(April 5, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) March 23, 2017 is a golden day in Sri Lanka’s diplomatic history, said Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
That is due to two special incidents.
That is due to two special incidents.
“One incident was that President Maithripala Sirisena was invited by Russia after 43 years and he was accorded the highest form of welcome and treated like a king. This is a significant achievement and a sign.”
“The other significant incident was that while Sri Lanka was being given such a prestigious welcome in Moscow, in Geneva 47 other countries pledged their support for Sri Lanka. During the Rajapaksa regime Sri Lanka only had the support of 12 countries. Now all the countries are supportive of us. One does not need more proof to prove that a blacklisted country has been made white,” he said.
Today countries trust Sri Lanka and there is love and hope. One of the reasons is the Rainbow Revolution, he said in an interview with ‘Sathhanda’, a Sinhala language weekly newspaper in Colombo.
The ‘Sathhanda’ interview with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, on ‘Are you happy now?’ is as follows:
“The whole world is focusing on the rainbow revolution”
After the change of government on January 8, it is a period where state officials and politicians contemplate on what had been said and done.
Excerpts of the Interview;
For our good luck, especially the Army Commander and IGP had vehemently opposed [the coup ] and refused to provide military support to carry out this plan. It was under these circumstances that they eventually had to concede defeat.
Q. Minister, what do you think of the January 8th transformation or the rainbow revolution?
A. Frankly, I am very pleased with the change, as we were able to change the path the country was traveling in quite unexpectedly. We witnessed this same transformation prior to this known as the Arab spring, where the people of countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya had to resort to an armed struggle to re-establish democracy in their countries.
However, in Sri Lanka we carried out this revolution in a peaceful manner without any bloodshed or violence. We gathered the people of the North, South, Central and West and what we achieved has even caught the attention of those at Harvard University. This is a revolution that the whole world needs to know about and is an ideal example of how change can be brought on peacefully.
Q. What was your contribution to this endeavour?
A. In fact, I contributed to the best of my ability. From the day I left the brutal rule of Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2007, I dreamed of the day we would be able to bring about this change. However, we were only able to implement this plan by the end of 2014 with the arrival of the SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena.
Q. But, you said earlier that there were attempts to change the revolution of January 8, that very night?
A. Yes I say it today as well. There were attempts to change what was achieved that very night. When the election results were being released Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, G. L. Peiris and Dallas Alahapperuma gathered at Temple Trees and had discussed on how the election results can be manipulated. They plotted to even deploy the military and stop the counting of ballots, declare a state of emergency and forcibly manipulate the election results. They even got down the Attorney General, Army Commander and the IGP.
However, for our good luck, especially the Army Commander and IGP had vehemently opposed this move and refused to provide military support to carry out this plan. It was under these circumstances that they eventually had to concede defeat.
Q. You complained regarding these allegations and spoke of the fraud and corruption of the Rajapaksa regime, but to date no complaints have been lodged and no action has been taken against them, why?
A. Yes I agree so far no punishment has been given to them. But, I know that the preliminary inquiries regarding the January 8th incident was carried out. Recently, I suggested to my good friend Minister Sagala Ratnayake to once again focus on this report and take action. I am also certain the he is carrying on these investigations. However, with regard to all other allegations against the previous regime are definitely happening.
Especially where corruption, misappropriation of public funds and assets and fraud is concerned, not only are the investigations progressing, we have also discovered millions worth assets belonging to Namal, Yoshitha and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and their close relatives. We have also brought this to the notice of the courts and filed cases against them.
I still remember the youngest member of the Rajapaksa family in an interview with ‘Lankadeepa’ in 2012 had mentioned that they have no money or assets and they did not even possess a vehicle and were using only the official vehicles. They even had no house of their own. This was not so long ago, but today this family owns over 2 billion in assets and not just in Sri Lanka. We have reported these findings to the Courts.
Similarly, Udayanga Weeratunge is a relative of Mahinda Rajapaksa. We have frozen 17 of his accounts just in Sri Lanka and these accounts hold over a billion in them.
Hence, it is not fair to say that these crimes are not being investigated. However, we believe in good governance and will not influence the judiciary. What I have mentioned here is just a drop in the ocean compared to what we have found on their crimes.
On the other hand we have uncovered the Rajapaksas’ fingerprints from many countries including Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Ukraine.
Similarly, the police have to travel to many countries when they are conducting investigations in one single country. Then they have to forge agreements with other countries and this will take time, perhaps many years. It will take time to formulate all these information to a level that it can be presented in court.
Q. Basil Rajapaksa’s house in Gampaha was discovered and there is also an owner to this house. Although the case was taken to Court, why was he not charged?
A. I think the Court had stated that there were no legal mechanisms in order to confiscate this property. Since I am not a legal expert, I don’t want to comment on it. In some of these properties, there is no owner and even we can go and claim these properties. There are billions with no owner. However, even though these people are now making use of the shortfalls in the system, eventually the government will confiscate all their assets.
Q. There are over ten cases of corruption filed against your regime as well. Won’t you investigate these complaints?
A. Yes, we are. It is a tactic of this bunch of thieves to level allegations against us and tries to cover up what they have done by claiming that they are rogues and we are rogues too. But, if that is the case and they have evidence to prove their allegations, then they can take action as the President has created a system that allows for investigation against anyone who does wrong.
