The recent controversial speech made by President Maithripala Sirisena at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) has become a subject of much debate among the people. The following is a discussion held with the President and what he shared with our sister paper ‘Sunday Lankadeepa’.
Commissioners of the relevant Commissions are not subjected to any criticism; they are very honest, dedicated and unbiased
Minister Fowzie is a State Minister of this government. Until he was summoned to court, I was not aware of any investigation against him
Avant Garde was taken into custody over a year ago. Where is the investigation? And where is the analytical report? Now the government has to look after the interests of this vessel, this is a big burden on us and incurs a colossal expenditure
The Director General of the Bribery Commission has also done the same thing that the civil society did
What I said was them being former Navy Commanders, when they are to be questioned, it is imperative thatI should be made aware
Q Your controversial speech made recently has become a subject of much talk among the people of the country. Two groups have emerged opposing and supporting your views. What was the real objective of your speech?
Any individual should first of all try to comprehend the content of my speech. Only excerpts of my 45-minute speech was published in media. Anyone who read or listened to parts of my speech would not understand what I meant to express, or its intent. It is very obvious that those who have made adverse remarks over my speech cling only to parts of it and try to express their own views.
What some media institutes attempted to portray before the people through my speech are in fact quite different from what I meant. For instance I have not criticised the commissioners anywhere in my speech. I know the heads of these commissions, including those of the Bribery Commission; perform their duties with devotion, impartially and honestly. They are former Judges.
I also spoke of CID and FCID. I only mentioned about these three bodies. It is important for those in these Commissions to be aware of the affairs of the government and the country as well as the duties of their offices, when taking decisions. A Degree in political science is not essential for their service. However, even students who are studying in grade seven and eight learned in Civic Studies the importance of maintaining equilibrium among the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary.
This does not mean the subjugation of any institute over another, the adherence to a specific order or the independence of other institutions being thrown in jeopardy. Supremacy of the parliament as well as the independence and supremacy of judicial institutions must prevail. To a certain extent Independent commissions are similar to Judiciary.
On the other hand the President and the Prime Minister of the country together with the Cabinet of Ministers should act with understanding for the betterment of the state, to strengthen law and order in the country and to ensure the citizen’s right to live in a just society.
"To a certain extent Independent Commissions are similar to Judiciary. On the other hand the President and the Prime Minister of the country together with the Cabinet of Ministers should act with understanding for the betterment of the State, to strengthen law and order in the country and to ensure the citizen’s right to live in a just society."
Q Do you mean that these three institutions should work in coordination...
Yes, these apply to any organization or individual therein. It is not an issue of the institute but rather an issue of individuals. When an individual acts with discretion ignoring the existence of a State, issues may arise.
When we say existence of State it is not about politics it refers to the republic of Sri Lanka. We should always be concerned with affairs of the country and its people. I believe situations of confusions and unrest will become a threat to the State, and therefore, should not be
allowed to arise.
For instance, Minister Fowzie is a State Minister of this government. Until he was summoned to court, I was not aware of any investigation against him. I agree that these matters should have been dealt with confidentiality and the independence of these bodies should have been maintained.
We are now working towards introducing a new Constitution, in keeping with our promises. This needs two thirds majority votes in Parliament. I was elected by the people. Anything happening to hamper this effort is a problem for both me and the government.
I do not intend to halt investigations carried out against Ministers or members of the government on allegations of fraud and corruption.
However, I don’t think anyone in this government would escape the allegations levelled against Minister Fowzie. All members of the government are liable for allegations of this nature. If so, legal action should be taken against the entire Cabinet of Ministers. Minister Fowzie has continued to use the same vehicle he used while he was in his former ministry. The Vehicle has not been robbed nor sold in pieces. The vehicle assigned to him when he was Disaster Management Minister during the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government had been taken with him to be used as a senior minister.
There was a circular issued during the Rajapaska administration which entitles a minister to continue the use of a vehicle in the event he assumes duties in a different ministry, irrespective of the technology and the condition of the vehicle.
After I became President on January 8, 2015, new Cabinet was appointed and again on August 17, another Cabinet was appointed, but the ministers continue to use the vehicle they had been using in the earlier (respective) ministries. That is why I said these charges apply to the entire Cabinet.
