Re­la­tions be­tween SLFP and UN ac­cused of block­ing probes and

Three se­nior min­is­ters meet Sirisena to ex­press con­cern over PM be­ing sum­moned by the Bond Com­mis­sion Se­nior civil so­ci­ety activist at­tacks Gov­ern­ment for de­lay­ing probes on ma­jor cor­rup­tion

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - NEWS - By Our Po­lit­i­cal Editor

Awell-known Sin­hala adage refers to the plight of those who went to seek so­lace at a tem­ple but found the roof col­laps­ing on their heads. That in essence ap­peared to be the dilemma of a high-pow­ered three-mem­ber United Na­tional Party (UNP) del­e­ga­tion which had a meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena just last week. It was brief but had the un­de­sired ef­fect.

Their pur­pose was to con­vey the party’s deep dis­ap­point­ment that their leader and Prime Min­is­ter, Ranil Wick­remesinghe was be­ing sum­moned be­fore the Com­mis­sion of In­quiry prob­ing the bond scan­dal at the Cen­tral Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL). They opined that the move would give the im­pres­sion to the coun­try and to fol­low­ers of the UNP, the main part­ner in the coali­tion Gov­ern­ment with the Sri Lanka Free­dom Party (SLFP), that their leader was be­ing ar­raigned for some sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity.

The del­e­ga­tion com­prised three Cabi­net Min­is­ters -- UNP Chair­man Ma­lik Sa­ma­rawick­rema, Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Kabir Hashim, and Man­gala Sa­ma­raweera, now a se­nior mem­ber. The trio told Sirisena that asking Premier Wick­remesinghe to tes­tify be­fore the Com­mis­sion also ap­peared a witch-hunt by the lead­er­ship and cre­ated the im­pres­sion that the Gov­ern­ment was tar­get­ing its own peo­ple. Ahead of the meet­ing, the Sun­day Times learnt that the three min­is­ters had dis­cussed the is­sues they were to raise with their leader Wick­remesinghe.

The UNP trio had pointed out that even be­fore the coali­tion was formed, they had pledged to­gether to bring to book those in the pre­vi­ous Ra­japaksa ad­min­is­tra­tion for al­leged bribery and cor­rup­tion. In­stead, they pointed out that their leader and Prime Min­is­ter had be­come the fo­cal point. That, they be­lieved, would give a wrong mes­sage to the coun­try.

Sirisena re­mained non-com­mit­tal over the is­sues raised. He had, how­ever, pointed out that he had given the Com­mis­sion of In­quiry an ex­ten­sion of its term un­til De­cem­ber 8. This was es­sen­tially to write its re­port and hand it over to him. He had learnt that the Com­mis­sion was com­plet­ing its task and more wit­nesses were be­ing called.

Premier Wick­remesinghe de­clared on Oc­to­ber 15 that he was “pre­pared to of­fer clar­i­fi­ca­tions” to the Com­mis­sion. A state­ment from his of­fice said he was will­ing to do this “at any time” in view of the ref­er­ences to him dur­ing the pro­ceed­ings of the Com­mis­sion. Later, he handed in a sworn af­fi­davit to the Com­mis­sion in re­sponse to ques­tions raised. The Com­mis­sion an­nounced in a state­ment there­after that it would is­sue no­tice on him to ap­pear. It is not clear why there is now a change in the stance though un­der­stand­ably the UNP lead­ers fear the po­lit­i­cal reper­cus­sions par­tic­u­larly with the lo­cal polls ahead.

As for high pro­file cases in­volv­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Mahinda Ra­japaksa and mem­bers of his fam­ily, Sirisena replied in Sin­hala “don’t blame me.” He iden­ti­fied a UNP min­is­ter in the Cabi­net by name and said he was re­spon­si­ble for pass­ing in­for­ma­tion to mem­bers of the Ra­japaksa fam­ily on mat­ters re­lat­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tions. This min­is­ter had also al­legedly brought pres­sure on the Po­lice to slow down in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

This is not the first time that Sirisena made that dis­clo­sure. The first oc­ca­sion was at a weekly Cabi­net meet­ing on July 4. He point­edly ac­cused the UNP of stalling in­ves­ti­ga­tions into al­le­ga­tions of bribery, cor­rup­tion and other acts of fraud al­legedly com­mit­ted by for­mer Pres­i­dent Mahinda Ra­japaksa, his fam­ily mem­bers, close as­so­ciates and top of­fi­cials. Sirisena de­clared that if he were given the Po­lice and the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Depart­ment, he would have pro­duced re­sults within three months. Sirisena re­ferred at this min­is­te­rial meet­ing to an in­ci­dent on Jan­uary 9, 2015, just a day after the pres­i­den­tial polls. When the re­sults were de­clared, he said, both the Prime Min­is­ter and Ma­lik Sa­ma­rawick­rema had to­gether ar­ranged for an Air Force he­li­copter for Ra­japaksa and his im­me­di­ate fam­ily to fly to his an­ces­tral south­ern home in Medamu­lana. He then re­ferred to Sa­ma­rawick­rema by name but did not use Wick­remesinghe’s name only re­fer­ring to him as Prime Min­is­ter.

