By Shamindra Ferdinando
Declaring that every sector depended on the public service, the country’s Commander in Chief President Gotabaya Rajapaksa emphasised the responsibility on the part of the Secretaries to the Ministries to achieve given tasks. The President said so at the Presidential Secretariat on the morning of January 19 when Secretary to the Prime Minister Gamini Senarath, succeeded Dr. P.B. Jayasundera as Secretary to the President.
Among those present on the occasion were Dr. Jayasundera and Lalith Weeratunga, Senior Advisor to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
At the same time D.M. Anura Dissanayake, who had been the Secretary to the Irrigation Ministry, was brought in as Secretary to the Prime Minister. Both Senarath and Dissanayake are senior officers of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS).
Once a longtime Treasury Secretary, Dr. Jayasundera tendered his resignation as the Presidential Secretary in the wake of criticism by some ministers of the government that he hadn’t been accessible, arrogant and was largely responsible for the current economic crisis. After Jayasundera’s resignation, President Gotabaya Rajapakasa during a luncheon meeting with a selected group of editors of national newspapers asserted that it was not fair to single out a person for criticism.
In spite of Dr. Jayasundera, in his resignation letter to the President stating that he would be leaving the Office on January 01, 2022, Senarath moved in much earlier as desired by the President. Some members of the Cabinet as well as those who backed the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) at the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls resented Dr. Jayasundera’s role. Some alleged that Dr. Jayasundera wielded far greater power than members of the Cabinet. But, the issue at hand is whether it would be fair to blame the difficulties experienced by the government on one person?
At the height of the crisis caused by the global epidemic Covid-19, Dr. Jayasundera caused controversy in May 2020 when he requested public servants to contribute half, a week or a day’s pay from their May salaries.
Dr. Jayasundera made the request in his capacity as the Secretary to the President and the head of the public service. Dr. Jayasundera declared that the Budget deficit could be reduced if the public sector agreed to the pay cut.
In his letter to the President, informing him of the decision to forgo his May 2020 salary and allowances, Dr. Jayasundara pointed out that the monthly wage bill of the Government was about Rs.80 bn and if the government corporations, Banks and Universities are added, it’s closer to Rs. 90 to Rs.100 bn.
The Opposition attacked as usual for the sake of opposing both Dr. Jayasundera and the government over the former’s call for a salary cut. Both the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) strongly criticised Dr. Jayasundera’s move whereas the government defended it.
Dr. Jayasundera’s proposal meant to reduce the Budget deficit that hadn’t been implemented should be re-examined against the backdrop of the government announcement of the Rs 229 bn relief package for the public sector. Didn’t such a costly political decision further undermine the cash-strapped government? Did the government consult Dr. Jayasundera regarding the relief package offered at a time the government was struggling to cope up with an extremely messy financial situation?
Dr. P.B.J. strongly opposed the government seeking the IMF’s intervention. Throughout the crisis, the then Secretary to the President asserted firmly that there is no requirement for the government to involve the IMF. The former Treasury Chief remained convinced of their strength to meet the challenge even after the Governor of the Central Bank W.D. Lakshman was asked to go.
In the run-up to his resignation Dr. Jayasundera was embroiled in the simmering controversy over the opening of an account at the Town Hall branch of the People’s Bank to facilitate the import of nano-fertiliser from India. The accusations pertaining to the deal were made in Parliament on Oct 22, 2021 by JVP lawmaker Vijitha Herath. The scandal revolved around approximately US$ 1.2 mn being transferred to the private bank account of Mohan Perera and G. M. Weerasinghe of ‘United Farmers Trust Limited’ as payment for nano-fertiliser from India.
The JVPer alleged that Dr. Jayasundera ordered the People’s Bank to open a separate private account at its Town Hall Branch under the name ‘United Farmers Trust Limited’. The then Secretary to the President not only strongly denied the accusations, he requested an inquiry by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Although both print and electronic media prominently reported MP Herath’s accusations, the investigation targeted Mahinda Illeperuma, the editor of Aruna. The CID summoned him for questioning.