This can be argued in different angles. It is my responsibility to maintain the two third majority in the parliament. If certain situations hamper the continuity of this majority, then it is certainly problematic. However, I do not intend to stop legal proceedings against anybody.
There are many investigations carried out against frauds of large scale. But some of these investigations appear to have been suspended for a long time. Yet legal proceedings have commenced over the distribution of T-shirts during the election period and over the distribution of flood relief among the people and even against ministers taking a vehicle from one ministry to another when ministries are changed.
Q Why was the FCID established?
We must first identify the purpose of instituting these bodies and pursue action on direct course rather than get themselves entangled in fruitless matters.
The objective of establishing the FCID is not to mingle in matters of various companies or individuals and to interrogate them. There are several divisions in the police department to handle such matters. There is deviation from the duties assigned to FCID. They should understand their duties and responsibilities. They should focus on Large scale financial frauds.
Last year information was uncovered about large deposits amounting to $ 500 millions by several Sri Lankans in a Bank of a gulf country. An investigation was launched for which they required a letter signed by me and I gave it. These officers had made several visits to the relevant country for investigations and legal action was to be taken promptly. But so far nothing has happened. Why do they delay such big frauds?
What we hear is about cases over stealing flag posts, the transfer of vehicles and distribution of relief items.
Their scope of duties is wide and people and the government expected them to do engage in their duties meaningfully without engaging in trivial pursuit of insignificant incidents. My speech at the SLFI was drawn from my conscience. When the Heads of the Forces are taken into custody, I must be aware of it as the Minister of Defence.
That is what I meant by the balance of the different institutes. Will those investigators take responsibility if these actions caused unrest? It is my responsibility to protect the forces and the honour of the war heroes. The investigations into the fraud and corruption should be done according to the proper procedure. They have full independence, but as the as the Minister of Defence, I should be informed.
“When things happen without my knowledge, unnecessary issues crop up in the country and tension mounts up. No person can challenge the authority of law. When we are called upon to act according to the law, how can we secure the institutions that are established to protect the law? As the President, I have a big responsibility. But some look at it with a different perspective.
"When an individual acts with discretion ignoring the existence of a State, issues may arise. When we say existence of State it is not about politics it refers to the republic of Sri Lanka. We should always be concerned with affairs of the country and its people. I believe situations of confusions and unrest will become a threat to the State, and therefore, should not be allowed to rise"
Q Didn’t you discuss this matter within the government?
During the past several months, I have addressed these matters within the government and stressed on their credibility. They mention about Avant Garde, the ship in question had been taken into custody and docked at the Galle Harbour for more than one year. Where are the investigations? Where are the analyst’s reports?
There is no analyst report. The government has now been burdened with maintenance of the ship, which is also an unnecessary expenditure for the government.
They should state that investigations are over and case is to be filed. Just keeping a ship and without filing action is pointless.
I just want to know where are the investigators. It is not my intention to discourage the Independent Commissions, or to back track the investigations, my sole ambition is to strengthen these Commissions and they should be impartial.
These institutions should work in compliance of the law and there should be a proper coordination of the Executive, Legislator and the Judiciary.
Those who speak about my speech, have not read my speech in its entirety, which fact I mentioned earlier, and they have no understanding of the situation I am faced with. They can criticize, hold media conferences and keep on writing. These are not new.
But when you are running a government it is important that you steer forward resolving the internal issues. People who do not have at least basic knowledge are directing a massive attack on me.
I can face these attacks with a smiling face. These are not new happenings. I have completed fifty years in the political arena and gone through these and cannot be jeopardized by these blasts and other noises, because I am honest and dedicated. I sincerely work according to my conscience.
As the President, I have to be impartial and Just. I should respect the law. Therefore people should not cling to the speech I made and try to interpret in a different manner and create a political controversy.
Those who try to portray that this speech had led to a division in the government and its stability are the very people who are attempting to create issues and paint a picture of a division. With today’s media freedom they can say anything.
When you witness the series of interviews appearing in papers and other information released through electronic media I wonder what would have happened if these took place during the former regime. They would have had a white van at their doorstep for sure!
