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
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