Sri Lanka: Travis — A Gentleman

The lesson learned from Travis’s experience is nothing but the practical painful realities that an officer with professional integrity has to go through in a politically deteriorated system.The bottom line is that the social system in Sri Lanka is bad enough to keep good people away!


by Nilantha Ilangamuwa

(November 1, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Gloomy weather turning into a different kind; Waves in the Eastern blue sea is showing attractiveness than making challenges to conquer. New hope is raying throughout the area by coming down from the horizon. Sailors are getting ready to map out the new challenges. These are the impulses of the course correction in the Sri Lanka Navy, the first line of defence of the Island Nation.

This is the story twenty-seven times bigger than the land area owned by this Island Nation, Sri Lanka. This is our asset, our heritage, our wealth, but unfortunately, this was not taken as the pool of resources to solve the country’s basic needs. Sri Lanka is a nation which has thrown away for decades the importance of the sea surrounding the nation. Therefore, the wealth of paradise was stolen by outsiders and opportunists. Nothing remains for the lay women and laymen on the ground, who ultimately have to pay the price.

War is war, put on the back burner, but peace is not yet achieved. Peace is nothing but goodwill among ourselves and prosperity of every human being on this land. Most of them were screaming by decoding the broken promises made by various parties in various colours.

Sri Lanka Navy, one of most reputable armed institutions the Island produced with the help of colonial technical idealism mixed with traditional and historical records such as the voyage of the Admiral of the ocean, Zheng He, a late Chinese fleet admiral who re-engineered the maritime security and trade of China and constructed the dynamic path for Chinese to win over. The improvement of Admiral Zheng He’s voyage is now in place as “One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR)”, initiated under the President Xi Jinping.

With the appointment of the 21st Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy, the challenge of the sea was readdressed dramatically through practical solutions. Taking security measures to annul the illegal fishing was the very first challenge to conquer. This was not happily received by the neighbours who were stealing the resources in Island’s sea for decades.

Secondly, the Navy Admiral Travis Sinniah inherited was most drastically constrained with its financial strength. Many past commanders introduced many initiations but most of them were aimed at gaining cheap media propaganda rather than enhancing the Navy as an institution.

“ Remember, men in white must be the best; we are the first line of defence,” Admiral Travis Sinniah, by ending his tenure as the shortest Navy Commander the country ever produced told the official gathering at his farewell on October 26.

“We must serve the people. To serve the people in this country we should have to have a few pillars such as courage, moral courage, professionalism, above all we should have integrity,” Travis added. The person with integrity is someone we as the Nation desperately require, for many years.

Travis has led the Sri Lanka Navy for over two months; then he was treated in a way that was most unexpected not only to him but also to those who have a sort of uncorrupted conscience. Many thought that President Maithripla Sirisena as the Commander in Chief will give him due respect and that he would maintain the long-term fruitful relationship with the people with whom he desperately needs to enhance his leadership the country to move forward.

But, hope turning into hopelessness; taste turning into tastelessness; by Sri Lanka yet again feeding the old tendency of the politics of failure.

However; the act of President Sirisena was susceptive, and many who genuinely supported his political course, were disappointed by seeing not only the taking of such distorted and disorderly decision but also keeping himself away until the waters settled down in Colombo. This may be the one of the most fragile actions by the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Therefore we believe it is good to highlight briefly, the events that led to the former Commander of Sri Lanka Navy thanking the President for giving his former naval commander to a few minutes for a discussion. The discussion has changed nothing, but has magnified the confusion.

There was a well-articulated plan to stop Travis from being appointed as the Commander of Navy. Rogues in uniforms and criminals disguised as officers, knew the true colours of the person and the possible danger that they might face. Therefore, they tried all the avenues to prevent the appointment.

The first dramatic approach was the letter of demand sent by the former Navy Commander Wasantha Kumara Jayadeva Karannagoda, objecting to the statement made by then the Eastern Naval Commander Travis. The B-Report included the statements made by senior naval officers over the murdering of kidnapped children from Colombo for ransom during the difficult time under the pretext of war against terrorism. This was leaked to selected media and started a weight but misleading campaign against the then Rear Admiral Travis Sinniah.

