Asia Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Blasts- Bungling Gov bureaucracy and petty politics cost hundreds of innocent lives?

The security of citizens and residents of a country should be of paramount importance and priority for any responsible and accountable government.However as more and more revelations comes to light, and with government ministers making statements in the aftermath of the the blasts in Sri Lanka, the apparent mammoth failure to act on crucial intelligence information from abroad and within, as a result of government bureaucracy and petty politics could have cost hundreds of innocent lives, political analysts point out.

Attacks on churches and hotels killed 290 people and wounded nearly 500.

Bungling Politics

Much of the focus is now on the failure of the Sri Lankan security agencies. A key factor here is the degree to which different branches and factions within the police, intelligence and military are aligned with various politicians and political parties.

Scrutiny fell on rifts in Sri Lanka’s leadership on Monday after it emerged that authorities were warned about the group accused in Sunday’s bombings.

Prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the cabinet were not informed, influential Minister Rajitha Senaratne said in a press conference yesterday.

The prime minister was not privy to security briefings following a rift last year with President Maithripala Sirisena, cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told a press conference.

Mr Sirisena sacked Mr Wickremesinghe and his cabinet in October and tried to install another prime minister, prompting a full-blown constitutional crisis. 

He was forced to reinstate Mr Wickremesinghe under pressure from the nation’s supreme court, but apparently kept the prime minister from security briefings. 

Mr Senaratne said intelligence agencies had begun issuing warnings about the group on 4 April, after which the defence ministry sent a detailed warning to the chief of police; and on 11 April a memo was sent to the heads of several security divisions. He said information passed to police included a warning from a foreign intelligence agency about possible attacks by the group, as well as names of members.

He told a media briefing at Temple Trees, that the Chief of National Intelligence had warned the Inspector General of Police (IGP) of the attacks before April 11. “We are waiting for the President to remove the IGP,” he added.

The telecommunications minister, Harin Fernando, gave an unwitting example of how politicised the vision of decision-makers can be. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday, Fernando, who on Sunday night tweeted images of the memo from the Sri Lankan intelligence services dated 11 April, which laid out details of a possible planned attack, said the government also had not ruled out an attempted coup.

“There are so many ways we could look at this, but right now our biggest priority would be to find what really led these eight or 10 or 12 men to carry out this attack,” he said. “But we are not ruling out a coup as well.”

Other Ministers such as Mano Ganesan also said he was aware of a possible threat.

Minister Kabir Hashim said one of the suicide bombers, who carried out the Easter Sunday attacks, had been released from police custody a few months back due to pressure from a powerful politician, Minister Kabir Hashim revealed, yesterday.

Fielding questions, Petroleum Resource Development Minister Kabir Hashim said that following some incidents in the Mawanella area, Intelligence had unearthed cache of explosives at Lacktowatta in Wanathawilluwa, Puttalam in 2018. During the raid two key suspects were captured. However, due to the intervention of a powerful politician, they had been released and one of them had been involved in Sunday’s attacks, the Minister said.

Clear Security warnings marginalized

Security agencies had been watching the National Thowheed Jamath jihadist group, reports said, and had notified police about a possible attack.

But the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the cabinet were not informed, ministers said.

It was not clear on Monday whether Mr Sirisena had been made aware of the warnings. “Our understanding is that it was correctly circulated among security and police,” Shiral Lakthilaka, a senior adviser to Mr Sirisena, told the BBC. He said that the president had appointed a special committee led by a supreme court judge to investigate what had happened.

Rauff Hakeem, the minister for town planning, called the attacks a “colossal failure of intelligence”.

“It is shameful for all of us. We are all ashamed of this,” he said.

Cost of indecision and party politics

As Sri Lanka comes to terms of the atrocity one thing that is clear is the current government set up is not the solution for the future. The current political marriage between UNP and SLFP fielding a PM and President who doesn’t see eye to eye is now a national liability which could very well be the cost of lives lost during the blasts.

With elections around the corner it gives Sri Lankans an opportunity to ring the changes.But with ‘people are now sick to the core with most of these politicians who don’t think beyond their pockets’ and a ‘real change is unlikely as long as such Scrooges prevail’ are common comments made social media over last 12 months, there is little hope of assurance of security with the current crop of policy makers, political analysts add.

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