NP fur­ther strained; one min­is­ter d in­form­ing Ra­japak­sas

Pres­i­dent also asks why ac­tion was not taken and says he is ready to quit at any­time Ar­juna, Dham­mika widely blamed for petrol cri­sis; while min­is­ter blames In­dian com­pany, Pres­i­dent and PM ask Modi for oil

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - NEWS -

be­ing pro­tected. It is a crime. Any­one should get a man­date to im­ple­ment the wishes of the masses, but not to take ad­van­tage of the poor or the un­e­d­u­cated. The Ra­japak­sas used wealth to gain power. But that was changed by law abid­ing cit­i­zens at the Jan­uary 8 2015 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. That method­ol­ogy has no op­por­tu­nity again.

Hope was cre­ated among the pub­lic by ex­pe­dit­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tions re­gard­ing the mur­der of Bharatha Lak­shaman and the Sil cloth case. But what is the mes­sage to the pub­lic by the trans­fer of the High Court judge who found guilty those re­spon­si­ble for the Bharatha Lak­shaman killing? Is it through some di­vine power that the Ra­japak­sas can get their cases heard in the se­lected courts? An­other for­mer Min­is­ter charged in a case has said what­ever judge­ment is given, he can re­solve it in a higher court. Al­ready Basil Ra­japaksa’s at­tempt to get per­sons ap­pointed to the Supreme Court ac­cord­ing to his wishes is suc­ceed­ing. Dates for cases are given a year later.

“Doesn’t it show that the law is not be­ing im­ple­mented cor­rectly? Why are the ser­vices of the ef­fi­cient judges not be­ing used? Is it not some­thing sim­i­lar to keep­ing away the ef­fi­cient sur­geons in smaller hos­pi­tals and giv­ing over the se­ri­ous oper­a­tions to lesser qual­i­fied doctors? Go­ing by what is hap­pen­ing is that per­sons charged for cor­rup­tion and fraud are to be freed. Un­der this sit­u­a­tion, the next leader could be a cor­rupt per­son and a mur­derer. If the ju­di­ciary is be­ing mis­used, the sit­u­a­tion should be changed. It is im­por­tant to re­alise that the peo­ple gave a man­date to rule the coun­try, but not to own the coun­try.

“What we re­quire is to have a coun­try which is run ac­cord­ing to the laws, be­fore mak­ing it a Sin­ga­pore. If re­forms are not made in the ju­di­ciary, the same fate that bell the Ra­japak­sas will hit this gov­ern­ment also. Pro­tect­ing close friends and en­rich­ing them should be ended. The masses should be en­riched with knowl­edge. If the two main par­ties which united to work to­gether do not achieve the ob­jec­tives which they planned for, the coun­try will go astray.”

Sirisena who spoke later un­der­scored his own think­ing on the re­cent po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments. Here are rel­e­vant ex­cerpts: “We should be ded­i­cated to so­cial jus­tice and the rule of law among other is­sues. If any­one has com­mit­ted an of­fence, ac­tion should be taken. My ques­tion too is why ac­tion is not taken. The min­is­ters are aware what I have said in the cabi­net.

“In the Gov­ern­ment, a small sec­tion blames me for ap­point­ing the Com­mis­sion of In­quiry to probe the Cen­tral Bank bond is­sue. A small sec­tion is giv­ing a wrong in­ter­pre­ta­tion. A small group in the Gov­ern­ment is on a cam­paign against me on the Face­book and dif­fer­ent web­sites. (Note: The Tele­com Reg­u­la­tory Authority last week blocked the web­site of the Lankae­news which has posted a num­ber of highly crit­i­cal sto­ries on Sirisena). Money is spent to get sto­ries writ­ten in week­end news­pa­pers. Some peo­ple in the Gov­ern­ment spend money to write against me for pub­li­ca­tions over­seas.

“Why is this? This is be­cause I ap­pointed a Com­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate the ques­tion­able bond trans­ac­tions in the Cen­tral Bank. Even if Ven. So­bitha Thera was alive, he will con­cede what I did was cor­rect. What is the ob­jec­tive of com­ing to this place? Why did we change the Gov­ern­ment? Did we come to fill our pock­ets? Did we come to rob? In ap­point­ing the Com­mis­sion I did not tar­get a par­tic­u­lar per­son in the gov­ern­ment or any min­is­ters.

