Days after former Foreign Affairs Minister Ravi Karunanayake’s resignation, the United National Party (UNP), which he represents, is at pain to control the damage to its credibility. It comes out with the argument that even a Minister is now prevailed upon to relinquish office in case corruption charges are framed against him, due to the principles of good governance cherished by it.
In parallel to this argument, the UNP MPs, mostly newcomers or backbenchers, mounted yet another campaign to push for dispensing with cases against higher-ups of the former rule. There were public utterances to that effect by some of them.
Against the backdrop, it turned out to be a hot topic at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning. Ministers Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka were more assertive than others in asking for expediting legal action in the instances where investigations have been completed.
On one aspect, there was, again, the idea for a separate court to hear and dispense with cases involving the members of the MR regime. Also, there were views expressed at the meeting that an already available court should be designated for the purpose rather than forming a new one.
However, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe ruled out the possibility to establish a new court as it would require a Constitutional Amendment. He opined that the hearing of some cases could be prioritized, subject to the consent of the Chief Justice and the Attorney General by setting up a trial at bar.
The similar process was adopted to hear the case regarding the murder of schoolgirl Vidya after rape in Jaffna. It was cited as an example in this instance.
The govt is in a grave credibility crisis over the Central Bank bond scam leading to the resignation of a minister has entailed serious issues related to sincerity of the govt that was elected purely on a platform for eradicating corruption. With its anti-corruption ideology shattered, the govt is expediting various means to fill the credibility gap.
Petroleum and Petroleum Gas Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, was opposed to the Hambantota Port deal, when he was the subject minister. It was signed after he was posted to the current post at the latest Cabinet reshuffle
It made a barrage of allegations against the previous government. Yet, the government has not been able to institute legal action leading to conviction in any of the cases so far. As such, the veracity of allegations is questioned by people. In an effort to counteract the situation and give legitimacy to what they said, the government is pushing for legal action. In the process, Minister Rajapakshe is taken to task. He draws flak from his colleagues constantly, who accuse him of delaying cases deliberately for political ends.
Not that alone, some members have proposed to bring a no confidence motion against him. These UNP backbenchers called on the Prime Minister to discuss it. However, it is learnt that the PM had asked them to engage President Sirisena as the authority appointing ministers rather than proceeding with no confidence motion.
At Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, however, said it was too late for the govt to deal with this matter. He charged that the cases were delayed purely due to politically-driven reasons. He said the govt could have acted on corruption issues and dispensed with them within the shortest possible time after its formation in 2015. He viewed that the move to speed up investigation after the lapse of two years would make a mockery of the govt in the public eye.
Before that, at a press conference he said the govt had a moral ground after the resignation of Ravi Karunanayake to act against the wrongdoings of the Rajapaksas as well. He seems to be having a tiff with the govt for what he termed ‘the protracted delay’ in hearing cases against the Rajapaksas. In fact, he said the current govt would have to pay for it at the next election.
Parliamentarian Sarath Fonseka who served a jail term during the term of the last govt said the former administration cared about nothing in the case of his incarceration. In this manner, he asked why the incumbent govt was citing the flimsiest of excuses in dealing with corruption and frauds.
Petroleum and Petroleum Gas Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, was opposed to the Hambantota Port deal, when he was the subject minister. It was signed after he was posted to the current post at the latest Cabinet reshuffle.
However, he seems to be fighting for his stand still. He made observations about the port deal at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.
Port and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said he would reply next time.
After Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), at its Central Committee meeting decided to oppose the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, it has become, more or less, certain that the govt will be compelled to conduct the elections to three Provincial Councils (PC) due this year.
The Joint Opposition leaders met with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday evening to discuss modalities for the election if declared. The JO has sensed that the govt is planning to conduct both the PCs and local authorities’ elections on the same day and the date would be chosen this year.
If only the PC elections are conducted, it would be confined to three provinces this time. Then, the JO can exert its entire resource base to this limited number of electioneering areas.
However, it believes that the govt is trying to scatter its resources all over the country for electioneering by calling for the local authorities’ election also on the same date. The govt believes that it could weaken the position of the JO in this manner.
“The govt thinks we could be weakened in this manner. So, we are getting ready for that eventuality,” a source from the JO said.
A four-member delegation of UK Parliamentarians visited Sri Lanka and shared their experiences on reconciliation strategies and mechanisms with special focus on Northern Ireland at a programme organized by the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation.
This programme was initiated and supported by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on Reconciliation chaired by TNA parliamentarian Mavai Senathirajah.
The UK Parliamentarians represented a cross party delegation representing Conservative Party , Labour Party, Scottish National Party and other minor parties including Belfast City Councillor, in Northern Ireland. The UK Parliamentarians shared experiences of their country in the reconciliation process, peace building and related reforms. They also had lengthy discussions on reconciliation strategies with their local counterparts, provincial councillors, senior govt officials and development partners.
The Parliamentarians discussed on constitutional reforms, devolution, land issues and compensation, missing persons issues, resettlement programme, community police and remodelling the justice framework and accountability, economic reforms, skills and education, memorialization, truth-seeking and many other aspects. The delegation provided briefing on the Northern Ireland reconciliation strategies.
The Sri Lankan reconciliation strategy was presented by V.Sivagnanasothy, Secretary, Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation. The Sri Lankan initiative included the National Reconciliation Policy and the Policy on Durable solutions for displaced; integration friendly school programme for unity and reconciliation; Sunday school programme to educate reconciliation and peace building; integration of friendly media and peace journalism; district reconciliation committees to address ethnic and religious tensions; healing programmes; economic empowerment programmes for IDPs, refugee-returnees, women-headed families, ex-combatants and the disabled.
The Sri Lankan reconciliation intervention included healing and reparation programmes covering housing programmes, water supply and sanitation; schools and health investment programmes, other economic infrastructure interventions such as roads, bridges, ferry services, jetties and other transport infrastructure.
The programme was attended by the visiting UK Parliamentarians, V.Sivagnanasothy - Secretary, Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation, Priyanka Hettiarachchi - Country Representative for Westminster Foundation, Paul Green - First Secretary, British High Commission in Sri Lanka, UN Resident Coordinator Una Mc Cauley, Riyanawathi - representative, UNHCR, Senior govt officials, civil societies and donors.
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