The Daily Mirror on 12 February 2019 carried an interview with Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who believes he is the ideal candidate for the next Presidential Election.
He is being paraded by a few ex-military officers supposed to be “Professionals”, who believe he can be projected as the Sinhala Buddhist war hero to collect all Rajapaksa votes.
If Gotabhaya’s memory isn’t short as Prabhakaran said it is with Sinhala people, he would remember I asked him to contest the Hambantota District when Provincial Council candidates for the March 1993 elections were being discussed.
He should also remember how he shrugged off that suggestion saying “Politics is not for me….I don’t know politics. I am a military man. Chamal aiya and Mahinda aiya are there. That’s enough”.
Interestingly, despite his siblings Chamal, Mahinda and Basil still in active politics and nephew Namal also there, today he is talking politics as the only political leader this country could have in getting it out of the mess it is in.
This Government has failed and investors don’t come when there is no stability he opines. He also talked about post-war Reconciliation, unaware he is exposing his ignorance on all things political.
"Gotabaya claims he will be the ideal candidate for President "
Answering a question from Kelum Bandara about his plans as a candidate he says (Quote) As for reconciliation, what people really need is an environment to live happily in. A lot of people talk about freedom. The freedom to live is the most important thing. (Unquote) He now believes people should have the “Freedom to Live”.
His track record as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence doesn’t seem to match that.
He gradually usurped power as Defence Minister. President Rajapaksa either gave in or was in no way able to discipline his brother to be the administrative head of the Defence Ministry.
As administrative heads and as chief accounting officers in Ministries, Secretaries have no right to go public on political decisions the government ought to take.
As public servants, they are liable to be punished if they do so. But not Gotabhaya. He played politics with authority as the decision maker in government policy.
He decided publicly what the Rajapaksa government’s position should be on UNHRC Resolutions. Decided on LLRC Recommendations and had the Committee appointed to draw up a work plan for Reconciliation under him.
He decided what security forces should do in post-war North-East. The media often ran to Gotabhaya to have voice cuts on everything the government would decide.
Was he not conscious he was overstepping his mandate as a Ministry Secretary? He simply wallowed in that “power”, taking decisions and having them executed.
That brute power was amply exhibited in his interview with BBC Hard Talk on June 7, 2009.
Answering a question from Stephen Sackur about Sarath Fonseka, Gotabhaya yells, forgetting he is in front of the camera and not in his ministry office. When told by Sackur that General Fonseka as Commanding Officer at the time the war concluded, has said he is prepared to go before any war crimes investigation, Gotabhaya yells at Sackur “That’s treason. We will hang him if he does that. I’m telling you… How can he betray the country? He is a liar, liar, liar.” Mark that fiery authority, “I’m telling you”. Anyone who disagrees will not have the “Freedom to Live”.
Wasn’t he ashamed of such behaviour? Far from it. It was just that when he called Working Journalists’ Association leaders Poddala Jayantha and Sanath Balasuriya to his office and threatened them.
"He always denied entering politics before"
He warned them they are being watched. That perhaps told the journos “Your freedom to live is in question”. The two journos had to flee the country.
Another, whose “Freedom to Live” was in doubt, was the Sunday Leader Editor Frederica Jansz, who sought asylum in the USA. That was reported by The Economist on 11 July 2012 as “Gota explodes – Press Freedom in Sri Lanka”.
Introduced as Sri Lanka’s Powerful Defence Secretary (Not Secretary to the Ministry of Defence) The Economist reported, “Gotabaya Rajapaksa, seemed to threaten a senior newspaper editor with death in a profanity-strewn outburst. The cause for his rage was that she called to check whether the state-run national airline had changed aircraft for a scheduled flight from Switzerland.”
There was a reason for Ms Jansz to double check her information with Gotabhaya. Her information at hand was that the change of aircraft was “To deliver a puppy from Europe to the Defence Secretary’s wife” and the flight was to be piloted by “Mr Rajapaksa’s niece’s pilot-boyfriend”.
This “Powerful Defence Secretary” has left a legacy of organised crime within State security forces and the Police.
Investigations into the recent brutal murder of two young businessmen from Rathgama has unearthed the existence of a ruthless “criminal gang” in the Police Department.
