Theatre of the absurd that passes for governance in Sri Lanka
By Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
The Secretary General’s Advisory Panel Report on Allegations of War Crimes by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE in the last phase of the war has been handed over to the Government of Sri Lanka. The Ministry of External Affairs has declared that the Report is fundamentally flawed and that it contains baseless accusations. A leaked version of the executive summary has appeared in the local media and the UN is on record regretting the leak. The UN has also announced that it will make public the full report along with the full response of the Government of Sri Lanka. There is speculation that in any event the UN will make the full report public in the course of this week.
On the basis of the leaked executive summary it is clear that the Report comes down hard on the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. Among the recommendations made is for an international mechanism to be set up to monitor local efforts towards accountability and to conduct independent investigations, for a public apology by the Government of Sri Lanka and for the return of the remains of the dead to their families. It is also strongly critical of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and the regime’s approach to reconciliation.
It remains to be seen as to what the full report contains and as to what the Secretary General will do with it. It will probably be the case that he will first want to ascertain the views of the permanent members of the Security Council and the Council as a body before initiating any action if indeed further action is what he will conclude as necessary.
It remains to be seen as well as to what the Rajapaksa regime’s response to the Report will be apart from the preliminary comments issued through the ministry of external affairs. Media reports state that three former foreign secretaries are working on this and that the president has called for a major demonstration of support on May Day focusing on the report. In an interview with the Sunday Times, the Defence Secretary is quoted as saying that “ if the United Nations cannot protect one of its member states, Sri Lanka will be forced to look for protection from Russia and China. No doubt there will be statements by political parties and a parliamentary debate on the full report.
The simple point about the report is that it is now a fact. It exists and even if left to languish in the short or medium term, it can be resurrected for action thereafter. The challenge to the regime lies in its willingness and ability to respond to the report in a manner that will lay the matter to rest, once and for all and thereby create the conditions and environment for the country to move on, take off. That it can and will do so is by no means certain. The priorities of the regime, the competence it commands and the vision it projects are instructive of its overall mindset and that of its leading lights. Take the following that also make up the public profile of regime, which now stands in effect accused of war crimes by the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Panel.
It was reported that there will be a further six chapters of the Mahavamsa written by a panel of experts. Three of the chapters are to be devoted to the Rajapaksa presidency, the ancient chronicle having not recorded anything of the likes of the defeat of the LTTE. Who these experts are is unknown. No doubt there is a lengthy queue of sycophants parading as scholars to write His Excellency into the great chronicle and no doubt generations of Sri Lankans will be fed on this diet of praise and propaganda. Is this an illustration of what the Panel report refers to as “triumphalism”? Given the “Mahavamsa mind-set” and its association with the ethnic conflict, what of reconciliation? What does this do to what the LLRC is supposed to do?
A leading light of the regime, Professor Rajiva Wijesinha MP claims that the military attaché at the British High Commission handed him a typed note “suggesting” that Sarath Fonseka “ had squads engaged in illicit activities reporting to him “. Professor Wijesinha claims that he cannot remember where he put the note – “ I chucked it away somewhere and now cannot find it” he is reported as telling the Sunday Leader. Asked as to what action he took on receiving the note, he is reported as responding -“None”.
What is clear is that the Professor Wijesinha – it is not clear as to whether this occurred when he was Secretary to the Ministry of Human Rights, the professor’s memory being such - did nothing with the note, which on the basis of what it contained one would have thought demanded immediate and urgent action either in his official capacity or indeed as a responsible citizen, which surely the learned professor is. Apart from this media report establishing that one should not pass notes to him, especially noteworthy ones, it provides a sad reflection on the political appointees.
It is perhaps fortunate that the professor’s note- taking competence let him down in terms of further advancement within the regime and yet let him off from even being appointed monitor of the external affairs ministry. This singular honour has gone to Sajin Vaas Gunewardene.
Finally, who ever has heard of Rain, the South Korean songster who takes precedence over our great leader in the Time Poll of the 100 most influential personalities in the world? An official government release on this stresses that the president is the leading politician in the poll. Now at number 2, he has seen off another songster – this time from Taiwan.
Who needs the Chinese made Colossus of an Arts Centre – there is theatre –tragedy and farce, farce and tragedy all around us. No wonder the polity behaves as if by casting its vote it has bought a ticket to the theatre of the absurd that passes for governance.
Just wait for Weerawansa to tread the boards again. Oops! hit the streets, I mean.