- Delay in gazetting subjects under ministries
- Objections raised against Muthuhettigama and Lansa
- No agreement on a hybrid court, says RW
- No MR govt. can solve human rights issue, says Maithri
However, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake has commenced work in his office and has commenced the preparation work for the 2016 budget presentation scheduled for this November.
Many ministers are now engaged in discussions in various corners of the political arena canvassing for ‘good’ subjects to be assigned under the portfolios. A newly appointed minister, Daya Gamage, was in fact requested by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to be innovative and work towards creating his own subjects.
Citing several examples from the past Wickremesinghe had explained that the creation of several much sought after institutions were subjects that were created by former ministers who looked at expanding their work scope. All these discussions have delayed the printing of the gazette outlining the subjects under each ministry.
Amidst discussions on assigning subjects to portfolios, a secret discussion took place recently between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.
The discussion was to raise objections to several deputy ministerial appointments made by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
Wickremesinghe, it is learnt, had explained to Sirisena the bad consequences the national government might have to face if appointments are made without a proper consensus and granted to individuals who are facing various allegations.
The Sunday Leader learns that the objections were mainly directed at the appointments granted to Galle District United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MP Nishantha Muthuhettigama and Gampaha District UPFA MP Nimal Lansa.
It is also learnt that objections to the deputy ministerial portfolios granted to Muthuhettigama and Lansa had even been raised within the ranks of the SLFP.
President Sirisena was also informed that the Deputy Justice Minister appointed by him, Dushmantha Mithrapala, was also under a warrant issued by court.
The President was unaware of the case pending before court against Mithrapala for allegedly threatening and intimidating police officers last month.
However, the President and Prime Minister have agreed on the need for better consultations before making future appointments.
Meanwhile, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is now playing a silent role by posing a stance of working amicably with the government.
Rajapaksa has shown a slight distance from the extremist elements in the UPFA like Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila and Vasudeva Nanayakkara.
The Rajapaksa camp is also looking at overcoming some of the allegations faced by members of his family by gradually aligning with the government.
One of the main tools the Rajapaksa family is trying to use in this endeavor is the controversial Carlton Sports Network (CSN) that was affiliated to the former First Family. Despite a court order preventing the sale or transfer of assets vested with the CSN, attempts are being made by the Rajapaksa family to hand over the management to members of the government. The main aim of this act is to get members of the Rajapaksa family cleared of money laundering charges connected with the establishment of the electronic media network.
CID sources have told The Sunday Leader that two politicians are attempting to purchase CSN, but the court order has prevented the sale from taking place pending ongoing investigations.
The Kaduwela Magistrate’s court had recently issued an interim order banning the sale, lease or temporary transfer of the CSN sports TV channel as well as three radio channels operated by the company.
The order was issued in accordance to a FCID submission under B/9823.
The FCID, investigating as to how funding was received to start the channel, had been permitted by courts to summon its directors for questioning under the Money Laundering Act.
The legacy of the former Rajapaksa regime that includes corruption, fraud and crime continues to be an issue the new government is yet trying to resolve.
The Geneva drama
As for the legacy of the former Rajapaksa regime, one that has posed an issue at international level to Sri Lanka is the issue of alleged human rights violations committed during the war.
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government last week had to witness the ghosts of the former Rajapaksa regime in the form of the report on Sri Lanka released by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
“Our investigation has laid bare the horrific level of violations and abuses that occurred in Sri Lanka, including indiscriminate shelling, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, harrowing accounts of torture and sexual violence, recruitment of children and other grave crimes,” High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein said after releasing the report. “Importantly, the report reveals violations that are among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.”
“This report is being presented in a new political context in Sri Lanka, which offers grounds for hope,” Zeid said. “It is crucial that this historic opportunity for truly fundamental change is not allowed to slip.”
The UNHRC has proposed, among others, the setting up of a hybrid court to take up issues of alleged violations and abuses that had taken place in Sri Lanka and the opening of an UNHRC office in Sri Lanka to ensure the implementation of the recommendations.
Nevertheless, the new government last week acted with maturity before the UNHRC making the international community wanting to cooperate with the country.
The recommendations of the UNHRC resulted in several extremist elements waxing eloquent about the threat faced by the country.
Interestingly, most of these extremist elements, who were affiliated to the former Rajapaksa regime, have conveniently forgotten that it was former President Rajapaksa who had in 2009 agreed to a joint mechanism with the UN to inquire into any allegations during the period of the war. In fact, Rajapaksa has a long history with the UNHRC as the first Sri Lankan politician to make representations to the Commission (during the early 1990s) demanding an international inquiry into alleged human rights violations taking place in the country at the time.
