In this interview with The Island staffer C. A. Chandraprema, the former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa responds to some of the allegations that were made against him in the wake of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat on Jan. 08.
Q. There is this talk of an attempted coup in the early hours of Jan. 09 morning. What really happened?
A. I went to Temple Trees early in the morning. We had received intelligence reports earlier that opposition activists would surround Temple Trees in the morning regardless of the result of the election. There was a discussion on how to tackle such a situation. The Attorney General’s advice was sought and the Opposition Leader Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe was also contacted and he said he would be coming immediately to Temple Trees. After his arrival, he had a discussion with the president and it was decided that the president would leave Temple Trees. Mr. Wickremesinghe assumed responsibility for the protection of the president and the others. This was long before the final results were even announced. If there had been an attempt at a coup, why would the Attorney General have been consulted? He gives legal advice to the government.
Q. How is it that a rumour circulated immediately after the election that you had flown off to the Maldives in an air force plane?
A. They must have got wrong information from somebody. I have been at my official residence throughout.
Q. After the election, there was also this talk that you own a house In Mt Lavinia where you were rearing sharks and that neighbours had noticed two bowsers of sea water being transported to that house daily. The dogs in the neighbourhood were also said to be disappearing and people suspected that the dogs were being caught by your people and fed to the sharks.
A. That must be the house of an ornamental fish exporter. I don’t own a house in Mt Lavinia or anywhere in Sri Lanka for that matter. I am now living in my mother-in-law’s house. The adjoining land was given to my wife as a dowry and when I was in the army, we built a house there.
Q. The media reported that the JVP had complained to the Bribery Commission that you had acquired a lot of lands and houses.
A. It is very easy to verify from the land registry who owns a particular house or land. I said a long time ago that if anybody finds a land or a house belonging to me, I will gift it to the person who makes the discovery.
Q. During the election campaign General Sarath Fonseka made various allegations about weapons procurement made by Lanka Logistics during the war. When the former army commander makes such allegations, people may tend to believe them.
A. Such allegations were made even at the 2010 presidential election. Lanka Logistics is fully owned by the Defence Ministry and comes under the purview of the Committee on Public Enterprises of parliament – COPE. It was set up to eliminate private middlemen when purchasing arms. A lot of money was saved as a result of this. When there was a need to buy something, Lanka Logistics would make contact with the supplier and act as the intermediary by comparing prices and so on. Almost all the purchases were made on a government to government basis. Lanka Logistics did not do the actual purchasing. To make the purchase, the usual procedures such as Cabinet appointed tender boards and technical evaluation committees had to be adhered to.
Q. What about this Rakna Lanka security service. An armoury belonging to this organisation was sealed by the police in the BMICH premises.
A. Rakna Lanka is an organisation built up with a lot of sacrifice and effort. This is also a company under the Ministry of Defence. It functions under an additional secretary. It’s a state owned enterprise coming under the purview of the Committee on Public Enterprises of parliament - COPE. It provides a lot of employment opportunities for ex-soldiers. Rakna Lanka got involved in providing security for ships in the Indian Ocean, which is a very profitable operation. Rakna Lanka signed an agreement with Avant Guard a private security firm to scout around internationally for business for Rakna Lanka. Providing maritime security services is a UN-sanctioned activity and there are procedures to be followed. Rakna Lanka provides the personnel, the weapons and the procedures. The procedures are very important. If you give a weapon to a private security company and it is used for an illegal purpose, there is a problem. Rakna Lanka is a profitable enterprise and the profits go to the government. It became the foremost organisation providing security for ships in this region. Destroying this enterprise is a crime!
Q. Then, new Finance Minister has alleged that there is Rs. 8 bn lying to the credit of the Defence Secretary in Bank of Ceylon. What would you say to this?
A. I have already explained that this account is a Defence Ministry account to which the Treasury has transferred the money raised by selling the army headquarters land. The new Defence Ministry complex in Battaramulla is being built with this money. In any case, the Treasury cannot deposit money in a personal account. That account was not in my name. It was in the name of the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and its present custodian is the present Defence Secretary. The money was in a fixed deposit. It has been in a defence ministry account to facilitate the building of the new armed forces complex without undue delay. The land to build this defence services complex was allocated about twenty years ago. There were even plans drawn up for this during President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s time. So, this complex was in the pipeline for a long time. This account was administered by the Chief Accountant of the Ministry of Defence. The annual balance is reported in the government balance sheet.
Q. The Rajapaksa government never answered allegations made against them during the election campaign. Little wonder so many people thought they were true. Take that story about the helicopters used by the president’s sons for example. The former president made light of it by saying "Oh, I bought helicopters for my sons when they were small." That was not an adequate answer. You have to spell things out for the public. Instead of making light of the helicopter story, the former president should have told the public how many helicopters there were in the country and how many belonged to the Air Force and how many to private companies and said that his sons didn’t own any helicopters or have Air Force helicopters assigned for their use.
A. There are some private companies that own helicopters or small aircraft. One of them is owned by Sajin Vaas Gunawardene. UNP politicians Daya Gamage and Mayantha Dissanayake also have interests in companies owning helicopters. There are some other helicopter owners as well such as Noel Selvanayagam. The first family did not have any helicopters nor were there assigned air force choppers for the president’s sons to travel in.
~ www.island.lk ~