Former President Maithripala Sirisena has revealed that five Defense secretaries have served from time to time during his presidency.
He mentioned that all the Defense secretaries who worked during his tenure have neglected their responsibilities by not holding the weekly intelligence coordination meeting properly.
Mr. Sirisena testifying before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday bombing, has said that the Defense Secretaries have misled him regarding the information on those meetings.
When the Additional Solicitor General of the Government inquired as to why three Secretaries to the President and five Secretaries of Defense have served from time to time during the period from 2015 to 2019, the former President replied saying, “P.B. Abeykoon was the first of the Secretaries to the President. I gave him this responsibility when he was retired.
“Later he said again that he wants to enjoy his retirement and I let him have his will. The second was Mr. Austin Fernando. While he was serving well, he said that he would like to fill the vacant spot in the Ambassador post to India. So, he was appointed as the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to India. That’s when Udaya R. Seneviratne was appointed as the Secretary to the President.”
He also said that there were a number of reasons for the appointment of B.M.U.D. Basnayake, Engineer Karunasena Hettiarachchi, President’s Counsel Kapila Waidyaratna, Hemasiri Fernando and General Shantha Kottagoda.
“I can’t specify the reasons to appoint each person due to the presence of the media, but I’ll say in general. Secretary of Defense is one of the most important posts in the country. The commanders of three Armed Forces, the Chief of Defense staff and the Department of Civil defense are under the Secretary of Defense. But one thing I have observed is that when those officers I have mentioned come under their control, the Secretary of Defense loses sense of humanity, so there were some issues between them,” he said.
The former President also said that some of other grievances faced by Army Commanders caused this frequent removal and appointment of Defense Secretaries. He said some resigned on health conditions and some resigned due to various other institutional issues.
Meanwhile, the former President secretly handed over to the commission a list of other causes that led to the removal of Defense Secretaries from time to time.
The Additional Solicitor General asked the former President whether he would accept the testimony of those who testified before the Commission that this constant transfer of Defense Secretaries caused some problems for officials who worked with them, related to national security.
In response, he said that such problems did not exist and will not arise either through the transfer of Defense Secretaries. “As far as I know, there was an intelligence coordination meeting every Tuesday where all the issues related to national security were discussed. Everybody gathers there. So, it would not be a problem for them to stay informed despite the change of Secretary of Defense. And as the matters are rediscussed again in the Defense Council, officers will be updated of the issues once again,” Mr. Sirisena said.
He also said that apart from the Defense Council meetings, he took steps to invoke the Defense Secretaries at least once in a fortnight to discuss issues related to national security.
“As you know this Commission was presented with contradictory evidence for more than a year now. Do you think that the intelligence coordination meeting was held every week on Tuesdays?” the Additional Solicitor General asked Mr. Sirisena. In response, the former President said that as far as he knew it was held every week. “I was told at the Defense Council by the Defense Secretaries that the intelligence meetings are held,” he said.
The Additional Solicitor general drew Mr. Sirisena’s attention to a report on the dates of the intelligence coordination meetings held from 28th July 2015 to 21st July 2019.
It was revealed that no intelligence review meeting was held weekly in any month other than August 2016. According to the report, the meeting was held for four consecutive weeks in May 2017, but no intelligence meetings were held for the rest of the month.
In addition, the Additional Solicitor General drew the attention of the Presidential Commission to the fact that according to the report, intelligence meetings had not been held continuously at least in a single month of 2018 and 2019, and that not a single day of intelligence meetings were held in April, June, August, September and November 2018.
Asked about his view on the issue, the former president said that he found that his decision as President to remove Defense Secretaries from time to time was correct. He added that the former Defense Secretaries had neglected the basics of country’s national security by not holding intelligence meetings weekly.
“This clearly shows that my decision to remove the Defense Secretaries was right. I feel that not holding the weekly intelligence meeting is a major omission on national security. I too have been lied to,” he said.
Mr. Sirisena also told the Commission that the CID had worked with different NGOs and politicians during the last government to arrest military and intelligence personnel.
He said that CID had taken steps to bring the Commanders of the Armed Forces and current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who had served as the Defense Secretary during the war, before the court and he was not informed of it.
Mr. Sirisena said that it was done following a complaint received by the Commission to Investigate Bribery and Corruption and that the then director of the Commission was engaged in politics in addition to functioning in the Commission. “Later I announced her role publicly. She resigned after that,” he said.
He also said that after discussing with the then Army Commander, he took steps to appoint the current Director of the SIS, Brigadier Suresh Salai as a diplomat in Malaysia, as he got to know that schemes were being plotted to arrest him.
