When President Maithripala Sirisena stressed at a top level meeting last Friday that he should take ‘some action’ to eliminate corruption, it was construed as a reference to a Cabinet reshuffle. It proved to be correct later, but the President did not move on it.
The unity government has appointed a committee comprising representatives from both the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to discuss issues cropping up in the execution of tasks by the two sides. It met last Friday with the participation of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
According to government sources, a survey had been conducted as an initiative by the President to assess the standing of the current rule in the public arena. Findings do not augur well for the government. The President wanted to step in to restore its image.
Referring to research findings, the President emphasized that corruption should be rooted out at any cost. To restore the image of the government, he said that he wanted to take ‘some action’.
“Why are we digging our own grave otherwise?” he asked.
The phrase ‘some action’ communicated the intended meaning. It was a reference to a change of certain portfolios. Nonetheless, the UNP was not in favour of such action to be done at this juncture. It said the government had to respond to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) later this month and early next month. Alongside, it said a delegation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was due here next month for the evaluation of economic performance and to decide on the next form of financial assistance based on it. Ahead of such important engagements, a Cabinet reshuffle is not advisable in the UNP’s perspective.
Amaraweera compelled to retract his position on Cabinet reshuffle
Before that, Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, a close confidante of the President, announced in public the need for a change in certain portfolios. His remarks received wide publicity in the media, eventually infuriating some of his colleagues fearing the possible stripping of their positions due to corruption allegations being framed against them.
Minister Amaraweera received numerous inquiries in this regard. Finally, it dawned on him that his remarks should not have been timed at this moment. For whatever reason, he had to retract on some of his words saying it was a matter for the party leadership to decide. “I am the party secretary. I do not have the power to decide on rearranging the Cabinet portfolios. It is the prerogative of the President to do so,” he said.
These political developments suggest that though a section of the present rule wants to rearrange the Cabinet portfolios, it is impossible due to resistance by the other segment fearing possible ripple effects in a political sense.
UNP complains against SLFP Chief Ministers
It has now become a common phenomenon that the members the UNP and the SLFP take on each other publicly, even giving one the impression that the unity government is rocked to its foundation. Political favouritism is the main allegation being hurled to and fro. The UNP Ministers grumble that they could not deliver much to their own people because of the involvement of SLFP in the governmental affairs in a big way. The SLFP also has the same grouse against the UNP. Against this backdrop; the government’s parliamentary group meeting was conducted on Monday evening with the President and the PM in the chair. After a long time, the UNP and the SLFP MPs assembled at one place to discuss issues of mutual concern.
This time, the UNP complained against the Chief Ministers. Out of the nine Provincial Councils, seven are controlled by the Chief Ministers representing the SLFP. The UNP accused them of ill-treatment of its people in the discharge of duties. It happens mostly in giving jobs and carrying out development works.
President Sirisena, who is the leader of the SLFP, responded with humour to this complaint initially before he suggested a serious response.
“You are the ones always asking for further power devolution to the Provincial Councils. In case, the UNP takes control of the PCs next time, it will do the same. Then, the SLFP will bemoan,” he said.
He also called upon the UNP and the SLFP members serving the respective councils to act together to iron out such issues, citing limitation for the centre to intervene in their affairs.
In addition, the Ministers such as Rishad Bathiudeen found fault with Chief Minister of the Eastern PC Nazeer Ahmed who represented Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). Nazeer Ahmed was faulted for his alleged arrogance in transacting with people.
Govt. tries to re-evaluate Divineguma Project
Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting discussed the current status of Divineguma project. This was done amidst plans for renaming the project as Samurdhi again. It was stressed the need to reassess the scheme with focus on re-identification of those eligible for benefits. The UNP, once again, lamented that Divineguma officials did not collaborate with them enough at village level.
Though it initiated as a poverty alleviation project, the Samurdhi scheme, introduced by the 1994 People’s Alliance Government, served as the virtual political apparatus of the SLFP-led alliances in executing their political work at grassroots level. During the time of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, its scope was widened along with the change of name as ‘Divineguma’. The public base built around the project is politically advantageous to the MR Camp. In that context, the UNP and the anti-MR group of the SLFP probably wants to efface the current political colouring of it to be replaced with theirs.
Kiriella wants sovereign guarantee; not letter of comfort
Another matter discussed was related to the issuance of loans to the Road Development Authority (RDA) for the implementation of road projects.
The National Savings Bank has sought a ‘sovereign guarantee’ from the government to issue such loans for road projects. However, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake agreed to give only a letter of comfort. In respect of a sovereign guarantee, there is a legal binding on the part of the government. Yet, there is only a moral binding in respect of a letter of comfort. This was referred to the Cabinet. Public Enterprises Reforms Minister Kabir Hashim asked for more time to study the whole aspect of it before agreeing at once.
Highways and Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella said the Banks had offered to grant loans to the RDA for road projects, and they should be facilitated. Finally, a committee headed by Ravi Karunanayake, Kabir Hashim and Minister of Special Assignments Dr. Sarath Amunugama was appointed to look into and report to the Cabinet.
Huge build-up against SAITM
After the court ruling for the recognition of medical degrees offered by South Asia Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM), commonly known as Malabe Private Medical College, a new build-up has emerged against it.
Medical students of State universities, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) and medical teachers are up in arms against SAITM medical degree. In the course for the formulation of its opinion, the Joint Opposition also engaged with these bodies.
The GMOA has taken the toughest stance that it should be abolished. However, some medical lecturers have taken the moderate position that it should be made a semi-government degree awarding institutions offering courses under the strict supervision of the Sri Lanka Medical Council.
The anti-SAITM protest was simmering during the previous rule. It never reached the point of explosion. However, it is now blown out of proportion. The government or Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella for that matter considers this court ruling as a blessing for promotion of private investment in the higher education sector.
However, former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, who spoke on behalf of the JO, said, “This is not a matter that can be resolved in court. The court decides individual cases. This is a matter concerning the formulation of national policies across the board. The proper forum is Parliament. The government must take the initiative in addressing the issue seriously and laying down the policy in this regard. In our opinion, the main element of that policy is to give full responsibility and authority to Sri Lanka Medical Council. The conferment of degrees by universities and other educational institutions is a matter under the Universities Act. But, whether a particular degree is adequate or not for a profession is a different matter. As far as medical education is concerned, that authority to decide whether a person is entitled to practise medicine is within the purview of Sri Lanka Medical Council. This is not a matter related to the privileges of doctors. This is a matter that touches the rights of the public”.
Under the existing law, Sri Lanka Medical Council has the authority to evaluate courses of study, and on the basis of that evaluation to make a recommendation to the Minister of Health”.
MR refuses ‘kiri kos’ with ‘wevmaalu’ due to religious observances
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in Anuradhapura recently. He was seen walking about one km up to Mirisawetiya while talking to people on the way.
As per his habit, he accepts invitation for meals or tea at the residences of MPs in Anuradhapura whenever he is on a visit to the area. However, he had to abstain from taking a meal at MP S.M. Chandrasena’s house this time. The former President was to attend some religious observances at Kebilitta Devale in the South. For that, he had to refrain from consuming animal flesh for a period as a ritualistic requirement.
At Chandrasena’s residence, a meal with Kiri Kos (Jak curry cooked with coconut milk) was prepared with wev malu (freshwater fish), a cuisine unique to Rajarata. “Sir, I prepared Kiri Kos with WevMalu. How would you like it?” asked Chandrasena.
Given his commitment to attend the event in Kebilitta Devale, MR declined to accept his invitation this time. “I would have loved to have Kiri Kos. But today, I cannot. Let’s bring something later and eat!” he said.