Well, as they say, better late than never. Especially when one realises that one’s 5 year tenure on the nation’s throne has reached the half way mark, giving rise to a mid life crisis as the leaves of one’s popularity start to fall with the coming of Autumn. Last week’s President Sirisena’s cabinet outburst against [...]


Cold feet as Sirisena’s hot seat starts to heat, rattle and rumble


Well, as they say, better late than never. Especially when one realises that one’s 5 year tenure on the nation’s throne has reached the half way mark, giving rise to a mid life crisis as the leaves of one’s popularity start to fall with the coming of Autumn.

Last week’s President Sirisena’s cabinet outburst against his coalition partner the UNP had all the markings of regret of a misspent presidential spring and summer. But with all due kindness to him, his presidential birth had not been a natural one: not one born with the silver spoon of a united front but one laboured with the dubious assistance of many mid wives, some of whose motives were, and still are, suspect.

Yet, in that downcast hour, it contained all the promise of a great future. Both for him and his countrymen. Alas, down the line, the rainbow that appeared after the auspicious drizzle, vanished without trace and, today, the best laid plans of the new born king seem to lie disposed by the ring of foes who await to hear the death knell rung.

Unlike a Turk who never keeps a brother near the throne, Sirisena perforce had to keep a whole host of new found friends near his to protect him from getting stabbed in the back by his own kin. It was inevitable that the day would dawn when those who had supplied the props to keep his seat safe and steady would conspire to pull the scarlet rug under his feet and aspire to occupy the throne alone.
Last Wednesday’s cabinet meeting witnessed the president coming out of his silent shell and give vent to his ire at the UNP sitting, like Mother Goose, on surrogate corruption eggs, and not gander in earnest to crack them open and cook the Rajapaksa regime’s goose in the mega fat of their sleaze in open court.

PRESIDENT: My life at risk

This time the President didn’t pull his punches. And, perhaps, for the first time in the coalition government’s shaky existence, unleashed a no holds barred attack on his partner in government and expressed that he didn’t care if his message to the cabinet was leaked to the media and made public. In no uncertain terms, he told his prime minister and his UNP cabinet ministers that two UNP members of his cabinet had cut deals with the Rajapaksas to soft pedal the crackdown on the regime’s corruption and water it down so much that even when the corruption whip had to be lashed it would fall lightly on them.

A visibly angry president had said that it was only persons who have been identified with him who were being dealt with. One was State Minister A.H. M. Fowzie for misusing a vehicle donated by a foreign government for tsunami related work. The other was former Aviation Minister Priyankara Jayaratne who has been accused of providing a job in his Ministry to his own daughter. “These, “the President said, “were the “small” cases they were going after. But the mega corruption cases were at a standstill. ”

Then Sirisena made so bold as to declare, “that if he was given the FCID and the AG’s department, he would bring to book all the mega culprits within three months of taking office. “

And then came the heart rending tear jerker. Maithripala Sirisena looked at the UNP faces around him at the cabinet table and said: “If the Rajapaksas were to come back again, you all in the UNP will be safe. Nothing will happen to the prime minister too. But for me and my family there will be no such safety. We will be hounded to the end.”

One can understand the president’s predicament. Nay, sympathize with his precarious position. If the monk Sobitha was the architect and former President Chandrika the engineer of his ascent to the presidential pinnacle, he himself was to be the master of his fate who held in his hands the choice: whether to be the draftsman of his political fortunes or the digger of his political grave.

When he accepted the invitation to become the joint opposition candidate and leave the SLFP in which he had been the longest serving general secretary, he lay his neck on the rail track knowing full well that the Rajapaksa express was hurtling toward him with its carriages two thirds full with sitting MPs. But fortune favours the brave and providence which is found in the fall of a sparrow and in the flight of an eagle manifested itself in over six million people to stop the Mihidu train in its tracks at the eleventh hour station.

Sirisena’s neck is still on the line and the wheels of the Rajapaksa locomotive has started to roll again. The worry is whether this time fortune will scoff the weak and nerdy who procrastinate to take their future into their hands and be the choreographer of their fate? Whether through inaction surrender their destiny to others to work their will? Words alone can never be an alternative to action.

PRIME MINISTER: He’ll be okay says Sirisena

True that due to the extraordinary factors that surrounded his presidential conception, Sirisena’s presidential birth had not been an easy one. He was born to become the prisoner of his own presidency. And, for political expediency, has shown a remarkable predilection to remain one. Perhaps he had no choice. Force of circumstances had, no doubt, manacled Sirisena to the UNP cross of iron and compelled him to walk the Calvary on his own to redeem the nation from the original Rajapaksa sin of corruption.