I must remind you of another factor which is that before the elections the UNP had decided to hand over the investigations on corruption and fraud to the JVP. I still remember we held discussions with Anura Kumara Dissanayake with regard to this matter.
If our government too came to power with the intention of robbing this country, then we could have appointed one of our own and carried on with the fraud and corruption by intimidating state officials and threatening them. But we did not do that as we wanted to change that corrupt system.
Q. I remember during the election, there was a black book that was maintained with the names of corrupt officials. However, these officials are still in these high positions, why?
A. I think I lost that book. If you happen to find it please return it to me.
Q. What do you think of the new government’s 100-day programme subsequent to winning the election?
A. The 100-day programme was very successful. We achieved almost all the goals that we set out to accomplish. The President changed everything he could with his limited executive powers.
During the Rajapaksa regime, while taxes were being levied on even a packet of milk, they were driving Lamborghinis. But, today, we have exempted many essential food items from taxes. The price of these essential food items has still not been changed.
The previous regime had not raised the salaries of state sector employees for over a decade, but we increased their salaries by Rs. 10,000. Honestly, we can be very happy with the government’s 100-day programme.
Q. Don’t you think that instead of going in for the 100-day government, it would have been better to have dissolved parliament on January 10, which would have created a better path for the new government?
A. Not just in politics, but in even our own lives, after some time, we look bank and think that we should have done things differently. But, we took the decisions that we saw best at the time and acted accordingly. Now we must move forward. However, your argument does make sense.
Q. During the 100-day government you were the Foreign Minister. On the posters in Matara, you identified yourself as Mangala who made the Black Country white. Did you really make this country white?
A. In fact, it was actually realised on March 23, 2017. I think this day will be etched in gold in our history books. This is based on two incidents. One incident was that President Maithripala Sirisena was invited by Russia after 43 years and he was accorded the highest form of welcome and treated like a king. This is a significant achievement and a sign.
The other significant incident was that while Sri Lanka was being given such a prestigious welcome in Moscow, in Geneva 47 other countries pledged their support for Sri Lanka. During the Rajapaksa regime, Sri Lanka only had the support of 12 countries. Now all the countries are supportive of us. One does not need more proof to prove that a blacklisted country has been made white. You don’t need more proof.
Today countries trust Sri Lanka and there is love and hope. One of the reasons is the Rainbow Revolution
Another significant incident was that the two main political parties that were enemies eventually joined together for the betterment of the country. It is because of the impact of the policy revolution of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe that we have received such praise globally. If not for the Rainbow Revolution, none of this would have been possible.
Q. As you claim if this Rainbow Revolution did not happen, what could have happened to Sri Lanka in March?
A. If the Rainbow Revolution did not happen this country would have been in deep trouble.
Internationally Sri Lanka was considered unstable and they had planned to initiate war crime allegations against us. Forty-three countries were supportive of this decision and only 12 were against such a move. The investigations that commenced at that time went on until January this year. That was with President Sirisena’s election pledge which indicated that we will set up a domestic Court.
At that time we told them that we cannot accept an international mechanism and we pledged that by September we would show them our plans for the setting up of a domestic judiciary mechanism and asked that they withdraw the international plan. Today we are in this position because they agreed to our request.
Had we tread that same path, that report would have been tabled in Geneva on March 3, 2015. With that countries could also have implemented economic sanctions against us and the next step would have been to ban all foreign travel for our leaders. If that had happened, the Rajapaksa family and their associates would not have been able to travel abroad. There could have been economic ruin in this country.
In fact, the Rajapaksa’s should be happy about this change and if not for this change, the country would have faced a terrible catastrophe.
We cannot survive without the outside world. We must keep them close to us. China is a fast developing country. Hence we must maintain strong ties with China and at the same time as our closest neighbour, we need to maintain close ties with India as well.
Q. Has this government given the people of the North the opportunity of coexistence and development, considering that they played a pivotal role in the Rainbow Revolution?
A. Yes, we have but, even I wonder if what has been done for them is sufficient. These people of the North had suffered enough and were battered by both sides. They had to watch helplessly while the LTTE abducted their children and sent them to the battlefield to die. They were facing a very pathetic state.
These people placed a lot of faith in President Maithripala Sirisena as a sensible and moderate leader. But, these same extremists who are making so much noise today, worked against the President. But, moderate politicians like Sampanthan of the TNA changed this situation and all of them voted for the President.
It was in 2015 that a Sinhala independent candidate received the highest percentage of votes. Therefore, we should not betray these moderate people and we should not destroy their aspirations. We should create an environment within this country that is conducive for all parties to live amicably.
Even though this is taking some time, it is still happening. As we came to power we put an end to militarisation and appointed civil administrators. By now we have returned almost 4,000 acres of land and resettled the displaced. We still have almost another 5,000 acres to be given back to their rightful owners.
For these people who have suffered for so long, the process maybe too slow, but slowly but steadily creating a huge difference in these areas.