“We are well aware of the sit­u­a­tion when the Com­mis­sion was ap­pointed. The pub­lic had voiced their con­cern. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties had raised con­cern that a se­ri­ous case of cor­rup­tion had taken place in bond is­sues. They called for the ap­point­ment of a Com­mis­sion. Three months after I was sworn in, the bond is­sue took place. It is three months after the Gov­ern­ment was formed this de­struc­tion took place. The per­sons re­spon­si­ble for that (bond is­sue) should also be re­spon­si­ble for this de­struc­tion. I am not greedy for po­si­tions. As I came in, I am wait­ing to leave. I am a per­son who came to leave, not to stay. I need the sup­port to do what I am do­ing in the cor­rect way.

“Many ques­tion why I can­not act when cer­tain is­sues are raised. But it is a con­sen­sual gov­ern­ment. We need to strengthen this con­sen­sus. The pub­lic and even le­gal ex­perts have not ex­pe­ri­enced this type of gov­ern­ment. It is a new ex­pe­ri­ence. The UNP se­lected the SLFP Gen­eral Sec­re­tary as the Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. The two par­ties were at log­ger­heads for 60 to 64 years in the past. I was cho­sen as the ‘com­mon can­di­date’ for the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion with some trust. I should main­tain that trust. If any­one has com­mit­ted any fault it should be con­sid­ered as a fault, no mat­ter whether that per­son is in the gov­ern­ment or the op­po­si­tion………”

After the event, Sirisena told an SLFP min­is­ter who queried him over why he made the re­marks that he had agreed with the views ex­pressed by Prof. Wi­jesuriya. He said he too had been en­ter­tain­ing the same views. Hence he had en­dorsed them when he spoke. How­ever, the UNP lead­ers thought oth­er­wise. A re­mark made by one of their back­bench MPs, Chaminda Wi­je­siri, which was widely pub­li­cised on the front pages of news­pa­pers Fri­day, called upon Sirisena to as­cer­tain who in the Gov­ern­ment had faulted him. They are seek­ing an ap­point­ment with him to clar­ify mat­ters. Sources close to the pres­i­dency said such a meet­ing was not likely since the Pres­i­dent had al­ready raised is­sue over the mat­ter with the Premier. He had al­luded to a meet­ing at a re­sort ho­tel in Tan­galle by a group of UNP MPs. It was ar­ranged by for­mer min­is­ter Ravi Karunanayake. They are re­ported to have lev­elled strong cri­ticism against Sirisena. There­after, at a poorly at­tended UNP par­lia­men­tary group meet­ing the pre­vi­ous week, the Premier warned that there should be no such groups un­der his lead­er­ship. He said the MPs would re­quire prior per­mis­sion if they were to form any cau­cus or at­tend such events.

Ad­ding to the UNP’s dis­con­tent were moves by the SLFP lead­er­ship to make peace with the feud­ing fac­tion. The task had been un­der­taken by Min­is­ter Susil Pre­ma­jayan­tha who had met the lead­ers of the two fac­tions in a bid to nar­row down dif­fer­ences. The di­a­logue con­tin­ues but there are in­creas­ing signs that talks be­tween the two sides may not reach fruition soon. A main rea­son is the divi­sion among the dis­si­dents with one in­flu­en­tial group say­ing they should not sup­port. This notwith­stand­ing, the SLFP ap­pears to have found a way out which, it be­lieves, may re­duce the em­bar­rass­ment in the event of a bad de­feat at the up­com­ing lo­cal coun­cil elec­tions.

It will form a new front and con­test un­der the sym­bol of a chair or be­tel leaf. This was for­mally an­nounced at a news con­fer­ence last Tues­day by SLFP Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Du­minda Dis­sanayake and UPFA Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Mahinda Amaraweera. In­ter­est­ing enough, this an­nounce­ment comes just four days after a de­ci­sion by SLFP MPs and Min­is­ters at a meet­ing chaired by their leader Pres­i­dent Sirisena de­clared that they should all con­test un­der the Free­dom Party ticket. The shift in the de­ci­sion within four days, SLFP lead­ers be­lieve, will ob­vi­ate cri­ticism of an SLFP loss. Fur­ther­more, it is also likely that Sirisena may keep away from the lo­cal polls cam­paign.