But before the nation’s redeemer is crucified with two rogues on either side even as Jesus was, perhaps the hour has dawned for Sirisena to not only cast glances at those who had sold Yahapalanaya down the river for thirty silvers but to take matters into his own hands not for his sake alone but for the nation’s sake, for the people who voted him to office solely on his promise to bring those responsible for mega corruption to justice. Not to throw in prison a father who gave his young daughter a job in his own ministry but those who ravished Lanka’s coffers and left it bare. It’s time for him to cry: Open Sesame to Ali Baba’s den of thieves and render unto the public the public’s wealth.

One can understand his frustrations in being chained to another’s agenda. One can smypathise with his fears for his own life and the lives of his wife and three children should the Rajapaksa spectre come to haunt the land again, and take residence in his household. One can even share with him his anguish that he has been unable to keep his promise to bring the mega corrupt to justice which was the cornerstone of his manifesto. But one cannot call for a round of applause when he passes the buck to the UNP side of the cabinet table and says that “if I was given the FCID and the AG’s department, I would have cracked down on the mega corrupt and brought them to justice within three months.”
After all he is the executive president of this country, armed with more than enough powers. No one can bestow upon him either the FCID or the AG’s Department. On the contrary it is he who ordains upon his supreme authority such posts on other lesser mortals and invests in them the power to discharge their duties. Even the post of prime minister is dependent upon his belief that the person so chosen holds the confidence of the majority in the House of Parliament.
Under the 19th Amendment the president

  • Shall determine the number of ministers in his cabinet. He needs to consult the prime minister only if he considers such consultation is necessary. (Article 43 (1) )
  • Can appoint ministers but he can only do so on the advice of the prime minister. (Article 43 (2))
  • Can assign the subjects and functions of such ministers on his own. He can consult the prime minister but only if he deems it necessary. (Article 44 (2) )
  • Can change the composition of the cabinet on his own. He can thus reshuffle the pack of his ministers appointed on the advice of the prime minister as he chooses without reference to the prime minister (Article 43 (3) ) It is only if he wishes to bring in a new member to the cabinet already not a cabinet minister that he has to act on the prime minister’s advice. (Article 44 (1) )

Thus it is clear that President Sirisena – who declared last week that if the FCID and the AG’s Department were under his belt he would have brought to book the mega corrupt to justice within three months – is empowered with constitutional authority to assign to himself both the FCID now under Minister of Law and Order Sagala Ratnayake and the Attorney General’s Department presently under the Minister of Justice Wijayadasa Rajapakshe if he so wishes without heeding the advice of the UNP Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. The question, however, is whether, in practical terms, Maithripala can do it without Ranil’s blessings?

On January 8th 2015, it was the UNP who had given the voter ammo to help Sirisena find his place in the sun. Adversity had brought both Maithripala and Ranil together in Lanka’s darkest hour and had made them both jump onto the same bed to consummate a marriage of convenience which all held, including the newly betrothed couple, would not last for long. In fact, the strange bedfellows’ own prenuptial agreement did not give it more than two years.

But if Ranil was showing signs of infidelity, Sirisena was to soon discover that his political presidential light was ever under threat of being eclipsed by the fury of one whom he had scorned after a romantic candle lit hopper dinner. Even though the nuptial agreement was extended for a further two years, it became increasingly clear it wouldn’t survive the vicissitudes of politics.

For the last two years Sirisena had to perforce tolerate the vagaries of wedlock. With a fair weather mate as his consort and his own family divided and out, with knives ready, for his scalp, Sirisena found himself in the excruciating position of an arecanut caught between the twin blades of a nut cracker.
But now after having crossed the midway mark in the river of his presidency, it seems he has realised that he has no option left but to jettison the jetsam to reach the safety of the bank and there receive spectator applause and approval to do another five year lap – this time alone – even though he promised the nation at his inauguration at Independence Square on January 9th 2015 that one lap was all he needed to keep his promises .
Of the two promises he made, constitutional changes and corruption crackdown, the constitutional issue belongs to the realm of the intellect while the corruption scandal finds habour in the belly and gut of the constituents. The intricacies of constitutional reform, its interpretations and its effects are the reserved province of Colombo’s highbrow circles and beyond the comprehension of the majority. But the concept of crime and punishment which lie at the base for the corruption crackdown is readily understood by all and familiar even as the game ‘hora police’ is familiar to all Lankans.
He himself has realised — and admitted last week — that he has miserably failed to harpoon Moby Dick and his shoal, skillfully schooled in the fine art of how to feed ravenously on the resources and wealth of Lanka’s sea of opportunity.