Q. Won’t the details indicated in Major General Kamal Gunaratne’s book have an impact on the Geneva issue, where war crimes allegations are concerned?
A. Yes in fact while trying to portray himself as a hero, he has through his book confirmed some of the allegations levelled by the LTTE loyalists. I did not read this book. I was quire shocked by what I saw while just flicking through some of its pages. It talks about how they broke people’s houses, burnt them and how they assaulted and killed people.
We go around the world denying allegations levelled against our security forces and claiming to have the most disciplined military. On the other hand, these people who fought in the war themselves are going around confirming the very allegations that have been levelled against them. This book has done more damage than the Chanel 4 movie.
Q. You go to Geneva and make so many promises. When do you plan to deliver on these promises?
A. I have not given any promises. What we gave Geneva was just our road map. This is something that the people need to understand. If not for our government, they would have forcibly held an international inquiry and we would have had to face many hardships.
What we pledged was to seek international assistance where we did not have the knowledge to do it ourselves and conduct our own investigations. We as a country decided to punish those responsible for having committed crimes. Today, 47 countries have endorsed our decision.
Q. You have asked for two years, but won’t this same issue crop up in 2019?
A. We are not doing any of this to please the international parties. As a country, we need to create reconciliation and create an environment within this country for all to live peacefully. At the same time, we need to provide those affected with financial assistance. We have initiated this reconciliation process with the intention of providing relief to those affected. The initial steps in this regard have already been done.
Q. Most of your foreign policy is with Europe. But, today the country’s economy is being steered by China. What is you stand on China?
A. In fact, our foreign policy is not just with Europe, China or Russia. Our foreign policy has been proved to the whole world. We deal with the whole world. Our policy is to see how we can get the best benefits for the country and for that we need to be able to work with the whole world.
We cannot survive without the outside world. We must keep them close to us. China is a fast developing country. Hence we must maintain strong ties with China and at the same time as our closest neighbour, we need to maintain close ties with India as well. The benefit of these ties will be for the people of this country.
Q. When formulating foreign policies, the question of hybrid courts comes up. If we are so certain of our legal system, why should we worry about this hybrid Court?
A. We need not worry about this hybrid court. On many occasions, we have sought international assistance in our judiciary. Even our citizens have shared their expertise with other countries on many occasions. Although there may not be the sort of damage we expect, there are legal implications in bringing down foreign judges. For a foreign judge to come here he must first be sworn in according to our constitution. It could be difficult for a foreign judge to do that.
As I see it if we just cling onto this word ‘hybrid’ we will not be able to understand its reality. It was during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ten year period that we proved to the world that we cannot resolve out own issues within our own country. They chased of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake and appointed those loyal to them.
It was because they did not have credibility that we had to face all these issues. But, now we are maintaining that credibility and forging forward.
Yes I am very happy with the change but I feel we could have done certain things better. However, that is politics.
Q. Those who have been accused of crimes are our members of the state government forces and not outsiders. Within our constitution we must obey the law. But what if anyone has worked against that law?
A. Just because one wears a uniform or robe, he is not above the law. Good governance means the law is fair to all.
Throughout history our rulers protected the integrity of the security forces. They punished those who did wrong. Now we are being accused because of the wrongs of some who perhaps acted on orders from the leadership. The only thing we can do is to investigate and try to prove them wrong.
Q. What do you think of the proposal to bring in a new constitution?
A. The new Constitution is part of our election pledge. President Sirisena’s desire was to bring in a new Constitution and revoke the executive powers of the Presidency and revert power to parliament. We spoke about a Constitution that would allow for the sharing of power with the people. This is what we promised on the election platform and now we must deliver on these promises.
Q. In terms of the country’s economy, why is there no reduction in prices of goods?
A. The country’s economy cannot be measured by the price of goods. We reduced the price of goods in order to give the people some relief. Earlier when they were imposing taxes on milk powder and other essential commodities and not raising the wages of the workers we came in and gave them relief. But, the country’s economy will not be strengthened just by that alone.
If we are to strengthen our economy we must learn to think differently. The first hurdle was when J.R. Jayewardene introduced the open economy in 1977. We were able to witness great progress then. After that we got caught up in a war for 20 years. We had to allocate funds meant for development to purchase weapons and failed to realise our economic dreams.
Then Mahinda Rajapaksa came and looted the rest of the money. Due to their greed in getting higher commissions, the country was pushed into a huge debt trap. It was under these circumstances that we came into power.
After J.R. Jayawardena, we are now preparing to jump the next hurdle. If we are to change things we need to bring in foreign investment. For that we need to make huge changes in the laws of the country.
Q. You gave such a good observation. Is it because you are slated to be the next Finance Minister?
A. I have no idea, it is your paper that is making these claims.
Q. What do you think will happen in 2020 and who will be the next leader?
A. That we cannot say today. There are many who aspire to be the next leader. 2020 is not a decisive year. Start thinking beyond 2025, because until 2020 its Maithri-Ranil.
Q. Are you happy with the past 2 ½ years?
A. Yes I am very happy with the change but I feel we could have done certain things better. However, that is politics. Even if we have not done everything as we anticipated, I feel we are going on the right track.