Shortly after Monday’s Cabinet meeting, ministers sat for the customary dinner hosted by President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Temple Trees. Seated together at one table were Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne, Housing Construction and Engineering Services Minister Wimal Weerawansa, Power and Energy Minister Pavithra Devi Wanniarachchi, Fisheries Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, and Foreign Employment Promotion Minister Dilan Perera.
The Cabinet colleagues were jovially enjoying a delicious meal of Dosai with some ‘gourmet gravy’ while chatting on current matters that matter to them. The President entered the room at this moment, and started mingling with the ministers. And the ministers insisted on the President to taste the succulent Dosai served with flavoursome gravy which made an exceptionally tasty meal in combination.
President pacifies crestfallen Prime Minister
No sooner had the President sat at the table to enjoy the meal than he noticed the Prime Minister with a melancholic look on his face. These days the Prime Minister is dominating the news with the alleged involvement of his Coordinating Secretary in the country’s largest ever heroin smuggling detection.
It is alleged that the Prime Minister’s Secretary had issued a letter seeking the clearance of a container which was later found to contain 131 kilogrammes of heroin. The heroin placed in cans and concealed among other goods had been imported by some individuals of a newly started company who had claimed that they were unable to pay heavy Customs duties.
President Rajapaksa tried to pacify the Prime Minister, and said the initial investigations appeared to be in favour of him. He said that he checked the initial reports of the investigations compiled by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) which implied that there was no personal involvement of the Prime Minister in the incident. However, the President said that he ordered the CID to continue with impartial inquiries and bring perpetrators to book, regardless of the positions they held.
President says the law will take its course
“You need not worry. It appears that you have not been involved personally in this case. However, I asked them to go ahead with their inquiries. We will deal with anyone found guilty, in terms of the law- be it the Prime Minister or the Coordinating Secretary,” he said.
Ms. Wanniarachchi was the next to show her sympathy to the crestfallen Prime Minister. “I feel so sorry for the Prime Minister. The media is slandering him without any respect for his old age,” she said.
At this moment, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sumedha Jayasena stepped in, asking the Prime Minister to come to Moneragala to assist her in a court case filed by a person who once tried to contest a local authorities election on the ticket of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led alliance at that time. The person, a member from Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), had filed this case against Ms. Jayasena on the allegation that she excluded his name from the nomination list prepared for the election. During that time, the Prime Minister was the General Secretary of the Alliance under the leadership of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Therefore, Ms. Jayasena sought the Prime Minister’s intervention to resolve the case. The ministers at the dining table who heard Ms. Jayasena making this request from the PM thought the long journey the Prime Minister would have to make for this purpose wouldn’t be a good idea.
“He is too old to travel that far,” they said in unison. Eventually, all of them including the President said that the Prime Minister should not go, but should send an affidavit through his lawyers.
Karalliyadda an ideal Minister for Women’s Affairs
Women’s Affairs and Child Development Minister Tissa Karalliyadda had a lot of sentiments to be shared with the others at the dining table. He recalled how women activists were trying to get him out of his present position due to some remarks he had made. Women activists working for some NGOs, he said, did not tolerate some words he used in reference to the fair sex. Also, he recalled how he was subjected a major embarrassment during a conference of women’s affairs ministers in Netherlands once.
“I was the only male minister at the Women’s Affairs Conference held in the Netherlands.. All other members were female members. They inquired about my qualifications to be the women’s Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka. I told them that I lost my mother at the age of five and my six sisters looked after me through my childhood. And also being happily married and being the father of two daughters have been the best qualifications for me to hold this post. When I told them that they probably thought I was suitable for this post because they looked satisfied with the answer,” the minister said.
Dilan, Nimal Siripala and Wiyaluwa people
Cropped up next was the talk about Minister Dilan Perera putting up a branch of the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau (SLFEB) in the Wiyaluwa electorate in the Badulla district where he is a powerful politician.
Minister Weerawansa jovially asked why Mr. Perera was putting up a branch in a remote village like Wiyaluwa to facilitate those seeking overseas jobs.
“There are no people seeking foreign jobs as such in Wiyaluwa,” he jokingly said as it was actually the electorate of Irrigation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva.