The role of Gamini Senarath, too, has been questioned also by the JVP over his alleged involvement in the import of carbonic fertiliser from China. The JVP raised the issue as the top person managing Chelina Capital Corporation, the local agent of Qingdao Seawin Biotech Chinese Company, happened to be a close relative of Senarath, who promptly denied accusations while offering to assist authorities in case of an investigation. Senarath emphasised that in spite of a relative of his being involved in the transaction he hadn’t been part of it.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage is on record as having assured Parliament that both transactions were above board. It would be pertinent to mention that the government paid dearly for its hasty and inconceivable decision to ban fertiliser and agro-chemicals. The move triggered protests in many districts. Emergency import of carbonic fertiliser ended up in controversy finally with the government having to pay USD 6.7 mn to Qingdao Seawin Biotech under controversial circumstances. China compelled Sri Lanka to pay in spite of the carbonic fertilizer load being rejected on the grounds it allegedly contained harmful bacteria, a charge strongly denied by China. Did Dr. Jayasundera play any role in introducing carbonic fertiliser and the subsequent decision to procure carbonic fertiliser from China and then place an order for Indian nano-fertiliser?
The government suffered a debilitating setback due to its controversial decision to introduce carbonic farming in such a hasty fashion forced obviously by the then imminent foreign exchange crisis caused by the collapse of the vital tourism sector and expatriate worker remittances on top of having to meet so many exigencies caused by the pandemic, at the expense of commercial agriculture.
National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa over the last weekend issued a dire warning over food security. Weerawansa, in no uncertain terms, urged the government to reverse its decision on fertiliser and agro-chemicals. Interestingly, Weerawansa, who had teamed up with colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Udaya Gammanpila against the highly controversial Yugadanavi deal, is the first cabinet minister to publicly warn the government of an impending food shortage.
Can the government ignore Weewawansa’s warning against the backdrop of the sacking of Agriculture Secretary Prof. Udith K. Jayasinghe in late December, 2021 and stripping Susil Premjayantha of his ministerial portfolio less than two weeks later?
Resignations, sackings galore
Gamini Senarath (seated) on his desk on the first day as Secretary to the President. Senior Advisor Lalith Weeratunga and Dr, PBJ with Senarath
There had been so many resignations, sackings, appointments at different levels since Agriculture Secretary retired Maj. Gen. Sumedha Perera was unceremoniously removed from his position in Feb 2021. News First on Feb 23 quoted the war veteran as having said: “I have informed the Secretary to the President, on Monday 15th February that I am relieved from duties due to unforeseen circumstances. However I have not tendered my resignation as yet nor have I been in communication with H.E the President regarding the matter as published by certain media outlets.”
Maj. Gen. Perera told The Island that he resigned from the post. Perera was later offered the post of Secretary Wildlife which he declined. Since then three others, who had held the post of Agriculture Secretary were replaced under controversial circumstances. The government replaced Maj. Gen. Perera with Rohana Pushpakumara. Several months later, one-time Chairman of the Paddy Marketing Board Dr. Jatal Mannamperuma was brought in as the Agriculture Secretary following Pushpakumara’s resignation. Mannaperuma declined to specify why he quit suddenly. Mannamperuma’s departure brought in Prof. Jayasinghe. Following the academic’s sacking over the issuing of a dire warning of an impending food shortage, the government named D.M.L.D. Bandaranayake as the Agriculture Secretary.
Before the President sacked Prof. Jayasinghe, the latter on the instructions of Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage removed former Ministry of Agriculture Advisor Prof. Buddhi Marambe. The government found fault with Prof. Marambe, who had been the Chairman of the Policy Planning Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture for being critical of the carbonic policy. Aluthgamage also removed the former Registrar of Pesticides Dr. J.A. Sumith.
The crisis in the Agriculture Ministry undermined the government. Unfortunately, the government never really understood the problem or at least tried to discuss the issues at hand earnestly. Minister Weerawansa’s warning over the collapse of commercial agriculture and food security being at risk shouldn’t be ignored. The overall failure of the government project that finally compelled the government to allocate as much as Rs 40 bn to pay compensation cannot be discussed without taking into consideration how Shashendra Rajapaksa, State Minister of Promoting the Production, Regulating the Supply of Organic Fertiliser, and Paddy and Grains, Organic Foods, Vegetables, Fruits, Chilies, Onion and Potato Cultivation; Promoting, Seed Production and Advanced Technology Agriculture handled the challenging task. Did Shashendra Rajapaksa fail to achieve government objectives? What would the future of that particular ministry be against the backdrop of Weerawansa’s call to review the overall agriculture policy?
Urgent policy review is required if the government sincerely expects to make a difference on the ground. Accusations that Maha season suffered due to the farming community being deprived of both fertiliser and agro-chemicals should be examined taking into consideration the failure on the part of the government to import carbonic fertiliser and sufficient stocks of nano fertilizer from India. In spite of the government rescinding the ban on agro-chemical imports, required stocks weren’t brought in much to the dismay of the farming community.
Perhaps, the balance of payments crisis hindered the government attempts to make emergency purchases of agro-chemicals. With the commencement of Yala season just weeks away, the government must move quickly on the contentious issue of flawed agriculture policy.
