By Saman Indrajith
Former President, and Polonnaruwa District MP Maithripala Sirisena yesterday reminded the government in Parliament that it had a two-thirds majortiy because the SLFP members of the SLPP parliametnary group were with it.
Participating in the third reading debate on Budget 2022, MP Sirisena said that there had been many instances in the past where some governments caused their own dowfall by attacking their coaltion partners. “I would like to stress that it is with the 14 SLFP MPs that the government has a two-thirds majority.
Responding to an allegation levelled by Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, MP Sirisena said: “The Agriculture Minister has told this House that I live in a luxury house made by amalgamating three houses. I challenged him to prove it and promised to resign from my MP post if he would do so.
So far he has not been able to prove his allegation. What he said was a lie. When the expenditure heads of the President were taken for debate in this House last Tuesday, Mahindananda stated that the former President had used 200 vehicles. He also said that the expenditure of the Presidential Secretariat at that time was around Rs. 3.5 billion. Even if one uses a single vehicle a day, it would take a person 200 days to use them all. That allegation too was a lie. I had been allocated only four vehicles. They sling mud at me.
“I was accused of spending extravagantly when I was the president. During my tenure as the President, there were seven major projects under the Presidential Secretariat. None of those projects has been continued. Money was spent on those projects, which included national environment project, anti-narcotics project, national project to safeguard children and project to prevent chronic kidney disease, etc., those projects were very successfully implemented throughout the country.
“I too am an MP of this government. It is wrong to level baseless allegations of this nature against me. Do not let these issues drag long. All 14 SLFP MPs met on Tuesday and decided that I should make this speech, today. I also call on the Speaker not to allow MPs to use this House for mudslinging and spreading falsehoods,” MP Sirisena said.
State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera: It is not easy for us to remain silent when they sling mud at the former President in this manner. Mahindananda today is like a dancing peacock which does not know that its back is exposed when it performs dances raising its tail feathers. I call upon Mahindananda to dig deep further because he would find more to his own detriment.
“We have always protected this government as its members. If you want to hit us, do so but if you think you can get away by attacking our party leader this would not end without a major crisis. Maitripala Sirisena is a former President. He obtained the highest number of votes from the Polonnaruwa District. He did not come to this House from the national list.
Leader of the House Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena: If an MP makes a serious statement which is wrong, then it should be clarified in his presence. It is the tradition that those who make the clarification inform beforehand the particular MP who made the wrong statement that he should be present in the House when the clarification is done so that he would get a chance to rectify his error. It is our belief that we can clarify any such doubt amicably. I do not think that former President Sirisena’s name was associated with any of these allegations. On Tuesday the way the financial allocations have been made to the Presidential Secretariat under incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was appreciated.
“There is no problem between the SLPP government and the SLFP. It is not right to interpret any misunderstanding as a problem between the two entities. The incumbent president has set a very clear and transparent example on his expenses and he is entitled to be praised. Whenever he went abroad, he took only the least number of officials. If he took with him any of his family members, he met those expenses out of his personal money. This is not a matter for a clash between two parties.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage: Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera made a statement while I was not in this Chamber. He had warned that if we dig deep in this pit there would be more smell of wrong doings. I too admit that. There could be exposures of many wrong doings if we dig deeper. There would be more uncovering of wrongdoings such as accepting cheques from Arjun Aloysius. Therefore I do not resort to talk of dirt digging.
I made a speech on the expenses of the former President and the incumbent President in this House. I spoke of the differences between the expenses. I spoke of the example set by the incumbent President to the country by spending less. We have a right to speak about the incumbent president. If the incumbent president has saved 17 billion rupees to the government coffers compared to the former president, then we have a right to talk about it and appreciate it. That was what I spoke about on that day. I table those expenditure reports in this House.
I obtained details about the official residence of the former president. I was not to speak about this. Since I was accused of lying, I table these documents too. We have no need to attack any party leader. I was called an agriculture minister who could not walk on a ridge (niyara) of a paddy field. We have walked on the ridge as well as the field. We have no need to attack you. But if we are attacked, we too are ready to respond. We have done nothing wrong. We are also not ready to act as eunuchs without a backbone. It is wrong to speak about this in my absence. I am not afraid of setting effigies in my shape on fire. Come what may, I will stand by this government’s decision.
MP Maitripala Sirisena: Mahindananda made a very emotional speech. As the former President I too have a right to respond to what he had said. We do not hit. Even if we are attacked we would not resort to counterattack but we look at the attackers with sympathy and equanimity. If we resort to attack we would not come down to your level. I must add that if we attack, we would attack in a different way.
“There is no problem with regard to statements made by Mahindananda on presidential expenditure heads. Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said that the incumbent President has set an example. There is no problem pertaining to that. A comparison between my expenses and the current expenses was made to show that I spent more. I call on you not to throw stones while you are in glass houses. I too have set an example compared to the expenses incurred by the presidents prior to me. I set an example from 2015 with regard to the way the helicopters and airplanes had been used by the presidents prior to me. I must state that.
There is a question about what would be the wounds if we resort to attacks and who would receive them. . Today the government commands two thirds majority with the help of 14 SLFP MPs. We have seen many instances and their results when parties within a government clash with each other. There are examples since 1947. The first government formed after independence later broke into pieces because of enmity between allied parties. Sirimavo Bandaranaike faced the same in 1964. Her government suffered a similar predicament in 1975 again. JR Jayewardene continued in power enjoying five-sixths power in the House with the help of a referendum but the UNP too faced a split with Lalith and Gamini breaking away. It dealt the grand old party with a debilitating blow that the UNP cannot stand up even today. There had been another instance of a split during the times of Chandrika Bandaranaike. That led to the downfall of her government. In 2014 I left the party on many reasonable grounds to contest the presidential election as the common candidate. The then government lost. Governance and managing two thirds power in the House are matters that should be considered seriously and taken with a more open mind with more intelligence and experience.
This too is an alliance government. We too can make fiery speeches. But we do not resort to fisticuffs since we are very innocent people. Mahindananda Aluthgamage spoke to our Minister Duminda Dissanayake yesterday. When Minister Dissanayake had asked about this row, Aluthgamage told him that he made such statements to give some marks to the incumbent president. We do not give two hoots if you want to give marks to the president, but do not attack us. You may find many other ways and means to give marks to the president without attacking us. Remember we too are under the same president. We must act with restraint without creating problems within the government. We must keep our friendship. Mahindananada is a cabinet minister. I am a former President. Dayasiri Jayasekera is a former Chief Minister. We must address each other keeping our positions in mind.
“If you talk about my houses, it is better to talk about the houses of others too. I view the example set by the incumbent president in using houses is a good one.
Minister Mahidananda lied to the Cabinet. He lied to the President. He lied to parliament. He lied to people. He lied to farmers. He lied to consumers. It is owing to those lies that agriculture today is suffering from a crisis. That was the reason for the government losing its popularity.
Minister Aluthgamage: It was said that I made statements to curry favour with the incumbent president. That is a lie. I was also accused of being the reason for the crisis. I implemented the government policy. I too can talk about the Easter Sunday attacks. But I would not talk about that since it would hurt the former president. I do not lie. I am not a person who leaves my prime minister after promising him not to leave. It is not good for a former president to lie in the House.