- Military strength should be maintained above 150,000
- Country’s military needed to face not only internal threat but also external threat
- PM should be next candidate
- There are corrupt Police officers harassing my people
- No point in complaining to Law and Order Minister
Just because these people are doing political work for us, the Police are throwing them behind bars. They are innocent, having families with children. The Police get hold of them, plant some drugs or cartridges and arrest them. If it is more than two grams of drugs, they will end up in jail for life. That is very sad
When I undertake visits to the national parks as the Subject Minister, a lot of my constituents seek to come with me to see wild animals. Then, a few youths get into a vehicle and follow us. A group came with me to Wilpattu recently in this manner. There was an accusation made by one media channel. I was accused of keeping underworld figures as my bodyguards. That is nonsense. After that, the Police started going after these people. I know for sure these people are not involved in any criminal act now.
If they wanted to do what the Police do now, they could have introduced some drugs and sentenced my people to life. It never happened. Today, we are unable to control these corrupt Police officers.
Wildlife and Sustainable Development Minister Sarath Fonseka shares his views on politics and responds to allegations about harbouring underworld criminals.
Q How do you view the current political situation?
The political situation continues without any major event. The Government will continue to operate.
The Opposition is also weak although they try to make a hue and cry, criticizing the Government.
They have their own skeletons in the cupboard. They cannot forget what they have been doing in the past. The Government can continue. There is no problem in the United National Party (UNP). Yet, the Government will have to deliver during the next one-and-half years. People are not happy about what has been going on for the last three years. People indicated their displeasure at the last Local Government Elections.
Q In what areas did the Government fail in your view?
The Government was unable to look after the interests of their supporters, who were ill-treated during the previous regime. They were expecting job opportunities, grassroots level development work etc.
There are people who put their maximum effort to unseat the previous regime. If these people cannot get their problems solved, they will not be happy.
Q The Government is to launch Gam Peraliya Programme to revive the rural economy. Are you happy about it?
Gam Peraliya is ok. We are trying to fathom what kind of development work we can do. There are some suggestions from the Treasury and the Finance Ministry. Some of these things are not applicable to our areas.
Q Like what?
If you take the Western Province, projects such as electrification and tank renovation are not applicable. Here, the requirements are different. In Gampaha, we do not want electricity. We want water. We cannot renovate even playgrounds in our area with just Rs.1 million allocated. We can only mow grass with that amount of money at a playground here. Any repair will cost at least Rs. 10 million.
Q You broke ranks with the previous ruler citing several reasons. Today, you sound unhappy with the present system as well. …
Not that I am unhappy. Everybody in the Government is unhappy. Everybody has understood the shortcomings I just mentioned. Our complaint against the last Government was that they were corrupt. There were a family rule, dictatorship, and nepotism. There was no freedom for the Judiciary, the Police, and the Elections Commission. We have to put these things on right track. Actually, there are problems at the grassroots level.
Q I am asking about your concerns then and now. How do you compare and contrast?
What I just mentioned are the complaints against the previous regime.
Q The present Government is also facing corruption charges. Isn’t it?
The bond issue is the only thing against the present Government. We cannot go on talking about it the whole time. It is one case. Action has been taken against it. Just because of one case, we cannot say the whole Government is corrupt. There was unlimited corruption at that time under the last Government.
Q Recently, you told the media that the Rajapaksas did not arrest your supporters on false charges of keeping drugs, but on the contrary, it happened today. What is the message you tried to convey?
We have given freedom to the Police. There is the Police Commission. There is no political interference. But, we have lost control over the Police.
As a government, we have to ensure that the Police, Judiciary or any organization operate in the right direction if we give them freedom.
If some corrupt DIGs are doing all sort of irregular, unruly things, it will have a lot of adverse effects. There is a bunch of Policemen. They are trying to do politics. They are harassing our supporters. They are on a political agenda. The Government should be able to stop this nonsense. If the Government cannot stop these things, I will say, at least, the Rajapaksas had control over the Police, though they did some wrong things. For the right thing or the wrong thing, they had control over it. We have lost control over it. That is what I am complaining about.
Q Does it mean that the Rajapaksas were better than the present ones?
They had control. Whatever it is, we were the opponents of the Rajapaksas. They arrested a lot of my people. Some people were kept behind bars for four months, others for 400 days. But, if they wanted to do what the Police do now, they could have introduced some drugs and sentenced my people to life. It never happened. Today, we are unable to control these corrupt Police officers. Just because these people are doing political work for us, the Police are throwing them behind bars. They are innocent, having families with children. The Police get hold of them, plant some drugs or cartridges and arrest them. If it is more than two grams of drugs, they will end up in jail for life. That is very sad. If the Government cannot stop it, then there is a problem with the Government.
Q In your view, who is instigating these things in the Government?
I have not suspected anyone in the Government so far. There are political forces in my area that is Kelaniya. I am suspecting an SLFPer there. He has got hold of some corrupt Police officers ranging from the DIGs to Inspectors. Already, there is a DIG, who was sentenced to death. Two other DIGs are in remand jail. I am not blaming the whole of the Police Department. There is 10-15per cent of corrupt people there. They will do anything for money, alcohol and food.
Q The present Inspector General of Police (IGP) is accused of doing politics by the Opposition. What is your view of him?
I do not know whether he is politically biased. I know there have been some complaints against him. If these sorts of things happen in the Police, the IGP has to take the blame. He is not controlling it properly.
Q Is it because he is inefficient or politically biased?
