Certain decisions had to be taken regardless of the law and regulations – Sirisena
By Buddhika Samaraweera
Former President Maithripala Sirisena said, when ruling the country, he had, in terms of practical necessity, to take decisions in a certain manner, regardless of what is mentioned in the law, rules and regulations.
He made this admission yesterday (24) at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the 21 April 2019 Easter Sunday bombings during cross- examination by Anura Maddegoda (PC) who appeared for the former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara.
Sirisena made this admission during the culmination of a series of exchanges with Maddegoda when the latter initially questioned him as to why he had not summoned Jayasundara to the National Security Council (NSC) since 2018, despite a special Gazette Notification naming the IGP among those who should be permanently summoned to the NSC meetings, to which Sirisena had replied that not only had he prevented Jayasundara from attending the NSC but that he had also on an occasion removed the then Prime Minister and Cabinet of Ministers.
When pointed out by Maddegoda that the latter decision had been quashed by the Supreme Court, Sirisena said that be that as it may, when ruling the country, he had to, in terms of practical necessity, take certain decisions in a certain manner, regardless of whatever is mentioned in the law, rules and regulations, and that in this particular instance he had sought to summon to the NSC only those he deemed trustworthy.
When queried if he had a good knowledge of the Constitution, the witness said that he had some understanding of it. Maddegoda also drew the witness's attention to a Gazette Notification issued by the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in 1999 regarding the permanent Members of the NSC.
He questioned the witness whether he accepted that Jayasundara had been barred from attending the NSC meetings since 2018, despite the fact that the relevant Gazette Notification mentioned the officials who must attend, and Sirisena admitted that he prevented Jayasundara from attending it. Maddegoda then suggested to the witness that it was against the law not to summon such permanent Members to the NSC. In response, Sirisena rejected the premise. “Whatever was in the law and the Gazette Notifications, I had to act according to certain circumstances. I should call trustworthy officers to the NSC. I called a Deputy Inspector General of Police instead of Jayasundara since he broke the trust I had reposed on him,” he added.
Maddegoda: “That means that you do not consider legal provisions and acted according to your wishes. Isn't that right?”
Sirisena: “No, I did not ignore such rules and regulations. But officials had to be brought in at the discretion of the President.”
Maddegoda: “Show me, is there anywhere in that Gazette Notification that states that the President can act at his discretion?”
Sirisena: “It may not be mentioned in the Gazette Notification. But a head of an institution can make the decisions to run it with discipline and ethics. I acted according to certain things that happened at that time. Trustworthy persons were invited to the NSC.”
Meanwhile, when queried if the relevant Gazette Notification had mentioned anywhere that Members of the NSC could be summoned on the basis of trust, the witness said that it could not have been in the Gazette Notification.
Maddegoda: As the first citizen of the country at the time, you were bound to act in accordance with the law at all times. The President can never override the law, can he?”
Sirisena: “No. The President can never override the law.”
When queried by Maddegoda as to whether he (Sirisena) should act in accordance with the law and the provisions contained in the Gazette Notifications, the witness said that he accepted that.
In such a situation, when questioned as to whether the removal of Jayasundara from the NSC was a deliberate omission of legal provisions, the witness said that he completely rejected the claim. "I have removed not only the IGP but also the Prime Minister," he said. At the time, Maddegoda pointed out to the witness that the Premier was not a permanent Member of the NSC. In response, Sirisena said: "No, but the person closest to the President in terms of the hierarchy of power is the Prime Minister and I even removed him. That's why I said it. Not only the Premier, but the entire Cabinet was removed,"
Maddegoda then pointed out to Sirisena that the SC had given a clear ruling that the decision taken by him (Sirisena) to remove the Prime Minister and the Cabinet was completely unconstitutional. "What may not be in the law has to be done in public administration. Even Kautilya of India was said to take away the ones who are not trustworthy and to approach those who can be trusted. That is what governance is all about. Strategies should be used on a case-by-case basis," Sirisena said.
Does that mean that it was opportunistic to go beyond the legal framework during your tenure as the President? Meddegoda queried and Sirisena, in reply, said that he would not say so and that he had acted in accordance with the law,"
Also, when Maddegoda suggested to the witness that he had taken certain decisions based on very childish reasons, Sirisena said that he completely rejects the claim. A childish person cannot be a President, he said.
Meanwhile, Maddegoda further suggested that Sirisena did not pay attention to certain issues as he only thought about the existence of the previous United National Front led Government of ‘good governance’. In response, the witness said that he had not cared about the said Government since the day the Central Bank Treasury Bond scam took place. “At that time I was trying to dissolve Parliament. But I did not have the powers to do that,” Sirisena said.