wo and-a-half years after the spectacular election victory of January 8, 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena appears to be facing one of his biggest conflicts in the National Unity government which was formed after the parliamentary elections in August 2015.
The conflict erupted in an unprecedented way at the Cabinet meeting last Tuesday. According to Cabinet spokesmen and media reports, the main issue was the alleged delays in probing allegations of multimillion rupee frauds and corruption by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his family members and top officials. Other issues include disputes over huge development projects such as the Hambantota Port and Trincomalee port development schemes in association with China and India.
In a strange twist of politics, President Sirisena claimed that United National Party frontliners were responsible for dragging on the probes on the huge frauds or corruption allegations against Rajapaksa family members and associates. He said that if he were given the Law and Order Ministry and the Justice Ministry, he would see that these investigations were completed within three months the VIP culprits brought to justice and the money returned to the country. The ministers concerned, Sagala Ratnayake and Wijedasa Rajapakshe, later issued statements clarifying their positions. Mr. Ratnayake, who is in charge of the police department, said his conscience was clear and he had acted according to the rule of law. Mr. Rajapakshe also denied any wrong doing, claiming he had only made some inquiries from the Attorney General’s Department regarding some cases.
The President did not name Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe but his outburst came after the premier submitted a Cabinet note seeking clarification on what the government should do relating to the Anti-Corruption Committee Secretariat (ACCS) whose term ended on June 30, according to our sister paper the Sunday Times.
According to sources close to the Premier, the only advise or guidance given to the State’s investigative arms and the Attorney General’s Department is that they should obtain substantial documentary evidence before filing cases against the former regime’s VIPs for alleged frauds or corruptions. They say this is based on the hallowed judicial concept that in a court of law, allegations have to be proved beyond any reasonable doubt. Otherwise the case will apparently be dismissed by the courts and this would be a big blow to the government.
There are questions as to whether President Sirisena accepts this principle or fears that the UNP has some ulterior motive in delaying the cases including those against former Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga and Gamini Senarath who was the former President’s Chief of Staff. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party at present is divided between the Sirisena faction and the Rajapaksa faction. Some media reports have implied that about 18 more Sirisena faction MPs may defect to the Joint Opposition or the Rajapaksa group but these reports have been denied by SLFP officials. Some SLFP ministers have implied or alleged that UNP frontliners are delaying the probes on allegations against the Rajapaksas and associates, with the ulterior intention of further splitting the SLFP and giving the UNP a better chance of victory at the provincial or local council elections scheduled to be held in the coming months.
Whatever the charges or motives and whatever pressure President Sirisena is facing, most analysts believe there is no option but to continue with the National Unity government where both major parties came together for the first time since independence in 1948. The President and the Prime Minister are still known to have a close relationship because they were the key actors in the dramatic crossover of November 2014. They are also sincerely committed to the vision of building a peaceful, just and all inclusive society with religious and racial unity in diversity. We hope the commitment to this noble vision will be maintained despite conflicts or controversies that may continue to arise.