President Maithripala Sirisena’s outburst against the Bribery Commission, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Financial Crimes Investigation Department (FCID) rattled politics. It eventually led to Bribery Commission Director General Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe tendering her resignation.
Her resignation has not yet been accepted. All indications are that it will be accepted shortly.
This is the second such main incident in which a government official succumbed to pressure, being unable to perform further in office. Earlier, then Central bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran could not be re-appointed due to severity of pressure.
The President’s scathing criticism hit the very founding principle of the national unity government as it was formed on the promise that it would uphold good governance. The Bribery Commission, the FICD and the CID are undoubtedly vital organs responsible for law enforcement to ensure good governance. The President accused them of being politicized and vowed to intervene if warranted.
The United National Party (UNP), the principal party of the unity government, never anticipated the President would slander these three bodies in the open.
Come what may the real motive behind, damage is done to the government in the political front, and damage controlling is the only option available.
In fact, prior to the public outburst, the President raised his concern over what he called ‘politicization’ of these vital law enforcement organs at a meeting not open to the media. However, the UNP never thought the President would utter the same in public, causing irrevocable damage.
The President’s criticism prompted an urgent meeting between him, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake and others.
UNP Ministers rush for damage control work
The Ministers, representing the UNP, maintained mute silence initially after the attack. Later, they rushed in for damage controlling as further snowballing of the crisis would dampen hopes for them.
In one instance, Highways and Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella derived an example from the historical circumstances that led to the downfall of the ‘Kandyan kingdom’ in 1815. He said the British colonial army tried to invade the kingdom in 1810 but it could be repulsed primarily due to the unity between the King and his nobles (Nilames).
“Yet, by 1815, they fell apart making way for the colonial army to take control of the kingdom. It can happen today. The unity is of paramount importance,” he said at a function in Walapane.
Ports Minister Arjuna Ranatunga said though a wedge had been created, it would not lead to the political divorce of the Government.
Civil Society takes on President, but faced stiff counter-attacks
The civil society movements that played a pivotal role in installing this government were virtually petrified by the President’s outburst and confronted him at press conferences called hurriedly. They even dubbed the President as a clone of the previous rule. Finally, they were verbally beaten to submission by Ministers supportive of the President, through counter-attacks.
In the aftermath of what happened, damage-control work was undertaken, and things looked patched up for the moment. The Government is no longer fragile as a result. However, the outburst has already widened fissures between the UNP and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) with politicians from both sides taking on each other in the open. On the surface, it looks patched up, but a crisis is simmering beneath the surface with the potential of exploding at any moment.
Intense budget debate ahead
Of course, in the aftermath of the President expressing his dismay, a committee was appointed with representatives from both sides to deal with the co-ordination of policy matters of the Government hereafter.
The panel, appointed in this manner, met for the first time on Monday evening. It is learnt that the SLFP Ministers are not happy about the Private Public Partnership (PPP) model proposed for restructuring certain state institutions in the upcoming budget.
There is agreement on the model proposed for Sri Lankan Airlines, but on others, wide discontent prevails. The Ministers, not belonging to the UNP, opined forcefully at the meeting asking for re-considerations of some provisions to be included in the budget.
Also, raised at this meeting and the Cabinet meeting the following day, was the alleged move to offer certain projects on the PPP model through unsolicited proposals.
In this manner, the stage is set for a huge debate ahead of the budget to be presented in Parliament on November 10 regarding the content. So, an intense budget debate is anticipated this time as the Government is facing opposition both from within and outside.
JO skeptical on President’s remarks
The Joint Opposition or the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) is buoyed by the latest development. Some of its members responded positively to the President, but there were others who did not take it that seriously. One was MP Prasanna Ranatunga who asked the President to walk the talk.
All in all, some even talk about the possibility of a change of government under the unfolding circumstances. Yet, it is unlikely any time soon.
VAT protest to be revived
Then, all paid attention to the Value Added Tax (VAT) Amendment Bill. It has been petitioned in the Supreme Court.
MP Udaya Gammanpila said his side argued on four counts in the Supreme Court against the contents of the bill.
