and will they not do it if another election is called?
But, that does not lessen the gravity of the charges levelled against you, your family and others in your group?
A: If we robbed, where is that money? Now they say they can’t trace the money. Why can’t they? Now the technology is there and Sri Lanka is having strong dealings with Western countries. There are rules and regulations in those countries where Sri Lanka can easily bring back any money invested or deposited through illegal means. It is not that difficult to bring back illegal money. But there should be solid ground to charge and prosecute. Where is that money? Where are those mansions? Where are those estates? Where are those hotels? These are the allegations the government should prove without manipulating the relevant authorities. How can Cabinet Ministers claim there needs to be an investigation? How come a certain minister claim so and so will be arrested on this particular day? Isn’t it indirectly threatening and intimidating investigation officers? This is what you call a directorship. These are the elements of a Police State.
In a recent statement, you queried as to why the CID or anyone not questioning the then Army Commander, Sarath Fonseka, in connection with Lasantha Wickrematunge’s murder. What was the intention behind that statement?
A: If an incident is being investigated, that should be carried out fairly without having any influence from politicians or any other party.
Are you trying to imply that there are attempts to divert and derail the investigations?
A: I see these investigations going everywhere without being directed at the right path. Now it is clear the finger is pointed at the Military (Army) intelligence for this murder. Military (Army) intelligence directly falls under the Army Commander, but now attempts are made to show that the intelligence unit was not under him (Fonseka) but some other civil servant. Anybody knows that an Army unit cannot be kept under an outsider. Even if you set everything aside, an Army Commander should be responsible for an Army officer or a soldier. If not the Army Commander, who else is responsible!
You were the powerful Defence Secretary at the time. Is it wrong to question you on these issues?
A: I have been questioned by various investigators during the past three years, saying, “you were the Defence Secretary and these things were ultimately under you”. But why these same investigators or anyone does not ask the same questions from Fonseka? Why anyone does not ask him whether he is not responsible for an Army unit? Don’t you think there is something radically wrong there? Isn’t it clear these investigations are being carried out with an ulterior motive? Even though it is said this was carried out by Army Intelligence, even Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (then Opposition Leader) in Parliament at that time this murder was carried out by a different Military unit directly operating under Army Commander.
Murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, assaults on Keith Noyahr, Namal Perera and Upali Tennakoon and the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda took place during your tenure as the Defence Secretary. Are you saying you are not responsible whatsoever?
A: I am not responsible for any of these incidents. But, I had a responsibility to investigate these incidents and find out who were behind these incidents in my capacity as the Defence Secretary and I have fulfilled that responsibility 100%. It was during my period only that most of these investigations were carried out. I had instructed the CID, TID and the intelligence services to carry out coordinated investigations. Those officials have done their best and had unearthed so many crucial leads. Despite having all those evidences only now some try to influence and manipulate these investigations without proceeding on evidences in hand. Why all these investigations direct towards me and stop at me?
Why not those go beyond me? They question me saying I was at the top of the hierarchy. In that case they can even question the President and the Prime Minister now for all those killings happening in the country or on some random case, as they are the highest in the hierarchy.
Your involvement in Welikada prisoners’ murder is also another allegation……….
A: Like I said before, even though I had a responsibility in conducting an investigation on the matter, I cannot be held responsible for carrying out the incident. We should not start investigating an incident from the middle. You should start at the roots. Everybody saw how the inmates were on the rooftop carrying T56 weapons. How did they get hold of those? When an incident occurs first, the Police get involved and if they cannot bring it under control they call the STF. The military gets involved as the last resort. There is a hierarchy which carries out such operations. Since, the matter is under investigation and there is a legal process, I do not wish to talk much on those lines. But who called the Police in, who gave orders for the STF and who called the military? Who was the top commanding officer there? Do not forget there was a line of other people who got involved before the matter reached me. No one speaks about the fact that the STF Commandant who entered Welikada Prison was shot at by the prisoners. I previously had discussions with relevant authorities objecting having T56 in prisons mainly because there are underworld members, murderers and drug peddlers there. Just imagine a T56 going to the hands of one of those fellows? T56 is the primary weapon used by the military. Two inmates escaped with T56 weapons and they have not been found up to date.
But there is a serious allegation against you of embezzling massive amounts of State funds through the infamous MiG deal? Your relative Udayanga Weeratunga who is also accused in this case is absconding law enforcement authorities. Are you not involved in this case as well?
A: In my opinion, this was one of the most transparent deals the military ever got engaged in. The need for MiG crafts was there long before I became the Defence Secretary. Five different committees were involved in handling the deal. The demand came from the Sri Lanka Air Force and there was a Valuation Board to check the feasibility and quality of the crafts. In addition, all the financial negotiations were done by another negotiating committee which was headed by a top Treasury official. Now only I have been called before the FCID and the Presidential Commissions (PRECIFAC). But at least do you (media) know that the Treasury official who headed the Negotiation Committee of the MiG deal and later became the Auditor General of the country was sitting as one of the Commissioners of PRECIFAC? Isn’t it the biggest joke that no one even talks about that? Why only Gotabaya Rajapaksa is being targeted? I see this as a desperate attempt by certain factions to frame me and imprison me.
If you are not involved in any of these cases, why do you go to the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal to prevent your arrest?
A: As a citizen that is my right. I have every right to protect myself from being arrested on wrong grounds. But I have faced all the investigations and appeared before all the commissions and institutions that summoned me. If I feel I am being unfairly targeted, don’t you think I have every right to take action within the law to protect myself?