The former president said that one day a presentation made by Suresh Salai before the Defense Council on Isalamic Extremist Organizations had caused the opposition of the then Prime Minister.
He said that the PM’s view was that this could lead to conflicts within the government and arise an unrest condition in the Muslim Community.
Mr. Sirisena said that although the former Prime Minister attended Defense Council meetings, he does not remember the PM speaking a thing about national security.
Responding to a question made by the Additional Solicitor General as to whether former Minister of Law and Order Sagala Ratnayake and CID officers had been summoned to inquire into several investigations carried out by them,
“I represented the military and intelligence officers in the government at the time. I summoned the CID officers who were investigating various NGOs and politicians at that time and severely reprimanded them.” the former president replied.
Mr. Sagala Ratnayake had testified before the Commission previously, that during his tenure, the former president had exerted pressure on ongoing investigations into military personnel through the CID. He further stated that he resigned from the ministry as a victim to that pressure.
Meanwhile, the members of the Commission asked Mr. Sirisena whether he was aware that the CID had informed the Magistrate’s Court about the relevant investigations and he replied he was not aware of it.
When the Additional Solicitor General inquired whether the cases were conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure and the powers of the police, the former president said that the investigations were not carried out in such a manner.
“It would not be an issue if the relevant investigations were independent, but I had received clear information that they are conducting the relevant investigations on the interest of various NGOs and politicians. That is why they were invoked and advised not to do so.” Mr. Sirisena said.
Former president Maithripala Sirisena also said that working with the former PM was like dealing with a political demon, and he had somehow made it through that government for the betterment of the country and its people.
The Additional Solicitor General asked the witness if the facts revealed that the political instability caused by the ‘Coup d’etat’ in 2018 had a positive impact on those involved in extremist activities, would he accept that. Even though it caused political issues, the Army, Police and the other law enforcing agencies continued their work properly, the former president replied. He further stated that there was no hindrance to the activities of those institutions and that their tasks were performed properly.
However, the Additional Solicitor General mentioned that it has been revealed before the Commission that the officers had to face various difficulties in that situation. The former president said he would not accept that at all.
“There was no problem with the officers. They were given ample opportunity to express their views freely anywhere, including at the National Defense Council,” he said.
He also said that after assuming presidency in 2015, disputes began to arise between him and the PM within a very short time, a week.
“He came and said that Arjun Mahendran should be appointed as the Governor of the Central Bank, but I did not like it. He kept saying that Mahendran was the right person for that spot. I did not want a conflict within a week of coming to power. So, I let it happen,” he mentioned.
He also said that after appointing a Presidential Committee of inquiry into the Central Bank Fraud, Mr. Wickremesinghe argued with him.
Meanwhile, the Additional Solicitor General inquired about the statement made by the former PM that Mr. Sirisena had agreed to serve as the President without being a member of any political party, when he contested for the Presidential Election. In response, the former president said it was completely untrue and that he had not agreed upon such a thing.
Responding to a question raised by the Commission if the former IGP Pujith Jayasundara was banned from attending Defense Council meetings, the former president said that he had informed the former IGP not to attend the Defense Council meetings due to certain conduct of the former IGP.
However, the former IGP was not barred from attending those meetings, he said.
The former president said that although Mr. Jayasundara had attended the Security Council meetings on several occasions, he had observed him paying close attention to his two mobile phones without paying attention to the issues being discussed at the Defense Council meeting and had personally instructed him about this at the end of the meeting.
He said that Mr. Jayasundara had never made any successful presentation as the IGP at the Defense Council meetings.
He also said,
“Mr. Pujith Jayasundara danced in the Kandy Perahera, which was largely publicized by the media. Few days later I asked him if the Diyawadana Nilame had told him that there were not enough dancing groups for the perahera.
“Not only that, when he went to a school function in Marara, he delivered a lecture to the children for over three hours. Most of the time, the Senior DIGs in Charge of the provinces called me and told me not to send him to the meetings.
“At one point, I received a complaint claiming that he had spoken from morning until evening in a monthly meeting at the police HQ, without letting other senior officers to speak a word.
“In addition, I received complaints saying that the former IGP had not properly paid the bounty to the spies involved in the drug raids carried out by the STF and the Narcotics Bureau. I heard that a committee had been set up at that time by former Minister Rangith Madduma Bandara to investigate an allegation against IGP Pujith Jayasundara on the instructions of Ranil Wickremasinghe. So far, I’m not aware of the decisions of that committee.
“Due to such issues, I asked the DIG of the CID Ravi Seneviratne to come to the Defense Council’s meeting. He can go directly and inform IGP Pujith Jayasundara about the decisions taken by the Defense Council