Twenty six new Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) District and Electoral Organizers were appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena earlier last week, replacing those known to be highly vociferous government critics and wishing to form a new political party posing a possible threat of splitting the party.
Among those overlooked in the appointments were Parliamentarian Prasanna Ranatunga, former Western Province Chief Minister and Minuwangoda SLFP organizer; Dilum Amunugama, Kandy District SLFP MP and former Senkadagala SLFP organizer; Dhanasiri Amaratunga, former Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia organizer and Deputy Mayor and Kanthi Kodikara, former Mayor of Maharagama and the SLFP organizer for the Maharagama electorate.
The President also appointed Vocational Training and Skills Development Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe as the SLFP organizer for Panadura; WP Chief Minister Isura Devapriya for Maharagama; Keerthi Udawatta for Dehiwala-Mt. Lavania, former Kotikawatte-Mulleriyawa Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman Prasanga Solangaarachchi as Kolonnawa organizer; Provincial Councillor Hector Bethmage as a district organizer for Colombo and Sumith Vijayamuni Soysa for Avissawella. The President has also appointed Ruwan Ranatunga as SLFP organiser for Minuwangoda. Ruwan Sanjaya Siriwardena as co-organizer for Mirigama, WPC Minister Ranjith Somawansa as SLFP organizer for Agalawatta; WPC Minister, Sumith Lal Mendis as co-organizer for the Kalutara District; Southern PC Minister Chandima Rasaputra, State Minister of Finance Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena’s son and Provincial Councillor Pasanda Yapa Abeywardena and Nalin Ranaweera as district organizers. S. B. Dissanayake has been appointed SLFP organizer for Hewaheta and Provincial Councillor Thilina Bandara Tennakoon for Udunuwara. Central Provincial Councillor Manel Bandara Abeyratne has been appointed SLFP organizer for Udunuwara, Mahinda Abeykoon for Kandy while former minister M. K.D.S. Gunawardana’s son Nalin has been appointed party organizer for Seruwila.
Near fisticuffs at
The SLFP Central Committee meeting planned for Wednesday (2) was thus poised to be heated but not to the extent of ending with members engaging in near fisticuffs.
It was none other than firebrand Kumar Welgama who fired the first salvo by opposing the report of the previous CC meeting, when it was read out at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting.
When President Sirisena asked on what grounds the member was opposing the report, Welgama noted that it has not included the fact that they handed over a letter to the Chairman of the Party requesting that adequate time be allocated for Parliamentarians representing the Joint Opposition during Parliamentary debates. The report was amended with President Sirisena asking that point be included in the report.
However, when several members including Lalith Dissanayake, Jagath Pushpakumara and Wijith Wijayamuni Soyza started criticizing the Joint Opposition, Welgama stood up in their defence leading the atmosphere at President’s Paget Road residence to heat up.
He asked what is the point some SLFP members who joined the government are trying to prove by always criticizing and insulting the Joint Opposition. He pointed out that the majority of the Joint Opposition members are SLFP MPs who have stayed loyal to the party through thick and thin. “All what we do is carrying out the duties of a real Opposition and it is unfair to subject us to this uncalled for criticism for doing that,” Welgama said.
However, Provincial Councillor Sumith Lal Mendis who claimed to have received an invitation bearing a symbol of the lotus bud asked whether Welgama was not ashamed to associate with or attend meetings organized by another local politician who is known for corruption amounting to millions of rupees, to which Welgama responded saying that all that he was bothered about was forming a government with the SLFP having the reins and was not bothered about whether the symbol of that party is the lotus bud or anything else.
“I am going for that meeting. The lotus bud is not a political party. As a politician I go for any event that I am invited to. That is how I managed to win this seat for all these years including at the last general election. Those who are performing pole-vault are only damaging this party and you do not understand these things,” Welgama retorted.
However, Wijithamuni shot back saying that Welgama won because of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa which only fuelled the anger brewing in Welgama.
He said those who criticize the Joint Opposition are not doing so out of love for the SLFP but to grab positions in the government. Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe intervening pointed that he was made to lose at the election by a group of SLFPers in the area who plotted against him.
“It has been little over a decade after I joined the SLFP and never for once did we conspire to defeat the party or our own contestants. But this was not the case during last general election,” he pointed out.
All hell broke loose when Olitha Premathirathne obstructed Welgama who got up to clarify Samarasinghe’s allegations and said he (Welgama) has no right to talk about party matters.
Both started charging towards each other and the timely intervention by C.B. Ratnayake and Mahinda Amaraweera prevented blows being exchanged right in front of President Sirisena.
The President who also realized that things were not going to calm down decided to call it a day.
However, neither Olitha nor Welgama seemed ready to let things go as they were still scolding each other in crude language as they were coming out of the President’s residence.
The two nearly exchanged blows once they came outside but C.B. Ratnayake once again managed to get Welgama under his control. Ratnayake this time did not let go of Welgama and escorted him right back to his vehicle and was seen having a sigh of relief after locking Welgama in.
Ravi backs Weliamuna report
When the Cabinet met this week the central focus was on the increasing fertilizer problem and after discussing the matter Finance Minister Ravi Karunananayake brought to the notice of the Cabinet that even though it has come closer to completing one year for the J.C. Weliamuna Report on Sri Lankan Airlines, no tangible action has been taken to implement its recommendations. “No action has been taken to investigate the alleged corruption that has taken place at SriLankan Airlines, which caused the institution to become a loss making venture,” he pointed out.