Why do you think it is only Gotabaya Rajapaksa that is being targeted?
A: Am I the biggest fraudster in this country? Am I the biggest rogue in this country? Am I the person who was involved in all the corruption that took place in the history of this country? But it is against me that the most number of investigations are being carried out, as if I am the biggest culprit in Sri Lanka. But, where are those monies I seem to have embezzled? What are the corruptions I committed? It is clear that no matter what, these people want to somehow target and imprison me – in other words – get rid of me.
Who do you refer to as ‘these people’?
A: There are several of them. Mainly, since I am one of the main people who led the operations against Tamil terrorism, the anti-war faction of the Tamil Diaspora has a primary objective of destroying me. Secondly, those who are scared of me being the 2020 presidential candidate want to tarnish my image. Then there are those who engage in venomous personal vendetta in politics and they too want to see me off.
War is where massive corruption could take place, and I was instrumental in ending the biggest source of corruption. The consequence seems to be my image being tarnished and I am being accused of being the biggest fraudster.
The vote of the minority is decisive in winning a presidential election. Are you confident about winning minority votes?
A: There is no reason for me to not get the number of the minority votes that any other candidate representing the group I represent.
But, you have this projected image of being an evil human rights violator. Don’t you think it is going to affect you?
A: I was a military officer and then I was away from this country for some time. I came to limelight after becoming the Defence Secretary. My main challenge at that time was to defeat terrorism which was prevailing in this country for almost three decades. Most of the sections of this country as well as the international community thought there is no military solution for this problem and that terrorism cannot be defeated militarily. Somebody told me – I still have not read that book though – that it was mentioned in Eric Solhiem’s book that nobody, not even military strategists or even the President at the time didn’t believe that the LTTE could be defeated except Secretary Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Even then there were these NGOs and various groups with various viewpoints, be it liberal or whatever you call them, who thought anybody who talks about war is evil. But,when you are at a certain position with a definite focus on achieving a certain target, you have to do everything possible. You have to talk, you have to act and you have to think to achieve that target, and this does not differ when it comes to ending the war. I was convinced, focused and it was in my heart to defeat terrorism and 24/7 I was at it. So I had to take certain decisions that may be unpopular or appeared like harassment to certain groups. But those decisions were necessary at that time to defeat terrorism and win the war. That is why I was projected as an evil person. The LTTE had a network in the Southern parts of the country and they had infiltrated various areas during the ceasefire period. Their suicide bombs did not take into consideration whether it is going to kill Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims. Even those who are criticizing me as a human rights violator could have been a target. Those who are involved in the operations had to profile and identify terrorists. Even though we are aware of the fact that all Tamils are not terrorists, unfortunately, 99% of the terrorists were Tamils. Actions we took against terrorism were projected as things done against Tamils.
Also, most of those who are targeting and criticizing me have never met me, seen me in person or have no idea about my thinking. So for them, I am this evil person. As a person you have different moods and reactions. And sometimes the pictures they have taken of my angry mood are being widely circulated and people judge me based on those. Unfortunately, I have not done anything to earn that evil image. I have done whatever I have done with conviction. And I would always say ‘yes, I have done everything possible to end the war’. I take pride in that and I think the majority respect me for that.
Others talk about the rights of the terrorists but not the rights of ordinary masses to live peacefully.
What can you offer to this country that any other presidential candidate cannot offer?
A: I have served this country as a military officer for 21 years and a major part of my career was under UNP regimes. I have won many gallantry awards under three UNP Presidents, J.R. Jayewardene, R. Premadasa and D.B. Wijetunga while my family was mainly engaged in SLFP politics. So you cannot say those are political awards.
I think I have proved to this country that I deliver what I promise. I am not an ordinary politician who would only talk but not work. Instead, I am vice versa. I have proved that I am effective, productive and will not give up until the objectives are achieved.
I have proved I can work, I can perform and I can bring results. I have a way of working and I have my policies. My main aim is producing results. You can have visions and dreams. This country will not go any further unless those talks, visions and dreams are implemented.
Do you believe in giving a political solution to the North and East in the event you become the President?
A: I don’t understand this word ‘political solution’ and that is my problem. There was terrorism and I believed that it could only be defeated militarily as all these so called political solutions have been tried. My basic idea is that every citizen should be able to live with dignity in this country and every individual should be able to have the same freedom everywhere in this country. I think for that what is necessary is having economic freedom. Whether you are in the North or South, you can live a dignified life if you have economic freedom. All other things are secondary. So my aim is to give economic freedom.
How are you going to balance the cold war between India and China in their struggle to be the power centre of the Indian Ocean?
A: We have to understand we are a small country very close to a big neighbour and who is becoming the first economic giant of South Asia. They have their own border issues especially with China and Pakistan. So, India, especially their officials look at every issue having their security as a main concern. So, we must be able to stay away from these geo-political crises and at the same time work with others. What is more important is winning the confidence of India. That we did with the Congress Government and officials during war but unfortunately we did not have time to build the same understanding or trust with the BJP Government. We did not have enough time to show that we are not doing anything to harm their security as their main worry is security.
On the other hand, we are a poor country which was struggling to come out of poverty. For that we needed China as they are the only people who would give loans without asking for absurd reforms. Only for development process we needed China and by no means we wanted to bring an undue threat to India. All other institutions give loans with various political and other constraints. Only China offers those without any constraints and it is easy to work with China.
Do you still have Sharks?
A: No I don’t. I no longer have facilities to keep them so I returned those to the people who gifted them to me.