Reshuffling: Only short term survival

  • All the Chinese projects, the Rajapaksas brought and the “Yahapalanaya” promised to close down, are back on track with harsher conditions
  • This Cabinet reshuffle will thus leave reconciliation and transitional justice in limbo
  • Public statements have blown off in the wind with Sinhala Buddhist extremism

Kusal Perera (Daily Mirror)

“As Finance Minister I reduced waste and corruption and earned more money for the Treasury,” said outgoing Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake to BBC Sinhala service “Sandeshaya” the day after the much announced and much delayed, Monday’s Cabinet reshuffle.

“It is sad to note that some Ministers, who are involved in corruption, still remain in the Cabinet though they should be removed from it”. UPFA General Secretary and Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, whose bonding with the President was further enhanced with the State Minister’s portfolio for Mahaweli was quoted by the DM Online, on Monday morning.

That was the day of the reshuffle.

One thing is certain. Despite Ravi Karunanayake’s claim he reduced waste and corruption, there are intolerably corrupt Ministers in this “Yahapalana” Government, with allegations also being levelled against him.

It is also clear the reshuffle has not been about cleaning up the Cabinet and the Government.

It is proved beyond doubt with a likely irrational assignment of subjects to Ministries. New Foreign Minister Karunanayake is speculated to be given Lotteries, Mahapola Scholarship Fund, Sri Lankan Airlines, Plantation Sector Institutes and possibly the SEC too. Land Minister Karunathilaka making amends for losing the Media Ministry wants Film Corporation and Govt. Printing Press under him.

There isn’t any logic, or rationale in these asking and giving in a Cabinet reshuffle, and the Gazette is delayed.

All of it negates the President’s statement that the Cabinet reshuffle was to further accelerate growth and development of the country. Even an illiterate would not accept that this assignment of subjects to Ministries can deliver anything other than more waste and corruption.

In 2008, calculation on running a Ministry excluding its rent was LKR 60 million a month at minimum from public funds.

The Rupee is far more devalued almost 10 years after and today, on a very conservative projection, that sum could be around LKR 80 million a month. With 47 Cabinet Ministers after the reshuffle, we would thus have to stomach a staggering LKR 3,760 million a month, not calculating the cost of maintaining Deputies and State Ministers.

It’s not for the benefit of the majority. It’s not for the benefit of the Tamil and Muslim people either. It is just reshuffling chaos for a Government without a vision

But that alone is not what this Cabinet reshuffle means to people. It means this reshuffle is not about getting the economy right and is not about creating space for de-polarising of society for reconciliation; the two major issues the country needs to correct course on.

Wickremesinghe led economic model on an accelerated free market economy has only two giant pillars to stand on. One is giving every possible tax concession, duty waivers and everything else to entice prospective investors for export manufacture. Those over the past 40 years, has not meant anything to the rural and urban poor despite what economists talk in terms of numbers.

The other is about selling anything saleable including culture and Archaeology. Thus the compromise between President and PM was in swapping portfolios between FM Ravi Karunanayake and FM Mangala Samaraweera.

Therefore all that the PM needs in terms of economics will be brought under the new FM Karunanayake and may be with an amendment to make the portfolio look more decent. That again is the Rajapaksa way. The UDA and the Coast Conversation Department (CCD) were brought under the Defence Ministry and was termed “Defence and Urban Development” Ministry for Gothabaya to run the show as the Secretary. Thus in terms of the economy, this reshuffle would mean nothing more than plunder and looting.

While there is a proposal to establish under the Foreign Ministry an Economic Council for foreign investments and with a separate financial allocation too, a recent interest shown by an Indian media colleague, was to know how much the Tatas have invested in the plantation sector in Sri Lanka. Most plantation sector institutes are to be Gazetted under the Foreign Ministry.

All the Chinese projects, the Rajapaksas brought and the “Yahapalanaya” promised to close down, are back on track with harsher conditions.

Topping up are Cabinet Papers given approval, the Cabinet Spokesmen don’t talk about and the media have not been able to keep pace with.

The Cabinet reshuffle means nothing to the minorities. The patronage the Sinhala Buddhist extremists would continue to have, after the Cabinet reshuffle, would also compel the President and the SLFP bloc in Government to bring pressure against power sharing in the draft Constitution.

