Defence Secys neglected responsibilities – Sirisena
By Buddhika Samaraweera
Former President Maithripala Sirisena said all the Defence Secretaries who served during his tenure have neglected their responsibilities, by not holding the weekly Intelligence coordination meetings properly and that they have misled him in providing information about those meetings.
Sirisena was testifying before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the bombings on 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, yesterday (12).
Initiating the hearing, an Additional Solicitor General (ASG) queried as to why three Secretaries to the President and five Defence Secretaries served from time to time between the 2015-2019 period. Responding to this, Sirisena said: "P.B. Abeykoon was the first among the Secretaries to the President. After some time, he said he wanted to retire. Then, Austin Fernando was appointed as the President’s Secretary and later he said he liked to be appointed as the Ambassador to India. He was appointed the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to India, after which Udaya R. Seneviratne was appointed as the Secretary to the President."
Also, he said all five Defence Secretaries who served under him, B.M.U.D. Basnayake, Engineer Karunasena Hettiarachchi, Kapila Waidyaratne PC, Hemasiri Fernando and General Shantha Kottegoda had all the qualifications needed to be appointed to the post. Sirisena said: "The reasons for the appointment of each person cannot be stated separately due to the presence of the Media, but I will say in general. The Defence Secretary is one of the most important posts, which includes the supervision of the Tri-Forces, the Chief of Defence Staff and the Department of Civil Defence. One thing I have seen is that when those officers and institutions come under their control, the Defence Secretary loses his humanity and then there are some problems."
He also said there were several grievances from the Tri-Forces Commanders on a regular basis and that Defence Secretaries at the time were removed due to such matters. Some others resigned due to health reasons and some resigned due to various institutional issues, he added.
Meanwhile, Sirisena confidentially mentioned several other reasons in writing to the Commission that led to the removal and appointment of the Defence Secretaries from time to time.
The ASG then questioned the witness whether he would accept that certain witnesses who testified before the Commission had said the constant removals and appointments of the Defence Secretaries caused some problems for the officers with regard to national security. In response, Sirisena said such problems do not arise through the appointment of Secretaries. “As far as I know, the Intelligence coordinating meetings were held every Tuesday. Everything related to national security was discussed there. They would be informed again at the National Security Council (NSC) again,” he said. He also said in addition to meeting at the NSC, he, as the President, had called the Defence Secretary at least once every two weeks to discuss issues related to security.
"As you are aware, it has been more than a year since the Commission started recording evidence and various witnesses have given contradictory evidence with regard to what you mention. Well, as you say, do you think that Intelligence coordination meetings were held on Tuesdays as they were supposed to be?,” the ASG queried the witness. In response, Sirisena said as far as he knew, it was held every week. I was told by the Defence Secretaries at the NSC that it was held, he said.
The ASG then drew the attention of the witness to a report on the dates of the Intelligence coordination meetings held from 28 July 2015 to 21 July 2019, which had been presented before the Commission. In the report, it was mentioned that no Intelligence coordination meeting was held every week, except during August 2016 and May 2017.
In addition, the ASG drew the attention of the Commission to the fact that continuous weekly Intelligence coordination meetings had not been held in any month in 2018 and that no Intelligence coordination meetings had been held in a number of months in 2019.
When questioned as to what he thought of the facts contained therein, Sirisena said he felt that his decision as the President to remove the Defence Secretaries from time to time was correct according to that report. “The former Defence Secretaries had neglected the basics of national security by not holding the Intelligence coordination meetings properly. This shows that I was right to remove the Defence Secretaries. The non-holding of the Intelligence coordination meetings seems to be a failure to take basic steps that needed to be taken regarding national security," he added.