President Maithripala Sirisena with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
- Stresses President, PM, Govt. have grossly failed in primary duty to ensure the people’s safety and security
- Lists five immediate actions and related initiatives
An influential and successful group of 62 business leaders and professionals, along with four major trade chambers, yesterday handed over to President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe an urgent action plan to strengthen security as well as harmony in the country.
In their joint signed petition, the group, comprising individuals from all ethnicities, emphasised that Easter Sunday mayhem confirmed that Sri Lanka is no longer excluded from Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. They pointed out that the President, the Prime Minister and the Government of Sri Lanka have grossly failed in their collective primary duty, which is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens, by underestimating the threat posed by these terrorists, and by being totally unprepared to respond in a timely manner.
Identifying them as patriots, the group listed five immediate action as well as related initiatives, which they believe will help prevent any further damage to the nation, and safeguard the process of rebuilding.
The first of the five recommendations has already been implemented, being related to the appointment of a person with military experience to the position of Secretary of the Ministry of Defence. The other four are:
- Strengthen the National Security Council
- Establish a single source of communication regarding national security matters
- Establish a National Threat Level system
- Continue strong actions to prevent backlash against any community
With regard to the National Security Council, the group said this vital organ has become politicised, and no longer serves its primary mandate of protecting national interests.
It has been recommended to change the membership of the National Security Council to consist of the President, the Prime Minister, relevant Ministers (Defense and Law & Order in particular), 2 Members of Parliament with prior military/police experience, and the Leader of the Opposition, in addition to other officials that are compulsorily required in the Security Council.
“The differences of opinion between the President and Prime Minister are well-known. However, given the security situation in the country and the critical role the NSC plays in managing it, this is not the time for your differences to be an issue with regards to the proper functioning of the NSC. It is imperative that you both put your differences aside, and work together at least in the NSC. The nation must not be held to ransom due to the inability of its elected officials to discharge their sworn duty,” the joint letter by the business leaders and professionals pointed out.
The group’s suggestion of the establishment of a single source of communication regarding national security matters (NSC Media Centre) is to ensure the Government does not let Ministers make ad hoc and often poorly-informed statements, likely with the desired goal of gaining local political mileage and international visibility. “This is confusing Sri Lankans, and embarrassing Sri Lanka on the international stage. It causes anguish among different communities, and also deteriorates trust in the Government,” they opined.
The letter to President and Prime Minister has suggested further steps in this regard, including strictly instructing all Ministers and all Government officials that they are not permitted to communicate any information regarding security matters. Media outlets will be instructed to not ask any such officials for commentary, as those would not be considered formal Government communication to the people. All communications must be channelled through the NSC spokesperson.
The suggestion of establishing a National Threat Level system is to ensure the public has a simple and credible way to understand the security situation in the country at any given time, which gives them sufficient information to make decisions about their personal safety.
It was pointed out that many other countries have a simple “Threat Level Indicator” system, such as a scale ranging from 1 to 3 or colour-coding.
“The country’s situation demands that the NSC set up a similar system with immediate effect, and that the threat level be updated daily for the next 2 weeks, and thereafter updated as per NSC decisions based on change of threat level.”
Whilst applauding the precautionary night curfews put in place, the group said that all leaders must clearly communicate that this is not a battle within our nation, but rather of Sri Lanka vs. fundamentalist terrorists with a global ideology of destruction.
“Political leaders must continue to firmly reiterate that this is not a battle with people of that faith. These leaders must also take demonstrable measures to assuage the fears of communities facing backlash,” they added, stressing the need for continued strong actions to prevent backlash against any community.
“The key concerns articulated above are shared amongst all the signatories of this letter. We also believe that these are shared by the wider public. We are forced to communicate in this manner with you due to the inaction that we have seen in the past week, and because of the widely known intra-Government conflicts. In developing the above recommendations, we have consulted with experts and have had considered deliberations. We know that the above measures are implementable and realistic.
We trust that the Government will take the necessary action to address these inadequacies of its national security infrastructure, and place the safety and security of its citizens above partisan politics and petty blame games,” the 62 business leaders and professionals and four trade chambers said in their letters to President and Prime Minister.