“I Survived To Do My Duty By My Country” – General Sarath Fonseka
There were 28 holes in my body. But I was so near the blast I felt nothing. The men in front of me were dead. Around me I could hear the screams of the dying. My driver was dead, my outriders had been blown away.
From my car’s shattered window, I watched the surviving commandos take up positions around the bomb site and secure the area. Then first-aid teams came and began taking the survivors to hospital.
I waited to be evacuated, I waited for several minutes but no one came, they assumed I was dead.
So I climbed out of the vehicle, stood bleeding on the side of the road and called for help.
When I finally got to the hospital the doctors found severe internal bleeding, pellets from the explosion had penetrated every part of my body — my lungs, my stomach, kidneys, all suffered damage. My uniform was so saturated with blood the doctors were unable to remove it. Only my heart and brain were spared. And that was all I needed. I survived, and six weeks later I returned to do my duty.”
This tale of survival, of a severely injured man stepping out of a smoldering vehicle to let rescuers know he was still alive is extraordinary. And all the more extraordinary as it comes from a man who now stands a very good chance of being the next president of this country.
It was only a matter of chance, or fate that Gen. Sarath Fonseka survived the suicide attack unleashed against him by the LTTE.
But he does not speak of the event with the bitterness or anger you might expect. Instead he related his startling story of survival with the same deliberation — and in the same matter of fact tone with which he responded to all the questions posed during our short interview.
By R. Wijewardena
Q: You finished a glittering career in the army as a national hero so what has made you step into the fickle world of politics? What is it you want to achieve by becoming president of this country?
A: Just look around you. Anyone can see that this is still a severely underdeveloped country. The county’s difficulties are no secret but the question is why? Why after 60 years of independence are we still in this state?
And the answer; corruption.
There is theft and wastage at every level. It is draining this country, bleeding it dry — and it starts at the top. So what I plan to do it is to eliminate corruption — to wage war on corruption, in order to allow the country to unlock its true potential.
Q: But as you say corruption is entrenched how do you plan on eliminating it?
A: I succeeded in eliminating corruption in the army, and I will succeed in eliminating corruption in government. Corruption, like everything starts at the top.
In the army we learned that leadership is everything. If the leadership sets an example and holds others accountable the rest will fall in line.
I am not corrupt and I will not tolerate corruption.
Of course in order to wholly eradicate corruption there will have to be institutional and policy changes — the 17th Amendment could make a difference, but ultimately it is a matter of leadership and about leaders having the will to fight corruption.
Q: Corruption is a key platform of your campaign but there have been allegations of corruption leveled against you… particularly concerning your son in law’s involvement with Hicorp.
A: These allegations are absolutely baseless. Hicorp Sri Lanka was a local company founded by some young Royalists, many of whom were known to my son.
However my son had no direct connection with the company and despite submitting tenders it never won any contracts. Hicorp of the USA was registered in Oaklahoma and my son was a point of contact for the company though he was not involved in founding it. The company needed a US address and Danuna’s was provided as a contact address, that was the extent of his involvement.
While that company did win a tender to supply security cameras to army headquarters — documents prove that this tender was awarded while I was recovering from the 2006 suicide attack. I was in hospital and played absolutely no part in awarding the tender.
These allegations are part of an empty smear campaign and government money is being paid through one of our embassies to the Asian Tribune to perpetuate these lies.
But all anyone needs to do is look at where we live and how we live to see that we have not been involved in any corruption. Then look at the people making the allegations – the government — look at their life styles. I think its clear who is involved in corruption.
The government is in no position to make allegations of corruption – when every single major defense purchase was coordinated by Lanka Logistics. Everyone knows who is in charge of Lanka Logistics. This single ‘company’ was in sole charge of all defence purchases, billions of rupees, for four years.
As Army Commander I held a nominal one share in the company but never saw a copy of its accounts. That is because there are no audited accounts and there were also no tenders.
The deals were arranged entirely by the Defence Secretary working through contacts and suppliers. And all purchases were rubber stamped by the cabinet. The army played absolutely no role in the purchases. In fact, often we did not request the equipment purchased.
Almost all the contracts were given to Chinese companies….There was no transparency. When irregularities were reported — like for example the MiG Deal — the government, tried to forbid journalists from covering defence purchases on the grounds of security.
But that was not about security, the army had no objection to the scrutiny of defence purchases. It was the government trying to hide corruption using security as an excuse. That’s how everything works. Not just defence purchases but every single ditch in this country is built the same way.
They (the government) finds a contractor, usually a contact/ relative and asks for a quotation. If they get a quotation for 20 million they award a contract for 40 million, then pocket the excess. It is this criminal behaviour that I am going to stop.
Q: You previously stated that you would not enter politics – now you are a presidential candidate, doesn’t this reflect on your credibility?
A: When I accepted the post of CDS I said I didn’t have any interest in pursuing a political career and I was sincere in what I said. But the treatment I received after being installed as CDS compelled me to reconsider this decision.
The government was plotting against me, reducing my security and refusing to grant me any authority. They broke their promises and I felt they had used me. And I saw they were doing the same thing to the army and the country.
Exploiting them for their own benefit. The army has become totally politicized. All the major decisions are being taken by the Defence Ministry. Officers are being promoted only because of their political connections, not because of their ability.
They are sidelining good officers they think are loyal to me to promote their stooges. They are about to make Major Pannipitiya, a man who is currently under investigation for forging tender documents and treasure hunting, Chief of Defense Staff, and are interfering in the court marshal proceeding against him.
In government they do the same… appointing their supporters and thugs to senior positions. Seeing that, and knowing the effect it has on the country, I decided to put a stop to it. I felt I had no choice but to stand by the country…. This was not an easy decision to make but to complete my service to the country I feel I had no other choice.
Q: Is there anything in your background that has drawn you to a political career?
A: I was born into a very ordinary family — my parents were teachers in Ambalangoda. In fact my first school was a thatched building in Ampara, where my parents were posted. We lived in a mud walled home — it was a very simple life.
Later we returned to Ambalangoda and I attended Dharmasoka Vidyalaya, until grade 9, when I was transferred to Ananda College in Colombo.
I had always been interested in the army – I was a keen cadet at school and even used to accompany the cadets on marches when I was too young to join. Leaving school I had no doubts. I wanted to join the army and in 1970 I achieved my dream and I was selected to enter the army as an officer cadet.
I spent the next 40 years – more than any other officer in the army doing my best for the country. I served in every major campaign in the past four decades doing my duty as a soldier.
So really there is nothing exceptional in my background. But I have always wanted to serve this country. And from my childhood in Ampara and Ambalangoda and my years in the army I know every part of the island and have always been close to the ordinary people and soldiers. I wanted to help the country and its people go forward and by eliminating terrorism I did all I could as a soldier.
But I realised that was not the end of the problem that there is another menace, as bad, terrorising the ordinary people, and that is corruption.
So I want to continue doing my duty to the country and only by winning the election and serving as president will I be able to achieve my goal — to eliminate corruption and allow this country to achieve its full potential.