There­after, dur­ing his two-day visit to Qatar last month, the mat­ter sur­faced again as re­ported in the Sun­day Times (Po­lit­i­cal Com­men­tary) on Oc­to­ber 29. The rel­e­vant re­portage said: “….In the Qatari cap­i­tal of Doha, Pres­i­dent Sirisena, on a two-day visit this week, was hav­ing break­fast at the five-star Sher­a­ton Grand. Seated with him were most mem­bers of his en­tourage. Dur­ing an in­for­mal talk, Health Min­is­ter Ra­jitha Se­naratne noted that the sit­u­a­tion would have been quite dif­fer­ent if strong ac­tion was taken on in­ves­ti­ga­tions into high pro­file cases. There would have been no elec­toral threat. Se­naratne, who him­self has bribery charges against him pend­ing, named a min­is­te­rial col­league who had al­legedly been pass­ing over de­tails per­tain­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tions to the Ra­japaksa fam­ily mem­bers. He named a mem­ber of the Ra­japaksa fam­ily with whom the min­is­ter con­cerned was very close and had reg­u­lar con­tacts with.

“The re­marks by Se­naratne in Doha prompted Sirisena to re­call the oc­ca­sion where he raised this is­sue at a meet­ing of the Cabi­net of Min­is­ters. The next morn­ing, the min­is­ter in ques­tion and an­other im­por­tant per­son (he named both dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion) called on him at his of­fi­cial res­i­dence at Paget Road and handed over “two or three” copies of files, he said.

“The files con­tained de­tails of in­ves­ti­ga­tions and the mat­ters re­port­edly pend­ing be­fore the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Depart­ment. There­after, he had been sur­prised when he re­ceived a phone call from a per­son hold­ing high of­fice in a prov­ince. He (the per­son hold­ing high of­fice) had said that a lady mem­ber of the Ra­japaksa fam­ily had spo­ken to him about the files the Pres­i­dent had re­ceived ear­lier that day. He had been asked by the lady why he was rush­ing to pur­sue ac­tion and an ap­peal had been made not to go ahead. Sirisena noted that the files had been given to him at the same time, the in­for­ma­tion had been passed on to the “other side” (anith peththata). He had later queried from the im­por­tant per­son con­cerned how this could hap­pen but there had been only si­lence. Se­naratne also strongly crit­i­cised a very high rank­ing Po­lice of­fi­cer for his tardy role in pur­su­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions……...”

Quite clearly, the role of one UNP cabi­net min­is­ter al­legedly un­do­ing the pub­lic pledges made dur­ing pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, has pitched Sirisena against his coali­tion part­ner, the UNP. Per­haps, un­der­stand­ably in many re­spects. Most cri­ticism is be­ing lev­elled against Sirisena over this. Fore­most is his loss of face within the SLFP that forced him in the re­cent weeks to des­per­ately ini­ti­ate peace moves to bring to­gether the feud­ing fac­tions. He feels if ac­tion was taken on the high pro­file in­ves­ti­ga­tions, this would not have been nec­es­sary. More im­por­tantly, he be­lieves that the se­ri­ous lapses al­legedly caused by the in­flu­en­tial min­is­ter in ques­tion, paved the way for Mahinda Ra­japaksa and some fam­ily mem­bers to make a strong po­lit­i­cal come­back. They had now formed their own po­lit­i­cal party and were form­ing branches at grass­roots level.

Un­ful­filled prom­ises, mount­ing bribery, cor­rup­tion within the Gov­ern­ment and a steep climb in liv­ing costs have all seen a marked shift in pub­lic sup­port for Ra­japaksa. This has been com­pounded by the Gov­ern­ment’s gross in­ef­fi­ciency in main­tain­ing ad­e­quate buf­fer stocks of petrol lead­ing to a mas­sive short­age this week. All this has not been good news for Sirisena who seems boxed in largely due to the al­leged mis­de­meanours of just one UNP min­is­ter. And that has also been the main cause for fric­tion be­tween the UNP and the SLFP.

