An Interview with Shakuntala Perera for “Hard Talk”.
Is there a conspiracy behind Baratha Premachandra’s death? His family alleges against a move to obstruct justice from within the government, with a finger pointed directly at the President?
These are political rivalries. I don’t know what this big conspiracy is; they should explain what this is. It’s not like he was a national leader.
These are purely political mud slinging moves by those who are disgruntled. Now that the President is moving very smoothly politically, there are those who will use these to distract the people. And also understandably Baratha’s family must be pained to think this way.
But those others are using this to create a misunderstanding among the people; some of these are really those who criticised him when alive-some even had court cases against him but are trying to take advantage of this. This is a very unfortunate incident that no one can approve of. These happen because of the present political system. People fight within a Party for preferences.
How do you respond to claims by his family that requests made for security following threats to his life in February this year have gone ignored by the government?
But nobody has written to me. He was in touch with people within the Defence ministry but he has never mentioned anything of this. He’s always with the President-in fact his office is in the Presidential Secretariat-he could’ve mentioned this. I don’t think he has ever written to the President. That is a very wild allegation. If he had a problem there was no issue of contacting anybody.
Were you aware of the increasing levels of polls related violence between the two factions in the run up to the polls?
This rivalry between these two groups was known-I’m not politically interested but the Party hierarchy knew this was going on. But because of this system this happens all over.
Unfortunately due to the environment of this area; where the underworld existed with a gun culture, it was not unknown that the politicians working there would have such connections. The politics they have to play in this area is such that they have no choice in it. If you looked at some of the representatives you can see this. But unfortunately they are the ones that can get the votes from these areas. That is the ground reality.
Is Duminda Silva a suspect in this case?
That is not something even I should say anything about. This is a serious case-a high profile case. You have to allow the investigation to take place. Not only the CID, but also forensics, the Govt. Analyst have all to come in to this. I’m even thinking of getting foreign assistance in this. Once the real picture is there only can you talk about it. Till then no one can say. Someone supporting Baratha will say one thing-the other side another, but an independent person will say something different. We have to put this together-let them do that. But whatever assistance they need I will give.
Were you aware that a key underworld leader Dematagoda Chaminda was with Duminda Silva at the time of the shooting?
When they said this Chaminda was involved in the shooting I asked the CID where he was and why he was not taken in. They said he had fled the country. I got angry for their failure to take precautions and I called the necessary people as well as the Indian authorities and got their help to arrest this man. They used over 60 people there to do this and by 10th evening they traced him there, and by 11th morning we had him here and handed him to the CID. I did that personally. This is the extent I go to for this. If I didn’t do that we couldn’t have got him. Then I deployed the army and the STF to arrest anyone else responsible.
You are not protecting Duminda?
I’m not! Why should I?! I’m not protecting anybody but the truth must come out. Not what something someone wants to against someone but the truth. People question my visit to see Duminda-why shouldn’t I? I’m not a human being if I didn’t. The very previous day he was assisting me in this development work. So when I used him why shouldn’t I go and see him? In fact the first call I got about this incident was from Duminda’s phone by someone taking him to the hospital informing me of the shooting.
I knew Baratha for a longer period than Duminda because he was a close supporter of the President. I still wanted to go for his funeral but how could I?
When hooligans were shouting there, I didn’t want to get involved in that. In fact the President called me to go there, I said I couldn’t get involved. Duminda was an MP, why isn’t anyone going to see him? Till the truth comes out what prevents them from going? They are frightened. Of what I don’t know. They have things to hide. They don’t want to face the truth. They are weak people. I’m not a weak person-I do what I think is right in my heart. I don’t know whether Duminda is misunderstood-but the fact remains that he’s an MP, elected by the people. How can you just throw various allegations without proof? Until you are proven guilty why are they in a hurry to do this? These same people associate with certain MPs of TNA who threatened the sovereignty of this country. This shows poor quality of people.
Were you aware of the use of personal armies like those used by Silva by politicians with such a large amount of arms?
That is wrong. I’ve always said that was wrong. I always took action against this-this is a huge problem for the police. Not just MPs but businessmen keep such groups. Some even take them dressed in black suits to the Courts-this is very common thing.
But no one criticises it when the opposition Members do it. We try hard to stop this. I have given strict orders to stop this-but it is not an easy thing.
Were you aware of his connections with Dematagoda Chaminda, a known underworld kingpin?
Nobody has told me about this. Mind you I have done many operations without any soft pedalling anyone. If ever there was any allegation I have given the fullest cooperation to the police, the STF and the Army. I have never stopped investigations. I’m the one who gave my fullest backing to them.
Nobody can say that I haven’t taken any action-irrespective who’s who they were I have carried out this work. I have told the police, CDS and the IGP to this effect. No one can say I’ve tried to prevent such investigations. In fact I was the one pushing them with a clear focus. No one can say I protected anybody. I never protected anyone. That’s not how I do things. When I’m given a task I do it right.
What is your connection to Duminda?
The beautification of Colombo is secondary to me-my primary concern is the security of this country. Maybe for the public and the politicians the concerns ended with the end of war but not for me. Day and night I work hard to prevent the LTTE from coming back. I’m not collecting preferences-I work for the country-no one knows the work I do.
I have a huge task in re-orienting the war time military machinery to suit the peace times. I have to keep the forces active-this is a serious challange. I have immense pressure from the international community to reduce military presence in the NE, or remove Emergency regulations. Creating a balance while bringing normalcy is a huge challange.