It took an­other UNP back­bencher to sum­mon a news con­fer­ence the pre­vi­ous Thurs­day. Speak­ing from Sri Kotha, the UNP head­quar­ters at Kotte, Ku­rune­gala District MP Thushara In­dunil Amerasena said, “Whilst be­ing in this gov­ern­ment, en­joy­ing all the priv­i­leges of it and par­tic­i­pat­ing in Cabi­net meet­ings, Pre­ma­jayan­tha is ‘ex­plod­ing bombs’ at dif­fer­ent times. He said the SAITM de­ci­sion was wrong. He said Wi­mal Weer­awansa’s re­marks that Par­lia­ment should be bombed were mis­in­ter­preted by the Gov­ern­ment. He holds op­pos­ing at­ti­tudes about the Con­sti­tu­tion, too. I have to tell Mr Pre­ma­jayan­tha that please do not do this dirty thing. I ask him to take a clear stand. If he wants to op­pose the gov­ern­ment, he could. If he wants to sup­port, he could. He might have is­sues be­cause his sons are also fac­ing al­le­ga­tions.” Those re­marks made clear the UNP did not want the SLFP to re-unite thus rel­e­gat­ing its role to one less im­por­tant.

These de­vel­op­ments have led to po­lit­i­cal es­trange­ment be­tween the two main coali­tion part­ners, so much so their lead­ers are not mak­ing pub­lic speeches on de­vel­op­ment ac­tiv­ity or pub­lic needs. They have ex­tended to other is­sues. Premier Wick­remesinghe told the 25th an­niver­sary Teach­ers Day cel­e­bra­tion of Catholic Schools at the St Joseph’s Col­lege au­di­to­rium on Novem­ber 4 that “Pres­i­dent Pre­madasa was ed­u­cated at St Joseph’s, Col­lege Colombo. He told me that if he had not stud­ied at this school, it would have been dif­fi­cult for him to be­come the Pres­i­dent. Since I worked with him, I know that, as like in Sin­hala, he could pre­pare let­ters in English as well. He was able to cor­rect the let­ters brought to him by of­fi­cials. He used to point gram­mat­i­cal er­rors as well as mis­takes in the use of words. He said that it is be­cause of this school he got that abil­ity. He en­tered pol­i­tics from St Joseph’s. There are many oth­ers who de­vel­oped in a sim­i­lar man­ner….”

Pres­i­dent Sirisena who de­clared open a Divi­sional Sec­re­tary’s of­fice at Ela­hera (Matale District) the pre­vi­ous Satur­day said, “If the pres­i­dent steals, oth­ers below him also steal. When the Min­is­ter steals, oth­ers below him do the same thing. That flows to the bot­tom. Even the Pro­vin­cial Coun­cils and Pradeshiya Sabha Mem­bers and of­fi­cials do the same thing. There­fore fraud, cor­rup­tion, theft and wastage are not eth­i­cal for politi­cians. They are un­eth­i­cal things. They should not be done. It is only then a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign strength­ens, the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the coun­try strength­ens and one can work with pu­rity.”

It is amidst this hag­gling that the Cabi­net of Min­is­ters met for their weekly ses­sion last Tues­day. The sub­ject of dis­cus­sion after the reg­u­lar busi­ness on the agenda ended was about the coun­try­wide short­age of petrol. De­tails of the pub­lic suf­fer­ing ap­pear elsewhere in this news­pa­per. Pe­tro­leum Min­is­ter Ar­juna Ranatunga, who to­gether with his brother Dham­mika, who pre­side over mat­ters re­lat­ing to the coun­try’s pe­tro­leum dis­tri­bu­tion, were in the spot­light. Min­is­ters crit­i­cised Ranatunga after they learnt that the main cause for the worst em­bar­rass­ment for the Gov­ern­ment was their in­abil­ity to en­sure ad­e­quate buf­fer stocks.