Importance of consistency
Many eyebrows were raised when the government removed former Army Chief General Daya Ratnayake from the post of Chairman SLPA in late June 2021. Ratnayake must have antagonised the powers that be for him to be removed and moved to the Industries Ministry as its Secretary. Ratnayake, who served as the Commander of the Army after the conclusion of the war never, went public as to why he was removed, unceremoniously.
Another move that quite surprised many was Maj. Gen. M.D.S.P. Niwunhella’s appointment as the Commissioner General of Essential Services (CGES) on August 31, 2021 and then doing away with price control leaving medicine as the only item under supervision. At the time Maj. Gen. Niwunhella received the appointment, he served as the senior officer in charge of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s security. The Gajaba Regiment officer continues to do so whereas his appointment as CGES was allowed to lapse.
Sri Lanka’s primary liquid gas supplier Litro has been embroiled in controversy not only due to gas–related explosions but the change of its Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Anil Koswatte last July. Koswatte’s removal took place amidst accusations of him blocking the Auditor General from performing his legitimate responsibilities. The Litro controversy received much public attention in the wake of Viyathmaga activist Theshara Jayasinghe, who replaced Koswatte was himself removed last month to pave the way for Renuka Perera, the Administrative Secretary of the SLPP to take over the well paid job.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa however thwarted that move because of obvious internal and external intrigues there. That resulted in Renuka Perera being appointed Milco Chairman, at the expense of civil society group Yuthukama activist Lasantha Wickremasinghe.
Yuthukama played a significant role in SLPP presidential election candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s campaign. The government compensated Lasantha Wickremasinghe by appointing him as Chairman, Ceylon Fertiliser. Wickremasinghe declined the appointment. The Yuthukama activist was to replace Janath Sri Vidanage.
Some of the other interesting developments were Justice Minister Ali Sabry’s offering to quit his portfolio over the appointment of Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara, a convict who had received a presidential pardon during the Yahapalana administration, as the head of ‘One Country, One Law’ Task Force. The President settled the issue by amending the relevant gazette, thereby diluting the scope of the Task Force.
The developments in the run up to the Yugadanavi deal finalised on the night of Sept 17, 2021, too, attracted public attention. Basil Rajapaksa entered Parliament on the SLPP National List to take over the finance portfolio, replace CEB Chairman Vijitha Herath with onetime Power Ministry Secretary M.C. Ferdinando from retirement, and shift Dullus Ahahapperuma from Power Ministry to Media. One-time UNP Minister Gamini Lokuge with a tarnished past having headed its once notorious union Jathika Sewaka Sangamaya (JSS), was brought in as the Power Minister.
Now, Ferdinando has resigned following the appointment of Additional General Manager (Corporate Strategy), Eng. (Dr.) D.C.R. Abeysekera of the Corporate Strategy Division as the new Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) General Manager. Abeysekera succeeded another resurrected retiree Dr. Susantha Perera.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa intervened in the wake of the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) protest campaign against Dr. Perera’s controversial appointment ignoring the designated successor as per CEB’s established rules. The government cannot ignore the fact that Yugadanavi deal has been challenged in the Supreme Court with a section of the cabinet of ministers too supporting the challenge.
The government should have been mindful of diplomatic appointments it made during the past two years. Canada and Italy refusing to accept retired Air Marshal Sumangala Dias as Sri Lanka’s top envoy therein over unsubstantiated accountability issues underscored the responsibility on the part of the government as well as the Parliamentary High Posts Committee to be cautious, especially in the face of undercurrents created by the West led by the US against our security forces for crushing the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit against their sinister wishes.
The government is in chaos. The recent shocking revelation that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Parliamentary Affairs Secretary former UPFA lawmaker Udith Lokubandara stole over Rs 40 mn from the Premier’s account highlighted the pathetic situation. Lokubandara, who had served as the private secretary to Mahinda Rajapaksa (2015-2020) received the appointment as his Parliamentary Affairs Secretary after the last parliamentary election. The former MP’s act underlines the need to be extremely cautious in accommodating people regardless of their status or connections.
How Lanka ended up receiving humanitarian assistance from an Indian state
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The May 09 ‘operation’, whose father is yet unknown, meant to save Mahinda Rajapaksa’s premiership, has tarnished the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the police as well as the armed forces.
The controversial Temple Trees project not only caused irreparable damage to the ruling coalition, it paved the way for UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to regain the premiership for the sixth time, incredibly with just one seat in the 225-member Parliament.
