People try to wish away the following: the pandemic, especially the impact aggravated by unwise actions of those in charge; ever increasing cost of living, driven by product shortages and excessive money printing; gas explosions, due to unauthorised changes in gas composition and mismanagement; having to stay in long queues to collect gas, milk powder, rice, sugar, kerosene; lack of fertiliser and agrochemicals, by pursuing organic agriculture goals, leading to crop failures and possible food shortages; Inability to attend schools and universities, and the lack of e-learning tools and internet facilities; unauthorised and illegal land grabbing, deforestation, sand/gem mining and human-elephant conflict; unannounced power cuts, due to lack of petroleum and malfunctioning power plants; failing to uphold the rule of law and justice systems, suppressing democratic rights, and inconsistent policy and administration, with several gazettes and frequent revocations; extremely high levels of perceived corruption, wastage, money laundering, nepotism and cronyism; sale of national assets and grant of long term concessions, without best practice valuations; misallocation of scarce natural resources, lack of fiscal discipline, pursuing egoistic/high commissions linked projects, ignoring the priority needs of the poor and vulnerable segments; mismanagement of the external sector, unprofessional external debt management sans debt restructure, channelling short term high cost borrowed funds to pay long term external debt, overvalued rupee, export sector being distressed by disincentives:
Unwise and ineffective foreign relations, failure to optimise networking options with international agencies, especially the IMF and the UNHRC politicisation and ineffectiveness of key independent public institutions, law and good governance, accountability, empowered ministries and departments.
All these appear to originate due to unprofessional, arrogant, egoistic, childish and rent-seeking governance by the regime in control of the executive; and will deter value adding FDI flows, low growth, high twin deficits, rating downgrades, and possibly excessive stress on the citizens of a country heading towards a failed state.
With the voice of advocacy of the caring professionals and civil society mostly dulled, the business chambers placing all blame on the pandemic, and saying the governance action could not have been any better; the executive and leadership in governance promising to fulfil all remaining actions leading to ‘splendour and prosperity’ over the next three years; the legislative opposition overshadowed by the two-third majority of the party in power; activists and social media harassed, and the traditional media divided, with the few who correctly report and bring to surface bad governance, breakdown in law and order, corruption and engaging in investigative journalism pressurised; all eyes, ears and attention with hope is to the Judiciary, as the only saviours of democracy, rule of law and good governance.
The Fundamental Rights chapter of the Constitution excludes socio-economic rights, and Sri Lanka is not a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In the above context “Suo Moto” epistles are an essential need in the current governance environment?
“A Suo Moto cognizance is a Latin term which means ‘an action taken by a government agency, court or other central authority on their own apprehension’. A court takes a Suo Moto cognizance of a legal matter, when it receives information about the violation of rights or breach of duty through media or a third party’s notification.
In India, the Constitution lays down the provisions for filing Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court and High Courts, respectively. This has given rise to the court’s power to initiate legal action on their cognisance of a matter. Suo Moto’s actions by Indian courts are a reflection of activism by the judiciary, and captivated the general public with the speedy delivery of justice by the courts. Suo Moto cases in India are generally taken up by the Supreme Court. The Indian Judiciary has been undoubtedly holding the baton for democracy for the past few years. In numerous instances, different High Courts and the Supreme Court have risen to the occasion, by taking cognisance of a legal issue on their own, and providing swift justice. Various courts in India have initiated legal proceedings on their own, based on media reports, telegrams and letters received by aggrieved people, taking a Suo Moto cognisance of the issue.”
1. The Supreme Court of India has during 1990-2021 taken up 46 cases ‘suo moto’ without any petition being filed, or interest being brought before them.
2. The best recent example of the judiciary entering in to protect and promote the interests of the citizens also comes from India; where “The Supreme Court of India slammed the Centre and state governments for their inability to present a crystal-clear way forward to combat the menace of air pollution in the national capital. A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, and comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant, after hearing submissions of counsel of the Delhi government and Central government, said it needs clear answers on steps to curb air pollution in the capital, which has become a yearly phenomenon for the past several years.
