Sri Lanka: Bystander Apathy

The original article we received is much longer. We tried our best to take some excerpts from what the writer titled amicus brief as we find this is worth reading. We are publishing this essay anonymously to protect the writer’s privacy- Eds.

All for freedom and for pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world” - Tear for Fears
“It's easier to fool people than to convince them
that they have been fooled.” 
- A quote attributed to Mark Twain

I mulled over for some time whether to or not to write this amicus curie brief of mine to the People’s Court of Sri Lanka. I made up my mind: to pay it forward for the free education and medical care I have received for decades of my life. I request you to read this to the end-though it is going to be very long, you will like it, I promise. Moreover, I will be very critical of certain government institutions. It is because of those at top rung, be they military top brass, MFA mandarins, or SLAS panjandrums, lack vision and drive, initiative, and are inept, indolent, venal, and into profligacy. I empathize with the rank and file, who are in utter despondency and dilemma, because of their top rung’s actions, inaction, lack of professionalism, and sycophancy.

Future of Sri Lanka?
Let’s talk about a few of the institutions or services that are supposed/required/essential to keep Sri Lankans and Sri Lanka straight: Military and Police; Ministry of Foreign Affairs; SLAS & University education; Judiciary.

a. SL Military and the Police: First off, “there are no bad soldiers but bad top brass”. If you think, just because the “Lion flag” or “Buddhist flag’ lapel pins wearing ex-military chiefs or flag officers say they have ensured that everything was hunky-dory on their watch, I totally disagree. I can write at length about a lot of them. I am not going to break it down, to give you the individual readiness and maintenance levels of units, formations or fleets. I know them upclose and personal, but want to avoid, simply because, not to give aid and comfort to the enemy.

In Sri Lanka, the last officer and gentleman Army chief was General Srilal Weerasooriya.

I know of most of the service chiefs of the last four decades very up close and personal. I state here on record, that the last officer and gentleman Army chief was General Srilal Weerasooriya. When we were young we were told by his soldiers how he read the newspapers at home: dressed well in starched white shorts and a white shirt, wearing leather shoes and white socks, under a tree at his garden. We were told too that he was married to a former beauty queen. Recently Dr. Ajith K brought up his name in one of his lectures to show how Gen Srilal W, as then Army commander solved in no time an issue, when it was brought up to him by another gentleman. IGP Cyril H. It was a national situation-a floor shortage-waiting to happen due to the short-sighted requisition of the Prima Flour Company lorries. In another instance, which I know personally, he went with then Army Commander General Wanasinghe, Defense Minister late Ranjan W and others to meet CM Vardaraja P in Trincomalee in the later part of the 80s. Gen Srilal was then Trincomalee Brigade Commander. When another flag officer from a different service did some dirty thing unbecoming an officer and gentleman, which was not related to the discussions-he spoke his mind and showed his uprightness and moral courage by objecting.

The next, SL Air Force chiefs. The last Air Force officer and gentleman Commander was late Squadron Leader Priyantha’s father, Air Chief Marshal A Fernando. I saw a couple of months back an ex-AFChief in pictures trying to hand over a ‘defense’ proposal, with others, to an ex -President. This chief was all quid pro quo when was in uniform. Meaning, he said to an SLAF doctor, “If you pass-otherwise medially disqualified- my pilot son’s flight medical, I will release you from the Air Force”. The doctor passed his son, was released from the Air Force and left for greener pastures, the pilot son continued to fly.

The last Air Force officer and gentleman Commander was late Squadron Leader Priyantha’s father, Air Chief Marshal A Fernando.

So, you see, why he cannot see the Wilpattu clearing and housing projects appearing when he flies through the Jaffna-Colombo air corridor to maintain his currency by completing required flying hours. Can you believe or depend or count on this kind of air chiefs when Sri Lanka has to buy fighter, trainer, and transport aircraft and attack, assault, and cargo helicopters?

The next is Sri Lanka Navy. The last officer and gentleman Commander of the Navy was none other than Vice Admiral (VA) Ashok de Silva. Did he seek ministers’ influence peddling to get an extension; did he see the Chief Prelates, Bishops, Imams, or Pusaris to posture himself; were there any scandals involving Navy? Did he stay a second longer in the “Navy House” when he was supposed to vacate and hand over to the next, unlike the present CDS who has become homestead, denying the Navy House to the next three successive commanders after him? In short, during VA Ashok’ de S’ time there were no ‘hardships’ and ‘showboats’ but gunboats patrolling Sri Lanka’s territorial waters.