With Wickremesinghe at the helm of the government parliamentary group, the UNP has begun playing an active role in the administration, though the party didn’t have any members in Parliament, other than its leader. However, Wickremesinghe has brought a selected group of UNPers into the administration while causing a division in the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) by winning over two of its vociferous members, namely Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara.
Having repeatedly accused President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of direct complicity in the 2019 Easter Sunday massacre, both received ministerial portfolios from the President. Wickremsinghe is in the process of consolidating his position.
There cannot be a better example to highlight Wickremesinghe’s strategy meant to resurrect his party than involving two former ministers Vajira Abeywardena, incumbent Chairman of the party, and Sagala Ratnayake, in the delegation that received urgently needed food assistance from India.
Sri Lanka delegation received the assistance, standing next to Tan Binh 99, the Panama registered general cargo ship, at the Colombo harbour.
The following is the text of the statement issued by Eldos Mathew Punnoose, Head – Press, Information and Development Cooperation, as regards the handing over of humanitarian assistance at the Colombo harbour: “High Commissioner Gopal Baglay handed over a large consignment of humanitarian assistance worth more than SLR 2 billion from the people of India to Foreign Minister Prof. G.L Peiris, in Colombo, on 22 May 2022. The handing over function was attended by Minister for Ports and Shipping, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Former Minister Vajira Abeywardena, Sagala Ratnayaka, Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister, Senthil Thondaman, Leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress, Food Commissioner Mrs. J. Krishnamurthy, among senior officials, and others.
The consignment consists of 9,000 MT of rice, 50 MT of milk powder and more than 25 MT of drugs and other medical supplies. It was flagged off from Chennai port by Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Thiru M.K Stalin on 18 May 2022. This is also the first consignment under a larger USD 16 million commitment of 40,000 MT of rice, 500 MT of milk powder and medicines by the state Government of Tamil Nadu.
Handed over materials shall be distributed among vulnerable and needy sections in various parts of Sri Lanka including Northern, Eastern, Central and Western Provinces by Government of Sri Lanka in the coming days.
More humanitarian consignments and other forms of assistance from India shall follow. Multi-pronged endeavour by both the Government and the people of India underlines the importance attached to Sri Lanka and reflects their concerns for the well-being of its people. Support extended to Sri Lanka ranges from economic assistance worth around USD 3.5 billion, supply of vaccines, testing kits, close to 1000 MT of liquid oxygen to combat COVID-19, immediate response by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard to mitigate marine disasters, etc.”
Sri Lanka’s utterly irresponsible political leadership has achieved the unthinkable. The country has been reduced to such a pathetic state, it has ended up receiving food assistance from the state government of Tamil Nadu. Sri Lanka should be ashamed of having to receive food assistance from an Indian state, 13 years after having proudly defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) considered impossible by many a pundit and against the wishes of the haughty West. Can that be the root of the unprecedented problems? Perhaps one day the truth will unravel through the work of an outfit, like WikiLeaks, on how Hawala or Undial underground cash transfer systems so successfully dried up foreign exchange flows into the country, leaving it unable to find even a few million dollars to clear an urgently needed shipment of cooking gas or lifesaving drugs. However much the deep state is entrenched in Western democracies with the open help of their ‘independent’ media controlled by the military-industrial complex, there are still plenty of people with clear consciences who want to do justice to the world.
R.K. Radhakrishnan, writing to India’s national magazine Frontline described the Tamil Nadu gesture as ‘a province in a developing country extending its assistance to another country.’ That line is sufficient to comprehend Sri Lanka’s plight. In spite of initial disagreement between Tamil Nadu and the Central Government of India regarding the humanitarian assistance offered by TN Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, they reached consensus on the matter. Four days before the despicable Temple Trees project, borne out of frustration caused by the government’s inability to end the sieges at Temple Trees and the Presidential Secretariat by so- called peaceful protesters, triggered mayhem in Sri Lanka. They were anything but peaceful by the way they tried to storm President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence at Pengiriwatte, Mirihana, in late March.
Then Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, struggling to save his premiership, wrote to CM Stalin: “I wish to thank you and the Tamil Nadu government on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka, for viewing the country’s crisis from a humanitarian standpoint, rather than a problem concerning another country.”
Six days later Mahinda Rajapaksa was compelled to quit the premiership. The war-winning President and his family were compelled to take refuge at the strategic Eastern Naval Command after having abandoned Temple Trees, Kollupitiya, the nerve centre of the disastrous May 09 project, fearing a fate similar to that which met Libya’s Gadhafi, where, too, the truth was turned on its head.