It is a well-known fact that Mr. de Silva and Mr. Perera harbour political rivalry over preferential votes in this district. It is also known to the people in the area. Therefore, all cracked jokes saying in lighter vein that Mr.Perera had in fact attempting to send Mr. de Silva’s loyalists abroad by setting up this branch hoping to reduce his vote bank at future elections.
The Cabinet meeting was to be conducted, actually on December 9. Cancelling it, the President had to rush to South Africa to attend the funeral of its iconic late President Nelson Mandela. Therefore, the meeting was rescheduled for Monday evening despite it being Uduwap Poya. It is speculated that the organisers fixed the date without any prior idea that it was a holiday. Normally, Cabinet meetings are not conducted on public holidays such as Poya Day.
UDA vested with 65-acres of Colombo land
The Cabinet approved a key memorandum submitted by several colleagues, on various subjects. The main item among them was the paper submitted by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his capacity as Defence and Urban Development Minister. It sought to vest 65 acres of land in 17 locations within the Colombo municipal area, with the Urban Development Authority.
Dealing with racial tone in naming govt. institutions
Then, there was another memorandum seeking approval to rename government institutions based on their locations, dropping the names which suggest racial tones. A case in point was the names given to many schools in the country based on ethnic identities. This joint Cabinet paper was submitted by Public Administration Minister John Seneviratne and National Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara.
For example, the two ministers propose that the Muslim Divisional Secretariat Kalmunai should be renamed as Divisional Secretariat South.
“Since it is not necessary to name all government institutions by the ethnic identities of people in the respective localities, action should be taken to name such institutions based on their locations. However, it is difficult to take prompt action to implement the above project,” the paper said.
A port city, luxury hotels, high-end malls
The Cabinet also approved a memorandum by the Ministry of Highways and Shipping that seeks to reclaim 233 hectares from the sea near the Galle Face Green for a port city comprising luxury hotels and apartment complexes, shopping malls and facilities for leisure and recreational activities such as yacht marinas and formula tracks. Already, an unsolicited proposal has been submitted by China Communication Constructions Company Ltd. The development work will include reclamation of land and breakwater construction and development of connected roads.
Of the land to be reclaimed, 170 hectares will be identified as saleable land, and the rest to be used as water front. This will be the only land reclamation project. The Cabinet has recommended the transferring of the ownership of this reclaimed land to Sri Lanka Port Authority as a free gift. The project will be declared under the Strategic Development Act.
Budget defeats of LG bodies analysed
Apart from passing Cabinet papers, the President discussed about the defeats of annual budgets for the second time at eight local authorities and for the first time at 14 others. Quoting a report on the study that looked into this, Youth Affairs Minister Dallus Alahapperuma cited three political reasons for the disapproval of local budgets.
Arrogant administration by the heads of respective local bodies is one main reason that distanced them from other members to the extent of voting out their annual budgets. Secondly, deputy heads of some local bodies had ganged up with others in their attempt to take the top most post ousting the present heads. Thirdly, electoral organisers had used this as a strategy to remove chairmen who are not loyal to them. The President categorically noted that he would not interfere in this case. Instead, he said, he had assigned the party officials to sort it out.
Pakistani premier mentions Arjuna and Sanath
Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody went to Pakistan recently and met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In addition to bilateral issues, the Pakistani premier discussed cricketing ties between the two countries, and at one point, he said he was a great fan of former Sri Lankan skippers Arjuna Ranatunga and Sanath Jayasuriya.
Sri Lanka stopped sending their cricket team to Pakistan after the March 2009 terror attack on their squad in Lahore. The attack injured six of their players and left six Pakistani policemen and two civilians dead.
Besides, the Deputy Speaker carried an invitation by Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa to his Pakistani counterpart Sardar Ayas Sadiq. Mr. Sadiq, who accepted the invitation forthwith, also mentioned his love for cricket.
Describing himself as a cricketer, he had told that former Pakistani fast bowler Wasim Akram was his political rival during elections
“Wasim Akram is better than me in cricket. Yet, I outsmarted him in politics,” he told the Deputy Speaker