By Shamindra Ferdinando (Island)
President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday alleged that a well-funded political project to destabilise the ruling coalition was underway. The coalition leaders claimed that a despicable attempt was being made to cause a major rift between the Sinhalese and Muslim communities to plunge the country into chaos.
President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe were addressing a meeting held at Committee Room ‘A’ of the BMICH to mark the 30th anniversary of Ravaya.
PM Wickremesinghe explained the continuing threat posed by those among Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil communities propagating extremist views. The UNP leader alleged that an influential section of the media had been backing the destabiliasation project. The Premier castigated the media for exploiting and influencing situations to undermine the government and in the case of print media to increase sales of their newspapers. The PM cited the recent reportage of the incidents at the Presidential Secretariat premises as an example of the media deceiving the public. The social media, too, had been used for the same purpose.
At the beginning of the meeting Ravaya urged leaders of the SLFP, UNP, TNA, JVP and SLMC to discuss ways and means of sustaining good governance policies. Its founding Editor Victor Ivan told the government and those who had worked for the regime that they had to go a long way before achieving the cherished political objectives. Ivan castigating the judiciary, pointed out that the establishment of Independent Commissions under the 19th Amendment and appointment of a new CJ wouldn’t change the corrupt system overnight.
PM Wickremesinghe emphasised the pivotal importance of their commitment to the yahapalana policies. Acknowledging that the coalition hadn’t been able to achieve all its objectives and was slow in achieving them, the Premier said that threats remained. Admitting that there could be differences among those who toiled for the regime change in January 2015, he urged them not to make an issue over the pace at which objectives were achieved.
Both President Maithripala Sirisena and the Prime Minister responded to JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who lashed out at the government over waste, corruption and its pathetic failure to deal swiftly and decisively with the previous government.
Alleging that the government had failed to meet the aspirations of those who had voted the Rajapaksas out of office, MP Dissanayake said that massive spending of public funds on politicians couldn’t be condoned under any circumstances. Turning towards President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe, Dissanayake alleged that the cash-strapped government was planning to spend approximately 2,436 mn to hire luxury vehicles for 58 MPs. “How could this be compatible with yahapalana promises?” the JVPer asked. Dissanayake pointed out that the taxpayer had to pay approximately Rs. 700,000 for a month for each MP and at the end of the term, the vehicles would have to be returned to the company which owned them.
The JVP leader said that duty free vehicle permits issued to members of parliament too had been sold.
Dissanayake also attacked controversial agreement between the Agriculture Ministry and a businessman under which a building had been hired for a staggering monthly rent. Though several hundred million rupees had been paid in advance as rent for a year the Ministry had not yet moved into the building, the JVP leader said.
MP Dissanayake also severely criticised the appointment of ministers, State Ministers and Deputy Ministers contrary to the 19 Amendment to the Constitution which restricted the number of ministers and deputies to 30 and 40, respectively.
In spite of the change of government, those who had been in power remained very powerful and were still challenging the current administration, the MP said. The JVPer alleged that there had been a cloud over the judiciary, too, and cited several cases to justify his assertion that an influential section of the judiciary had been cooperating with those who had previously governed the country.
Dissanayake said that they couldn’t be defeated easily and the powerful grouping included a few hundred military personnel, police, public servants, politicians, the media as well as the underworld.
While declaring that he hadn’t sold duty free vehicle permits received by him, Premier Wickremesinghe stressed that the difficulties experienced by members, too, should be taken into consideration.
Responding to the JVPer, President Sirisena explained the circumstances under which the promise to restrict the number of ministers to 30 couldn’t be kept. “Had there been a possibility to appoint 30 ministers in the wake of Aug 2015 parliamentary polls, I would have certainly done that,” President Sirisena said. “But political realities and the ground situation compelled the government to go for a larger Cabinet.” The SLFP leader strongly defended his decision to accommodate defeated SLFP candidates through the National List as he needed a group of loyal members. The President alleged that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had campaigned hard to ensure their defeat and there had arise the need to bring them in through the National List.
President Sirisena censured a section of the state-owned media for failing in their responsibility.
President Sirisena vowed that he had the strength and courage to overcome challenges and ensure continuation of yahapalana policies. Commenting on the weekly Ravaya reportage, President Sirisena said that he sometimes felt the urge to inquire from Ravaya whether the newspaper considered him as the common enemy and whether they believed nothing had happened since the January 2015 revolution.