Ranatunga had ear­lier blamed the short­age on the LankaIn­dia Oil Com­pany (LIOC). His ar­gu­ments were coun­tered by two pre­vi­ous pe­tro­leum min­is­ters, Chandima Weer­akkody and Anura Priyadar­shana Yapa. Both said there were no short­ages dur­ing their ten­ure. It was the lat­ter who sug­gested that Pres­i­dent Sirisena speak to In­dian Premier Naren­dra Modi and ask for help. He even named a com­pany from which such help could be ob­tained. After the meet­ing ended, Sirisena went to his up­stairs of­fice at the Pres­i­den­tial Sec­re­tar­iat for a meet­ing with In­dia’s Deputy High Com­mis­sioner Arindam Bagchi. High Com­mis­sioner Taran­jit Singh Sandhu was away in New Delhi. Premier Wick­remesinghe got in touch with him on the phone in New Delhi. `

To Bagchi, Sirisena con­veyed his wish to speak with Premier Modi to make a fer­vent ap­peal for very ur­gent sup­ply of petrol. Ironic enough, here is the head of state of Sri Lanka ap­peal­ing for help from his coun­ter­part in In­dia whilst his Pe­tro­leum Min­is­ter is wrongly blam­ing an In­dian com­pany for caus­ing a na­tion­wide petrol short­age. It is no se­cret that the re­marks have ruf­fled feath­ers in In­dian Gov­ern­ment cir­cles in New Delhi. Ques­tions have been raised whether the Min­is­ter’s re­marks were those of the Gov­ern­ment. There were un­con­firmed re­ports that In­dia may seek clar­i­fi­ca­tion over the is­sue. An­other Ranatunga re­mark that came as in­sult to the in­tel­li­gence of Sri Lankans was his ap­peal for con­sumers to economise on the use of petrol. At least to him, it seemed petrol was a com­mod­ity of lux­ury. It was Pres­i­dent Sirisena who asked him to ten­der a pub­lic apol­ogy for the short­age.

Min­is­ters at their weekly meet­ing also de­cided to ap­point a Cabi­net Sub­com­mit­tee to probe how the petrol short­age oc­curred. It is chaired by Sarath Amunugama and in­cludes Anura Priyadar­shana Yapa, Patali Champika Ranawaka and Ar­juna Ranatunga. On Wed­nes­day, the Com­mit­tee in­ter­viewed top of­fi­cials of the Cey­lon Pe­tro­leum Corporation. They are ex­pected to re­port their find­ings at next Tues­day’s min­is­te­rial meet­ing. Yet, in a na­tion which has a record of not deal­ing with those for wrong do­ings that hurt peo­ple’s lives, whether there would be de­ter­rent pun­ish­ment is un­likely. Like in the case of the Meetho­ta­mulla garbage dump that killed 23 peo­ple, it will go into a limbo of for­got­ten things.

As the min­is­te­rial sub­com­mit­tee con­tin­ued the probe, de­tails emerg­ing present a clear pic­ture. It has also bared some un­usual co-in­ci­dences such as a power fail­ure at the Oil Re­fin­ery at Sa­pu­gaskanda. That meant a fur­ther 500 met­ric tonnes more per day were re­quired for the mar­ket. The LIOC had pur­chased a stock of around 36,000 met­ric tonnes of petrol (92/95) from To­tal (TO­TAL) Trad­ing Asia (Pvt.). It had ar­rived in Colombo on Oc­to­ber 17 and was due for dis­charge in the ports of Colombo and Trin­co­ma­lee.

Both the Cey­lon Pe­tro­leum Corporation (CPC) and the Cey­lon Pe­tro­leum Stor­age Ter­mi­nals Ltd. (CPSTL) had car­ried out qual­ity test­ing. They had dis­cov­ered that the stock was found meet­ing chem­i­cal prop­er­ties of petrol spec­i­fi­ca­tion but con­tained some vis­i­ble par­ti­cles. Hence, the two or­gan­i­sa­tions had re­fused to ac­cept the stock. LIOC had then asked the sup­plier (TO­TAL) to re­place the stock.

Whilst this was go­ing on, a stock due to the Cey­lon

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