Chandrika Gets Lead Rol

13Chandrika Kumaratunga has been put in charge of reconciliation issues by President Maithripala Sirisena with the blessings of Ranil Wickremesinghe. Both will hope that she will get on with her new role and leave aside the current political dynamics. Wickremesinghe will be very keen to ensure that he can talk to Sirisena without Chandrika’s over powering influence although Wickremesinghe is patently aware it is a troika that is governing Sri Lanka at the moment.

The former President has occupied the Presidential Secretary’s office at the Presidential Secretariat at the old Parliament. The office was previously used by Lalith Weeratunga. An insider at the secretariat told us that ‘Madam is strutting around as if she is the President” She added, “she even went to the extent of going to the new Presidential Secretary and looking around the waiting room, wanted to know why certain people had been given appointments’ – she declared some of those people to be unworthy of even an appointment to meet the presidential secretary, our source revealed.

This week Mahinda Rajapaksa declared that he was not interested in this parliament but again left wide open the question of whether he will make a play to re-enter the political fray. His quest however of being asked to be nominated as the SLFP Prime Ministerial candidate is likely to fall on deaf ears: Chandrika Kumaratunga for all her calls for party unity and national unity does so without taking into account the Rajapaksa popularity. Says a source, CBK is unlikely in the extreme to give in to that request. She has not come thus far to merely cave into Rajapaksa demands’.

At the first meeting held with Kumaratunga on reconciliation matters between the Tamil community especially from the former conflict areas there was some consternation as to the progress. Some members noted that there was a fair amount of hospitality but very little substance on the matter in hand. Instead they charged that Kumaratunga was beside herself in her vitriolic diatribe against president Rajapaksa and had only a few moments for the actual plans for a programme of reconciliation.

Kumaratunga has consistently ruled out her own return to electoral politics and sources close to her say that she is comfortable and has come to terms with her current role as a de facto elder stateswoman. “She may not be very happy with the authoritarianism of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe but for the moment she is keeping her options open. At least publicly” says a veteran retired politician.

The composition of Sri Lanka’s current parliament has been subject to much discussion and even ridicule by large tracts of the public. In a dip stick poll carried out just 4 out of 10 agreed that the composition was acceptable. A significant majority opined that the composition is difficult to understand and cited the fact that last week the Speaker himself admitted that he too is finding it confusing, promising a statement soon.

Maithripala Sirisena was elected on a mandate to abolish some powers of the Presidency especially those deemed to be arbitrary in nature. There was a specific undertaking to establish the independence of various Commissions including the Police and the Judiciary. What was very clear was that the last election was not held to elect a prime minister or a new cabinet. This is precisely the problem Sirisena now faces with growing unhappiness that the Prime Minister has been given far more powers than necessary by Sirisena. So much so that Sirisena had to bring in various new Ministers into the Cabinet to balance the concerns that the UNP had walked away with the golden goose.

The Treasury bond matter continued to rattle the Prime Minister.  Vasudeva Nanayakkara speaking on MTV said that as the appointing authority Wickremesinghe must be fully accountable, mirroring sentiment previously expressed by Wasantha Samarasinghe, Sarath Amunugama, Rajitha Senaratne and Champika Ranawaka.

Chandra Jayaratna and two others sought leave from the Supreme Court to file a fundamental rights application. They seek the intervention of the Supreme Court to order the Central Bank to carry out an independent inquiry using the offices of the Monetary Board to seek for appropriate investigators.

Vasudeva Nanayakkara the former Minister and a very vocal critic on public interest matters however told MTV that “there is a need for an intervening petitioner” as there are further matters that the guidance of the Supreme Court must be sought. These were according to Nanayakkara, the need to revoke the bond as it was costing an unbearable burden on the people of the country. Nanayakkara too, joined the chorus of condemnation against the Prime Minister’s 3-member committee appointed to investigate the bond issue saying they lacked the knowledge and that they were in any event from the same party thereby precluding any independence.