Justice Kant told Delhi government counsel that nobody understands the plight of farmers and under what circumstances they are forced to burn stubble. “People sitting in 5-star and 7-star facilities in Delhi keep accusing the farmers (contribute four percent and 30 or 40 percent to pollution). If you have a scientific alternative (a resolution) … let us look at it, rather than blaming farmers…”, said Justice Kant. The Chief Justice pointed out that according to an IIT Kanpur study, stubble burning and firecrackers are not main contributors for pollution. The bench pulled up the government and bureaucracy for not doing enough to curb air pollution. The bench said the bureaucracy has gone into inertia and they don’t want to do anything. “Bureaucracy developed paralysis…all these things we have to say — how to use sprinklers, how to stop vehicles…they do not want to take any decision”, said the bench, slamming the attitude of bureaucracy. The bench emphasised that somebody has to take responsibility and everything cannot be done through judicial order. It pointed out that firecrackers were burnt in Delhi despite a ban.
Citizens and civil society believe that the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), currently under a forward looking, courageous leadership, demonstrating by its advocacy that it cares for common citizens and is ready to step in to protect citizens impacted by bad governance, must now seek strategic ways and means of promoting “Epistolary Jurisdiction”; which involves “Invoking writ jurisdiction by a court itself on the basis of any letter or information or any news published in newspapers “which ? can ensure enjoyment of some the very basic fundamental rights by the poor and lay man such as: right to protection of law, enforcement of fundamental rights and equality before law. On this point, this jurisdiction is pro-bono publico in nature. On the other hand, some critics think that it may invite judicial activism in the administration of justice, which should not be in a strict sense. Some think that judicial activism should not lead the judges to transgress the limits of judicial functions nor attract them to intervene into executive policy decisions unless any act of the executive is violative of any provision of law or the Constitution”.
BASL must actively pursue options for getting the judiciary to follow some good practices adopted in yesteryears, by judges such as Justices Mark Fernando and Ranjit Amerasinghe, in showing the way with ‘suo moto judgements” and engaging in judicial activism.
A Postscript to ‘Political Crisis: A Way Out’
By Chandra Jayaratne
The Island of Saturday 14th May 2022, published a proposal, submitted by the former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, to leaders of political parties and civil society organisations, wherein, admirably, the essential need for adequate representations, by youth and women in governance, are given recognition. Prior to that, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) had submitted a 13-point proposal to restore economic and political stability in Sri Lanka. The writer respectfully recognizes the aforesaid proposals are caring leadership initiatives of significant value in the current socio-political and economic crisis risking the stability and future of Sri Lanka and its people.
The writer agrees with the short-term focus as set by the BASL stating as its objective:
* To create political, economic and social stability in the country.
* To create an environment to address the fundamental problems that have brought about the current crisis (and imperil future reforms).
* To restructure external debt and enter into appropriate programmes with multi-lateral institutions, including the IMF, and for that purpose to appoint the financial and legal advisers and negotiate a debt standstill pending debt restructuring.
* To obtain bridging finance. The bridging finance together with the savings arising from the debt standstill to be used to procure uninterrupted supply of essentials to the People until such time the debt restructuring, and the IMF programme is in place. This will eliminate the shortages in power, fuel, gas, medicines, food, etc.
* To create an environment to combat corruption and to ensure accountability and strengthening independent institutions.
And towards an overarching requirement of a stable government with the ability to implement reforms, domestically, and the ability/credibility to negotiate with the IMF, other multilateral agencies, and friendly countries to help Sri Lanka get out of the economic crisis.
However, this proposal has failed to take account of the need to use this crisis as an opportunity to introduce critical systems changes demanded by the ‘Aragalaya’ and implement critical change management options for long term good governance with democratic rights, equity, equality, and the rule of law being strengthened.
The writer wishes to take this opportunity to add a postscript to the submission by the former President; which appears to have inadequately focused on the severe economic crisis, threatening Sri Lanka and its people; and disregarded some key demands of the stakeholders of the ‘Aragalaya’ relating to governance failures, rejection of the leaders of the present regime, control of corruption, recovery of proceeds of crime; as well as address important unresolved national questions and the need for strengthening fundamental rights, equity and the rule of law.
