By Abdul H. Azeez
A functioning Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute would have been of invaluable service to the government at this juncture especially with the UN Advisory Panel report released. In its heyday it took a dynamic stance towards policy planning and research even holding many public lectures to enlighten the public on similar matters.
The memory of Lakshman Kadirgamar’s smooth talking, self-assured presence will not fade away any time soon from the minds of Sri Lankans who heard and saw him speak. This unique man left a few things behind for his nation when he was brutally assassinated. One of them is an institution named after him founded for the specific purpose of aiding Sri Lanka with intelligent strategic analysis.
The Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, founded in 2006, functioned until January 2010. It provided expert analysis and assistance to the government on many strategic issues both related and non-related to foreign policy. The Institute was a robust place then. Housed in the iconic ‘Lighthouse’ building on Horton Place, it employed qualified analysts and sported a proactive Board of Directors that saw endowments reach an epic Rs. 75 million by the end of 2009 according to then Chairman Rohitha Bogollagama.
Today however, the Institute is in a shambles, a mere shadow of its former useful self. The primary activities that go on there are the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission meetings. The staff of the Institute has been reduced to just three persons. Only Deputy Director Brig. Vipul Boteju and two office assistants work there. Hardly any work of actual importance takes place at the Institute anymore. Emails go unanswered and phone calls to the Deputy Director’s office are abruptly terminated.
Since the Cabinet reshuffle after the last presidential election in January 2010, the Institute has been turned over to the Presidential Secretariat. The old Board of Directors was dissolved and a new Board was never appointed, rendering the Institute effectively a rudderless ship, with the sole exception of Kadirgamar’s widow Mrs. Sugandi Kadirgamar, a lifetime member of the Board. She however remained un-contactable despite repeated attempts by the of The Sunday Leader.
We did manage to get in touch with former Foreign Minister and then Chairman of the Institute, Rohitha Bogollagama who said, ‘I don’t know why the Institute is in such bad shape. You will have to ask the current chairman’. When informed that the Institute is currently without a chairman, Bogollagama said, ‘the Foreign Minister of the country is the chairman of the Institute by legal mandate. This will not change even though it has been handed over to the Presidential Secretariat.’
Bogollagama went on to express his disappointment at the state of affairs prevailing at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute and said that at the time of his leaving it had been an important research institute capable of handling sensitive projects. “The endowments we had received totaled upto Rs 75 million at the time, a testimony to the good work we were doing.”
When The Sunday Leader contacted Foreign Minister Prof. G L Peiris’s office, they were clueless about the Institute. Even though we could not reach the Minister himself, both his Media Secretary Hemasiri Gunathunga and his Private Secretary Sampath Dissanayake expressed ignorance of any and all matters relating to the Institute.
When asked if Peiris is the legal chairman of the Institute, Dissanayake said “It (the Institute) has been given over to the Presidential Secretariat which will make the appointments,” adding that he knew nothing about the chairman legally being his Minister. When told that no one had been appointed to any posts yet, he said that we would have to “talk it over” with Lalith Weeratunga (the President’s Secretary).
When we contacted the President’s Media Secretary Bandula Jayasekara he too said that he did not know what was happening with the Institute but would get further information if we e-mailed him. The e-mail, which was immediately sent, went unanswered.
Our email asked Jayasekera why the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute was taken under the purview of the President’s office after the last cabinet reshuffle, and why it has failed to restore it to functionality and what, if anything, the President’s office intends to do with it.