Appointments, extensions (and Repercussions)

Island Editorial

Navy Commander Vice Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, who turned 55 yesterday couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present; his term has been extended by six months by President Maithripala Sirisena! His extension has come as no surprise. Numerous as the failings of the yahapalana leaders are, they cannot be considered a bunch of ingrates.

Last December, the Navy Commander helped crush a workers’ protest at the Hambantota Port and, went out of his way to pounce on a journalist covering the biggest ever peacetime naval operation the former himself led gallantly. His naval commandos secured the release of a foreign vessel being held by a group of protesting workers. Following that incident, we predicted, in this space, that his services would not go unappreciated. SP Shani Abeysekera of the CID has also been promoted to the rank of SSP!

Wijegunaratne is an old salt who has proved his mettle in battle in spite of his deplorable conduct at Hambantota. We don’t intend to discuss either the merits or the demerits of his ‘birthday gift’. It is only hoped that such extensions won’t cause deserving senior officers to be put out to grass without being promoted to the much coveted topmost post.

Theme Cartoon googled and addedImage result for political appointment cartoons

The extension at issue reminds us of serious political trouble the Rajapaksa government brought upon itself way back in 2009 by retiring the then Navy Commander Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda four months before the expiry of an extension he had been given. The Rajapaksas did so to kick Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka upstairs as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

The Rajapaksas, in their wisdom, had first sought to appoint Gen. Fonseka Secretary to the Sports Ministry as a way out, but in vain; he declined to accept that post. Karannagoda, being the more flexible of the two, hung up his boots to become the Secretary to the Ministry of Road Development.

Changes the Rajapaksa government effected in the army and its attitude were not to the liking of CDS Gen. Fonseka, who felt unfairly treated and slighted. Hence, his decision to retire and challenge his erstwhile Commander-in-Chief, President Mahinda Rajapaksa. in the 2010 presidential race! Anyone’s right to run for President cannot be questioned, but Fonseka by throwing his hat into the ring, unwittingly, created a situation where the pro-LTTE groups who were still licking their wounds bounced back by hitching themselves to the Opposition combine that backed him.

It was also a dispute over an appointment that brought about the downfall of the Rajapaksa regime in 2015. If the Rajapaksas had not denied Sirisena the post of Prime Minister, perhaps, the latter would not have voted with his feet and the former might not have suffered so painful a pratfall two years ago.

In short, the SLFP-led UPFA lost power in January 2015 because President Mahinda Rajapaksa refused to appoint Sirisena Prime Minister; it failed to recapture power seven months later because President Sirisena declared he would not consider former President Rajapaksa, seeking election to Parliament, for the post of Prime Minister even if the UPFA secured a majority to form a government. In so doing, Sirisena demoralised the UPFA supporters beyond measure and many of them did not care to vote.

The less said about the manner in which the Rajapaksa government handled appointments and extensions, the better. Placing square pegs in round holes was its forte; the then Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva happened to observe in open court that his peon had far better educational qualifications than the person the Rajapaksas had handpicked as the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation Chairman! The situation remains the same in spite of the 2015 regime change. The yahapalana leaders have appointed several candidates rejected by people at the last general election as National List MPs and even made them ministers. President Sirisena has drawn heavy flak for the recent appointment of a member of the private bar as a High Court judge. The UNP remains determined to reappoint Arjuna Mahendran, who is under a cloud, the Central Bank Governor.

Appointments, promotions and service extensions of either military officers or public officials or politicians should be carefully handled and the deserving among them enabled to achieve their goals while the misfits are left out if the rulers are to avoid trouble.