New Army Chief Mahesh Senanayake
Newly appointed Army Commander, Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake spoke to the Rivira Sunday Edition regarding his journey to becoming the 22nd Commander of the Sri Lanka Army.
Q : Your journey to becoming the Army Commander has been harsh. At the last minute, you had to face a battle with two others. It is said that some of the senior officers in the fight attempted to become the Army Commander with the help from religious leaders. Yet, you did not resort to such. And in the end you won. What do you think about this triumph?
Patience was the reason why I got this post. I also trusted in that the most suitable person would get the appropriate place. I had a lot of trust in the President too. It is because of this trust that I was able to become the country’s 22nd Army Commander.
Q : Discipline is the main thing in the Army. Yet, in the past, two senior Generals who were in the fight to become the Army Commander alongside you, boycotted about 25 Army promotion boards which were Chaired by you after you were appointed as the Chief of Staff. Not only that, a certain Major General boycotted all ceremonies on the day you became the Army Commander. This sets a wrong precedent. Doesn’t the Sri Lanka Army Act which applies to the lower officers apply to the seniors?
The said Act is common to all. It is the same for a high ranking officer and to a low ranking one. This is not a place to take out one’s personal animosities. If someone is punished for reporting to duty late, then these too are wrongs according to the said Act. I am not going to take personal revenge from anyone. However, there is no use of the crown that I wear if there are attempts of revolt from within the Army. I will take the required decisions in order to prevent such from recurring.
Q : Does that mean that you are going to take a strict decision?
I do not take revenge from people. However, in order to maintain the existing disciplinary system, there must be a change in the posts. I have the President’s patronage required for this.
Q : Having become a victim of political revenge under the previous Government, you left the country in 2010 January. Groups that came to your house had even pointed a pistol at your wife. What was the actual reason for leaving the country?
I am not a political victim. I am a victim as a result of the politics that prevailed at the time. If I was a political victim I had to have engaged in politics. I did not do politics. I had to leave the country due to the situation that prevailed in the country at the time and the legal advice I received.
Q : The Major Generals involved in the fourth Eelam war even received the Weera Wickrama Vibhushanaya medal. However, although the President has intervened to look into the injustice meted out to officers who were in the frontline and yet lost out on receiving even the guarantee award, nothing has been implemented in this regard yet. As an officer who was in the warfront, will you stand on behalf of their justice?
If they were brave in the battlefield and deserved medals and did not get such, then I will look into such again and give them what they should rightfully receive.
Q : On the day you took over duties you stated that you would pay much attention to the welfare of the soldier. Yet, in the past, temples and churches were built from the Government monies given for spending on the soldier and for his/her use. Can’t these be stopped in the future?
More than all else, my main aim is to work on behalf of the soldiers’ welfare. In the future, aside to implementing national projects in a manner that safeguards the pride of the Army, the Army will not be deployed for any other activity.
Q : In the past, there was a system in force where officers who had been punished under the previously mentioned Act were given promotions by the Army Commander. Certain officers were elevated to Major General positions. Will you erase this black mark at least during your tenure in Office as the Army Commander?
There is a mechanism through which promotions are given in the Army. Even if someone who was punished years ago faces several examination and investigation boards and is recommended for promotion, his or her seniority must be reduced. Years afterwards, if a relevant officer gets a promotion, s/he cannot be given the relevant seniority. I plan to do all this according to a proper system.
Q : You had to leave the Army and stay abroad for some time. The United Nations peacekeeping force having understood your value, obtained your services during this period. Under the incumbent Government, you and other recognized officers got an opportunity to serve in the Army. You are now the Army Commander. What do you think?
What I can say is that others too should take me as an example. I was in the battlefield for 30 years. In the final battle, I worked as the planning director. Yet, due to some reason I had to leave the Army. Still for all I did not go to criticize the country or those who took decisions detrimental to me. I continued doing my work. For 30 years, I served the Army. I bore everything with patience. Others too can take an example from the patience I exercised. There has been no such officer in the history of the Army. I think I am the first to have faced such a situation. It has been over two years and several months since I was recruited to the Army again. I did not chase after positions. I was given a duty as the Chief of Staff and the Security Forces Commander – Jaffna. It was after loosening the difficulties in what is said to be the most difficult post in Jaffna that I came thus far in my journey.
Q : According to the Army’s seniority list, you are listed as the officer who has followed the long-term course. Yet, the other officers who vied for the Army Commander’s post had only followed short-term courses and were presenting themselves as officers senior than you were. Based on the contribution to the war, the first among them to be promoted to the post of Major General was you. Yet, on the seniority list you occupy the fourth place. Will at least you correct this error in the Army seniority list, an error that is not found in the relevant lists of the Air Force and the Navy?
Only the date that one joined the Army is mentioned in the seniority list. Seniority cannot be calculated based on the day one was born. Just because one’s name is at the top of the seniority list does not mean that one can become the Army Commander. The President, the Defence Secretary and the Prime Minister gave more priority to experience and skills than to the seniority list. It is based on the skills and experience shown during wartime and peacetime operations that I came to be appointed. Although it is said that I was appointed while there were three others above me in terms of seniority, in 2009, Jagath Jayasuriya was appointed as the Army Commander when there were seven others above him. Therefore, this is not the first instance.
Q : What kind of intervention will you make regarding the allegations of war crimes levelled internationally against the Army?
The strength of the Army is the discipline and commitment. An Army cannot be an Army without the discipline and commitment. It must be looked into whether these groups that raise allegations of war crimes were truly there when such occurred or whether such came from someone else. As an officer who was in the war, I know that our soldiers and officers were not involved in such and did not contribute to such. Yet, if allegations are raised against us, we will assist investigations being conducted into such.
Pics by Chatura S. Kodikara