He was considered a powerful Defence Secretary during his term in office but Gotabhaya Rajapaksa says the media portrayed the wrong image about him. In an interview to an independent organization, the video of which was handed over to The Sunday Leader, Rajapaksa said that when he was in office he did everything in good faith. He also said that allegations raised against him, particularly by people like former Minister Mervyn Silva, should not be taken seriously.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: At the end of the last Presidential election there were claims that a conspiracy was hatched at Temple Trees to prevent the new Government from taking office. Your name was mentioned as one of the conspirators. Is this true? Why did G. L. Peiris, Udaya Gammanpila and others meet at Temple Trees?
A: If I planned a conspiracy it would not have been unsuccessful. The situation now would have been different. There was no reason to stage a conspiracy. Nothing of that sort happened. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa handed over power to the new President and left. Before that the police intelligence had received information of an attempt to create violence soon after the election. There were fears a group of people may surround Temple Trees.
The Inspector General of Police (IGP) was aware of this. The President was informed about this and the IGP had felt a curfew will be needed to prevent violence. The President had asked the IGP if a police curfew in a selected area will be enough but the IGP had said that it will not be enough. The advice of the Attorney General was sought and the Attorney General had suggested that curfew not be imposed.
The then opposition leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe was later asked to come and meet the President and power was peacefully transferred to the new President.
Everything took place democratically. Some people may have assumed that President Mahinda Rajapaksa will hold onto power by force. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was praised for the way he peacefully transferred power. The people who want to sling mud at his actions are the ones who are claiming that a conspiracy was hatched.
Q: What was your role in the former Government?
A: Whatever I did, I did in good faith and for the betterment of the country. Whatever the responsibilities that were given to me I have shown results. During the President’s (Rajapaksa) first term in office, my major task was to eradicate terrorism.
I have done that. During the second term the additional responsibility of urban development was given to me.
It is very evident that I have done that role very successfully. It is also very important to note that I was able to maintain the peace even after the war. We were able to take various measures to ensure the LTTE does not regroup or restart terrorism in the country.
Whatever people may say, they have to accept that we gave the people a lot of freedom. We tried to bring normalcy, especially to the North and East.
No one is recognizing these facts. Even 13,000 rehabilitees, we never charged them. The President decided that we must rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society.
We did a very successful rehabilitation programme and reintegrated them back into society. These things are not discussed even in the international forums.
They talk against us but they don’t discuss the plus factors.
I never used my powers beyond my responsibilities.
Whatever I did I did within my responsibilities purely in good faith, to do the correct thing and to bring results.
In the urban development, look at the changes I have brought to Colombo. Even people who use the walking paths we have made criticize it and walk on it.
Q: What were the core issues you identified when you took over as Defence Secretary?
A: The biggest issue in the military was the strength. No Government identified this or identified and did not do anything. I identified this and told the President I have to triple the size of the military if you want to finish this war. I was able to convince the President we have to do this despite the issues faced by the treasury.
We had to spend a lot of money but I showed him that unless we do this we will not be able to finish this war. I am sure if we had not done that, whatever the tactics we use we will still be fighting the war.
Also diplomatically I knew to continue this war India is a factor. We had to keep India with us. Any other country can go against us but we knew if India goes against us it is very difficult to continue the war. So we devised a mechanism to keep India with us. We never depended on the traditional method of going through the Foreign Ministry.
We created this troika where three people from Sri Lanka and three from India were involved and we were able to neutralize many sensitive issues because we discussed very frankly the issues which were arising.
For example on one occasion Karunanidhi launched a hunger strike and I got a call from the Indian troika saying they need to meet the President. I spoke to the President and he agreed to meet them and the next day they came and met and we were able to issue a statement saying we will continue without using heavy weapons.
Mr. Karunanidhi was happy and he ended the hunger strike and we continued with the war.
Q: So where did things go wrong because you seem to have had a close link with the Indians?
A: Till the end of the war we had a close link and we were able to develop the relationship between both countries. Unfortunately after the war completely new characters came in the troika and the relationship was broken.
Q: Did you use military power to remove people during the Colombo beautification project?
A: That is not true. Most of the time people willingly gave the land. For example at Castle Street there were people. We build them houses before they moved. Of course there are minority numbers who lose some benefits by leaving shanties so they did not want to go and then the opposition, no matter if something is good or bad, they oppose it. Those are challenges you have to face if you want to achieve results. A majority of the people wanted to leave for better houses. Only a few cases did not want to move and then the police was used. Why they say the military was used is because I attached some military officers to the Urban Development Authority. So when they go the people say I used the military. Why I used them is because I thought I must use the commitment and skills of these military officers in urban development as well.
Q: Did you feel at anytime that people feared you?
A: That was because of the wrong impression created about me. Media unfortunately projected me as a difficult person to approach and talk to.
Q: Former Minister Mervyn Silva has made accusations against you including over the assassination of former The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge. How do you respond to this?
A: Those are very baseless allegations. It is very unfair for a former Minister to make irresponsible allegations. I am sure he is doing this to cover himself. Everyone in this country knows who Mervyn Silva is. Unfortunately our Government did not take proper action against Mervyn Silva at that time. But I did many things to control him. On many occasions, I arrested many of his people who were taking ransom. But unfortunately at a higher level action should have been taken. But I don’t take him seriously and I don’t think the people of this country take him seriously.
Q: Why were there several incidents targeting the media during the previous regime?
A: Unfortunately I can’t mention names. But various people at various times did these things. But all these things ultimately came on me. Now there is an opportunity to conduct an investigation so I am not afraid if they re-open the files and conduct a genuine investigation. But it should not be a witch hunt.
Q: There were also accusations that you were protecting Duminda Silva.
A: That is actually wrong. I associated with Duminda Silva as he was a Colombo Parliamentarian and nothing else. That association also started because of the Colombo urban development. He represents areas where people need houses. I did not have any friendship or knew him previously. He was a monitoring MP of urban development. I never got any information from the police to the effect that he was involved in drugs.
Q: The new Government has launched investigations over alleged corruption and even here you have been accused.
A: This is where the Government has gone wrong. When I was the Defence Secretary I was very transparent in my transactions. Also I have only one bank account in the whole world and that is at the Bank of Ceylon. I had a bank account in the US but I closed that down. Also as Government officials we need to declare our assets and I have done that regularly. So they (the Government) can check my present assets and publish that so then everything will be very clear. I had no secret accounts. I should say I am one of the cleanest people in the world. I know this in my heart. One day those who make these allegations will repent that they have made a mistake over these allegations.