fter about two weeks of a political melodrama - filled with tension and turmoil or even elements from a detective fiction novel - the drama came to a climax yesterday with the swearing-in of new Cabinet Ministers, State and Deputy Ministers.
According to the Presidential Media Unit, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was also provisionally appointed as the new Minister of Law and Order, Lakshman Kiriella as the Minister of State Enterprise and Kandy Development, Kabir Hashim as the Minister of Higher Education and Highways, Sagala Ratnayake as the Minster of Youth Affairs and Southern Development, Harin Fernando as the Minister of Digital Infrastructure & Foreign Employment, Ravindra Samaraweera as the Minister of Wildlife and Sustainable Development, Ajith P. Perera as the State Minister of Prisons and Rehabilitation, J. C. Alawathuwala as the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs and Harsha De Silva as the State Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs.
Some changes in the portfolios of ministers of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party [SLFP] and the United People’s Freedom Alliance [UPFA] are also to be made.
According to our sister newspaper the Sunday Times, the more significant change is likely to be that of SLFP General Secretary Duminda Dissanayake from the agriculture ministry to the Ministry of Vocational Training and Skills Development. His place in the important agriculture ministry is likely to be given to UPFA General Secretary Mahinda Ameraweera who at one stage issued a statement that the SLFP-UPFA would not continue in the national government. But in a strange twist of political agendas he later announced in Parliament last week that the UNP-SLFP-UPFA coalition would continue.
According to reports, the changes came after prolonged discussion between President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe. Inside sources say that Premier Wickremesinghe had proposed that the former war-winning army commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka be appointed as the Minister of Law and Order but the President was not in favour of it. So provisionally Mr. Wickremesinghe will handle the law and order ministry.
In recent months, President Sirisena has been public critical of the law and order ministry largely because of what he saw as the delay in investigating and prosecuting cases of large scale corruption involving VIPs, officials and lackeys of the former Rajapaksa regime. During the campaign for the February 10 local elections where President Sirisena’s SLFP faction was routed he had strongly declared that the battle against corruption would be his top priority.
Earlier this month, the government introduced a draft bill to appoint at least three permanent three-Judge High Courts which would conduct high court-at-bar trials relating to major cases of corruption, bribery or other political crimes. Sittings would be held every morning and evening so that the cases could be concluded within months instead of years as they now do. Through this process, the government hopes to expedite the VIP corruption cases and there will also be provisions for easier way to recover the money plundered by VIPs or officials of the former regime.
Political analysts say the only major change yesterday was somewhat of a demotion for senior minister and house leader Lakshman Kiriella who was moved from the Ministry of Higher Education and Highways to the Ministry of State Enterprise and Kandy Development. Minister Kiriella has been severely criticised for his role in the crisis involving the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) and the controversy over the next phase of the Colombo Kandy highway.
With the Cabinet changes, we hope the government - responding to the huge protest vote by the people at the local council elections - would take effective action to provide some short-term relief to the people while intensifying the battle against corrupt politicians or officials then and now and working honestly with integrity towards building a peaceful, just and all-inclusive society. In 2015, President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe rose above party politics and put the country first for their historic victory. We hope in the coming years, they would act as statesmen and not party politicians.