PSC disclosures, a wake-up call for security establishment | Sunday Observer

PSC disclosures, a wake-up call for security establishment

The issue of having a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday bomb attacks has generated much controversy, with claims that the probe endangers national security by discussing the day to day workings of the security establishment and exposing intelligence officers.

The PSC has been opposed by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Joint Opposition (JO) but is continuing its sessions with the United National Front (UNF), the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) actively participating in it. President Maithripala Sirisena has also reportedly expressed his concerns and said he would not allow serving intelligence officers to testify before the Committee.

So far, several key persons have testified before the PSC. They include the former State Intelligence Service (SIS) chief Sisira Mendis, former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundera.

Interestingly, Mendis resigned after appearing at the hearing citing health reasons, Fernando resigned prior to giving evidence and Jayasundera has been sent on compulsory leave following the Easter attacks, a decision he is challenging in courts. To say the least, the evidence provided by these officials who held very high positions in the security apparatus of the country is revealing.

Mendis was to disclose that no meetings of the National Security Council (NSC) had been held since February. Fernando stated that he, unlike one of his predecessors Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was a ‘helpless’ Defence Secretary who had to wait for weeks to get an appointment with the President and Jayasundera claims he was asked to take the blame for the attacks and resign in return for an ambassadorial posting.

When the proceedings began, they were open to media and broadcast live. While Retired Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Mendis was giving evidence, the live telecast was halted. The proceedings of the PSC remain open to the media, as they should be and the ban on a live broadcast has proved to be counterproductive because video clips of the proceedings are widely circulated on social media and the ‘ban’ only succeeds in generating more viewers for these clips.

It is the revelations made by Mendis, Fernando and Jayasundera that are creating ripples within the highest levels of Government. It is difficult to comprehend how they would compromise national security. Even the disclosure by Mendis that meetings of the NSC were not held since February is more of a wake-up call for the security establishment rather than an incentive for the would-be terrorist.

It must be noted that these officials had the opportunity to provide their evidence in camera by making a request to the PSC if they felt it might have compromised national security. Being high officials conversant with the sensitivity of security related matters, it is only to be expected that they would exercise their discretion in identifying such matters. Therefore, what can be gained by stifling the functioning of the PSC?

It is now glaringly obvious that there were indeed warnings about the Easter Sunday attacks. These warnings- including copies of an internal Police Department circular published on social media within minutes of the first bomb attack indicate how ridiculously negligent the authorities have been, and how badly communication between different government agencies had broken down. Surely, that merits further investigation?

The Easter Sunday attacks cost more than two hundred and fifty lives. The country has become a laughing stock because the general impression globally is that political infighting between factions within the Government prevented it from acting on intelligence information which warned of an imminent attack, complete with details of the possible suspects and the potential places of the attacks. The authorities- grossly negligent until now- owe an explanation to the nation as to why that was allowed to happen. If the PSC is the way to get to the truth, so be it.

The major argument trotted out against the PSC is that it imperils intelligence officials. If officials summoned before the Committee feel that way, they can state their case and if the PSC is satisfied it will make arrangements to ensure that such officials are shielded from public view but at the same time given an opportunity to air their issues and grievances. Why is that considered inappropriate?

The SLFP’s General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera this week claimed that the PSC is being ‘used’ to sling mud at President Sirisena. A lawyer by profession, he also claimed that matters discussed before the PSC were sub-judice because cases have been filed against the conduct of the Committee. Jayasekara claims that the SLFP and the JO, which initially consented to a PSC on the basis that it would investigate the conduct of former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, withdrew only because matters related to the Easter Sunday attacks were also being inquired into.

We know that Jayasekara is handling a difficult brief but even so, his arguments wouldn’t convince a jury. If it was appropriate for Bathiudeen’s conduct to be probed in relation to his alleged complicity in the Easter attacks, how could the matters that could have contributed to the attacks be separated from such an inquiry?

Jayasekara also used his media briefing to lambast Retired DIG Mendis regarding his conduct. How correct is it for Jayasekara, who complains about intelligence officials being compromised because of the PSC, to criticise the person who was the country’s topmost intelligence official in a public forum when that official has no right of reply?

There have been suggestions that serving intelligence officers would be asked to refrain from giving evidence before the PSC. That would hold them in contempt of the PSC and therefore, in contempt of Parliament. Parliament would then have no option but to deal with these officials for contempt of Parliament. Should these individuals- who do yeoman service for their country, risking life and limb - be pawns in a game of political one-upmanship?

President Sirisena appointed his own committee consisting of persons of integrity to conduct a probe into the attacks. Their report was handed over to the President this week. That report, we hope, would be made public. The proceedings of the PSC are already in the public domain. With all the information out there, the average citizen will be better placed to figure out who was responsible for the lapses that led to the Easter Sunday attacks, who is telling the truth- and, most importantly, who is trying to hide it.