These are things I face daily. Those who pose these difficulties with ulterior motives must understand this. I’m not interested in politics-I will never get involved in these contests. Its not my line of thinking-so no one has to get worried about me! If they harm me it is the country they harm. Ultimately it is the country and these politicians who are benefitted by the work I do. It is very unfair to target me-maybe to harm the President, but who suffers in the end?
I don’t think even the Ministers know the work I do. This is a very minor area-but if they start attacking me on a hypothetical situation like this its unfair by me. I do things without propaganda because I’m not interested in that. But dragging me in to these is purely to sling mud with ulterior motives. People maybe doing this thinking I have other motives-I don’t. I don’t want to be the Prime Minister-I’m not interested in that. If somebody has any fear they must remove those from their minds. I’m not a threat to anybody. My agenda and work is different.
Everyone was trying to remove the shanties, but I realized that unless you solved it immediately you couldn’t do it. You can’t do it with 100 houses a year-you have to build atleast 25000 houses to have an impact. Yet, again the politicians started spreading rumours for petty political gain-this is why I had to get involved in this. This is where Duminda come in-this is where I used Duminda-for nothing else!
But the claim is that an MP who functioned as a Monitoring MP of your Ministry is now alleged to have had drug and related dealings?
Again this is a wrong picture given. That was wrong-he was a supervisory member for this UDA project. If someone tries to deny that then you have to go into detail and say if he has ever got involved in anything to do with the military or the police. Has he sat with me on any of these conferences? No! He had nothing to do with the military or the police.
Similarly he was not the only person. Keheliya was given the task of working with the media during the war-he had nothing to do with the Defence Ministry. Mahindanana was from war times given the task of handling the Civil Defence Committees.In fact Mr. Lokubanda’s son was also appointed with Duminda to this job of explaining to the people our development work. That was all they were to do-so it was not only Duminda. Now the people are trying create a different story to sling mud. They are trying to hide the truth. This is wrong.
But were you aware of the drug issues that Baratha was reportedly trying to bring attention to in the area?
There are so many allegations against so many people. There is however no concrete evidence against anybody on this issue. There are allegations against both these people-but nothing is proven. But nobody has told me anything against anybody directly. These rumours that go on must be because of these associations with these people-but as far as I’m concerned my association with Duminda is purely official.
I’m not a friend-to be a friend he must be of my age group! I started associating him after he joined the Presidential campaign this time. Beyond that I don’t have a friendship with him. I associated him as an elected MP-he’s not a known underworld king pin or some drug dealer! He’s an elected MP-elected by the people. If I can’t work with him as an official as an MP then there’s something wrong with the democracy exercised! Then don’t blame us blame the politicians and change the system.
Let me give an example-when Ambassadors come and I explain our difficulties with working with some in the TNA due to their links with the LTTE, they speak of them being elected by the people! Then why the double standards? This is nonsense!
This is a person elected with a huge majority by the people and why I had to work with him was because after I took over Urban Development, my biggest focus was building houses to replace shanties. And in this there were issues I had to deal with politically-I had to counter misinformation spread by the Opposition.
Duminda was someone who worked directly with these people-he’s the person I had to use as a politician to go to the people. It was a completely official relationship. I don’t think anyone can blame me for that. Am I to select between MPs now-on what basis and principle
There are fears that the Colombo development plan under your authority will face logistical difficulties before the CMC now under the UNP. Are you concerned?
Municipality is at the lowest level but with a bearing on the peoplecleaning drains, collecting garbage etc. But utilization of land or town planning all are under the UDA-It is under me. No one can stop these things.
These are legally my functions. What is the meaning of UDA? They have to understand that the primary authority of this is under the UDA. They have to coporate with me-if they don’t they are working against the people, not me.
This is just politics-they must stop doing that and start working like me. This is under the UDA and I’m going to continue with it. The people have nothing to worry about.
I have within a short time removed the garbage that no one including the CMC could. The beautification and renovation of old neglected building for commercial use was started. From the time of JR Jayewardena people were complaining that the Army headquarters was in a wrong place but no one could do it. I leased it for a good hotel company for the correct value, while building a good defence complex in Battaramulla.
How much a threat does LTTE International remain to the peace and development moves in Sri Lanka?
It is a big challenge. No one sees the work we do to counter this. We are confident of that but we can’t sit and wait. Nothing happens by itself-we are doing it. Although immediately after the war the morale of the LTTE died, over these past two years they started their funding and regrouping. Slowly they are collecting the remnents of the LTTE. If you sit doing nothing there is a huge threat. We are working very hard to counter this. We didn’t stop the work after killing Prabakaran-we captured KP and started dismantling the LTTE.
Politicians have forgotton this-both with the Party and outside of some fear! They must support me-I’m not a threat to them. Again if Duminda has used his position it is not my businessit is his business.
But purely because of that our people who know what I have done are trying to undermine what I have done by using this little thing over everything I have done. It is very unfair by me personally, and especially unfair when those within our own Party are trying to do this. It is very unfair to project this small thing as a big thing.
What are the challenges faced by you now that the Emergency has been removed?
This is a huge challange-this is where we need to create a balance. There is a requirement to do this. Unfortunately the diplomatic community and the international community are very keen to go very fast to achieve these things. They want to release the detainees and rehabilitees, or resettle them and , and take the military out of the security operations as soon as possible.
These are pressures coming from one direction. But it is those doing this who know the difficulties in doing these. It is only I and the President who know the difficulties in doing this. Even the government politicians are in an urgency to do all these things without understanding the challenge for the security.
We have to understand that though we have defeated the LTTE it was an oranisation that was there for 30 long years and it hasn’t only a local component but also the international. It has a Diaspora a huge financial base. courtesy: Daily Mirror