A retired senior civil servant opined that the best way out of this matter was for a special one-off tax to be imposed on the whirlwind profits set to be made by Perpetual Treasuries in this matter. “There is a precedent: the Finance Minister recently imposed a one off super gains tax on certain businesses. The government can easily do this as well because it is the government that has been taken to the cleaners and by that we mean the people of the country.”

Amidst large scale accusations of an accumulation and export of vast sums of monies by the Rajapaksa family and their associates running into several million dollars, none of which have been proven in any court of law as of yet, details have emerged of a significant sum of money given by a younger member of the family for safekeeping.

The details relate to how in the early hours of the morning a younger member met up with a friend of their father, a businessman who had a close rapport with the former president. He is said to have given a sum of Rs 190 Million for safekeeping. No one else in the family was privy to the arrangement at the time. However in the past three weeks in spite and despite a number of attempts to get in touch with the businessman had failed prompting an older brother to also try to make the contact with an erstwhile friend of several years standing. That too did not elicit any response from a friend whom the entire family had known for several years.

Eventually contact was made with the evasive businessman via a presidential associate. The businessman was to tell the mutual associate that here is no question of evading but that since the money had been invested it would take some time to actually realise the full deposit. The family are said to be livid that the younger member did not seek advice and had clearly been caught by the businessman who has interests in Dubai and where he is the subject of a legal inquiry initiated by a sibling. There was no information as to how this money came into being and that formed a separate speculation.

From time to time politicians get caught out when they try to present educational qualifications in a better light than they possess. One such more popular report was that President Kumaratunga had a specific French university degree. Later events turned out that the former President had been to a University in a particular town leading to confusion that she attended the University with the same name.

Presently it was the turn of Sajith Premadasa to field question s on the status of his degree. He was questioned by a UK-based Lankan news service and confirmed that he did indeed have a degree from the London School of Economics. As he was ill at the time of the final examinations he was awarded a lesser degree based on the work he had done – the LSE has a system in place to award degrees on the likelihood of a candidate passing based on previous work in cases of emergencies like medicals, precluding the candidate to sit the exam at the time.

The controversy over water contamination in the North has more or less been abated. The Northern Provincial Council, the CEB and Northern Power had all hired the services of ITI to carry out a report into the allegation that waste oil may have affected the water basin in the area.

Concerns were flagged when it was revealed by the CEB that the well within the compound of the power plant (a highly secure and sensitive area) showed no sign of any contamination. This led to the possibility of deliberate sabotage by interested and parties with vested interests mainly for political mileage against the government in the South.

At a private discussion the Chief Minister is said to have been appalled and shocked by the conduct of certain officials some within the judiciary who had clearly played politics in the matter of the water contamination. The Chief Minister was in agreement that the water contamination case had its origins in politics and nothing to do with pollution. Some members of the Northern Provincial Council were accused by other members of the TNA of withholding the ITI preliminary report merely to further their own agenda.

What was agreed was that in terms of the condition of the water in Jaffna, there was an urgent need to revisit the non existent waste management programme on the peninsula. “Even the Jaffna Hospital, where the waste management contract was with a firm said to have links to Douglas Devananda (unconfirmed) the waste is merely dumped into a hole in the ground.”

A senior CEB engineer revealed that although historical Google earth maps revealed a pool of oil in the years 2001-2007, the oil slick disappeared in 2008 indicating that the CEB had covered it up by then. The private power company arrived there in 2009. The same source now revealed that the CEB have built their sub-station on the site of what was at one time (in years 2001-2007) an oil pool. According to the same source the CEB should take responsibility and use the cash they are now awash with, to pay for a comprehensive water distribution system in the area. The problem takes on some urgency with the onset of the very hot and dry weather now starting.

The Prime Minister was once more at the centre of allegations that he was acting more and more in an authoritarian manner. There were difficulties when he was in Opposition to say much but now he has gone in exactly the opposite manner says a staunch UNP’er.

His intervention in the cricket board matter was considered unforgivable: he made a statement saying that the board is full of rogues or words very near to that meaning. The conundrum and confusion happened when it was decided to reappoint the same man for the post of Treasurer, Nuski Mohammed