Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has publicly taken to task the parliamentary select committee on the Easter Sunday jihadi attacks, saying he was opposed to top officials testifying on national security matters before the media. Sirisena's outburst is set to trigger another conflict between him the executive and parliament the legislature, analysts said.
Sirisena on Friday called for an emergency Cabinet meeting and said he stand opposed to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the attacks summoning intelligence officers and disclosing intelligence information to the media. "I am completely opposed to senior intelligence officers being questioned openly in parliament. This exposes very sensitive national security information," Sirisena said.
Among the officials questioned so far are the Defence Secretary, intelligence chief, police chief and former defence secretary. The president said that those who have appeared before the PSC so far are former officers or officials and not current officers and have revealed key information. The then police chief Pujith Jayasundera, who was sent on compulsory leave, told the PSC that he had been overlooked by Sirisena for security council meetings.
Sirisena was dealing with the head of the State Intelligence Service, overlooking Jayasundera. Hemasiri Fernando, the defence ministry secretary sacked by Sirisena for his failure to prevent the April 21 attacks, said the intelligence on a possible jihadi attack had not been given due importance at the security council meetings. Other unimportant matters discussed while no action plan was ever discussed on the jihadi threat.
He said that he will not allow any current officer to be summoned before the PSC and that his stand has been communicated to the Cabinet. "This is not done anywhere in the world - key intelligence officers being openly questioned in front of the media," Sirisena said. "They can become targets of criminals as their identities have been revealed." Sirisena's discomfiture stems from the fact that Sirisena as the Minister of Defence was responsible for the intelligence failure which led to inaction despite the availability of prior warnings on the Easter Sunday attacks.
The aim of the emergency Cabinet meeting was to discuss what he termed the damage caused to the national security by the PSC proceedings. The cabinet meeting, however, ended without any agreement. Sirisena on June 4 wrote to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya asking him to stop the PSC proceedings. The legislature hit back saying that executive must not interfere in its business.
This situation is similar to when Sirisena suspended parliament in October last year after he had unconstitutionally named Mahinda Rajapaksa as the prime minister. The unprecedented clash between the executive and the legislature lasted nearly 3 months before the highest court in a landmark judgment ended the stalemate forcing Sirisena to restore the status quo.
A string of powerful blasts tore through three churches and as many luxury hotels, killing 258 people and injuring more than 500 others. The Islamic State has claimed the attacks, but the government has blamed local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaath (NTJ) for the bombings. A total of 106 suspects, including a Tamil medium teacher and a school principal, have been arrested in connection with the blasts.