However; Travis won the battle as he always does on the sea, including against the Sea Tigers, naval wing of the vanquished Tamil Tigers. Travis was appointed as the twenty-first navy commander of the Sri Lanka Navy, and it was a decade later that this person of a Tamil origin conquered the top post of the Navy. But, the “conspiracy” gets more sophisticated as certain segments within the institution as well as from the outside attempted to isolate Travis.

Despite all jiggery-pokery by interested parties; two of them were widespread; one was a former commander of Sri Lanka Navy who were flagging himself as the war-winning admiral; he who assured many parties around him that Travis will not continue his service one day after his retirement age. Second, is that the defence attaché to one of high commissions situated in Colombo sneaks to a colleague the appointment of incumbent Chief of Defence staff, and the sequences of the forthcoming Navy commanders. He has hints, according to unconfirmed sources that first Travis, Then Ranasinghe, and then Rosairo will be taking over as the commander of Navy. A similar theory was articulated and used as justification by the President and his administration when Sinniah requested the service extension by following his predecessors and nowhere in the world would service commander be sent home two months after appointment unless there confirmation of serious fraud or mismanagement of the institution. As a result Sri Lanka will have a fragile and weakened Navy; this itself could be advantageous to external parties who are manipulating the very nuclear area of the Island Nation.

However, in Sri Lanka, politics taught us the fundamental lesson that nothing is more important than to expect the unexpected.

Admiral Sinnaih was not aware that his request for service extension was denied, and new Commander was on his dreaming path to receiving the appointment until very last moment. If there is fundamental unity based on policies and principles within the institution, the new appointment would be refused as this is rather a disappointment than an appointment as confirmed by several senior officers. But; such colourful actions are almost zero in the institution, as the result of politicization and many were motivated by self-greed.

Strange is the way the president’s secretary handed over the appointment letter to the newly appointed Navy Commander – at the same time handing over the “letter of appreciation” to the outgoing Navy commander.

Reliable sources indicated that Mr Austin Fernando, who is the latest choice of the President as his secretary, handed over the letter to the newly appointed navy commander while he was attending a funeral. “He has rushed to the office to handing over the appointment of new navy commander”, a relative told the commander of one of three forces. Then only commanders of other forces got to know about the denial of the service extension to the old and appointment of the new commander.

Meanwhile, the situation in the Ministry of Defence was different. Outgoing Commander of the Navy was in the Ministry to attend a security meeting; and Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Mr Kapila Waidyarathne , as well as the long-serving Additional Secretary Mr Sarath Kumara, were in rush mood to hand over the letter of appreciation. After brief warble of appreciation, the letter was handed over to Admiral Travis, and he along with his officers quickly went through the letter. Missing in the letter was one fundamental recognition – his promotion to be an admiral was quietly omitted. Then Travis and his officers asked for the promotion.

According to reliable sources, additional secretary Sarath Kumara opposed the amending of the letter by stating that the President, the Minister of Defence as well as Commander in Chief, is abroad. However, a slight argument led to secretaries revoking their vicious intention and finally amended the letter with the promotion included. That letter too had errors which could have affected the retirement benefits of the officer.

However, finally, the corrected letter after series of argle-bargle was handed over. Two-month service as the Commander of Navy was ended, and right from the Ministry of Defence to the retirement circles of the naval officers finally released their held-breaths as they knew what their fate would have been if Travis continued with the service.

Media started a brainstorming campaign by highlighting the promotion that Travis received, and many members of the media seem to be ignoring the real facts that confirm the experience that Travis as the Commander went through. More importantly, why he was at the receiving end of the bafflegab he encountered during past eight weeks as the shortest termed Commander of Navy, in Sri Lanka’s history.

The lesson learned from Travis’s experience is nothing but the practical painful realities that an officer with professional integrity has to go through in a politically deteriorated system. As he pointed out in his concluding remarks at the Galle Dialogue a few weeks ago, it is the question about, “fair winds and following seas”.

The bottom line is that the social system in Sri Lanka is bad enough to keep good people away!

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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