I am happy that people are able to freely express their views, take part in Sathyagrahas, protests etc. The people’s right to stage these acts of protests had been now guaranteed. They are making use of what I guaranteed to attack me. I accept these missiles with great pride. I would not tremble at these attacks. These only strengthen me. I am convincing the people slowly but steadily about the truth. I am sorry if anyone hearing my speech had got disturbed. It is plainly due to their ignorance and not understanding the issues.
Q Some are of the view that your speech was aimed at directing your displeasure over certain matters of the Good Governance. Would you like to share your views?
I told earlier about the concept of the good governance. The acts of a certain section shouldn’t be taken as the actions of the entire government. We should always think and understand about the dedication of each one who laboured for this concept. Just myself and few others carry the Yahapalanaya board is not going to help.
Everyone in the government should be the ones genuinely involved in putting into practice the Yahapalanya concept. Everybody should dedicate in ushering a good country. I am convinced that the UNP members in the villages are not happy with what I said during the speech. This is because they have not understood this in real form.
Therefore I request them to read my 45-minute speech and try to understand what I actually meant. This would dispel the doubts and other issues created in their minds and would finally realize what I have said. He/she would understand that this is not an issue connected with the yahapalanaya government.
It is something to do with the behavioural patterns of an individual. Therefore it is essential that we go forward strengthening the activities of the government.
"It seems only I and another few are marching ahead carrying the Yahapalana banner. It makes no sense. Every member of this government should do so with Yahapalana concept dwelling in their hearts and act accordingly"
Q You have said that when high officials of the army were taken into custody you were not briefed. Do you stress that they have done this deliberately?
In most of the occasions they stated that they have the legal right. It may be true, but it is prudent on situations where the country or the society is affected they should act in a manner that would not affect the society.
If someone had committed an offence it should be investigated and punished. I have not told at any time not to conduct investigations or find fault with the investigators. I am concerned about how a government should administer.
There is the need to obtain two third majority approvals for a new constitution. There are several targets to be achieved in developing the country. We have a highly skilled army who won the war. These soldiers are highly respected. Their feat shouldn’t be undermined.
If anyone had done wrong, there is a correct procedure to follow. The people should be made aware of such situations and avoid charges levelled at us. Some may hold the view that people have given the approval. But the actual verdict of the people may be different. Therefore it is essential that people are convinced on this issue otherwise a different opinion might circulate among the people.
"Civil society bodies should have called me over the phone and clarified about the crux of my speech. Instead they rushed to hold a media briefing without sufficient clarification "
Q The civil society that was with you at the time of your Victory on January 8 held a media briefing and protested against the statement made by you. They stated that your statement is back tracking the promises made to the country. We would appreciate your comments...
The civil society shouldn’t have rushed, soon after my speech and hold press briefings. As a movement that worked for my victory could have telephoned and clarified about the veracity of my speech, and if my replies had not been satisfactory they could have gone public and criticised me.
Instead of acting in that manner, what they did was very childish. They as educated people should not have behaved like kids fighting one another. I expected them to have acted with much decorum.
As those who were closely associated with me in the January 8 victory, they should have met me and obtained clarifications on the matters raised by me.
"There are many investigations carried out against frauds of large scale. But some of these investigations appear to have been suspended for a long time. Yet legal proceedings have commenced over the distribution of T-shirts during the election period and over the distribution of flood relief among the people and even against ministers taking a vehicle from one ministry to another when ministries are changed"
Q Soon after your speech, the Director General of the Bribery Commission tendered her resignation. How do you see this?
She has also done the same thing what the civil society did. She was appointed by me, unlike the other commissioners appointed by the Constitutional Council.
What she did was while I was abroad had released a letter to the media. She had the duty to wait until I return, meet me and should have tendered her letter. She could have inquired from me about the speech I made and the reasons for the remarks, and what action we could take to correct the lapses.
Without any of these procedures she hastened to submit a letter to the presidential secretariat tendering her resignation.
I expected her as a literate person to have waited for me, discussed this matter and thereafter submitted the resignation. This I see as inexperience and not fully aware of such situations.
Q In your speech you referred to certain officials of the Bribery or Corruption Commission, CID and FCID as working according to a political agenda. As the Joint Opposition had been highly critical about this position for a long time. Did your speech provide them with a platform to argue about?