An elder brother’s lament
Chamal Rajapaksa, 80, possibly serving his last term as a lawmaker, recently faulted younger brother and twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa for continuing in politics even after completing two presidential terms. The elder Rajapaksa attributed the current crisis to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s continuation in active politics. Chamal Rajapaksa said that politicians should be prepared to give up power. Otherwise, they have to be prepared to face situations like this if they were greedy for power. The one time Speaker was commenting on his brother’s dilemma in the wake of him losing the premiership. Chamal Rajapaksa said: “Ranil Wickremesinghe is very lucky. In 2015, Wickremesinghe was able to secure premiership in spite of not enjoying a parliamentary majority. Now, the UNP leader secured the premiership without another MP in Parliament. Wickremesinghe is lucky and the country too is fortunate that we have him to take up the mantle of leadership despite all his shortcomings of the past, when all other politicians are playing their petty tricks to grab power while the country was literally going up in flames.
But, can Chamal Rajapaksa absolve himself of his share of responsibility for the crisis that forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to leave his brothers, Chamal and Basil as well as nephews, Namal and Shashendra, out of the Cabinet of Ministers. President Rajapaksa, himself is under pressure to do away with the 20th Amendment to the Constitution that gave him dictatorial powers. The abolition of the 20th Amendment enacted in Oct 2020 is part of the overall agreement sought by some of those who accepted ministerial portfolios in the current dispensation. Both PM Wickremesinghe and Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, will push hard for the abolition of the 20th Amendment.
Before commenting further on ongoing moves to introduce the 21st Amendment at the expense of the 20A, it would be pertinent to examine Chamal Rajapaksa’s role as the Speaker (April 22, 2010-June 26, 2015) especially against the backdrop of his criticism of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s conduct. Chamal Rajapaksa, who has represented the Hambantota electoral district since 1989, continuously has declared that his brother Mahinda should have called it a day after completing two presidential terms (2005-2010 and 2010-2015).
Having said so, lawmaker Chamal Rajapaksa owed an explanation as regards his role in the enactment of the 18 A to the Constitution at the expense of the 19 A. During Chamal Rajapaksa’s tenure as the Speaker, the Parliament passed the controversial 18th Amendment Bill on Sept. 8, 2010, with 161 MPs voting for and 17 against the Bill. The following are some of its key points:
(a) The President can seek re-election any number of times (earlier it was limited to two;
(b) The ten-member Constitutional Council replaced with a five-member Parliamentary Council;
(c) Independent commissions are brought under the authority of the President; and,
(d) The 18th Amendment enabled the President to attend Parliament once in three months and entitles him to all the privileges, immunities and powers of an MP other than the entitlement to vote. In short, it is all about arming the President with absolute power.
The 18th Amendment was meant to empower Mahinda Rajapaksa. Chamal Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Speaker, oversaw the operation. The impeachment of Shirani Bandaranayake, the 43rd Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, and her removal by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in January 2013 should be examined against the backdrop of enactment of the 18th Amendment. Chamal Rajapaksa served as the Speaker at the time Justice Bandaranaike was removed. She was accused of several charges, including financial impropriety and interfering in legal cases, all of which she categorically denied. But her husband was found guilty by courts over his shady dealings.
Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa ensured the implementation of the then UPFA government’s strategy. Having served as a minister till April this year and played a critical role in the manipulation of Parliament, it wouldn’t be fair to find fault with Mahinda Rajapaksa solely for being power hungry.
Chamal Rajapaksa also made reference to Wickremesinghe receiving the premiership in 2015 following the presidential election, in spite of not having at least a simple majority in Parliament. Chamal Rajapaksa appeared to have conveniently forgotten that he continued as the Speaker even after Wickremesinghe was appointed PM after having unceremoniously discarded the late D.M. Jayaratne. The UPFA leadership didn’t even bother to ask Jayaratne before reaching consensus with President Maithripala Sirisena and UNP leader Wickremesinghe over the premiership following Mahinda Rajapaksa’s shock defeat at the January 2015 Presidential election held ahead of schedule on the advice of an astrologer. Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran perpetrated Treasury bond scams in Feb 2015 and March 2016 in connivance with then Premier Wickremesinghe-led government.
The UNP-led government also betrayed the war-winning Sri Lanka military at the Geneva based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Chamal Rajapaksa absolutely had no issue in continuing as the Speaker until June 26, 2015 when President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved Parliament to save the UNP. The dissolution of the House was meant to prevent the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) from submitting its report on the first Treasury bond scam to the House. Now again Chamal Rajapaksa has accepted Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Premier. Maithripala Sirisena, who sacked Wickremesinghe in late Oct 2018 and then offered him the premiership back within two months following judicial intervention and the primary beneficiary of Oct 2018 constitutional coup Mahinda Rajapaksa, are also in the same parliamentary group now headed by Wickremesinghe.