The highlights of the post scripts are briefly outlined hereinafter and sets out amendments required to the proposal by the former President, whist incorporating some of the excellent suggestions in the 13-point proposal of the BASL:
1. The Interim Government to be for a maximum period of 18 months, in order to re-establish a stable and solvent governance structure, at the end of which the interim administration stands dissolved, enabling a people’s choice-based new government to be elected
2. The governing party and the leading opposition party to get one nominated member from each of their parties to resign and make way for the nomination, with the concurrence of the Parliament, of (a) a retired Chief Justice with judicial integrity, independence, impartiality and track record of acceptance and (b) a mature politician with public acceptance, integrity, independence and track record of achievement and no allegations of corruption and moral turpitude
3. The incumbent President to resign immediately post 2 above and the nominated member of parliament elected under 2(a) above be elected as the President by the Parliament and such appointee to not engage in executive decision-making nor be a member of the Cabinet: whilst the nominated member elected under 2 (b) be appointed the Prime Minister and bound by a Code of Prime Ministerial Conduct and Ethics, having transparently established the capability (knowledge, skills, attitudes and values) and having duly declared publicly the appropriate declarations of assets/liabilities and all interests of the Prime Minister and his immediate family: with the vacancy in the nominated members created by election of the President being filled in by a economist with extensive experience in public finance and macroeconomic management, who in addition being a person with integrity, independence and track record of achievement and no allegations of corruption and moral turpitude; and such nominee be appointed as the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Management. These new appointments to take place at the earliest option.
4. An interim Cabinet be appointed charged with the responsibility and accountability regards the direction and control of the government, being collectively answerable to Parliament and be bound by a Code of Ministerial Conduct and Ethics; with appropriate amendments to article 52 (2) of the constitution where “the Secretary to the Ministry shall be the chief accounting officer of the Ministry and answerable to Parliament and bound by a Code of Conduct and Ethics, and to function in such capacity, subject to the policy direction and guidance of his Minister; and such Secretary shall exercise the control and supervision over the departments of Government or other institutions in the charge of his Minister and be accountable for professional good governance and effective decision-making and implementation, within the functions assigned”.
5. The Cabinet comprising of 15 Ministers be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the new interim Prime Minister and endorsed by a majority of members of the Parliament, post such nominees having established their capability (knowledge, skills, attitudes and values), integrity, independence and track record of achievement with no allegations of corruption and moral turpitude and having duly declared publicly their declarations of assets and a interests of the ministers and their immediate family. The Interim Government, in consultation with all relevant independent groups, including the youth representatives currently leading protests and apolitical Professional/Trade/Civil Society organisations to appoint, with the concurrence of Parliament, an independent Advisory Council, consisting of 15 qualified professionals from disciplines corresponding to the 15 Ministries or relevant to the national economy priorities (as recommended by the BASL); and such Council to be formed in place of the Council of State for National Policy recommended in the former President’s proposal; and this Independent Council should act as advisors of the Cabinet and be consulted on all major policy decisions of the government; the interim government will seek every option to build consensus and support of all parties represented in Parliament and the Advisory Council and where possible key stakeholders of the economy; the interim government will endeavor to publish White Papers on all major policy changes and restructure options proposed and will use such publications to build awareness and debate amongst citizen groups; and take heed of any positive and value adding suggestions emerging from such consultations and public advocacy.
6. The interim government should take immediate steps in resolving to the best of its ability, the shortages of essential goods, medicines and fuel supplies and services experienced by citizens.