I did not say the Bribery Commission works on a political agenda. My speech refers certain officials working in these Commissions. There is a good segment of their duties, where their dedication and skills should be appreciated, but there were instances of serious lapses in their activities. These should be made known to the public.
"The objective of establishing the FCID is not to mingle in matters of various companies or individuals and to interrogate them. There are several divisions in the police department to handle such matters. There is deviation from the duties assigned to FCID. They should understand their duties and responsibilities. They should focus on Large scale financial frauds"
Q The JO keeps repeating that the FCID is illegal and they are bent on punishing those with politically-different views. Do you say this institution is a legal body?
FCID is an institution established under Cabinet decision, taken on the instructions of the Attorney General. Therefore, I cannot say that this is illegal. Those who are calling it is illegal are working with different motives. I do not want to be counted among them.
Charges of such nature are levelled at these institutions due to certain acts by them. If those concerned are working with dedication, honesty and impartiality, such charges would not be levelled against them, nor will they be taken to Courts. Some of these institutions’ activities look silly. Today it was in the papers that bullet proof vehicles were hidden in a plot of land belonging to MP Kumara Welgama. They had obtained a Court order and dug this land in search of the so-called vehicles.
How insane they were to do this? They only humiliated the government by doing this. Even if I would be criticised for saying, I must say that there are methods of conducting such searches. If they had got a tip off, they should have adopted the modern technology that is available for this.
There are equipment available in several ministries under me or should have sought assistance from the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau in order to locate buried items. After obtaining the Court order, they went there and on their own and tarnished their image. It only brings laughter among people!
Q There were reports saying that you met former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapksa and had a discussion that lasted two hours. Could you share with us what the discussion was about?
No, it is canard and I saw an article in your own English paper to that effect. I refute such allegations.
"Those who speak about my speech, have not read my speech in its entirety, which fact I mentioned earlier, and they have no understanding of the situation I am faced with. They can criticize, hold media conferences and keep on writing. These are not new. But when you are running a government it is important that you steer forward resolving the internal issues"
Q Did you make a statement about taking the former Defence Secretary to Courts?
Never, my statement clearly refers to the former Navy Commanders who were being taken to Courts. That is why I am asking my critics to scrutinise my speech carefully. I did not mention his name.
I expressed my disgust and displeasure over producing the three Navy Commanders in Courts. In the Avant Garde case, conducting the investigations are in order. If the Navy Commanders are involved in this, that would be a different matter, and if there had been any fraud committed,
was also another issue.
What I said was them being former Navy Commanders, when they are to be questioned, it is imperative that I should be made aware of. It is also deemed necessary considering the security situation of the country.
Q In your statement you referred to the detention of officers of the intelligence unit. There are widespread allegations that the intelligence unit would become weaker by detaining these officials...
That is the reason I spoke on all these matters. If someone is taken in for questioning, whether it is one week, one month, six months or one year, there are certain fundamental rights guaranteed to these people by our Constitution and international conventions.
These officers had been in detention for 17 months now and such a long period in remand custody is not something trivial in nature. If the authorities cannot take a decision during such period of time, it shows a weakness on their part.
Justice should be meted out equally to everybody. If someone had committed an offence, he should be brought before Courts and action filed. Simply detaining them in remand prison creates a negative picture not only locally, but internationally as well.
"The objective of establishing the FCID is not to mingle in matters of various companies or individuals and to interrogate them. There are several divisions in the police department to handle such matters. There is deviation from the duties assigned to FCID. They should understand their duties and responsibilities. They should focus on Large scale
Q People interpret that your speech at this time was purely to attract the voters of your predecessor and also indirectly to woo the MPs in the JO. Your comments on this...
No one can stop this type of interpretations. This is not the actual position. There is good and evil in everything. We need not pursue on these interpretations. When I make a speech as the President, there can be countless interpretations. No one can stop those.
"As the President, I have to be impartial and Just. I should respect the law. Therefore people should not cling to the speech I made and try to interpret in a different manner and create a political controversy. Those who try to portray that this speech had led to a division in the government and its stability are the very people who are attempting to create issues and paint a picture of a division"