That Sirisena is still livid was clearly demon­strated when he spoke at the sec­ond an­niver­sary com­mem­o­ra­tion of Ven­er­a­ble Madu­luwawe So­bitha Thera at Apey Gama (Our Vil­lage) at Bat­tara­mulla. The Thera was widely re­garded as a cham­pion of good gov­er­nance and helped in the coali­tion be­tween the two par­ties. Sirisena was a lit­tle late for the event on Thurs­day. Un­ex­pect­edly, Premier Wick­remesinghe, who had prior knowl­edge of what was go­ing to be said by an­other speaker at the event, told Sirisena he was un­able to at­tend. He ex­plained rea­sons in­clud­ing the fact that the in­tended re­marks were to em­bar­rass him, said an SLFP min­is­ter fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sion. He cour­te­ously ex­cused him­self, the min­is­ter said ad­ding that Sirisena took note of the po­si­tion but made no com­ments.

As ex­pected by Wick­remesinghe, the con­venor of the Na­tional Move­ment for So­cial Jus­tice, the body founded by the late prelate, Prof. Sarath Wi­je­sooriya did make some re­marks that re­ferred to the Premier and his min­is­ters. Here are ex­cerpts from what he said: “I pre­pared this speech in ad­vance and was hop­ing to make it be­fore an au­di­ence in which the Prime Min­is­ter was present. Though he is not in the au­di­ence, I hope to go ahead.

“Prime Min­is­ter, you are a vet­eran politi­cian with more than 40 years as a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment. You did not en­gage in pol­i­tics based on com­mu­nal­ism or on re­li­gious dif­fer­ences. We have to honour the sacrifice you made at the Jan­uary 8, 2015 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion (by not be­ing a can­di­date). You have taken a bold step to­wards the formation of a con­sen­sual gov­ern­ment and to go ahead with the Con­sti­tu­tional re­forms. Though a sec­tion of the SLFP crit­i­cises you, the sup­port ex­tended to Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sir­sisena is laud­able. But on be­half of the peo­ple who followed Ven So­bitha Thera, there is some­thing I need to say.

“You men­tioned, prior to the 2015 change, that you will be com­mit­ted to po­lit­i­cal re­forms. It is true you played a key role to­wards that. It is sad to say that you have not been able to win the hearts of the pub­lic about po­lit­i­cal re­forms. Due to ac­tions of cer­tain min­is­ters of your party, there has been mis­trust and fear among the pub­lic. It is an ob­sta­cle for po­lit­i­cal re­forms. Do not take it lightly. It is your duty to dis­pel the mis­trust and fear. The party’s fu­ture will de­pend on your ac­tions. Your po­lit­i­cal fu­ture will de­pend on your ac­tions.

“At times when you had an op­por­tu­nity to be elected to gov­ern the coun­try the peo­ple did not give you a man­date. It may have been robbed from you. It is re­gret­table that you did not iden­tify the rea­sons for that. You have be­come the Prime Min­is­ter, mainly be­cause the law abid­ing cit­i­zens op­posed the Ra­japaksa regime. If not for the change, it should be ac­cepted that you would not have be­come the Prime Min­is­ter. Mahinda Ra­japaksa’s de­struc­tion of democ­racy was the main rea­son. In short, you were made the Prime Min­is­ter be­cause of the dedication of a sec­tion of the pub­lic. Have you un­der­stood this? It seems not.

“Ven So­bitha called for a man­date to vote for a cor­rup­tion free coun­try, to vote to create a coun­try where peo­ple are not killed, to re­cover money which has been il­le­gally ac­quired, for the free­dom to live, to en­sure jus­tice. But what is the sit­u­a­tion today? The per­sons who were ac­cused of cor­rup­tion then are now in turn mak­ing the same al­le­ga­tions. What fate is this? On an anal­y­sis of the Jan­uary 8 rev­o­lu­tion, this sit­u­a­tion is bad for the gov­ern­ment. Those who crit­i­cised the Ra­japaksa Gov­ern­ment had no right to live then. The present Gov­ern­ment is not re­spon­si­ble for killing per­sons, but has failed to en­sure jus­tice for those mur­dered.

“The cam­paign by Ms Sandya Ekneligoda on be­half of her hus­band, the rev­e­la­tions made re­gard­ing rug­gerite Wasim Tha­judeen’s killing, Jour­nal­ist Las­an­tha Wick­re­matunga’s killing, the We­likada prison killings, the killing of youths in Navy cus­tody, the Avant Garde is­sue and the MiG27 deal are among some of the main cases which were high­lighted. They dis­turbed the pub­lic. Most of these cases have been in­ves­ti­gated by the CID and the FCID. For three years we have been await­ing the re­sults. The af­fected par­ties are await­ing jus­tice. The peo­ple are un­happy about the fail­ure to com­plete in­ves­ti­ga­tions and take ac­tion in courts.

“Our un­der­stand­ing is that the Ra­japak­sas are

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Sri Lanka

© PressReader. All rights reserved.