7. The currently functioning selected three overseas resident advisors charged with advisory on debt restructure, etc., together with two younger economists resident in Sri Lanka working outside the public services, be appointed as accredited ambassadors of Sri Lanka with Cabinet Ranking; and the five-member team will collectively with the Sri Lanka High Commissioner in India, the Governor of the Central Bank, Secretary to the Treasury and the newly appointed Minister of Finance be responsible to negotiate with the IMF, International Financial Organizations and Donor Countries; and also agree the essential fiscal consolidation measures, steps leading to stability of the financial and banking systems, bridging finance arrangements, agreeing a strategic plan to ensure debt sustainability by 2027, gaining acceptable sovereign ratings for the country and agreeing with creditors a programme of debt restructure; supported where necessary by external consultants and advisors with international expertise; and recommend such measures and action plans to be adopted by the new interim cabinet. The said team may appoint sub-committees made up of technocrats and persons with requisite expertise to support the development of reform agendas covering raising revenue to GDP to 12-15% over the next three years and enhance it to 18% by year six, where the ability to pay by those with capacity to contribute, bear the brunt of the enhanced taxes; and over time the ratio of indirect to direct taxes should move from 80/20 to 60/40;
State expenditure rationalisation, (with special focus on defence, administration and nonessential projects and capex), embedding strict austerity measures, national resource allocation prioritizations and justification assessments on economy, efficiency and effectiveness of approved spends seeking positive socio economic outcomes; and develop key long term budget assumptions, fiscal outcomes and fiscal responsibility key performance targets;
Develop plans to optimize value adding growth in GDP, gradually reaching 5-8% by 2027, with enhanced and diversified export incomes, promoting savings and local and foreign investments; to develop essential reform options, including policy and regulatory changes, digitization, fiscal adjustments and factor productivity enhancements along with other change management restructure options for long term growth and stability
designing an effectively administered ICT driven ‘Aadhaar’ type scheme for establishing a strong social “Safety Net” targeting to protect the interests of the elderly, poor, marginalized and vulnerable segments of society;
Identifying change management and restructure options for improved productivity, technological advancement, human resource development for the next generation of value optimization, quality and outcomes in the operations of ministries, departments, state establishments and state-owned enterprises.
8. The interim Government will be accountable for undernoted legal and regulatory reforms:
a. Promptly bring back the 19th Amendment to the constitution with appropriate amendments that remove well established weaknesses and operational lacunae for effective good governance; with democratic rights, rule of law and justice systems strengthened, whilst enhancing the operational scope and framework, financial independence, transparency, accountability with appropriate checks and balances of the Constitutional Council, Independent Commissions, the Central Bank and the Auditor General.
b. Introduce a new Constitution that abolishes the Executive Presidency replaced with a head of state; strengthens the system of governance with appropriate checks and balances and enhancing accountability of the executive; with no immunity for any actions of governance violating democratic rights, equity and equality of citizens, rule of law, mismanagement and failing to place the interests of the nation and its people first, in all executive decision-making; promoting equitable resource allocations, protection of the environment and recognizing the interests of the poor and vulnerable segments of society; introducing a bill of rights expanding and updating the Fundamental Rights chapter (including Socio Economic Rights): Resolving the National Question and facilitating the devolution of power going beyond the 13th Amendment; equating the rights of all citizens irrespective of race, religion or status and making way for a truly harmonious and peaceful plural society, with equity and equality in all respects enabling the establishment of a truly Sri Lankan identity, that celebrates unity in diversity; and change the electoral system to a mix of first past the post and proportional representation.
c. Introduce required law/regulatory reforms connected with combating corruption and recovery of proceeds of crime, by enacting a Proceeds of Crime Act (including powers of Civil and Criminal Forfeiture and Asset Management); Serious Financial & Organized Crime Agency Act; Company Law Reforms-(Expanding the Provisions of Part XXI- Offences of the Companies Act No. 7 of 2007) and incorporate changes and update bribery and money laundering laws and the criminal procedures code (including incorporating new offences identified in the United Nations Convention on Anti-corruption, e. g. Trading influence; Abuse of functions; Illicit enrichment; Embezzlement of property; Concealment (both private and public sector); Bribery in private sector; Bribery of foreign public officials): Networking the Inland Revenue, Customs, Excise, BOI, SEC, Central Bank and Financial Intelligence Units with a newly established Directorate of Revenue Enforcement and an Independent Office for Serious Financial Crimes prosecution, for collective initiatives in the Recovery of Proceeds of Crime and Illicit Financial Flows;
d. Enact and enforce Codes of Conduct and Ethics governing elected representatives and regulations governing conduct of election campaigns and campaign finances; and introduce necessary amendments to the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law enabling the publication of the declarations of Assets and Liabilities of elected officials; and a system of recall where any such elected member with established charges of engaging in any acts of corruption and/or acts of moral turpitude;
e. Enact necessary amendments to the Monetary Law or promulgate new legislation to strengthen the independence of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and amend the Audit Act to empower the Auditor General to direct law enforcement units to investigate and take action against any acts of Corruption or mismanagement in the state and state-owned enterprises.