Proposed transfer of executive powers
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is pushing for the abolition of the Executive Presidency. The BASL wants Premier Wickremesinghe to demonstrate as early as possible his ability to establish a consensus among the political parties in Parliament and endeavour to build a representative Government of National Unity to implement a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) in the public interest.
The BASL insists on a clear timeline to introduce critical constitutional amendments proposed by the outfit, including the introduction of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution and the abolition of the Executive Presidency.
The National Joint Committee (NJC) is concerned about the BASL’s strategy. The nationalist outfit believes the SJB and the BASL are working on a similar agenda to do away with the Executive Presidency without changing the current electoral system or repealing the 13th Amendment.
If the ongoing joint high profile project to introduce 21 A to the Constitution succeeds, the UNP leader will receive powers at the expense of the Executive Presidency. Having received an overwhelming mandate at the last presidential election in Nov 2019, Gotabaya Rajapaksa stands to lose executive powers to Wickremesinghe who accepted the challenging task of rebuilding the devastated national economy.
Those who launched the ‘Gogotahome’ campaign remained skeptical about the SLPP’s commitment to introduce the 21 A. They believe the architects of the 20 A would do whatever possible to sabotage efforts to do away with the executive presidency. They believe the SLPP founder Basil Rajapkasa, who still wields power over the party apparatus reeling under accusations pertaining to unprovoked attacks on the public demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Flowers in Bloom
By Lynn Ockersz
Though made somewhat anxious,
By the numberless crises in the Isle,
That have brought their elders down,
The youngsters clad in speckless white,
And heading for a make-or-break exam,
Are the only resplendent flowers,
In an otherwise benighted land,
But their Social Science Paper,
Is bound to give them some laughs,
For, though patriots, they are told,
Fought the good fight decades ago,
And rid the land of enslaving shackles,
All whom they have as current leaders,
Are fickle creatures of malleable material,
For whom pelf and power are all that matter.
Ranil takes premiership amidst BASL bid for all party-consensus
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe, in her current capacity as the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), directed the police to provide adequate protection for the President and the Prime Minister while protecting the freedom of speech and assembly through necessary and proportionate measures.
Justice Marasinghe, who received the appointment in Dec, last year, would never have believed she would be compelled to issue such a statement.
The HRCSL statement, issued on April 26, 2022, over a month after the eruption of violent protests at the private residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at Pengiriwatta, Mirihana, that lasted for several hours, didn’t name the President and the Prime Minister.
Mahinda Rajapaksa quit Temple Trees on May 10, less than 24 hours after he announced his resignation, in the wake of unprovoked violence directed at those demanding the resignation of both the President and the Prime Minister and the so-called peaceful protesters who lay siege to his official residence Temple Trees virtually making, him a prisoner therein.
The first protest, targeting President Rajapaksa, was held at Pangiriwatte, Mirihana, on March 31, 2022. What began as a peaceful protest in the vicinity, quickly turned violent after the crowds made attempts to advance towards the President’s private home. The deployment of the Army, in support of the beleaguered police, failed to bring the situation under control.
Protesters set ablaze several vehicles, including two buses that brought Police and Army reinforcements to the scene of the unprecedented confrontation. Therefore, it would be pertinent to discuss the circumstances, Justice Marasinghe called for sufficient protection for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, over two weeks after the launch of the protest campaign, in front of the Presidential Secretariat, on April 09, 2022.
Perhaps, the HRCSL should have also advised the Army, as well as the Special Task Force (STF), regarding adequate protection for the President and the Prime Minister. The Army and the STF play an integral role in the protection of key leaders. The HRCSL cannot be unaware of the involvement of the Army and the STF in the protection of the President and the Prime Minister.
Justice Marasinghe called for ‘necessary and proportionate measures’ to meet the threat on the two leaders as those who had been demanding their resignation stepped up the campaign.
The HRCSL consists of five Commissioners, namely Justice Rohini Marasinghe (Chairperson), Venerable Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara and Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan. The President constituted the HRCSL in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Dec. 2020. Justice Marasinghe and Ven. Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera were brought in Dec. 2021 in the wake of the resignation of HRCSL Chairman Jagath Balasuriya and NGO, guru Harsha Kumara Navaratne taking up the post of Sri Lanka High Commissioner to Canada.
