Wrong People Being Questioned On Lasantha’s Murder – Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
Former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has once again come under the spotlight. Having held a key bureaucratic position in the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, rumours have begun to circulate about his possible entry into active politics. However, responding to these claims, the former Defence Secretary says he has not made any decisions to enter politics. He also says the FCID has become a political hunting ground for the Rajapaksas in a country stripped of democracy.
Excerpts of the interview:
by Ashanthi Warunasuriya
- Responds to rumours about his possible entry into active politics
- Reminisces on his fruitful military career
- Notes that there is much to be done in the country with regard to urban development
A: (Laughing) No.
Q: Are you a member of the new political party that was recently formed by opposition members?
A: No. I have not yet received an invitation to join them.
Q: But there are rumours about you planning to enter active politics.
A: I have not made a decision in that regard.
Q: Then what is this movement that is being mobilized in the opposition?
A: I think this is a new movement. Usually in a country, there is the Government and the Opposition. But at present in Sri Lanka, those who had voted for SLFP and the concept of democracy in general have been met with injustice. An Opposition is vital for a healthy democracy. If the people do not have a voice inside the Parliament against the actions of the government, then that is a notable lapse in democracy. And if the SLFP has failed in bringing that voice up, there is a need for another movement to take its place. However this is not something the SLFP should be alarmed about.
Q: So have you joined hands with this movement?
A: No. I have no ties to any political party in the country.
Q: But there is a common belief among the general public that you are with this movement?
A: As a citizen of this country, I have a political role to play. Like me, the President too holds the right to vote. Both of us have an equal responsibility. As a person who had held a responsible position in the government for a long time, I believe there is a contribution that should be made in my part. I will not walk away from that duty.
Q: Does this duty come in a form of a political representative role?
A: I have not decided to enter into active politics or joined hands with a political party as yet. If there is a duty that is required of me, then I will come forward. It could be either political or bureaucratic as I had done before. It is not important whether I’m No 1 or No 2; if I am given a responsibility I’m prepared to carry it out.
Q: Certain astrologers have claimed that your horoscope is very powerful these days. Does that mean that you will have a powerful role to play in the political arena?
A: (Laughing) That is up to the people and the political party leaders to decide. Apart from that, I have no desire to become President or Prime Minister. Even though there were opportunities for me to contest in the last General Election, I refused to take part in it. I have proven my skills and capabilities in other fields. So I’m willing to continue that service under any position.
Q: Hasn’t your brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, invited you to step into politics?
A: No. But the people I meet always make that request.
Q: What is your response to the allegations that have been made regarding the lack of reconciliation that had prevailed under the previous government?
A: Back then, our priority was the prevention of terrorism. That is different from normal policy decisions that are made today. We had been suffering from a 30 year long war. To prevent such a massive impact, we had to make strict decisions.
Q: What are your comments about the accusations that have been raised against Rajapaksa family on corruption?
A: These accusations are totally unfair. The Rajapaksas did not come into politics just recently. For generations our family had been carrying out public service, even at the expense of our own properties. People in Hambantota know how our family had served them during the Malaria epidemic in Hambantota in the past. We do not have foreign assets and tons of money. My son is earning money by doing a job. The same is with Basil’s child. We do not need to earn money unnecessarily. I challenge the government to prove any of these allegations. They have been trying to prove that for years now with the help of many commissions. But still these allegations remain baseless.
Q: But you were summoned to the FCID once again a few days ago. What do you have to say about the investigations carried out by the FCID?
A: As I see it, the FCID is an institution that has been established solely to target the Rajapaksas. The FCID has so far taken no action against the allegations that have been raised against the members of the government. These investigators are saying various new things every day. So the proceedings are just dragged on without a purpose. At present, over 7000 people have been questioned by the FCID. It is wrong to carry out such harassment. This is something that is purely backed by a political agenda. The FCID has become a mere political tool. Those who have agreed to support the government have been spared from any investigations. But the Rajapaksas have been given the priority.
Q: How would you compare the time period when you were in power and now?
A: I was a state official. Although most of my family members had been engaged in politics, I chose the military as my career. I served in the army for over 20 years. During most of that period, I served under UNP governments. After retirement from service, I came back as the Secretary of Defence under President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government. As I see it, it was more of a responsibility than a posting, but I proved my capability. During my military career of 20 years since the 70s’ when the war began, up until 1991, I served in North Eastern areas. I took part in every major military operation taking place at the time and I served under General Wijaya Wimalaratne. I was with the Gajaba Regiment since its beginning. I took part in the mission to save Jaffna Fort during the Elam war. And I was awarded gallantry medals from all the 3 Presidents who were in office at the time. My work continued after assuming the post of Defence Secretary. But I never saw it as an authority; it was just a service. In a way, I’m glad that I was working as the Defence Secretary when the war came to an end. After the war, I was given the task of urban development. I was successful in properly carrying it out as well. I am saddened by the current status of these development works. I grieve for the fate of the nation. Apart from that, I have no regrets about not having power.
Q: Do you think you missed anything during your period in office?
A: No. At that time the gravest issue was the 30 year long war. As the Defence Secretary, I knew the level of sacrifice we had to make to finish the war. I think putting an end to the war forever was the happiest moment in my life and I felt that I had done my duty to the nation. But after President Rajapaksa took urban development under his purview, I had to work as the Secretary for Urban Development. I believe that I was able to do justice to that post as well. Unlike terrorism, there is no end to Urban Development. But I think I gave it a good start. There is a disappointment about not being able to conclude some of these projects. We could have done a lot more.
