It appeared to be a politically malefic time for Foreign Affair Minister Ravi Karunanayake. Hot on the heels of revelations against him during the proceedings of the Presidential Commission investigating the Bond scam the other day, he was in for a rude shock as three of his Cabinet papers were turned down by President Maithripala Sirisena on Tuesday.
- Three Cabinet papers submitted by Ravi rejected
- Chief-of-staff meant only for Prez, PM
- Nominations would be called for Eastern, Sabaragamuwa, NCP Councils after Oct.1?
In one Cabinet memorandum submitted by him, he asked the government to assign ‘Visumpaya’ an official residence of the government to him for occupation.
Visumpaya, located in Lillie Street, Colombo 2 is a luxury residence used for visiting heads of state and local government ministers. Minister Karunanayake sought luxury living in this house. Nonetheless, the President was not in favour of this proposal.
“This is a post meant for the President and the PM. If I give you this, others would also ask. Is that so?” asked the President. Adding more humour to the situation, then, all the Cabinet Ministers raised their hands to show that they all wanted such posts
The President said this was previously occupied by former Minister, the late Anura Bandaranaike, former Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne and former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris. The President said none of them was in Parliament these days.
“It seems that politicians use this official residence during their later years in parliamentary politics. Therefore, it is better for you to avoid the place now,” he remarked jovially.
Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara, who was at loggerheads with Minister Karunanayake on some matters, also cracked a joke in this regard. “We do not want Minister Karunanayake to quit parliamentary politics that soon,” he said.
Currently, the govt has assigned Visumpaya to the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka is to develop it as a State Guest House to function under the purview of the UDA.
In another Cabinet memorandum submitted by the Foreign Affairs Minister seeking to vest ‘the Sri Lanka Buddhist Pilgrims’ Rest in New Delhi’ with Sri Lanka Branch of Mahabodhi Society headed by Ven. Banagala Upatissa Thera.
The pilgrims’ rest providing transit accommodation for pilgrims from Sri Lanka was a gift by former Indian PM Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and was declared open by the former Premier himself on November 30, 1960.
It is now functioning under the patronage of Sri Lanka High Commission in New Delhi. The Minister wanted this to be entrusted with Sri Lanka Branch of Mahabodhi Society. However, the Minister did not get the green light for it as well from the President or from the entire Cabinet for that matter. So, it was as yet another disappointment for Minister Karunanayake.
In this third Cabinet paper, he asked for permission to appoint a Chief of Staff for him. The President is reported to have been miffed by this proposal as he turned it down straight away. In fact, the President said all the Cabinet Ministers would seek similar appointments in case this was granted.
Upon seeing the paper, the President had a smile on his face first. “This is a post meant for the President and the PM. If I give you this, others would also ask. Is that so?” asked the President. Adding more humour to the situation, then, all the Cabinet Ministers raised their hands to show that they all wanted such posts. They did so smiling and laughing.
Afterwards, at one point, Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake remarked that he was the Chief of Staff for the PM at present, but he did not draw any salary or extra payment for it. Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera responded to him saying, “I heard you have been assigned a separate room to work.” That way, the Cabinet conducted its serious business, but on a humorous note.
Western nations had started hurling human rights allegations against Sri Lanka as they were annoyed by the country drifting towards China. He said these were baseless accusations, speaking of the west’s double standard applied here - Minister Champika Ranawake
Ministers debate on China’s role
Besides, the Cabinet took up for discussion in great detail about the agreement to lease out a stake of the Hambantota Port to a Chinese company. Last time, Development Strategies and International Trade Malik Samarawickrama presented the Cabinet paper. It ran into controversy evoking criticism from various quarters including a section of the Cabinet itself.
However, Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe brought the latest proposal and briefed the Cabinet about its nitty-gritty. After the briefing, the Ministers started airing out their views on geopolitical connotations on involving China in a major way in the country.
Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka opined that the western nations had started hurling human rights allegations against Sri Lanka as they were annoyed by the country drifting towards China. He said these were baseless accusations, speaking of the west’s double standard applied here.
“The western countries have introduced draconian laws to deal with ISIS terrorists. Yet, they fault us for our approaches in countering terrorism. This is hypocrisy. Otherwise, there are no widespread abuses of human rights here though allegations have been made,” he said.
He also said there were two allies in the world today with one led by China and Russia and the other by the United States, India etc.
However, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera countered him in this respect. He reportedly shot back at Minister Ranawaka and defended the western countries talking about human rights. He said China had invested heavily even in the UK, and as such, there was no nexus between investment projects and human rights issues. Minister Samaraweera recalled how Britain accorded a right Royal welcome to Chinese President Xi Jinping by taking him in a Royal Carriage about two years ago.
Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa mentioned the railway track built between China and a German city. Mangala Samaraweera corrected it by saying the line was slated to be extended up to London.
PM Ranil Wickremesinghe submitted a paper seeking to work out a new electoral system which is a mix of the current Proportional Representation and the First Past the Post in view of the Provincial Councils as in the case of the local authorities. The move is bound to entail a legal wrangle as the parties advocating due elections are already planning to resort to legal action
Legal wrangle likely on move to postpone PC elections
The govt is already under criticism for delaying the elections to the local authorities. In the meantime, doubts were raised in political circles whether the govt would attempt to dodge elections to the three Provincial Councils due this year.
Credence was given to such doubts when the Cabinet of Ministers decided to withhold such elections till a new electoral system was introduced.
In this exercise, PM Ranil Wickremesinghe submitted a paper seeking to work out a new electoral system which is a mix of the current Proportional Representation and the First Past the Post in view of the Provincial Councils as in the case of the local authorities. The move is bound to entail a legal wrangle as the parties advocating due elections are already planning to resort to legal action.
In terms of Article 154E, the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provincial Councils will stand dissolved by September/October. It means the Elections Commission is bound to call for nominations after October 1.