Tourism seem one easy term for most corrupt projects. A Cabinet memorandum titled “Developing a Cultural Hub of South Asia” by the National Policies and Economic Affairs Minister was presented to Cabinet dated 27 March, 2017 for what had been already established in January 2017, housed at Visumpaya.

The Cabinet Paper says, “….In this context, it is desirable to enter into a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with the CCHT to develop a Cultural Hub of South Asia in Colombo.” (Page 02)

This Cabinet Paper sought Rs. 43,200,000 for rent and administrative cost for three years.
Yet, the Cabinet Paper does not give any details about the CCHT (Colombo Cultural Hub Trust). Who owns this “Trust” that has to be privately owned for the Cabinet Paper to propose a PPP with it? It is after this Cabinet Paper, much is speculated about the entire Museum, Art Gallery and John de Silva land expanse being identified for a long term lease to a big time businessman. The Cabinet Paper does give space for such speculation when it says, “Colombo is already the focal point for artistic and cultural events given the infrastructure of performing art theatres, art galleries and conference venues…..” All of it to develop a tourist segment the Cabinet Paper says is only 0.01 per cent (cultural & religious purpose) of tourist arrivals.

There is also speculation that some of the most premium ancient buildings with the Postal Department in Kandy, Galle and Nuwara Eliya will be sold out. The Joint Postal Trade Union had warned they would oppose any such “deal”.

There are also issues related to other archaeological sites in the East that go beyond the long standing dual for Digavapiya between Muslims and Buddhist monks. Minister Rauff Hakeem brought this to the notice of the House, requesting a Parliamentary Select Committee to discuss issues relating to archaeological sites across the country.

Nothing of any of those will be destined to change with this Cabinet reshuffle. That was not the intention of this Cabinet reshuffle. What was intended by President Sirisena was to steam off pressure the SLFP bloc with him kept increasing. Since the Galle Face May Day Rajapaksa feat, pressure was building up for some compromise with the Rajapaksas. With Chandrika Kumaratunga backing President Sirisena, this pressure had to be steamed off instead, with an apparent strengthening of the SLFP image within the government. That gave President Sirisena the opportunity to shift Mangala Samaraweera from the Foreign Ministry as well.

President Sirisena was often disturbed with Samaraweera’s peddling of the OISL Resolution 30/1 and promises he makes to deliver on what was co-sponsored on war crimes and accou ntability issues. Karunanayake now as Foreign Minister, who had a Buddhist monk at the ministry to tie a “pirithnoola” before he assumed office and never forgets to project a Sinhala Buddhist façade for his electoral politics, is now a better fit for President Sirisena’s Sinhala run against Rajapaksa.

This Cabinet reshuffle will thus leave reconciliation and transitional justice in limbo despite PM Wickremesinghe’s and Law and Order Minister’s recent statements in support of national unity and peace. In fact they were compelled to make their position public against accelerated anti Muslim violence recording around two dozen incidents during the past three months.

Fact is, their public statements have blown off in the wind with Sinhala Buddhist extremism given patronage by other ministers and the President. The President is reported to have said “no” to his Muslim Ministers in cabinet, when asked for time to discuss the escalating violence against Muslim mosques, businesses and property, as he was busy with the Cabinet reshuffle and other work before leaving to Australia. An unmistaken indication as to where his priorities are when minority issues are thrust on him.

With that, the Law and Order Minister has not been able to direct the IGP to arrest the hate mongering monk Gnanasara to date though everything the law needs to arrest such violent hate campaigners are being played out in the open. What fate for the Muslim community who voted Maithripala Sirisena to power as President, defeating Rajapaksa? Where would they now turn to, for consolation, if not for safety and security?

The Cabinet reshuffle means nothing to the minorities. To the Tamil and the Muslim people. The patronage the Sinhala Buddhist extremists would continue to have, after the Cabinet reshuffle, would also compel the President and the SLFP bloc in Government to bring pressure against power sharing in the draft Constitution.

They will make every effort to have two thirds in parliament for a new draft Constitution that would first satisfy the Sinhala Constituency, even if it is not for the satisfaction of the Tamil voter.

That then is what the Cabinet reshuffle is. It’s not for the benefit of the majority. It’s not for the benefit of the Tamil and Muslim people either. It’s just reshuffling chaos for a Government without a vision and a programme, to tide over another day.

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