One month after the all-party National Unity Government led by Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Mister Ranil Wickremesinghe swept to office, Sri Lanka saw the dawn of a new political culture on Saturday.
Perhaps for the first time since Independence, the two main parties came together to give a thumping two-thirds majority for the interim Budget presented by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake on January 29. The Budget, the fulfillment of one of the major promises in the hundred-day programme of the National Unity Government, provided unprecedented relief to millions of suffering people. The relief package includes a salary increment of Rs 5000 from this month for some 1.3 million public servants with another Rs. 5000 to be given from June.
Pensioners, Samurdhi beneficiaries and Mahapola recipients will also get substantial relief while the prices of 13 essential commodities have been slashed. A few days before the Budget, fuel prices also were slashed with the price of petrol being reduced by Rs. 33 a litre, kerosene by Rs. 25 and diesel by Rs. 16.
In addition, the Cabinet on Thursday also approved legislation for the implementation of the National Medicinal Drugs Policy with Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne saying that from next month the prices of essential medicinal drugs would be reduced by as much as 60 to 75 percent.
At voting time in Parliament on Saturday, 164 MPs representing the UNP, the SLFP, the TNA, the SLMC, the JHU and other parties voted for the Budget giving it a two-thirds majority. The only dissenting vote came from Ajith Kumara who represents a breakaway group from the JVP. Among those who abstained were MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena, NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa, LSSP leader Tissa Vitharana, CP leader DEW Gunasekara and DLF leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara along with Sriyani Wijewickrema, Geetanjana Gunewardena, Chandrasiri Gajadeera, Weerakumara Dissanayake and Y.G. Pathmasiri.
This realignment of political forces came amidst speculation that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is thinking of moving away from the SLFP and forming a new alliance with the MEP, the LSSP, the CP, the DLF and other parties including Udaya Gammanpila’s breakaway group from the JHU. Reports say the new alliance might contest under the SLFP’s old hand symbol and the first test of popularity will come when the new alliance holds its first public meeting at Nugegoda on February 18.
Most independent political analysts say the chances of Mahinda Rajapaksa and the family dynasty making a comeback do not appear to be good with allegations of mega deal corruption by the deposed ruling family growing to astounding and scandalous proportions day by day. Besides the multi-million dollar corruption allegations, Independent Commissions are likely to probe charges of super-luxury living, vulgar extravagance and criminal politics.
According to media reports, a major effort to trace millions or billions allegedly plundered by UPFA leaders will get underway in Washington this week. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Sri Lanka’s top corruption fighter J.C. Weliamuna are to meet officials of the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Unit (StAR).
The National Unity Government is expected to submit a list of names of leading UPFA politicians and officials who were allegedly involved in amassing assets abroad, particularly in foreign banks. The list is now being compiled.
The Economic Times of India reported that New Delhi would help Sri Lanka set up a Finance Intelligence Unit (FIU) similar to the one that works in India, to trace more than $5 billion allegedly stashed overseas by the Rajapaksa regime.
President Maithripala Sirisena is moving to fulfil electoral promises to check corruption and repatriate money allegedly siphoned off abroad by Mahinda Rajapaksa, who ruled Sri Lanka for a decade, and members of his family, Indian Government officials told the Economic Times. The new Lankan Government has informally approached the Narendra Modi Government to assist in setting up the body, sources said, adding that a formal proposal could be expected soon.
Most independent political analysts believe that with shocking revelations surfacing day by day, it might be more prudent for the Rajapaksa family to stay away from mainstream politics and allow the Maithripalanaya Government to take Sri Lanka to a new era of good governance, democracy and social justice with multi-religious and multi-racial unity in diversity.
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