f. Set up a Parliamentary Budget Office and strengthen the powers of the Committee on Public Finance, COPE and COPA, empowering them to make recommendations to the law enforcement authorities for action or for the Auditor General to impose surcharge under the Audit Act (duly amended to include the Ministry Secretaries as well). Proceedings of above Committees as well as Consultative Committees of Parliament and Sectoral Oversight Committees be open to the public;
g. Introduce Codes of Conduct and Ethics binding high post holders and senior management in state services and state-owned enterprises and make all public servants and legislators bound by compulsory reporting of noncompliance with Laws and Regulations (NOCLAR)
h. Update the Right to Information Act and Victims and Witness Protection Act avoiding the present shortcomings;
i. enact necessary amendments to the Monetary Law or promulgate new legislation to strengthen the independence of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka
9. All persons appointed to the Constitutional Council, Advisory Council and by the Constitutional Council and other High Post holders be persons with public acceptance, integrity, independence and track record of achievement and no allegations of corruption and moral turpitude:
10. Enact law/regulatory reforms and undertake change management leadership initiatives which improve factor productivity including labour, educational, technological and administrative reforms which enhances opportunities for export of goods and services led growth, foreign direct investments, diversify export basket, improve labour productivity and quality improvements, transparent and cost effective procurement systems and tender awards ( including rationalization of public holidays and lay off commitments)
11. Adopt a foreign policy which supports the long-term national interests;
12. Appoint a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate into and report on the persons directly and indirectly responsible for the present state of the economy and purported bankruptcy of the nation, causing so much suffering, losses, mental trauma with disrupted the lives and livelihoods of the stakeholders of the society; and recommend what action should be taken against them in terms of the law and regulations; and what damages can be recovered from them.
Former President’s “Political Crisis: A Way Out” proposal amended as above, read together with the BASL proposal can be taken up by the ‘Aragalaya Group’ in developing the proposed “Galle Face Declaration” to be endorsed by the new interim government as a precondition to the protestors ending this youth led struggle for a system change, combined with a regime change and a new option to select the post struggle a new governance structure and peoples chosen representatives.
Gold standard for political humour already set by Canada!
Canadian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, David McKinnon, recently tweeted Sri Lanka sets the gold standard for political humour. He further tweets, “maybe there’s a way to monetize this as an export?”
Poor McKinnon, representing Canada, to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries, does not seem to be aware that the gold standard for political humour has already been set by Canada. Sri Lanka maybe trying hard to win the title from Canada but once again Canada has set the bar too high for Sri Lanka. In fact, this writer believes McKinnon might have just made it impossibly high.
McKinnon is the High Commissioner for Canada but he does not even know that he is a diplomat. As such, McKinnon is ignorant that such undiplomatic commentary as that he made of Sri Lanka, his host country, is a faux pas at its worst. Very difficult to beat a tactless diplomat in political humour!
We would never hear such crass commentary from any of our neighbouring countries or, for that matter, from even Middle East or Africa. These diplomats do not suffer from an undue superiority complex. Instead, they are professional and empathetic.
As such they make a sincere effort to be with the people of their host country in their hour of need instead of laughing at their troubles. It is such humaneness that strengthens bilateral relations, which is the reason for their presence in the host country in the first place.
When our neighbours are making our troubles theirs and working hard to bridge our shortfalls to ease our burdens, McKinnon is busy tweeting. What a bird! His cheap cracks are certainly not the way to strengthen bilateral relations. This makes one wonder if he is only here for the Arrack and the sun.
McKinnon is not the only one to entertain us with cheap theatrical humour. His colleague Shelley Whiting, too, had her own sense of political humour.
When we eradicated terrorism from our country, she, as the then Canadian High Commissioner, was invited to celebrate the dawn of a peaceful Sri Lanka. This was a big deal for us as we had been denied peace, or a normal life, for nearly 30 years.
With peace, children were free to go to school and, more importantly, return home in one piece or without been forcefully conscripted as slave labour to a terrorist organization. People can now keep all of their earnings and savings without been extorted by criminal elements. The fog of fear and suspicion was lifted. Instead of destruction, we could finally rebuild our country to prosperity. The dark shadows of fascism vanished as democracy swung into full action. Provinces, as North and East, were able to elect Provincial Councils, just as the rest of the country.
