- Mangala taken to task by Muslim members over Palestinian issue
- GL appointed new party chairman
- COPE report to AG; JO skeptical
- Chinese Ambassador on Sino-Lanka relations
Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera first faced criticism -- even detrimental to his political career-- over his stand taken regarding a Palestine issue way back when he held the same post during the early part of the 2005/2010 government of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He was even stripped of his portfolios, prompting him to choose a new path in politics.
Again on Tuesday, he had a salvo from the Muslim Ministers at the cabinet meeting as reported over a Sri Lanka’s abstention from the vote of the UNESCO to adopt a resolution recognizing the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem recently. The powerful countries such as the United States were not in favour of the resolution.
Almost all the Muslim Ministers, including Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Minister Rauff Hakeem, Local Government and Provincial Councils Minister Faiszer Mustapha raised concerns about Sri Lanka’s abstention. After the matter cropped up, Minister Samaraweera clarified the reason for Sri Lanka’s abstention. He cited that the resolution had been drafted in Arabic referring to it only as a place of Islamic worship. The Minister was taken to task in this regard, though. It led to an exchange of words among members.
At one point, it is learnt that Highways and Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella shot back saying the United National Party (UNP) always stood for the rights of Muslims in Sri Lanka. “It was we, not the Muslim members, who spoke on behalf of Muslims attacked in Beruwala during the previous rule,” he reportedly said.
At the same time, Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka reminded how Mr. Samaraweera even lost his ministerial portfolio because of a stand taken against Palestine in the past.
Be that as it may, the Muslim politicians will not stop at that. Last week, SLMC MP Ali Zuhair Moulana gave notice to the Speaker on an adjournment motion to be taken in the House questioning as to why Sri Lanka has deviated from its pro-Palestine policies.
It is to be seconded by MP A.H.M. Salman.
New party renamed; GL new Chairman
Against the backdrop of Central Bank bond issue and President Maitripala Sirisena’s criticism of some law enforcement bodies, a new political party was created on October 28.
The new party , named “Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna” and formed with the blessings of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was recognized by the Elections Commission on October 28. Rather than registering a new party, it was established by renaming an existing party and appointing a new set of office bearers.
They renamed Ape Sri Lanka Nidahas Peramuna as Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna in this manner, and appointed former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris as its Chairman and Attorney-at-Law Sagara Kariyawasam the General Secretary.
The new party is meant for the MPs of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) currently sitting with the Joint Opposition to carry forward political activities. Later, the new party will team up with other parties such as the National Freedom Party, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna in the Joint Opposition to form a political alliance for contesting elections in the future.
With the emergence of the new party, the SLFP presently led by President Maitripala Sirisena is now heading for a split in the formal sense. Though the new party was announced at this juncture, those concerned were doing preliminary groundwork for it for a long time. In fact, the Flower Bud was chosen as the symbol of the new party in June, this year.
Former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa played a pivotal role in this respect. As of Tuesday, the trade union wing of the new party was registered. It is intending to form as many as 12,000 branch organizations across the length and breadth of the county. Already, applications for 3,600 branches have been received by the party headquarters.
Basil Rajapaksa, the brother of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa said the applications for branch organizations covering all the eight electorates in the Anuradhapura district had been received. “We are in the process of collecting applications from other districts,” he said.
In the formation of new branches, applications are collected from each village with signatures of 20 individuals expressing interest to work with the new party. In this manner, the entire Anuradhapura district has been covered at the moment. The party is to have three main trade union branches covering the government, estate and semi-government sectors. The party authorities are now working on the establishment of other organizations to be affiliated to it.
UNP to refer COPE report to AG, but JO skeptical
In the aftermath of the report by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) holding former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran responsible for the bond scam, the United National Party (UNP) said it would not sweep anything under the carpet.
In fact, its Secretary State Enterprise Development Minister Kabir Hashim said the report would be submitted to the Attorney General for the next course of action.
However, the Joint Opposition is skeptical on the role of the AG’s Department.
Its leaders, Dinesh Gunawardane, Prof. Peiris, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa harshly criticized the Department. Prof. Peiris said the previous engagements with the Attorney General did not serve the intended purpose on this issue, and the latest attempt was a ploy to sweep the matter under the carpet.
At the Cabinet meeting, some government ministers opined that action should taken regarding the bond issue further than reference to the AG.
Chinese Ambassador speaks out
On the surface, China-Sri Lanka relations appeared to have normalized, but resentments seem to be still lingering.
It was apparent in the tone and tenor of the language spoken by Chinese Ambassador Yi Xian Liang at a press conference with a select group of journalists on Tuesday. The Chinese real estate project, called the Colombo Port City during the previous rule and the international financial centre, was suspended after the new government assumed office early last year. The project was reviewed. The work has resumed now with alterations to the original proposal.
The Ambassador said the Chinese company incurred a loss of US $140 million during the suspended period that ran into one and half years. Asserting that it was a huge loss, he said the company dropped compensation claim due to relationship between the two countries. However, he said around 1,000 direct employments and 4,000 indirect employments were lost to the Sri Lankans during the time. “Who is responsible for them?” he asked.
It connotes though relations, strained initially, had been restored, some form of resentment remained in the minds of Chinese. Moreover, the suspension appeared to have kept Sri Lanka under obligations to ensure legal cover up for future Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) either from China or elsewhere. That may be the reason for the Ambassador to stress the need to strengthen the legal system with necessary amendments to the existing laws and the enactment of new ones.
He made these comments at a time when the government of Sri Lanka has offered 15,000 acres of land in the southern province for investment zones by Chinese companies. The Ambassador said he inquired about the current law pertaining to the FDI in Sri Lanka. “I am waiting for final answer. We have already lost two years to the new government. I will be going to the south again to discuss how to speed up cooperation with the government,” he said.
All in all, the Chinese envoy called for Sri Lankans to have a positive attitude towards China. He regretted Sri Lanka did not reciprocate courtesy to China enough when floods hit 400 million people in his country killing around 1,000.
However, he said the Chinese government, under the instruction of President Xi Jinping, delivered a planeload of relief items in additional to US $ 1.5 million in cash aid in the event of flood disaster here earlier.