Did HRCSL make an assessment before Justice Marasinghe issued instructions to the police? The HRCSL intervened in the wake of the erection of a new protest site, opposite Temple Trees, as the government struggled to cope up with an unprecedented political-economic-social crisis that brought the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to its knees.
The writer, over the last weekend, sought a clarification from Justice Marasinghe. The HRCSL Chief said that instructions were issued as access to the residences of the President and the Prime Minister had been blocked. The HRCSL was also informed of possible threats to their lives, Justice Marasinghe said, adding that the issue at hand should be examined on the basis of equal protection of the law.
In spite of HRCSL’s instructions, the police, and at least an influential section of the SLPP government, appeared to have been caught napping. Was it due to the fear of the wrath of the HRCSL or they being under the so-called international community spotlight? In fact, the law enforcement authorities had contributed to the rapid deterioration of the situation to such an extent that mobs took control of roads. Had the police top brass realized the gravity of the situation, in the first week of May, they would have definitely advised the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa not to summon several hundreds of his supporters to Temple Trees. The failure on the part of the police to advise the ousted Premier was nothing but a monumental blunder.
In fact, the police appeared to have been part of a political project meant to dismantle those who had been protesting against the government, while laying siege to both Temple Trees and the Presidential Secretariat. The operation was meant to regain control. Therefore, a primary objective was to silence those who had been asking Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to step down.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, too, has been of that view, in the wake of about one-third of the SLPP parliamentary group demanding Premier Rajapaksa’s resignation to pave the way for an all-party interim administration.
PM, family take refuge in SLN base
Just two weeks after HRCSL asked the police to ensure protection of the President and the Prime Minister through ‘necessary and proportionate measures’ the latter had to move out of Temple Trees, under heavy security escort. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to authorize the deployment of SLAF assets to evacuate the ex-Prime Minister and some members of the family. They took refuge at the strategic Eastern Naval Command premises, Trincomalee.
By then, Yoshitha Rajapaksa, the ousted PM’s second son and Chief of Staff and his wife, Nitheesha Jayasekera, had left the country. Interestingly, Yoshitha left for Singapore at 12.50 am on May 09 on Singapore Airlines flight SQ 469 several hours before SLPP activists started arriving at Temple Trees.
Yoshitha Rajapaksa couldn’t have been unaware of the meticulous plans underway to bring in hundreds of supporters from all parts of the country to Temple Trees where the Prime Minister was to address them. Those who believed Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa was to announce his resignation were proved wrong. Instead, lawmaker Johnston Fernando and the then Premier Rajapaksa created an environment conducive for an ‘operation’ to evict those who had been protesting against the Prime Minister and the President. The operation boomeranged. The end result was the Prime Minister having to take refuge in the Trincomalee Navy base.
Two days later, the Fort Magistrate’s Court issued a travel ban on Mahinda Rajapaksa, MP Namal Rajapaksa and 16 others. They are Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Johnston Fernando, Sanjeewa Edirimanne, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, C.B. Ratnayake, Sanath Nishantha, Kanchana Jayaratne (Pavitra Wanniarachchi’s husband), Sampath Athukorala, Mahinda Kahandagama, Renuka Perera, Nishantha Abeysinghe, Amitha Abeywickrama, Pushpalal Kumarasinghe, Dilip Fernando and Senior DIG Deshabandu Tennakoon. The Senior DIG had been present at the time, SLPP goons broke through the police line, near the Galle Face hotel, to demolish the Galle Face protest camp.
The Magistrate also imposed a travel ban on seven others who had been wounded during the violence on the fateful Monday or were eye-witnesses to the attacks.
President of the Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association Lakshman Perera told the writer that the Attorney General‘s Department moved the Fort Magistrate’s court amidst preparations made by his outfit to move the court. Speaking on behalf of the Association, Perera underscored the pivotal importance of ensuring the safety and security of all, regardless of whatever the accusations directed at them.
For how long would the ex-Premier have to live under the protection of the Navy? In response to media queries, Defence Secretary retired General Kamal Gunaratne told a hastily arranged press conference, at the Battaramulla Defence Complex, that as a former head of State Mahinda Rajapaksa was entitled to required security. When would the ex-PM be able to move freely as protests demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation continue amidst traffic disruptions on main roads, especially over shortage of cooking gas? The situation remains extremely dicey.
Politically-motivated mobs destroyed many properties belonging to the Rajapaksa family. Mobs set ablaze the Rajapaksas’ ancestral home at Medamulana, Hambantota, and did not even spare the memorial built for their parents also at Medamulana, while the former Premier’s home in Kurunegala, too, was destroyed.