Whiting, however, refused to join our celebrations. She wanted to stay home to cry over the dead. Though she said that she is not shedding tears over Prabhakaran, for she knew he was a naughty boy, she never did clarify who it was that she rather be at home thinking. It certainly could not have been the Tamil civilians for this peace was every bit theirs as it was for the Sinhalese and other Sri Lankan communities.
Judging by the open support the LTTE international network receives officially from Canada, it is not hard to figure out to whom Whiting dedicated her thoughts. Oh, the prank the Canadian Government pulled on the LTTE ideologists pretending to mull over dedicating an entire week to remember the genocide that never took place in Sri Lanka was hilarious. After allowing real hope into the hearts of the LTTE ideologists the Canadian Government dashed it with a single “nah! Not happening.”
It is really funny how Canada is always preaching to us on the importance of maintaining rule of law but allowed Tamil ethnic Canadian citizens to be intimidated, bullied, extorted and terrorised by LTTE terror gangs to fund terrorism back in Sri Lanka. Looks like Canadian law is selective who it protects.
This story gets funnier still. Canada is always overlaying their sympathy on Tamils, clearly implying that the Sinhalese are discriminating against the Tamils. Yet, Sinhalese – especially the educated or skilled – have no problem gaining visa or PR from Canada. While needlessly embarrassing the Sinhalese and getting Tamils all miffed with the Sinhalese, Canada is getting both Sinhalese and Tamils alike to contribute towards their economy. What a hoot!
The best ever joke was when young PM Trudeau demanded that Pope come immediately to Canada and apologise to the indigenous community for killing their young and burying their bodies in the back garden of Catholic schools. Someone eventually had to whisper into his ear that it maybe in the name of the church that the indigenous people were made to suffer, but it was really for the benefit of the Caucasian settlers who were occupying their land illegally. That was how young Trudeau and his father before him got to be the head of the government of a country that is not theirs in the first place.
When Canada has set such a high bar in political humour, mocking others only to be exposed of their own ignorance, the best Sri Lanka can hope to set standard for would be bronze.
Secure legitimacy and credibility
Open letter to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
Dear Prime Minister,
As I watched you take oaths at the Presidential Secretariat, my mind was drawn to the last time you did so, on 16 December, 2018, on day 52 of the 52-day coup plot that was mounted against Lankan democracy. On that Sunday morning, you were flanked by your wife, Dr. Maithri Wickremasinghe and several senior opposition MPs in what still feels like the finest hour in the history of our constitutional democracy.
Several political parties rallied around you, putting the constitution before party politics and personal grievances. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that your side was the side of right, and the side of democracy.
On the three previous occasions when you took oaths as Prime Minister, you did so with a strong mandate, after conclusive electoral victories. Consequently, these swearing in ceremonies were celebrative affairs, accompanied by the air of hope your mandate deserved.
So, it was with a heavy heart I watched you being sworn in last week before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a dark, empty room. I imagined to myself how different it would have been if this sixth swearing in ceremony had better resembled your previous ones. There were no cheering crowds, because you had won no election, had received no mandate to govern.
Given the Rajapaksa family history of power hunger, bloodlust and greed, coupled with the demands of the national protest movement, Sajith Premadasa drew a line in the sand and refused the premiership under a Rajapaksa presidency. Whether he did so on principle, or out of fear of taking on such a great a challenge, I cannot say. The fact that you have risen to the moment and taken on the most difficult job in the country is thus admirable.
If you are to succeed, you can only do so by unifying and integrating, not by dividing and conquering. No one can minimise the series of political masterstrokes by which you navigated from a personal electoral defeat in your traditional bastion of Colombo, to entering Parliament on the UNPs single national list seat, to ascending to the premiership. However, you will be judged not on your personal achievement in ascending to power, but by what you do with that power to serve the country.
As it stands, your Cabinet is set to comprise primarily of members of the Podujana Peramuna alliance including the SLFP. I don’t need to remind you that these are the same people responsible for putting Sri Lanka into this mess in the first place.
Indeed, the majority of those who have come out in support of your premiership, to date, are the very same people who fought to make Gotabaya Rajapaksa President. They argued that the country needed to be saved by him, from you and your policies. For you to succeed, you will need to build a wider base of support that reaches beyond such self-serving hypocrites, who would be eager to sabotage you no sooner they need a fresh scapegoat.