The report implicated former Chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe and former CEO Kapila Chandrasena, in a number of irregularities.
It also revealed that the former Chairman’s penchant for young air hostesses caused further problems for the airline, which was already burdened with debt.
The report also highlighted irregularities in the procurement of new aircraft, unnecessary expenditure on foreign travel and the procurement of luxury cars.
The Weliamuna Report also claimed that employees of SriLankan Airlines were released for political work for the Rajapaksa family and recommended criminal proceedings against senior officers including the former Chairman and former CEO.
President Sirisena also sharing the sentiments of Karunanayake noted that there is no point in appointing committees in future bearing huge costs, if the findings of those were not put to good use.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe assured that action will be taken before the end of this year in respect of all those allegations.
Special Cabinet meeting
It was decided to call a special Cabinet meeting on Friday (4), at the conclusion of Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, to exclusively discuss economic policies that needed to be implemented soon.
This included the consideration of a Cabinet paper presented on a comprehensive tax revision in a bid to increase the tax income from 10 to 20 per cent.
Earlier, a Cabinet paper was presented containing proposals for a massive revision of existing taxes and several other policy decisions but had to be wrapped up due to one of the clauses.
The previous Cabinet paper contained a clause which said these revisions and recommendations were made in consultation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to reduce the budget deficit. President Sirisena who was strongly backed by SLFP ministers in the Cabinet raised concerns about this closing remark.
Even though the norm is to send Cabinet Papers well ahead of the Cabinet meeting for observations, it was made to understand that this particular Cabinet paper was distributed only when everyone sat for the meeting and even the President had no idea about the contents.
Amidst protests, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe agreed to revise the Cabinet paper and thus a special Cabinet Meeting was scheduled for Friday. However, Wickremesinghe made sure all Cabinet papers were taken back before the ministers left the premises in what seemed like a well crafted measure to stop any possible leakage of information to the media.
On Friday a fresh and revised Cabinet paper was presented and incidentally it has had no reference to the IMF. Once presented, it once against attracted protest from SLFP ministers as it proposed to put 25 State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) under Singapore’s Temasek model Public Private Partnership (PPP) institution in a bid to rejuvenate these loss making ventures, into efficient ones.
Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, a state-owned investment company was introduced by its first Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew and was formed in 1974. According to its company profile details available on their website, supported by 10 offices globally, Temasek owns S$266 billion portfolio as at 31 March 2015, mainly in Singapore and Asia. The current Chief Executive Officer Ho Ching is the wife of Lee Kwan’s eldest son Lee Hsien Loong, who is the current Prime Minister of Singapore.
However, SLFP ministers pointed out that if the government goes for such a model overnight it will create massive opposition amongst the public as it amounts to fuelling privatization scares.
It also proposed to increase VAT to 15 % and introducing a wealth tax. SLFP ministers also pointed out that as there is already an issue of Cost of Living any of these revised or new taxes should not be implemented in respect of essential goods and services.
Cabinet later agreed to keep essential items out of new taxes and not to increase any existing taxes.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe also agreed to launch a comprehensive programme to educate the public on this proposed Temasek model before implementing it.
Ottawa Convention raises concerns
Government, following the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, announced it would ban land mines and be signatories to the Ottawa Convention.
It also promised to destroy its accumulation of explosive devices, nearly seven years after the civil war ended.
Sri Lanka had been among a few nations to resist the treaty known as the Ottawa Convention, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of mines.
The Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention which is officially known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction aims at eliminating anti-personnel landmines around the world.
There are 162 State Parties to the treaty with one State signing but not ratifying. Some 34 UN States including the United States, Russia and China are non-signatories, making a total of 35 United Nations states being not a party.
Within ten years after ratifying the treaty, the country should have cleared all its mined areas.
The original international citizen’s initiative launched in 1997 by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines gained 855,000 signatories worldwide. The Convention gained 122 country signatures when it opened for signing on 3 December 1997 in Ottawa, Canada.
Sri Lanka had previously refused to become a signatory to the treaty, arguing that it was forced to use land mines because the LTTE used them extensively.
However, the Defence Ministry had forwarded their observations to the special Cabinet meeting on Friday citing that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has forwarded this Cabinet paper without having a proper consultation with them.
Previously, when Mahinda Samarasinghe acted as the Minister of Human Rights during President Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, it was proposed to sign the treaty but had to put off the proposal due to protest by the Defence Ministry.
However, this raises a question whether President Sirisena who is the Minister of Defence was unaware of such concerns as the Foreign Ministry had gained Cabinet approval in the previous week’s Cabinet meeting which was held under his patronage.
Despite these concerns, finally it had been agreed to summon officials of the Defence Ministry to assess their concerns and on what grounds they oppose the Treaty. The government will take a final decision on signing it after having a lengthy discussion with the Defence Ministry.
Maithri on National govt
President Sirisena who was irked by Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s recent remarks in USA, did not forget to criticize this at SLFP CC meeting and the decision on the Ottawa convention only rubbed salt on the wound.
The previous Cabinet paper on taxation and the recent one on the Ottawa Convention may have disappointed him as he informed the Cabinet that it is a National Government consisting both the UNP and the SLFP.
Making a strong statement during the Cabinet meeting he urged ministers to discuss Cabinet papers of national importance with both parties before presenting it to the Cabinet in order to avoid conflicts.