The last officer and gentleman Commander of the Navy was none other than Vice Admiral (VA) Ashok de Silva.

The last one. It is Police. The last officer and gentleman IGP was IGP Cyril H, one of the only two Shin Beth trained police officers, the other being IGP Herbert W, at that time. Ask Major General Lalin F’do about his skills, knowledge, inter-service/inter-agency cordiality, humbleness, and patience he amply showed as the Police security coordinator of the Colombo NAM summit in 1976. Hear this out, please. His son was a Colombo University undergraduate during the time in question. He used to referee the friendly rugger matches too. When the CID wanted question him on his alleged/suspected insurgent activities, the IGP did not send his son by his official car nor called the CID to order to not “grill’ him, not even to ask go soft on questioning? He told his son that his mode of transportation to the CID is by the CTB bus, and here is the fare! No contrast this with what the disgraced ex-FCID Chief Ravi W is saying to a hack journalist in a dimly lit hotel room. No need to talk at all about the ex-IGP Putjith J, now languishing in jail.

The last officer and gentleman IGP was IGP Cyril H, one of the only two Shin Beth trained police officers, the other being IGP Herbert W, at that time.

I am not into disparaging the military here, a vast majority of rank and file are brave, disciplined and honest soldiers, who were/are/will not be led well by the yesteryear, present day or near future service chiefs. Because of their bravery the terrorist threat was defeated militarily lock, stock and barrel. Commitment coupled with the CT and anti-insurgency experience gained since 1983 helped the current foot soldiers to contain the situation quickly after the Easter Sunday attack. But due to the venality of police officers-meaning the corrupt to the hilt HQIs (see the size of their gold bracelets and chains that they are wearing in uniform)-the bad actors rolled up by the military with much effort and hard work are released after the bribes changed hands.

The next possible service chiefs and IGPs in the pipeline for the next five years are not promising either. Anyways, if somebody has ‘ideas’ to harm or wish Sri Lanka ill then they should know the brave Sri Lankan Solider, Sailor, Airman, and Marine, Coast Guard member, policeman, STF Trooper, CDF cadre that they shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship to defeat the threat and win decisively. If you have any doubt about their willingness, here is an analogy, a quote from the page 66 of the “Recollections of Joan of Arc” by the Sieur Louis De Conte, translated by Jean Alden.

“Without the soldiers to fight with?”
“The Drums will summon them. They will answer, and they will march.”
“March to the rear as usual?”
“No; to the front-ever front-always to the front! You shall see.”

b. Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA): it is nauseating to talk about the MFA. Sri Lanka has a TV journalist turned diplomat as Foreign Secretary. I can talk about him since he was 17 years old if I have time. I mentioned elsewhere of Instruments of National Power-DIME. The ‘D’ in DIME is non-existence because of the indolent, self-serving, and just getting by d-heads in the MFA. Not only they are responsible for “D’ in DIME but for ‘I’ too, for strategic messaging given the relentless disinformation campaign by the Eelamist lobby and their diaspora in the western countries.

Sri Lanka has a TV journalist turned diplomat as Foreign Secretary. 

Example One: The best diplomat in the world, bar none, is Russia’s incumbent Foreign Minister Mr. Sergey Lavrov, who has been able to prevent WW III so far. Where did he learns the ropes, the nitty-gritty of diplomacy at? From the then Russian Embassy at Flower Road, next to Ladies College, in Colombo doing the grunt work as a greenhorn diplomat [intermittently winking at the PTYs (pretty young thigs) of the wealthy attending the school, LoL!].

It was in the early 70s. How he did he prepares himself to give a master class in diplomacy to the world leaders. While at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO)he learned Sinhalese to acquire the proficiency of the language of the ‘target’ country’. Sri Lankans are famous to boast and they can brag about producing the best diplomat in the world, sadly he is not a Sri Lankan though. Other diplomats come here and master themselves and become world renown and ours are just nimrods, incompetents, and laughing stocks in the diplomatic circles world around.

The best diplomat in the world, bar none, is the Russia’s incumbent Foreign Minister Mr. Sergey Lavrov, who has been able to prevent WW III so far. 

