Select Committee not a threat to security, ensures people’s right to know – PSC members

Two key members of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) investigating the Easter Sunday bombings today defended the now-controversial decision to open the Committee’s proceedings to the media.

Speaking in their personal capacity, parliamentarians Dr. Jayampathi Wickremeratne and Prof. Ashu Marasinghe told journalists at Temple Trees this afternoon (31) that airing the proceedings on live television has in no way compromised national security or the safety of intelligence officers.

Explaining that the PSC was established using the Right to Information (RTI) Act with its various exemptions as a blueprint, Dr. Wickremeratne said that similar safeguards were firmly in place to ensure that no information detrimental to national security would be revealed at the Committee’s public hearings.

“For the Select Committee, we set the bar even higher. Any information that is deemed prejudicial to national security – not just undermine it, but also prejudicial to national security – we took a decision to not air it. But, of course, any testimony would be recorded,” he said.

Prof. Marasinghe noted that the two defence officials who testified last week, namely Former Deputy Inspector General (DIG) and State Intelligence chief Sisira Mendis and Secretary to the Defence Ministry Shantha Kottegoda, were very senior and competent individuals who knew better than to discuss sensitive matters on camera.

In any case, he said, the two officials had been reassured that any matter they were not comfortable discussing in front of the media, they could withhold for a later date.

“We also requested the media to use unedited versions of the proceedings, lest it be misinterpreted,” he said. Dr. Wickremeratne, meanwhile, said a request for a broadcast delay, too, had been made from the electronic media providing live coverage of the proceedings.

“We instructed the witnesses to not to reveal anything that’s detrimental to national security. In fact, the Defence Secretary said a few times that he wished to speak separately. If needed, we’ll decide to question them without the media’s presence later,” said Dr. Wickremeratne.

The live telecast on Sri Lanka Telecom’s Peo TV service, however, did end abruptly around 1.00pm. Dr. Wickremeratne said they have yet to receive an explanation for this.

Using examples of transparent public hearings on matters of state intelligence in Western democracies, both Dr. Wickremeratne and Prof. Marasinghe insisted that not a single piece of information, nor the identity of on-the-field intelligence officers were revealed at the proceedings.

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“The whole country knows who heads the intelligence services. There are thousands of intelligence operatives. No one needs to know who they are or what they do. If a question arose in the proceedings as to who is in charge of intelligence gathering in Kattanunkudy, for example, we won’t allow that information to be exposed,” said Dr. Wickremeratne.

The two lawmakers also questioned the Joint Opposition’s decision to not participate in the proceedings, considering they themselves had signed off on the PSC.

“If it is true that intelligence had already available prior to the attack and it turned out that officials had not carried out their duty, revealing that before the committee is not detrimental to national security. In anything, it strengthens it,” said Dr. Wickremeratne.

“National security and intelligence have become buzzwords. Some politicians believe that these two areas are a domain exclusive to them and that they alone are the authority on them,” said Prof. Marasinghe, questioning the motives of Opposition politicians critical of the decision to open the PSC proceedings to the media.

Opposition politicians have no right to take away people’s right to know, Prof. Marasinghe further said, adding that leaders should put the country above party politics.

Reiterating that anyone testifying has the option of giving separate statements away from the glare of the media, Dr. Wickremeratne said the PSC exists to ensure the people’s right to know.

“We will not allow even the smallest chance for our national security or intelligence services to be compromised. We denounce with disgust the politically motivated pronouncements of some. We are committed to ensuring the public’s right to know,” he said.

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