Colombo, April 27 (newsin.asia): Former Sri Lankan Army Commander and the current minister of Regional Development, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, said on Thursday that President Maithripala Sirisiena has offered him a position to maintain essential services in case these are disrupted.
Speaking to journalists at Kelaniya near Colombo, Fonseka said that Sirisena has instructed him to take responsibility for carrying out essential services when they are disrupted and that he expects to fulfill the President’s wishes expressed at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.
“The President’s request was approved by the cabinet. At that moment I said that a discussion is needed to draft a mechanism to implement this program. I realize the intentions of the President and expect to fulfill them. I will put the country first,” Daily Mirror quoted Fonseka as saying.
At first, the President had asked Fonseka if he is ready to take over the army to which Minister Fonseka said ‘No.’ The President then offered the post of a ‘Security Division Head’, but Fonseka rejected that too.
“It was only then that the President invited me to take over the responsibility of carrying out duties when essential services are disrupted, I accepted,” Fonseka.
Trade unions should focus on the welfare of members without being henchmen of political elements with vested interests, the former chief of the army said.
“The government will never suppress the rights of trade unions. We will carry out our responsibilities while protecting the country’s democratic nature. We will not go for military rule. There is no need to do so. There was such an administration in the past but we won’t do such things,” Fonseka clarified.
The President’s extraordinary request came in the wake of a rash of strikes and demonstrations by government doctors, students, petroleum workers and others on a variety of issues.
Government feared that such trade union actions will turn away potential investors when Sri Lanka is desperately trying to get Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to help it manage a debt and balance payments crisis. Constant news of strikes and road blocks could put off tourists who have been coming to Sri Lanka after the end of the 30-year war May 2009.
The government’s plan to strike deals with India to get investments in a variety of areas through an Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) is being opposed tooth and nail by doctors and other professionals who fear an Indian influx, competition and loss of opportunities for them at home, although the agreement will also throw open opportunities for Sri Lankans to invest and work in India.
The plan to get investments from India to refurbish and manage the 99 giant oil storage tanks in Trincomalee and India’s potential involvement in the building of the Trincomalee port and the Eastern Container Terminal in Colombo port are being opposed on the grounds that India’s involvement might lead to an abridgement of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.
Opposition to Indian investment led to a crippling petroleum workers‘ strike on April 24. In the recent past, there were agitations against China’s involvement in the building of the Hambantota port and the Colombo Port City.
These agitations have adversely affected Sri Lanka’s relations with two of its biggest development partners and funders – China and India.
It is against this background that President Sirisena asked Field Marshal Fonseka, the Regional Development Minister in his cabinet, to become the Army Commander or Chief of Defense Staff (having under him all the three services) for two years, to bring “discipline to the country.”
After cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne announced this on Wednesday, he was asked if Fonseka had accepted the President’s plea. According to Senaratne Fonseka said that he is prepared to accept the post “if proper responsibility and powers are given to him.”
Senaratne revealed that the Security Forces are asking Ministers why government is allowing disruptions to normal life and wonder if investors and tourists will come to Sri Lanka if this situation continues.
“Give us more powers. We will take care of Colombo, the Forces say,” Senartne claimed.
He assured that Fonseka will not be allowed to be a dictator. “ He will report his decisions to the Cabinet and the Cabinet will implement them,” the spokesman said.
Asked if he accepted that the civilian administration has collapsed under this government, Senaratne said: “ Yes, people say so. They ask us to take action immediately.”
When pointed out that the present civilian rulers were brought to power to ensure the right to protest, Senaratne retored: “ Trade Unions have the right to protest. Our objection is to staging protests to fulfill political agendas. ”
He meant that the recent wave of agitations and strikes have had the backing of the Joint Opposition led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
While many Southern Sri Lankans belonging to the majority Sinhalese community have faith in the “uncorrupt and patriotic” Sri Lankan armed forces, the minority Tamils living in the North feel that the army will be ruthless as they have had a taste of military might in the 30 year war.
But human rights activists feel that handing over of power to the armed forces would lead to the militarization of the country; devalue civilian authority, including the police; and eventually lead to military rule as it happened in Pakistan.
Furthermore, it is point out that the army is trained to destroy the enemy and not to “police” a population which means controlling them through legal action with minimum use of force.
Human Right activist and Director at the National Peace Council Dr.Jehan Perera said that the move to call upon the military to bring law and order shows the “inability of the government to speak in one voice” on any issue”. It is this inability which had led to the roping in of a third party to do what the confused civilian authority is unable to do.
Indeed, the Maithripala Sirisena government is divided on all issues, with ministers contradicting each other all the time.