“If the first one is accepted, the bill will have to be referred to all the provincial councils for approval. If the second is accepted, it will have to be referred for approval of the people by referendum. In the other, argument prevails, the bill will have to be passed with a special majority. We presented our case well,” he said.
Having listened to Mr. Gammanpila, Mr. Rajapaksa said, “Lets get ready for eventuality!
Ahead of the debate on the VAT bill on October 27, MPs Mahindananda Aluthgamage and Keheliya Rambukwella were assigned for a leaflet distribution campaign against it in Kandy.
JO constitutional reforms - no compromise on unitary character
The JO leaders met with Mr. Rajapaksa on Tuesday and discussed, among others, constitutional proposals. Foremost among the proposals, the JO stressed that the unitary character of the Constitution should be preserved at any cost.
Also, Articles in the present Constitution related to the National Anthem, and that Buddhism should not be compromised.
In this manner, 14 proposals have been made by the JO. It is for a new election system with more members to be elected from the First-Past-the-Post System and less from the National Proportional Representation.
It asks for that the welfare of the state should incrementally be maintained. The JO is for a change of the executive presidency but not for the abolition of it.
Maharashtra Buddhists mistake Sashindra for MR
Former Uva Province Chief Minister Sashindra Rajapaksa, a nephew of Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, went to Maharashtra, India along with Mr. Gammanpila for a Buddhist summit. He was wearing the ‘Kurahan Saatakaya’ in keeping with the family’s political tradition.
Ordinary people who attended the event apparently mistook him for his uncle Rajapaksa who served as the President for two consecutive terms. They started taking selfies relentlessly.
Novel, Creative Protest in Parliament
In Parliament, the JO decided to register its protest in a novel, creative form. MPs Gamini Lokuge, Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Ranjith Soyza were assigned the task of organizing them. Earlier, the JO staged demonstrations in the Well of Parliament leading to brawls when the members of the other side intervened.
Late night discussion between Chinese/ SL Preside nt
During the BRIC Summit held in Goa, India, it was a busy schedule for President Maithripala Sirisena, engaging the world leaders. He held bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nepali Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
He sought a similar meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the time could not be arranged. So, the two leaders had to talk over dinner only.
The meeting with Chinese President Xi took place at 10.30 p.m. The Chinese appeared to have attached a greater significance to the meeting as 12 Ministers including Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi attended it on Sunday.
President Xi is reported to have said that Sino-Lanka relations underwent a period of turbulence at the beginning under the new government of Sri Lanka, but it had been mended as of now. He referred to numerous Chinese investments in Sri Lanka and future co-operation.
Once critical Harsha makes friends with Chinese leaders
Acting Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva, who was once critical of the increased Chinese presence in Sri Lanka during the previous rule, got an opportunity to meet with President Xi and posed for a photo and chatted cordially.
Dr. de Silva said he had made friends with the Chief Foreign Affairs Minister over the last one and half years.
“We discussed the need for trilateral talks involving China, India and Sri Lanka. The response was positive. Friends with all, enemy with none is our foreign policy,” he said.
Modi asks for urgent work on trade and investment relations with SL
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his bilateral discussion with President Sirisena, stressed the need to work urgently on the improvement of trade and investment relations between the two countries.
Mr. Modi’s assertion has to be analyzed in the context of two sides moving for signing the proposed Economic and Technology Co-operation Agreement (ETCA). It is more so as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the process would be completed by the end of this year.
Despite Indian Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman saying here during her visit that talks should proceed on ETCA without any pressure on the timeline, Mr. Modi’s assertion sounded that the exercise should be carried out according to a time-bound plan. Local entrepreneurs, professionals and exporters are up-in-arms against the ETCA. In fact, some call it the second version of the Indo-Lanka Accord. They say, with the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987, India secured political leverage on Sri Lanka, and the ETCA would do the same on the economic front.
Instead of coal, Modi wants India to invest in renewable energy in SL
India does not seem to be happy about the cancellation of the Sampur coal project. She told a press conference here earlier that Sri Lanka’s national priorities should be reconciled with international commitments.
The matter was discussed during the meeting with Mr. Modi. The Indian premier expressed interests in investment in the renewable energy sector.
Alongside, Mr. Modi made mention of the India-assisted ambulance service in Sri Lanka, and had taken note that the project was progressing well.