By Ashwin Hemmathagama
Taking no prisoners, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka yesterday slammed top Government members for crippling national security in post-war Sri Lanka by failing to support intelligence agencies and take prompt action when warnings were received and for making political appointments to key positions.
Proposing that lawmakers from both sides should join hands if they have any honest intentions of saving the country from the new threat, UNP MP Fonseka listed the mistakes that led to the death of 359 people in the Easter Sunday attacks.
According to Fonseka, the country’s national security was neglected soon after the war ended allowing room for growth of different types of terrorism.
“Politicians may not like to hear this. I believe we took the wrong route after the war ended. The country became a carnival after 32 years at war. It is not wrong to have a carnival life, but the issue is the politicians joined the carnival mood and took time off from their paid roles of protecting the nation,” he said.
Establishing priorities between national security and the economy, he said: “Security of the country is number one and the economy is second. Unless there is security you can’t build a stable economy. Singapore is a good example. They have provided military training to three million people. Singapore has the highest defence budget in South East Asia. Their budget is higher than the defence budget of Australia. We have given less attention to the military. These are the responsibilities of politicians and they can’t get away from them.”
Taking on the mismatch between the authorities on the date the intelligence information was purpotedly received, MP Fonseka said: “Foreign intelligence kept Sri Lanka informed. If they informed us on the 4th we should have acted on the 5th. Action should have been taken on the 10th if we were informed on the 9th. There is no point of debating over the dates in this House. There are two letters, one that the IGP sent out and the other that the Head of State Intelligence Service (SIS) sent out. The Head of SIS is not reporting to the IGP but is under the Minister of Defence and the Secretary of Defence.
“I am sure the President would have received the letter the Head of SIS sent, so it is unfair to attack the Inspector General of Police. There is no reason for the President to not receive this particular letter. This letter should have been taken up if the National Security Council meeting was held. Anyway, I was against appointing this IGP. I met the President on four occasions to stop the appointment. But now removing the IGP will not solve our issues,” he said.
With the war coming to an end in May 2009, Fonseka as the former Army Commander had proposed to continue development of the intelligence units. However, instead of developing them, the former Government used it for personal agendas, Fonseka charged.
“After the war, the Government used the intelligence community to take revenge. They were used to find our travel plans and our children’s movements. Even this Government has failed to develop intelligence sources. All governments in the last 10 years should be responsible for this current problem,” he explained.
According to the Field Marshal, terrorism takes a long time to develop – the LTTE took 12 years to launch a suicide attack on General Ranjan Wijerathne.
“This group could have been there for seven to eight years. Not only those few who committed suicide, there has to be a few hundred of them. They have a leader similar to Prabhakaran. Their leader has the capability of encouraging followers. The LTTE war dragged for decades due to faults of the leaders and the military leaders. We were able to end the war with suitable people taking responsibilities. Unfortunately, we have faced a new situation. However, the LTTE had a different target. The LTTE got destroyed having tried to hold on to land. But this new group is different. Ultimately it is we who faced the losses from both groups of terrorists, so it is time for us to accept our faults,” he charged.
Commenting on speculation that he would be appointed the Minister of Law and Order, Fonseka held that he had 17 Policemen and an old jeep that had been used for 600,000km and was barely in running condition.
Pointing toward former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, he said: “There are so many pandits here, so I will not talk about terrorism. I don’t have the necessary security. I still have the 17 Policemen you gave. The four STF personnel were removed last October. I am given an old Police jeep that has worked for 600,000km for security. It sometimes stops on the road and is unable to go forward. After this Government came, I couldn’t even change the jeep.”
Criticising President Sirisena’s behaviour while away from Sri Lanka and soon after the explosions took place, Fonseka said: “We saw the President sending a message with 10 lines being in Singapore. It was nothing more than a condolence message. At midnight he returned to the country. But he should have taken an early flight to return to Sri Lanka. A flight came at 3 p.m., then another at 9 p.m., before his midnight flight from Singapore. This is a failure of his. The Minister of Defence and the Secretary of Defence have failed, and they have failed to perform their duties. People will not accept their excuses. There is no point giving excuses. If it was another country, the entire bunch would have resigned by now. They can continue to hold positions because we don’t have such systems in Sri Lanka.”
“When this intelligence report came, you failed to give it the priority given to the information Namal Kumara gave. Apart from that, you have not supported this information received compared to the support given to the arrest of Makandure Madush. This shows that security has become a joke and used for political purposes,” he added.
Criticising the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for being silent about not being invited for the National Security Council meetings, Fonseka said: “I respect you Prime Minister, but why did you let it go when you were not invited for the Security Council meeting for six months? You should have said it in Parliament. Without going there, how can you perform your duties? The State Minister of Defence should have resigned if he was unable to take part in the Security Council Meetings. These are serious faults. We are responsible and we have continued to sleep.
“On top of that, a recent Security Council meeting was opened to some members of the Opposition. In which country do you have Opposition members in the Security Council meeting? Did you talk about horse races and betting at this Security Council meeting? Even after this explosion, I was invited to meet the Prime Minister after 48 hours. I am the Field Marshal and I know about these issues. I became a Field Marshal not by selling peanuts at Galle Face Green. I should have been invited. If there are any other members in this Government with more knowledge on these matters, I will be sure to give up my Field Marshal status. Make use of me. I don’t want armoured vehicles.”
According to Fonseka, secretaries of defence should have military knowledge apart from being administrative officers.
Highlighting how unsuitable appointments had messed up the Ministry of Defence during the past, he said: “Some of the former Ministers of Law and Order were my friends and they are nice people. They haven’t done anything wrong to the public, but none of them had any background with regard to security. Sometimes I think ‘Julampitiye Amare’ has a better background in terms of security. He knows what the law is, how to break it and the repercussions, and how to get away with it. Then again, you can’t do these things using young Members of Parliament. How can such young MPs instruct an aged military officer? If this happened to us when we were there, it could have created an uneasy situation. Unless these issues are corrected, we will not be able to overcome the issues. There are many other ministerial posts where suitable people have not been appointed.”
“We have held that an administrative officer should become the secretary of defence. A few of them were there and afterwards they were replaced with friends, relatives and classmates. All have failed. In India, there is a Defence Secretary. He has graduated from the military school even though he is an administrative officer. I was fortunate to study at the Royal Ministry School in the UK. Just because you are a graduate and an administrative officer, you can’t be a secretary of defence. Sometimes, these defence secretaries don’t know the number of personnel in a platoon, so they come to learn from the commanders,” he added.
Last but not least, MP Fonseka listed the three reasons the President rejected his name when it was forwarded for the appointment of Minister of Law and Order.
“The President gave me three reasons why I cannot be appointed as the Minister of Law and Order. The reasons he gave was that a few Buddhist priests, a few State employees, and a few Deputy Inspectors General of Police have told him not to appoint me. Then I wanted to know who these DIGS are; three are in remand custody and one is sentenced to death. When the Cabinet met on Monday, all these Ministers have requested to appoint me, but he has been smiling. I am not worried if I get it or not. Anyway we will be going for a presidential election in another five months,” he added.