Chandrika: The King Maker

By Premachndra S. Salgado

I’m a retired public servant who worked under Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratnga. The article which you find below was written 9 years ago, a small part of the large diary that I have maintained. Now that Chandrika B. has decided to reengage in politics, I am thinking of writing an article, suitably edited against libel laws.

The former President Chndrika Kumaratunge, has merged again into the spotlight as the king maker, in seeking the appointing the Common candidate of the opposition. In this process she has assured, it seem toRanil Wickremesinghe, that she will manipulate and instigate the cross over 60 Ministers and M.Ps from the governing coalition. Her recent movers are a culmination of manoeuvres she hatched since she gave up the Presidency. It is no secret that she was never a well-wisher of Mhinda Rajapaksa, if it is only due to the tenacity of MR that he got the nomination, against her will.

Chandrika LWThere are certain ethics and rules of conduct, which governs the behavior of a President, who has finished two terms in office. Although there are no constitutional provisions for a President’s conduct, after their term of office, there has developed a tradition, that Presidents spend their retirement engaged in social service, writing their memoirs or being engaged in business activities. In the United States, former Presidents are endowed by law with a fund to retain their documents and memoirs. Former Presidents do not criticize the incumbent President and is always available for advice and discussion. Similar traditions prevail in other democracies. In Sri Lanka, this tradition was maintained by J.R. Jayewardene after his two terms. He had invested his money to form a Jayewardene Center with a well equipped library, which provides a place for conferences and meetings. President Premadasa died of a suicide bomb attack, and may not have give attention to his political legacy, however there exists a Premadasa Center, and a good biography has been written by Bradman Weerakoon, and his loyalists, I believe his family and his supporters maintain the center.

However, Chandrika Kumaratunga, has not followed these natural customary laws of probity and good practice. Chandrika Kumaratunge, acts and behaves as if the Sri Lanka Freedom Party is her private property.

She once told me that SWRD Bandaranaike, would point to her as and “there goes the future Prime Minister”. Thus the SLFP was her fiefdom and the party her serfs!

It is clear that from the time of the ascendancy of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, she has been engaged in vituperative gossip and slander against the current President. For example, it is a well known fact that in her visits to New Delhi, she was extremely critical of the current President, much to the embarrassment of officials in the Indian External Affairs Ministry.. Her vitriolic verbal attacks are not fit to be put on paper. In the United States, through her friendship with the Clinton family, countless were the same vituperative language against the sitting President. She was highly critical of the manner in which the President handled the war.

It is my view that whilst she is not interested in contesting for the Presidency, that she will be a spoiler factor, in the election, believing that she can draw significant votes away from the President. It is as a result of transgression against the ethics of a retired President, that I have decided to share my diary records with the general public. I have however deleted all relationships dealing with her on other personal matters.

78554_sampanthan-chandrika-03The Chandrika Presidency 

This article was done with some reluctance but I feel that it is a matter of public duty that I bring the facts known to me and to the public for a wider discussion on the immunities granted to Executive Presidents. The former President has left office with lot of question marks regarding her financial propriety and her rapacious greed for possessions and privilege for which the tax payer had to bear the burden.

The controversies which surround the former President are many. It is no a secret that as the President she gave lukewarm support to Mahinda Rajapaksa. Her comments on the contesting President were always derogatory. Anura Bandaranaike made press statements and public comments that the SLFP cannot do without the Bandaranaike family. Chandrika was informing the diplomatic community that Mahinda could never win and took every opportunity in public platforms to praise Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Cease Fire Agreement and attack the JVP and the JHU. It was only in the last few days that she was informed that Mahinda was likely to win. It was too late for her to turn gear.

During several of her farewell speeches she made a point of saying that her hands were clean and there was no blood in her hands. Often she would remind the public that she would never lie and that is what her parents had thought her. She was also in the habit of extolling her virtues. An examination of her career shows that it was often tragic comic and she now ends her career in tragic circumstances. Not even one supporter was there to receive her when she went to reside in her ancestral home!

A controversy which has emerged is the Cabinet decision to provide her with one and a half acres of prime land near the Parliamentary complex. The hasty manner in which this cabinet paper was presented and the fact that it contravenes Constitutional procedures was not taken into account. Surely the Secretary of the cabinet is required to seek council from the Attorney General and others to see weather a cabinet paper contravenes the law. It certainly contravenes custom and law pertaining to the privileges of an ex President.

Alongside this murky wheeler dealing regarding the land matter, a new cabinet paper was presented by the Prime Minister which provided the ex-President with perks and privileges which no other President in the past has enjoyed. The Chief Justice, in his comments on the appropriations bill suggested that the privileges given to her far exceeds the sum total of the privileges of all the judges of the Supreme Court!  It is likely that petitions will be placed in the Courts calling for a stay order on this matter. These petitions will argue that the privileges provided to her contravene the Constitutions.

The former President has never declared her assets which is compulsory. It is therefore necessary that for the sake of accountability and transparency that she is compelled to declare her assets. Sri Lanka has encouraged a culture of impunity. All governments have not acted on numerous cases of bribery and corruption. The Bribery Commission has been politicized and its capacity to investigate is severely inhibited.

Chandrika assumed her rise to power once her bid to form a political party with her husband failed. Then she decided to enter the SLFP after her husband’s assassination and outmanoeuvred her brother and eventually drover her brother into the UNP. She also ruthlessly outmanoeuvred her mother.