Example Number Two: Recently, on the 03rd September 2019 to be exact, Sri Lanka and Australia held a meeting to rededicate themselves to counter people smuggling and discuss in detail avenues for strengthening cooperation to address the recent escalation of the number of people-smuggling ventures from Sri Lanka.

According to the MFA press release, in addition to the JTF-Joint Task Force Commander of Operations Sovereign Borders, the Australian Delegation also included High Commissioner of Australia to Sri Lanka, David Holly, Australia’s Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human Trafficking, Bryce Hutchesson and Manager, National Response Operations of the Australian Federal Police Commander, Jason Williams. Now let's take a look at the photo released to the media: on one side of the table, the Foreign Secretary, surrounded by a bevvy of near menopausal women aka foreign office mandarins (oh, by the way, the Ibrahim brothers are having fun with 144 teenaged virgins in heaven) and on the opposite side the high officials representing various federal agencies of the Australian government. Where were their Sri Lankan counterparts? Namely, the DIG Organized Crimes, an ex- or current Director General of Naval Operations with extensive afloat duty experience on FACs, FGBs or OPVs countering human smuggling and preventing TIP (trafficking in person) accompanied by another FAC Flotilla or FGS Flotilla commander?

What they did to the Australian Delegation was an affront, and prevented high-ranking Sri Lankan Police officers and Navy officers the chance to network. Check this out. When the IPKF arrived in Sri Lanka, which service had friends, who were in the same class with them in the Indian military schools? You know why there are demonstrations against the military officer training opportunities given to Sri Lanka? Your guess is as good as mine. One day, if Sri Lanka wants have a two- person surveillance team stationed in Australia to monitor a Sri Lankan VEO, what would you think work best? An official letter rewritten by a Foreign Secretary giving away the element of surprise or seeking help from these Australian officers on the personal connections made over a drink at hotel bar, Officer Mess or Ward Room? The Diplomutts will NOT choose the latter for sure.

Example Number Three: What is diplomacy? “The established method of influencing the decisions and behaviour of foreign governments and peoples through dialogue, negotiation, and other measures short of war or violence.” Are Sri Lankan diplomats rather do MFA have capable diplomats just do that? Many a Sri Lankan intellectual will agree with me when I say, No!

The last capable diplomat I have listened to and met is Dr. Vernon Mendis. It is by pure luck. When our Training Officer could not make senior officers attend, he just asked whether I wanted to go, I jumped for the opportunity and went with him. Not only I networked, and later one of middle-grade were sitting for a Current Affairs exam, he asked me to help. I requested Dr. Mendis to help us. He was very happy to help. When he was teaching the officer sitting in a chair, face to face, I just sat near him on the floor, listening intently.

In the 80s I learned from late Dr. Vernon Mendis why no one can conquer Afghanistan. Back to the example, I digressed too much. There is renewed calls in the UK to prosecute the ex-defence attaché for his throat-slitting gesture in uniform at the Sri Lanka High Commission, saying he did not have diplomatic immunity. Then take the recent tragic motor accident near RAF Croughton (the Spy Base) where a spouse of a spy belonging to a ‘Five Eyes’ member country and based in the UK, driving on the wrong side of the road hit and killed a teen-aged motorcyclist. We all are humans and can cause an accident resulting in manslaughter. What happened next was the most pathetic part.

According to the media reports, Home Office helped her to flee, without facing the parents and answering what happened in the court. The Five Eyes spies based in RAF Croughton have been extended diplomatic immunity, they say, since 1994. Where are the skills of our diplomats, to call the British High Commissioner for a cup of BOP tea at the MFA and ask them to drop this Eelam drama; just ask him, with respect and politeness, to keep it abeyance until they get the spouse in question to fly back to the UK to face the British justice and her case is closed. Remind him politely that his is only a gesture, whereas in the spouse of the spy’s case it is manslaughter of a British citizen and fleeing from justice. There are only Eelamists with hurt feelings in the gesture case. But in the motorcycle accident case, there are real victims-the parents, kith and kin with lost son, relative, and friend. They are sad and hurt forever. Unlike our high-commissioners who get slapped in alcohol-fueled parties, the western diplomats are educated and have self-respect. Whatever the foxtrot their elected official do, I am positive, they will do everything in their power to help Sri Lanka when there is right diplomatic, skillful approach.

c. Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS): Thanks to free education and the quota system you have graduates. But are they up to par to face the challenges and grow to be top bureaucrats to serve the nation? If you going by the COPE sessions, the answer is “No!’. The quota system produces poor quality graduates. There is no way, bar an exception or two, that a student selected to a medical faculty from a backward district will be a better doctor had a student from a leading school who could not just been allowed, for argument sake, to go to a private medical college. To make matters worse, in Sri Lanka, most of all university selections are based on the Z-score. In developed nations it won’t fly or pass the muster. Their University admissions are based on; school grades; rigorous course load; sports; extra-curricular activities such as internships, Intel science Olympiad; standardized tests; personal essay; school specific essays; counselor and teacher recommendations; personal interview etc. With those check and balances the university can find for good fit to offer a quality education. So, SLAS in Sri Lanka, for the most part is like a computer; garbage in, garbage out.

In their day to day activities they cannot be fair and firm. They carry a chip on their shoulder due to lack of background, lack of command of English and lack of exposure to other good things in life. So they can be easily bullied and intimidated. To a permanent secretary of a Ministry, the subject minister brings a list of his henchmen who supported him at the election and tell him that these people are needed to be employed ASAP, what would he do? He does not have the guts to educate or remind the minister of the process, meritocracy, fit for the job or organization. In fact, he should just ask the minister go fly a kite. So once these henchmen are in, they pull minister’s powers on the other employees. The disciplined and properly selected employees get intimidated and do nothing about it due to fear of personal consequences. They, the henchmen, just show up to sign the book and then vanish in to thin air-sounds familiar with the Urban Ministry thrash clearing? I hope you are familiar with the recent revelation by a Ministry Secretary about an attempt of the private secretary of a controversial minister to get him to sign a check to the tune of million to pay an illegal payment to a shipper and of his refusal. What happened next? No sooner that happened, the Secretary fell ill and had to be admitted to a medical facility.

To a permanent secretary of a Ministry, the subject minister brings a list of his henchmen who supported him at the election and tell him that these people are needed to be employed ASAP, what would he do? 

The private secretary used that opportunity to get the acting Secretary to sign the check. That kind of both malfeasance and silent acquiescence is the result of poor quality graduates produced by Sri Lankan university education system, out of high-schoolers selected purely on Z-scores.
Look at the video clip where the EC explained how the voters should mark the ballot papers and how to count the votes to select the winner. It shows how messed up the election itself. When you have hundreds of thousand people who cannot read and understand a bank form and fill to open an account, how do they understand those calculations to properly mark his or her ballot paper with preferences? They are not math majors, if I am to be hyperbolic for a moment.

Not only are they mostly incompetent but shiftless too. Go to any government office for a simple matter, you can see for yourself. Unless you know someone or bribe somebody, you have to visit the office over and over. Why is this so? Universities do not produce strong administrators who are knowledgeable, smart, with personality, can lead from the front any more in large quantities.

d. Judiciary and Attorney General Department: I do not have to explain about the Judiciary in Sri Lanka as Lawyer Ms. Sugandhika Fernando has exposed all the ills in it and she had to suffer for it. The political malaise that Sri Lanka has had for last 71 years is part due to failure of the judiciary to take proper legal action in timely and efficient manner against or not supporting the law enforcement agencies to apprehend terrorists, criminals and scammers etc. As an example, the culprit implicated in the Bond Scam leaves the airport smiling on press cameras, after a week or so Sri Lanka requests Interpol to issue a “Red Notice”. Why there was no alacrity to take action to prevent him from leaving. There are six ways from Sunday to do it, if one has the willingness and guts.

The Judiciary to include the Attorneys General Department create contents for comedy constantly. It is same with the cases involving the violent extremist terrorists implicated in the Easter Sunday attacks. They slept on their files for years. When the governments that come to power operates on “I scratch your back, you will mine” basis and hush up wrongdoings of the previous dispensation by the dispensation existing at that time, what you do is perpetuation of the political malaise in Sri Lanka.

The people of Sri Lanka lampoon politicians bash the government official, fight the police. First of all they need go into their musing room and turn the searchlights in and reflect whether he or she does her part as a citizen of Sri Lanka. Whether they go by what they promise to Buddha observing five precepts daily or to Jesus Christ observing Ten Commandments or whatever promises Muslims make to Allah or Hindus to their Gods.