Be that as it may, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, through its efforts in the past eight months, had managed to tone down to a great extent the UNHRC report by preventing names of individuals from being published in it.
“Before January 8, the report was prepared in a manner that would have caused much problems to the country. There were indications that names were going to be used in the report. However, the new government worked giving prominence to human rights and all these resulted in the toning down of the UNHRC report,” President Sirisena told media heads on Friday. He added that the visits of foreign dignitaries to the country including that of US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Nisha Biswal, had helped reduce the impact of the UNHRC report.
“It was Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government who agreed to a joint mechanism in the first place.
The best government to solve the issue of human rights violations is one without Mahinda Rajapaksa. Otherwise the issue before the UNHRC this time would have been a harsh and complex one,” Sirisena pointed out.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe noted that the country achieved a victory since there will not be an international inquiry and individuals have also not been named. “We have also not agreed to a hybrid court recommendation made by the UNHRC,” the Premier added.
He explained that the discussion on the 24th at the UNHRC would focus on further discussing the recommendations.
“The final decision by the government will be made after studying the Paranagama and Udalagama reports,” Wickremesinghe said. He also reminded that certain political elements were trying to gain petty mileage through using the recommendation to set up a hybrid court forgetting the fact that when former Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was assassinated, the committee probing the incident had included two foreign judges and one Sri Lankan judge.
The government is also looking to have more robust engagement with the US, including through a ‘Partnership Dialogue’ between the two countries that envisages to encompass all issues of mutual concern and benefit, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the US, Prasad Kariyawasam said. Ambassador Kariyawasam said this when he was hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a premier Washington-based think tank, to speak on prospects for US-Sri Lanka relations following the elections in Sri Lanka, the Foreign Ministry said.
To a full room of attendees comprising former and current US government representatives, think tanks, journalists and Sri Lanka-enthusiasts, the Ambassador detailed the transformation that has been taking place in Sri Lanka, since the presidential elections in January, and the reaffirmation of the new government’s policies in August through the parliamentary election and as to how these path breaking developments positively impact relations between Sri Lanka and the United States.
SLFP appoints committee
Political parties in Colombo are currently engaged in a process of preparing its stance on the UNHRC report.
The SLFP central committee that met last Friday evening at the President’s official residence, decided that the party needed to adopt an official stance on the UNHRC report released last week in Geneva and the ongoing process. The central committee decided to appoint a committee of intellectuals to study the report and make recommendations to the party on the stance to be adopted by the SLFP. SLFP General Secretary Minister Duminda Dissanayake said the committee would be formed this week and the relevant report will be submitted within a span of two weeks.
Meanwhile, the central committee also discussed the forthcoming local government elections as well.
The issue of nominations at the elections was the key topic focused during the discussion.
Finally it was decided that all party members currently serving in local government bodies, who are not facing any corrupt or criminal charges, will be granted nominations to contest at the next local government bodies.
Also, the President proposed that prominence be given to youth and women who apply for nominations to contest from the party.
As for the party reforms, the committee headed by the SLFP general secretary informed the central committee that the matter was being attended to in consultation with SLFP Patron, former President Chandrika Bandaranike Kumaratunge.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) last week presented a set of 20 proposals formulated together with civil society groups, artistes and political groups.
Presenting the proposals last week, the party stated, “Nine months have passed since a new administration on policies of ‘good governance’ was established to replace Mahinda Rajapaksa’s rotten political culture that had affected the socio-political system of this country for nearly a decade.
The aspirations of the masses in voting in a new mandate on 8th January did go beyond mere defeat of Rajapaksa as an individual. It was to get rid of the political culture nurtured during that period and to establish political, legal and administrative reforms that would prevent a repetition of such a situation.
Also, a number of reforms demanded and had been agitating by political and civil organizations for a long period had been included in the manifesto for the presidential election held on 8th January. These reforms were also included in the manifesto of the government presented for the general election held on August 17. We, as responsible members of political parties and civil organizations as well as individuals, have included several such reforms approved by people in two elections held within 8 months and several other reforms as it is our responsibility to get inspirations of the masses and their needs fulfilled. Also, it is the responsibility of an administration that respects the mandate it has been given to implement such reforms.”
The proposals included the appointing of a parliamentary select committee to prepare a programme to enable Sri Lankan citizens living abroad to vote from where they are domiciled and establishing the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to enable those who were affected by the war to present their grievances, to find out the truth regarding such complaints and to give relief to the distress.
It also included bringing in constitutional amendments to totally abolish the executive presidential system, enforce laws to revoke parliamentary seats of parliamentarians who cross over and abolish provisions that exists in the 19th Amendment to bring the number of ministers to 30 and the number of deputy ministers to 40 and legalise the subjects and institutions of ministries on a scientific basis by bringing in a Parliamentary Act.