I will not go into the disgraceful manner in which she dealt with Vijaya Kumaratunga‘s legacy. His loyal supporters confided in me that all the photographs, cossets of his music and other belongings were all destroyed or is now missing.

Other Features Of The Presidency 

Chandrika also introduced some unique habits and features in her conduct as the President. Some of these features which led to mismanagement and inefficiency are as follows.

Her Inability to keep to punctuality is legendary. Punctuality is the essence of a good manager. The complaints and voices of frustration were countless. Sometimes she kept people waiting for more than 4 hours. Nobody escaped her sanctimony. Vice Chancellors, Ministers, officials, foreign visitors, Ambassadors and even the British Royalty suffered this humiliation. Due to her lack of good time management Cabinet meetings were always delayed, with no clear agenda, and where meetings were dominated by the meanderings of the President. It certainly was not the discipline which should have been shown by the Chief Executive of the country. If it was a private company she would have been sacked for her indiscipline.

The Presidents tendency for long monologues on any subject was the talk of the town. She would start with one point and then meander to other issues and finally come back to the original much to the exasperation of foreign and national visitors. She would bore her foreign and national guests to tears.

Another weakness which the President displayed was her tendency to lie at every turn. In many speeches she used to state that she has never lied in her entire life. But the public was fed with so many promises which she was never was able to keep. One of the promises she made was that she would not dissolve Parliament before the end of the Wicremesinghe term of office. Another was that she would abolish theExecutive Presidency.  The question of her qualifications was also another matter of controversy. She had made false statements regarding her qualifications. She never obtained her PhD, never studied at the Sorbonne, and her C.V. is full of false statements. To my knowledge she received a diploma from a Institute in Paris.

Another feature of her lack of management skills was her tendency to micro manages the administration of government. She would at will undermine her Ministers by bypassing them and speaking directly with officials under him and was lavish in her criticisms of her Ministers. Another weakness that she had was to criticize her close colleagues mercilessly with others. Nobody in the cabinet escaped her approbation.

With regards to the peace process she lacked professionalism. The lack of focus and experience was obvious. As her key facilitators, to negotiate with the LTTE,  she picked several of her cronies to resume talks with the LTTE. Out of the 4 only the former government agent for Jaffna Lionel Fernando demonstrated professionalism. The other three, an architect, a banker and her secretary were illiterate with regards the history of the peace process. There conduct during the talks was a point of ridicule by those taking part from the LTTE side. For more elucidation of this point I would refer to Anton Balasingham’s “ The Politicis of Duplicity”, where he recounts how the LTTE leader and others watched the proceedings through a hidden video camera, where their knowledge of the conflict was embarrassing.

As the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, her conduct of the so called war for peace was a disaster and brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy. Speak to any of the retired Generals and their complaints about her. Although she prided herself as a military strategist she did not understand military doctrine and strategy. She relied heavily on her Uncle as the Deputy Minister of Defence whose political objects went against the advice provided by the Generals. The Jayasikuru military campaign had little to do with military strategy but was undertaken for political objectives. This adventure was a military disaster! Her Uncle, once assured me, that the LTTE had only 3000 combatants was contrary to all the data which was available. Further, deadlines were continuously postponed as to when the LTTE would be weakened so that talks would be resumed. Although she complained about the corruption of her Generals,  in public her procurement policy was a disaster. Equipment which was purchased was often not up to standard. It is interesting that when her Uncles bank account was raided by the Wickremesinghe government they found over Rs. 50 million bonds stacked in a bank vault. She did nothing to investigate her Uncles misdemeanors. So much for honesty and transparency! This sheer unprofessional conduct and corruption led to the death of many of our soldiers and led to many military defeats. It should be noted that 12 individuals were named by the authorities with regards to excessive funds being held in bank vaults. Wickremesinghe only allowed for the investigation of two individuals, Anurddha Ratwatte and the former Air fore commander. Wickremesighe did not want the other vaults investigated including the bank vaults of Chandrika!

Further allegations abound with regards to her dealings with tender procedures and procumbent. Often her cronies i.e. Ronnie Peiris, Harry Jayawardene, Rajan Britto, and several others were provided with lucrative contracts. Some of those which are well known to the public are the Emirates deal, the PNO deal, the deals regarding railways. An investigation is absolutely necessary since proper procedures regarding tender procedures were overruled. An example of the riches which accrued to these cronies is the current wealth of the son of Balapatabendi, who was a close confidant and secretary to the President.

Another feature that requires investigation is political killings of opponents. S.B. Dissanayake has publicly stated how the President had wanted critical journalists to be assassinated. The killing of the editor of a newspaper is still to be investigated. The assassination  of Kumar Ponnambalam is disturbing in that the investigation was hushed up and evidence points to the involvement of the PSD. Her notorious and infamous security arm (PSD) is said be responsible for much of these killings. Victor Ivan, in his book has revealed with extraordinary acumen her reign of corruption and terror.

The President of the country cannot have immunity against crimes against humanity. She should be held responsible under the law. The Bribery Commissioner should be requested to impose a stay order until her assets are declared and is able to answer the allegations regarding her possession of large sums of ill gained money and property. I sincerely hope that our learned lawyers, the Bar Association, the Centre for Policy Alternatives and others seeking a just and free society will be seized with this matter.