Get inspired by what a President of another country said in his inaugural address to children and adults to remind the importance of civic action and public service. His historic words, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” challenged every citizen to contribute in some way to the public good.

Since you did not want a paradigm shift this time, was not willing to change, even after the Easter Sunday attack, proving ‘thmabi’ (Vellupillai P) is correct time and again that the memory of most Sri Lankans are short, I suggest you to listen to the song “Everybody wants to rule the world” by Tears for Tears to ameliorate the discomfort felt when the self-licking ice-cream cone you just voted-in screw you without even a bit of ‘KY Jelly’ for the next five years.

Or else think of this Construct: you have full 5 years ahead to circle the wagons. Pull up your socks and get moving to form one juggernaut of a political movement of different kind to field a winnable alternative candidate by popular demand or consensus. Have a manifesto of the immediate priorities that have to be addressed: debt trap; drug menace; VEOs; transportation problem; unemployment: rampant violence etc. ready to publish well in advance. Have Subject Matter Experts (SMEs),-honest and with a proven track record and passion for the job-identified, screen and vetted. Form a shadow cabinet, declare the names of members for the public to know well in advance, unlike Mr. Nagananda. Use it as check and balance of the existing cabinet. Have a strong grassroots and online movement. Maintain Unity of Command, have one voice, not 35 organizations and 250 unions pulling at various direction.

How do you identify the SMEs? Check out their op-eds, do background checks, and interview them. I will just name a few I think who have passion and qualifications Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne for Aviation; SDIG Latiff for Defence; Dr.Ruwan M Jayatunga for Health; Dr. Suranga Nanayakkara for Science & Technology, to name a few.

What needs to happen: Sri Lanka needs to abolish the law or the requirement for police and military personnel salute MPs, ministers, magistrates, whatnot except President, PM, the Speaker and Defence Minister and another few exceptions.

Long ago you had politicians of Dr. NM, Dr. Colvin R, JR, Dr. Neelan Thiru, and Dr T.B. Jaya caliber and stature. It is not the case now at all, you have thugs and the underworld members as politicians. Remember the famous photo where a DIG ‘Patriotbandu’ saluting an alleged drug czar who was also a supervising MP for defense ministry-I have described elsewhere- was just laughing; an MP (Muth’gama) of a 800-pound gorilla from the south forcing his way into a police station and releasing the culprits who were his henchmen, from the police cell by force, all the while the policemen were aghast and just looking on. Back the military and police to the hilt. Do not appoint service commanders and Security Forces commanders on seniority alone, I mean, after Major General and equivalent, for the next appointment or as service commanders, do it considering merit, capability, bravery shown, knowledge of the field, passion for the job etc.

To err is human. When and if one does make a mistake or commit an offence they should be dealt with according to the rules and regulations or disciplinary code that govern them or using the penal code.

The only way to close the gap between the 100,000 lumpen swayed by sops and the 1000 doctors, engineers, lawyers and accountants voting after making informed decision, the youth reluctant to vote in a lost cause must be motivated, energized and roped in to give their full support towards the new line of effort that is to field a strong, acceptable to a majority candidate in the next presidential election.

There are so many capable people all over the world with roots in Sri Lanka. Remember this, London Stock Exchange runs on world second-fastest software created by Sri Lankan software engineers, a Sri Lankan origin then Princeton undergraduate indirectly caused now owner, the second wealthiest man on earth, Jeff Bezos, then astrophysics undergraduate at Princeton to never mind astrophysics and be an entrepreneur. But also remember, well-established Sri Lankan academics living overseas will not rush in where angels fear to tread. Translation: They do not want to come here to be directed by a benighted Chathurika, Namal or a self-proclaimed First Lady.

To err is human. When and if one does make a mistake or commit an offence they should be dealt with according to the rules and regulations or disciplinary code that govern them or using the penal code. Sri Lanka will be better served when it stops succumbing or yielding to the rag tag journalists, clergymen, and academics living in their respective ivory tower when they clamor for disciplinary action, to include the nature of punishment that should be meted out to public official when he or she in the wrong. Let his or her superiors to take actions and take care of it. They are professionals, have self-respect, better positioned to evaluate the wrongdoer using the whole person concept since they know him or her well as a productive member of his team and his institution.

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