This kind of inconsistency, hypocrisy and insincerity has ruled our politics for generations, and people are sick and tired of it. The people are closely watching, still trying to decide whether you were brought in to serve Sri Lankans or to serve the Rajapaksas. Although you may be tempted to peel off weak-willed opposition members to join you in exchange for ministries and perks, remember that if you weaken the Opposition, you will further strengthen the Rajapaksas.
To put the country right and establish the credibility and legitimacy of your premiership, you need the sharpest knives in the drawer, in particular Eran Wickremaratne, Harsha de Silva and Champika Ranawaka. You need the firm political foresight of veterans like Rajitha Senaratne, Thalatha Athukorale and Ranjit Maddumabandara, the fire of younger members like Rohini Wijeratne and Shankyan Rasamanikkam. You would benefit from the legal and constitutional prowess of M. A. Sumanthiran, and the discipline and organisational capabilities of Anura Dissanayake and others of the JVP.
But the support of such serious people cannot be secured through ‘deal’ politics. There is no doubting your mastery of such negotiations andjmaneuvering. For the sake of the country, you should use those skills to secure desperately needed relief for our people, and not wield them as a weapon against the parties in Parliament who are fighting on behalf of the people to defeat the Rajapaksas.
Now that the SJB has offered to support your government on the very reasonable condition that you not try to splinter their party from within, I would urge you to accept their offer gracefully, regardless of any rivalry between yourself and their leader. In asking you to do so for the sake of the country, I must remind you of our shared history. It was no secret that Sajith Premadasa was extremely unhappy under your leadership of the UNP. He had spoken openly against you, and your personal grievances were an open secret when the coup started in 2018. Despite that, you know as well as I do how ferociously and tirelessly Sajith Premadasa fought on your behalf during the 52-day coup. Sajith consistently refused overtures to become premier. Instead, he remained loyal to you and loyal to the UNP. He respected the constitutional requirement that a prime minister must command a majority in Parliament by the time of his appointment, and he refused to backstab you and try to coral a majority together using state office as an inducement.
As you know, on the several occasions that Sajith and I went to meet President Maithripala Sirisena, he argued with the President on your behalf. He did this not necessarily because he liked you. I believe he did so on principle, and that he did it because it was the right thing to do for democracy. Whatever bad blood exists between you, as the more senior politician and now as Prime Minister, you will be expected to rise above the temptation to keep playing chess against Premadasa. The people do not want you in combat with each other. They want all right-thinking MPs to alleviate their suffering, and ensure they are never again choked under the jackboot of Medamulana tyranny.
There were always three contenders to replace Mahinda Rajapaksa. They were Premadasa, Karu Jayasuriya and yourself. You can still bring legitimacy to your government by engaging with them, and the leadership of other opposition parties. You should share with them your plan to govern, to resolve our economic, political and humanitarian crises. As the Prime Minister, you can be the bigger person and get Premadasa and other key stakeholders into a room and chart the path forward, in a way that gives you the benefit of the expertise and judgment that you are unlikely to find in your Cabinet if it is comprised of the SLPP, SLFP and a few Opposition members who can be bought for perks. Even if you cannot meet personally, set up a mechanism to keep the opposition in loop. Keep them informed of what you are doing and get their feedback and opinions. Such a give-and-take is what the country needs, what you need in this fateful moment.
It is essential for the country that your government wins the legitimacy of Opposition support and is not seen as a Rajapaksa clone. The most tragic way for your sixth premiership to go down in history would be for it to be perceived as you having effectively done to Sajith Premadasa what Mahinda Rajapaksa did to you during the coup.
Your speech today (16/05), which was simple, direct and logical, made it clear that you understand that this will be the greatest challenge Sri Lanka and you have ever faced. Indeed, it is doubtful if anyone else would have had the knowledge and more importantly the compulsion to reveal to our people the true predicament of our country. The likes of Cabraal would have on the other hand continued to hoodwink one and all. For this we have to thank the protesters. This is an important fact that everyone in the government must not forget. I hope all politicians would have by now clearly understood that deceit and arrogance will not be tolerated by the public anymore. It is time everyone realised that if we did the same thing over and over again we will get the same result.I hope you will do things differently.I hope and pray that you succeed in uniting the country and delivering the relief and reform that our people so desperately need and so richly deserve.
Krishantha Prasad Cooray
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