Properties belonging to elder brother, Chamal Rajapaksa and his son, Shashendra were also destroyed.
Gangs set fire to Green Ecolodge, situated very close to the Sinharaja rain forest. The hotel, situated close to the UNESCO heritage site, is widely believed to be owned by Yoshitha Rajapaksa, who recently warned JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake of legal action against the accusations made in respect of Green Ecolodge. But the JVP instead of backing their accusations regarding that prized eco-property (torched by the politically-motivated mobs early last week) with facts, issued a veiled threat to expose Yoshitha on some other issues if he dared to go to courts. Comrade Nalinda Jayatissa told the media that they would raise his fake qualifications, how he managed to enter the famed British naval college Dartmouth, etc., if he ventured to challenge them in court.
Well organized mobs also looted and set fire to properties of over 50 MPs, mainly of the government, across the country. They and their families were left with only the clothes on their backs.
Politicos under threat
The government should do everything possible to prosecute those responsible for incidents of violence, regardless of their status. Destruction of lawmakers’ properties should be denounced and punitive action taken against all those responsible. Who would take the responsibility for killing SLPP Polonnaruwa District MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale and his police bodyguard at Nittambuwa? The slain MP was on his way home, after attending the Temple Trees meet earlier in the day. Did Atukorale open fire on those who blocked his path? Did his police bodyguard, too, open fire? The post-mortem revealed the MP had been lynched and contrary to initial reports there were no gunshot injuries. The post mortem also set the record straight that the MP didn’t commit suicide with his own weapon as initially claimed by interested parties over the social and mainstream media. Having allowed SLPP goons to go on the rampage, the police pathetically failed to intervene when the public retaliated. Politically-motivated groups obviously took advantage of the situation. At an early stage of the ongoing protest campaign, German Ambassador in Colombo Holger Seubert tweeted: “I’m impressed with how peaceful the proud people of Sri Lanka are exercising their right to freedom of expression. It reminds me of German unification back in 1989 when we experienced how powerful peaceful protests can be. Wishing all parties involved the strength to remain peaceful.”
During the second JVP inspired-insurgency, the then JRJ government issued firearms to members of Parliament. Some lawmakers formed their own death squads. The government accepted extra-judicial killings as part of the overall defence against the JVP/DJV violence perpetrated against the UNP and those connected with that party.
Members of the SLPP raised security issues at a meeting they had with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the President’s House last Saturday (14). The government shouldn’t expect normalisation of the situation until tangible measures are taken to stabilize the national economy. Lawmakers wouldn’t be safe as long queues for diesel, petrol and cooking gas exist with the vast majority of the electorate struggling to make ends meet. The government should be mindful of interventions made by foreign powers and other external and internal players hell-bent on exploiting the situation to their advantage.
Recent demonstrations near the Parliament compelled the police to close several roads for traffic on May 05 and 06. The police closed the section from Diyatha Uyana junction (Polduwa junction) to Jayanthipura junction and from Jayanthipura junction to the Denzil Kobbekaduwa road to deter mass invasions by well organised demonstrators. The police asserted that closure of the roads were necessary, in spite of the inconvenience caused to the public, to prevent hindrance to lawmakers entering and leaving the parliamentary complex.
The police closed down the same sections of the roads yesterday (17) to facilitate parliamentary proceedings. Trade unions combine and the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) have vowed to lay siege to the Parliament. The warning that had been made several days before the May 09 mayhem should be reviewed. The trade union grouping and the IUSF affiliated to the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), the breakaway JVP faction, should be mindful of the crises the country is experiencing.
War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa having to take refuge in the Trincomalee SLN base is a tragedy. Mahinda Rajapaksa gave resolute political leadership to Sri Lanka’s war effort at a time the vast majority of lawmakers felt the LTTE couldn’t be defeated. Therefore, many accepted peace at any cost. They were prepared even to give up Sri Lanka’s unitary status in a bid to reach a consensus with separatist Tamil terrorists mollycoddled by Western powers. Mahinda Rajapaksa had the strength and political acumen to take on the LTTE. The country should never forget how President Rajapaksa, in spite of strong objections from the military, flew into Kebitigollewa on June 15, 2006, in the immediate aftermath of a claymore mine attack on a passenger bus. The blast killed over 60 men, women and children. Having visited the survivors, President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave an assurance that the terrorism would be eradicated. The promise was made two months before the LTTE resumed large-scale offensive action in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful end in May 2009. But, the President, who restored peace, has ended up virtually running for his life and had to seek refuge in a military installation for the time being as post-war policies and strategies take their toll with interested parties taking advantage of the tragedy facing the country.
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