Q: When did you understand the true meaning of friendship and humanity? Was it then or now?
A: You previously asked me about the power I wielded as the Defence Secretary. Although I did not feel it at the time, I was able to find some close friends in both inside and outside politics. Some are still with me today, while some are not. I think this is a good time to sense humanity and I have come to understand that there are still a lot of people in Sri Lanka who have kind and humane hearts. Rather than seeing the bad side, during these two years I was able to see the good side of the people’s minds.
Q: You held the post of Defence Secretary under your brother’s administration. Didn’t you have to perform a political role during that time?
A: No. Working as a politician and working as a state official are entirely different things. When serving as a state official there are certain duties and responsibilities we should respect. But there are those who work against them. I too had to face such moments during my tenure as the Defence Secretary and the urban development secretary. There are certain challenges faced by political leadership in war. For an example let’s take Anuruddha Ratwatte. He provided a good leadership to the war. But he could not perform certain things as a politician. Sometimes it may lead to misunderstandings. During those days some people said that the then President Kumaratunga had misunderstood some of the actions taken by Ratwatte so his actions were limited. But I did not have any problems since I was working solely as a state official and it was easier for me. If we take urban development for an example one of the projects we carried out was to provide suitable apartment buildings for low-income earning families who were living in slums. If a politician had initiated such a project, then he would be compelled to give priority for his supporters. Although this was unfavourable for a politician, what I did was favourable for the progress of the country. It is true that I had to work under my brother, who was the President. But I never had any political constraints due to that relationship. There was no need to give such a political support. During the war I was able to choose the proper military commanders based on their skills. It was helpful for us in winning the war. Even when we were working in Urban Development, we gave the contracts only for the most suitable people. There were some companies that had been branded for being UNP loyalists. But we still gave a lot of contracts to companies where the brother-in-law of Gamini Dissanayake is the chairman and also a company owned by a Presidential Advisor. They were solely based on their performance so we had no political issues in carrying out our work.
Q: When talking about state officials, we see some state officials who were serving under your administration being accused of getting involved in various scams. For example, former DIG Anura Senanayake has been accused of being involved in the murder of Wasim Thajudin. What is your opinion on that?
A: Detaining them for a long time is unfair. Anura was a good police officer. He spear headed the operations carried out to prevent bomb blasts in Colombo and also to eradicate underworld activities. He was the Senior DIG when the Thajudin incident took place. It is entirely wrong to keep him in prison for over a year. The investigations could have been carried out after releasing him on bail.
Q: Do you agree with the claim that has been made about carrying out a military rule in the north after the war?
A: We were able to finish a 30 year long war within just 2 1/2 years. Rather than fighting over its glory, what we must do is to learn the lessons to prevent such a thing from happening again. At present there is a dialogue on reconciliation. But we had to carry out a large scale infrastructure development within a short time after the war. But within 4 years we were able to finish them all. By 2015, there were no road blocks in the country. We also demilitarized armed groups such as EPDP. Even though that was unfavourable for us in terms of politics, we were always looking at the situation from the people’s point of view. We respected democracy at that time. But no one speaks about it now.
Q: Are you saying that stripping these groups of their weapons was the reason for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat in the election?
Q: Doesn’t it mean that you had failed to win the hearts and minds of the people in the north?
A: We did what we had to do to bring peace. Even though we rehabilitate people, we cannot take out their radical views. It takes time for people to forget the old wounds. But those who are in power in these areas at present are living off racism. But we must learn from history.
Q: What is your response to the allegations of nepotism that have been raised against the Rajapaksa government?
A: Helping relatives is not only common to politics. It can be seen everywhere. Senanayake, Bandaranaike, Wickremesinghe have all done that. On the other hand you can count on the support of your relatives. If anyone is claiming that they are not helping their relatives, then he is lying. Basil and Namal came from elections. Only I was handpicked for a government position. Even that was done due to my proven track record. I do not consider it as an act of nepotism. Furthermore, most of those who were selected by him were able to come up with good results.
Q: There are allegations the former government was involved in the assassination of Lasantha Wickremetunge?
A: The investigations must be properly carried out. As I see it the government, has caught the wrong people. It seems that the government is trying to go on the wrong track on purpose. However, since an inquiry is being carried out on the matter, I prefer not to comment on that.
Q: What is your advice for the future of the country?
A: I cannot find out any achievement in this country during the last two years. The general public has not received anything. Since independence every government was accused of political revenge taking. But no government has been accused of it on such a massive scale like the present government. But they are trying to cover it as ‘corruption’. But if justice is served it must be equal for everyone. The government boasts about media freedom. But media institutions are still being threatened by politicians. No one is talking about it now.
At present the Derana channel has been heavily scrutinized. Most of the people are afraid to write to papers. No media have reported the criticisms against Champika Ranawaka. Even the West has become silent. Today the judiciary has been subjected to a lot of political pressure. Now the arrests are made according to the whims and fancies of politicians. Most government institutions have lost their freedom. When I requested the Attorney General for a road block, he refused it and he is been heavily influenced by politics.
The election has been postponed. It is an act against democracy. The political agendas are being carried out with the help of law enforcement. This is not what the government had promised during the election. Therefore I hope that this New Year would put an end to all these wrongful activities with an unnecessary constitution.
Q: Finally, Do you have a plan to become the Presidential Candidate in 2020?
A: That should be decided by the people.