I know him as a middle-rung Police Officer at that time-in 1990s; he had worked as an SSP. He was a very good Police Officer at that time. Yet, in his present status, there are people critical of him obviously. Some people must be having valid reasons to be critical. If the Policemen behave like this, I have to blame the IGP and others down the rank. He is a good man. I have nothing against him.
qAt that time, you were surrounded by the Army Commandos as your guards. Now, some politicians accuse you of hiring underworld criminals to guard you. What do you feel in this regard?
No civilian is guarding me. I have the Police guard for me. There are 17 Policemen. Five of them are from the Special Task Force (STF). They give me security wherever I go. In the Kelaniya area, there are some elderly and young people. They had faced charges in the past. Some had been exonerated even. None of these charges are related to drug dealing or anything. Some people had been involved in cases like fisticuffs and shootouts. That is the past. Once I went to Kelaniya, people of all sorts are supporting me.
There are criminally charged persons, who contested the elections from the UNP and got the highest number of preferential votes once. There is one in Ratnapura. After that, he was sent to the gallows. There are MPs against whom there are numerous charges. Everybody has the right to do politics. We cannot chase them out.
Interestingly, when I undertake visits to the national parks as the Subject Minister, a lot of my constituents seek to come with me to see wild animals. Then, a few youths get into a vehicle and follow us. A group came with me to Wilpattu recently in this manner. There was an accusation made by one media channel. I was accused of keeping underworld figures as my bodyguards. That is nonsense. After that, the Police started going after these people. I know for sure these people are not involved in any criminal act now.
Q Didn’t you raise this matter at the Cabinet or with Law and Order Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara?
I spoke to the Minister on a number of times. One day, he got down STF DIG M.R. Latheef and told him about this. The very same day, Latheef went and arrested a person. Another one was arrested after four or five days later. Complaining to the Minister did not do any good for me. I had made complaints to the Minister four times. Today I met Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and complained to him. I requested the Prime Minister to assign the CID to do investigations. The Prime Minister asked me to give it in writing. I will give a letter to him. The Prime Minister promised me to direct the CID. I have faith in the CID.
Q In your view, who should be the next presidential candidate?
It must be Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. He is our party leader. I was fielded in 2010 as the candidate. That was soon after the war. The UNP was down at that time. Nobody had the courage to contest at that time. If I did not come forward, Mahinda Rajapaksa would have won uncontested virtually. Last time, I had a discussion with Mr. Wickremesinghe. Every time, I met him, I asked him to contest. He did not contest. He wanted the common candidate for his own reasons. I had 375,000 votes for my party at that time. I had 17 Provincial Councilors.
Q What are the chances of winning?
If the party works hard, it is possible. I have told the Prime Minister. In certain areas, he has to change his attitudes.
Q Like what?
He must get involved with grassroots level politics. He should look into the interests of electoral organizers. If he does that, he can ensure that he will win.
Q The UNP is relatively weak in the Sinhala majority areas. What do you propose to correct it?
The UNP must start improving certain areas. We must have the Buddhist monks’ organization and get it more and more involved in the party matters. Some of our organizers are not active in villages.
Q President Maithripala Sirisena is also interested in contesting next time. What do you think of him?
If he is interested, he will be contesting representing his party. We cannot support that party anyway. We have to support the UNP candidate.
Q In the north, there are talks about the possible resurgence of the LTTE. As the Army Commander who led the military to win against the LTTE, what is your assessment?
We eliminated the LTTE. We created the background for peace and reconciliation and to develop those areas. Some development has taken place. It is not enough. There are some Tamil politicians trying to play it to the gallery. They still try to talk about separatism. That cannot be allowed. Sinhala people in the south will not agree to that. As for power devolution, we will have to go for a referendum if it is to be done. The majority of the people are against it. Tamil people are interested in economic development not in politics. We have to know what the people are asking for. We should meet the requirements of people, not of the politicians. Some Tamil politicians talk about removing the military from the north. We cannot give into such pressure without any basis. You cannot remove the military from the country.
Q Is there any need to downsize the military?
The military needs presence everywhere in the country. You cannot say the military must be in the south not in the north. Downsizing is not required in my opinion. In my personal view, the minimum strength of the Army should be maintained above 150,000. It is not only an internal problem. The country’s military must be ready to face any threat including the external threat.
Singapore is a very small country. They have a military force of three million personnel though. Every citizen is trained to fight. They are not mobilized, though. The total removal of the military from some areas in the north should not be done.
I have heard the Army Commander boasting about the reduction of land occupied by the military, handing over land back to people and closing down so many camps. That is stupid. You cannot be so proud that you close down every camp and hand over every inch of land back to people. We must study, listen to people on the ground and do a proper assessment.
Q Does it mean that you are not in agreement with the latest release of military–occupied lands?
You must not do it due to political pressure. You must do it methodically. Now the Army Commander is trying to please the politicians by pulling out the military. I hear from some of the ground Commanders that some are not happy about the way he is closing down camps. That is a problem.
Q The Army Commander must be doing it at the orders of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces who is the President. Isn’t it?
It is not the duty of the Army Commander to please the bosses all the time. The Army Commander is responsible for the security of the country.
Q Can he ignore or disregard the President as the Defence Minister?
Politicians are not educated on military deployment. They do not understand it. Long ago, in 2002, I was the Jaffna Commander. I was asked by the Government to close down some areas of the High Security Zones. I was a Major General at that time. I refused it considering the security situation.
Q Today, you are with those who governed at that time..
That is a different thing. Now, they have accepted my way of doing things.