Investigations led to fifteen Police personnel in the Southern Province Special Crime Investigation Unit to be transferred with immediate effect.
Other sources according to Asian Mirror on February 22 said the Police criminal gang bore a strong resemblance to the ‘death squad’ operated by former DIG Vass Gunawardena.
This Southern “Police criminal gang” is thus a replicate of what DIG Vass Gunawardena ran for contractual killings as revealed during investigations.
He was proved guilty of murder along with his son.
There is yet another case where even his wife is complicit. His heydays as a powerful DIG were under Defence Ministry Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, as a loyal officer to Gotabhaya.
Those were also days when Minister Weerawansa could call Gotabhaya on the mobile phone while protesting in front of the UN Office in Colombo and on that same call Gotabhaya could blast the DIG on duty and ask him to get away from the place where the protest is.
Those were also days when navy personnel ran organised extortion rackets. The Economy Next on August 29, 2018 reported:
“The CID has uncovered chilling details of how children and young men of wealthy families were abducted for ransom by a gang of naval officers, allegedly led by Hettiarachchi, and subsequently killed after holding them at naval facilities in Colombo and Trincomalee between 2008 and 2009.”
By now, former Navy Chief Karannagoda stands implicated in the abduction and killing of 11 youth and so is Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Wijegunaratne, who was remanded by the Colombo Magistrate Ranga Dassanayake.
There can be only two explanations for these organised crimes within security forces. One is that they operated with the tacit support of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as the “powerful defence secretary”, or without any knowledge of Gotabhaya. On the first, if that is right, if he was behind those gangs, he would not be a presidential candidate who would guarantee “freedom to live”.
On the second if that is right, that he was not aware of such criminal gangs, it only proves he was the weakest and the most inefficient Secretary in the Defence Ministry in post-independent Sri Lanka. One who did not know what was happening under his feet. No qualification for a presidential candidate.
He claims in the DM interview that (Quote) Maybe our intelligence agencies used Hi Ace vans which are white. I did not introduce it. It happened under all the previous Governments (Unquote).
Yes, there were arbitrary arrests, torture and perhaps murder in the war that dragged on for over 25 years.
That was justified in the Sinhala South as fighting a terrorist war forgetting the fact it was a political blunder by the Sinhala Buddhist leaders that led to a North-East armed conflict.
In the past when abductions, disappearances and extrajudicial killings were confined to the North-East, South was complacent.
During the Rajapaksa era under Gotabhaya, all that came to Colombo and into the Sinhala society as well.
White vans were used against those who criticised the government. It was used against media that did not fall in line with Gotabhaya’s war against the LTTE.
White vans thus became a brutal icon of Rajapaksa rule.
These clandestine armed groups allowed in the name of war against terrorism don’t remain within their undeclared, unspoken mandate. They created space for crime and a culture of impunity in security forces.
"He played politics with authority as the decision maker"
Unchecked freedom to operate on their own, they turn out as deadly outfits, even the security forces personnel would fear to speak about. That was evident when Magistrate Dassanayake told Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Wijegunaratne “I am denying bail because in your position you are able to influence witnesses and disrupt investigations,”
This legacy of Gotabhaya has runoffs too.
Two Army officers have been arrested a few days ago extorting money from a businessman in Hambantota. Four days ago, 05 Air Force personnel were arrested while transporting illicit cigarettes in an Air Force vehicle. There were many more such crimes reported in the past.
It wasn’t allegations and accusations on complicity for crimes that Gotabhaya is burdened with. It is also heavy corruption.
The Special High Court fixed trial on alleged misappropriation of Rs. 49 million by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to establish the D.A. Rajapaksa Memorial Museum. There is also the sale of army land by the Galle Face Green to Shangri-La Hotel.
The Secretary of Defence Ministry has given the approval to operate a special bank account on a Cabinet Paper for the sale of that land.
Cabinet approvals cannot be given to violate handling of public money.
Stability apart, will this Gotabhaya fit the bill of Sinhala Buddhist voters, who want a decent and a civilised country?
Mahinda Rajapaksa would have to decide, says Gotabhaya.
By - Kusal Perera