Secretary of Defence Cyril Herath is likely to
resign in the next few weeks, and a successor appointed to this
crucial post, according to Defence Ministry sources.
Although President Chandrika Bandaranaike
Kumaratunga has not yet officially named a successor to Herath,
the frontrunner at the present time is retired Major General
Asoka Jayawardena, currently Governor of the Northeastern
Province, sources said.
Jayawardena was a career army officer who
retired in the late nineteen nineties following a very stable
record of service. He had been in the running for the post of
Chief of Defence Staff, as the names of several former army
officers were thrown into the hat while a controversy raged over
whether the President would choose to appoint Navy Commander
Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri to the post, as pro-Army supporters
were critical of having a Navy or Air Force officer to head the
three services. However, in the end, after several months’
delay, the President appointed Vice Admiral Sandagiri to the
If Maj. Gen. Jayawardena is given the job, he
would be the latest of several of Army officers to hold the
post, such as Lt. Gen. Cyril Ranatunge.
Maj. Gen. Jayawardena is known to be a close
confidante of the President, and he is believed to be one of her
principal military advisors, while he has been holding the
largely ceremonial job of Governor of the Northeast.
He had succeeded veteran actor Gamini Fonseka as
Governor in 1998, following Jayawardena’s retirement from the
Army earlier that year.
Maj. Gen. Jayawardena’s service in the Army was
largely non-controversial. He served in several key posts, and
his retirement was not marred by the usual bickering over
extensions of service.
Maj. Gen. Jayawardena had also served as
Security Forces Commander in Jaffna.
Herath, a former Inspector General of Police,
who was widely respected when he headed the police force in the
mid nineteen eighties, was appointed Defence Secretary a little
over a year ago, when the President sacked the then Secretary of
Defence, after dismissing three Cabinet Ministers of the United
National Front government and seizing control of their
ministries, including the Defence Ministry.
Although he took the job reluctantly at the
time, and made no secret of the fact that he would merely be
filling in until a more permanent Secretary was appointed,
Herath has drawn much praise from all quarters for the manner in
which he has handled his onerous duties.
Although he is not a military man, he has shown
exceptional skill, diplomacy and authority in guiding the heads
of the armed forces and police, and maintaining control of the
armed forces, through a year in which the country went through
the Karuna rebellion a crisis that at the time threatened to
plunge the nation back into war as the LTTE poured thousands of
cadres into the East to attack the Karuna faction, in direct
violation of the Ceasefire Accord. The armed forces came through
this period without any serious clash with the LTTE.
Herath managed his role even when the critical
post of Chief of Defence Staff fell vacant for several months,
as the President inexplicably delayed making the appointment
after General Lionel Balagalle retired in July.
Herath is likely to go back full-time to his
other job as Chairman of the National Savings Bank.
Interestingly, Herath’s performance immediately
prior to his appointment as Defence Secretary, as Director of
the Directorate of Internal Intelligence from 1998, had been
marred by several debacles. These included the devastating LTTE
assault on the Katunayake airport in July 2001, which brought
the country to its knees. The DII was roundly criticized for
failing to detect such an attack, which took place far from the
Northeast frontlines by a Black Tiger suicide squad comprising
some 16 cadres.
The appointment of a retired Army officer is not
likely to make the LTTE happy. Maj. Gen. Jayawardena is only six
years out of service, and would be expected to have a much
keener grasp of strategic and battlefield realities than Herath.
However, the post of Defence Secretary does not
require leadership in the field, but is one in which juggling
the administrative demands of the three armed forces is of
paramount importance, and one is never certain how any
individual will perform, until he takes on the job.
With his appointment, the armed forces would also have a more
stable leadership, unlike in the past year, when the uncertainty
and massive changes in the posts of Defence Minister, Defence
Secretary, and Chief of Defence Staff, caused much concern. Vice
Admiral Sandagiri too has shown no problems in his post of CDS,
after his much-contested elevation to that post.