Q Are you aware of the present political situation in the country?
Although I am not directly involved in politics, I am quite aware of the day to day happenings in the country. I am concerned about what the people have to say. I observe that the various measures taken by the government are moving at snail’s pace. There is speculation that the efforts of the previous regime in various fields of development are at a standstill. The government does not have a proper framework to develop the country. They only expected to oust the former government.
In my view, the security of the State is in jeopardy due to the policies adopted by the present government or else due to a weak spearhead leading the security activities of the country. In particular, the approach taken by the current government to handle security concerns in the North is disappointing.
It is the same when it comes to development projects. The main slogan of those who once vied to capture power was centred on the anti-Chinese campaign. However, their actions went against their words when they had a taste of power. These ad-hoc decisions adversely affected the development process of the country, bringing all activities to a standstill.
Although we received monetary assistance from the World Bank to develop Colombo, Galle and Kandy, we were defeated before we could do justice to our undertaking. We completed three years of the five-year project, and had two more years to go. But after no progress was made on this project, funds remained idle. There should be something grave to keep the projects idle when funds are available.
This is the nature of today’s politics. People are only busy in taking political rivals to the FCID, Bribery Commission and courts. Many in the present government are engaged in big time corruption. But none of them is tried nor grilled. The authorities hunt only those who criticize their policies.
Q The present government came to power on the promise of taking the criminals to court. How can it be wrong?
We are not against carrying out investigations. The point is that people are summoned only to be probed on baseless charges. Even the commanders of the Navy and Air Force are often called for such investigations at these institutions, causing them great inconvenience and moreover wasting their precious time. I cannot see any justice meted out through this attempt.
Q During the final stages of war, it is said that various irregularities happened in the South with infamous white vans running all over. How can these charges be baseless?
A. These allegations are levelled against war heroes. For example, take the famous case of journalist Ekneligoda. Back then, people wouldn’t have hardly heard such a name.
Anyway, we started probing the matter. Now, they are keeping army intelligence officers in prisons for nearly a year. Why did they fail to wind up investigations during this period? I think the assessors have not even been able to ascertain if Eknaligoda was dead or alive. But they keep on detaining poor people on the charge of murder. What justice do you find here? These officials have been in service for a long period of time and not only during the Rajapaksa regime. They have rendered yeoman service in sweeping out terrorism from the country. They assisted in finding information about terrorists in the South. To my knowledge, they have not been involved in any violence.
Q What is the truth about rumours on you coming to politics?
Yet, I do not have a definite decision. Maybe they are thinking of a successor to Mahinda Rajapaksa as he cannot contest as president for another term. Anyway, there is enough time for such a decision. At least three and a half years.
Q Is your response positive?
As I said, there is no definite decision yet. I have been working for the country in many fields. If I get an opportunity to serve the country, I will certainly do so. Whether it is as a politician is for the future to decide.
Q Are there any invitations from the JO which is loyal to Mahinda Rajapaksa?
No direct invitations. I have not spoken about this matter even with Mahinda Rajapaksa. But, I understand there is so such rumour among people. Various individuals are inquiring this matter. If I am the most suitable person at the time, I will agree. It is not the designation but opportunity to serve the country that matters the most.
Q These talks among people are about the 2020 presidential election. How qualified are you for the candidacy?
I have a good political background inherited from my family. Many politicians in our country have such a background. Three generations of my family have so far been involved in politics. I think I am more qualified in this aspect. I do not see any comparison to our family. Nine members of my family have had representation in Parliament. I have done justice to all duties I have been entrusted with thus far. Most of the people accept that the projects by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) and security of the country are my greatest achievements. So there is no any disqualification for my candidacy. I am confident of performing president’s duties successfully.
Q In such a situation, what is the political future of Mahinda Rajapaksa?
I am uncertain. But, even today, he is the most popular leader of the country and centre of attention. Any future political force will not be able to deviate from Mahinda Rajapaksa. Many who voted against him repent today. Mahinda Rajapaksa will decide his future position in politics. There is more accommodation for him for premiership or a position supreme.
Q. In the event you contest for presidency, will you have Mahinda Rajapaksa’s support?
His support and blessings are vital for me to contest the presidential election. I will not contest without his support.
Q Dialogue on war victory is yet again an incident of cynosure.
The importance of dialogues on war is not the claims for the victory but we must stress the victory over the world most dangerous terrorist organisation. We achieved victory under the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa and my involvement as the Defence Secretary. Nobody can claim piecemeal share for the victory as it was a collective effort by all. Everyone became stakeholders to the war victory in their different capacities. We were able to end the war that prevailed for a period of thirty years under various governments, leaders and defence secretaries.
Q Various talks are resurfacing about the death of Prabhakaran. What actually happened?
At the time we came to know about the end of the war or at the time it was announced to the people we did not have the body of Prabhakaran with us. But those on duty in the area knew the whereabouts of the terrorist leaders. Kamal Gunaratne and Savendra Silva were there at the time they remain watchful and combed into the lagoon area. And their platoons did the task. There is no point arguing about the matter now. They were always on the alert.
What is important here is the task they fulfilled. They all deserve credit for it. This were the most difficult hours of the thirty-year long war.
Those who engaged in the battle are aware of the difficulties they experienced at the crucial time.
At the time I spoke to Savendra Silva and Kamal Gunaratne. They had to be careful about the civil people there amidst these turbulence. This was never a hide-and-seek game for our forces.
Q Who told you about the killing of Prabhakaran.
Sarath Fonseka did.
Q What was your response?
I was overjoyed to hear the good news. I felt accomplished as our task was complete. It was not happiness over the death of a man, but happiness over ending terrorism.
Q You were the first to write a book on the war, and it was titled ‘Gota’s War.’ Isn’t there something wrong with the title as it is an indication of claiming credit for the victory?
I had no such intention. There are many books written earlier related to warfare. I wished that war literature would have reached certain higher status in our country too. But it did not happen, unfortunately. I proposed that those actively engaged in war and those who could analyse it to write about it. My book is only a start. Mr. Chandra Pema wrote the book after interviewing me. I was overwhelmed by the book of Kamal Gunaratne. More books should be written about the war.
Q Former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka says he is also writing a book.
Very good. We can see the war from his point of view too.
Q As the Defence Secretary, did you have a practice calling junior officers and inquiring them about the war activities?
Nobody can bring such allegations. As a government servant, I spoke to various people and collected information. The information received from the immediate officer is not sufficient to know the truth. This is the practice in any organisation. I got data from Jagath Jayasuriya, Savendra, Kamal Gunaratne and from all whom I could contact. At times I got first hand information.
Q Is Dudley Sirisena a very good friend of yours? Even though Rajapaksas show they have strained relationship with Yahapalana (good governance) government, it seems you are maintaining relationships from different frontiers?
You were a prominent figure at the wedding of his son.
It is not a special relationship. He is a long-time friend of mine. We also had connection with Maithripala Sirisena as members of the SLFP two years before. I first came to know about Dudley during the 2005 general election and later he became a friend. I attended the wedding on this relationship. He came to my house to invite me for the wedding. He also tried to stop Maithripala contesting the last presidential election.
QYou were a very strong person for about ten years. How is your life without power? Do you think that you can manage without power?
Many people are surprised about this.
I feel no difference. I am able to exercise power and when the time comes give it up as well. I have no difficulty living as a simple man. I did not ask for power but I was entrusted with it with my performance. But I was not an addict to power. I have a great satisfaction about what I have done. I know many people are pleased with my performance.
(Courtesy Sunday Lankadeepa)