Now that the die is cast and cast by himself, and Sirisena has thought fit to even risk a possible parting of the ways with his coalition partner — the strange bedfellow that adversity dropped on the then hard mattress and who now wishes to usurp it with designs to claim it whole — perhaps the time has come not to procrastinate on the corruption scandal but to assume for himself both the FCID and the AG’s department, the two vital arms of the war against corruption, and make good on his boast that he can lasso the mega corrupt and cart them to the bar of justice within three months.
If he vacillates any more, if he fails to call the UNP bluff for a divorce, and fails to stand and deliver on his promise to the nation that the corrupt will be brought to justice which made 6,217,152 people repose their faith in him and vote for him to become president, he will find his neck on the block. And have only himself to blame when the masses come in their tumbrels to witness the scene when the Rajapaksa train is not stopped at the station by people power but steams ahead relentless towards its own El Dorado.

Wijayadasa stays mum whilst Sagala tries the cap for sizePresident charges two UNP ministers of scuttling corruption crackdownWhen President Sirisena looked the UNP in the eye and point blank stated that there were two UNP Ministers in his cabinet who had endeavored to scuttle his promise to the nation to bring the mega corrupt in the Rajapaksa regime to justice, no one around that high table would have been left bewildered as to exactly whom he was referring. Especially when he mentioned that had he been given the Attorney General’s Department and the Financial Crime Investigative Department, the Rajapaksas’ would have been history within three months.

RAJAPAKSHE: Deals no card

In his cabinet blast last week he said that he was extremely uneasy about alleged backroom dealings between two members of the UNP-led government and key figures of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration and that he was aware of those who have cut deals to either delay or scuttle some of the ongoing investigations.

RATNAYAKE: Offers to resign

The Minister of Justice Wijayadasa Rajapakshe under whose purview the Attorney General’s Department falls, opted to stay mum, in the self same manner he had remained lips zipped when he had defended the roles of all those involved in the Avant Guarde affair including its Chairman Nissanka Senadhipathi both in Parliament and elsewhere and had even taken the credit for preventing the arrest of Gotabaya Rajapaksa during the ongoing Avant Guarde investigations, without revealing his personal link to Senadhipathi and his family. And kept secret, until Sarath Fonseka revealed it with photographic evidence in December 2015, how Wijayadasa and his wife and children had enjoyed in 2007 the arms dealer’s hospitality in Los Angeles which included the Disneyland and MGM Studios tour, the all American packaged pilgrimage plus being chauffeured down LA streets in a stretched limousine with Senadhipathi as his backseat travelling partner.

The FCID comes under the Minister of Law and Order, Sagala Ratnayake. After the president’s outburst he tried the cap for size and found it an exact fit. Last Thursday he said that he will resign if that was the president’s wish. In his statement he said: “The government expected those law enforcement agencies to function independently. If the work of such organisations requires review, I am prepared to put in place a better mechanism for it.”

Whilst he made these statement perhaps the people were wondering as to whom the Police chief was speaking on his cell phone in public unaware that the television cameras were still rolling and that the microphones were still on, and reassuring the mystery caller at the other end of the line that a certain Matara Nilame would not be arrested without informing ‘sir’ beforehand?

Both the FCID and AG’s Department are the main arms of Sirisena’s promised corruption crackdown. In them reside the arbitrary powers to act or delay. And both these two agencies lie in the hands of the UNP. The FCID can be influenced to drag its feet in its investigations and the AG’s Department can be persuaded perhaps to twiddle their thumbs and find perfect legal excuses to delay filing indictments simply on the basis ‘not enough evidence that will stand up in court’ which none can question.
Can you blame the president if he appears paranoid?

AKILA: Culture on hold

Govt stirs wasp nest  at Dambulla Temple

Do Government ministers have a death wish? A perverse masochistic delight in precipitating their own downfall and a sadistic bent in ensuring that the government as a whole falls as well? That they pay no heed to the folly of rushing in where even angels dare not tread? Have they no fear in throwing stone after stone at wasps’ nests? Not to steal its honeycomb but to invite its stinging wrath? Do they savour getting needlessly stung? Even if it means it will lead to condemnation in the eyes of the Lankan public?

This week saw the government waging another battle against the windmills and realising not only its futility but also the prospect of getting its head decapitated by the whirl of the wind blade.

No less a personage than the Education Minister Akila Kariyawasam rode, like a modern day Don Quixote saddled upon his horse Rocinante with the faithful valet Sancho in the collective form of an Archeological Committee walking on foot to the rock caves of Dambulla to unsheathe their swords and order it be to closed down indefinitely merely because UNESCO had threatened to remove the Dambulla Caves from World heritage status if conservation work was not done immediately.

But is this necessary and is this politically wise? Will it not only serve to raise a wasp nest of Buddhist protest and leave the Government horribly stung beyond redemption?

Perhaps Education Minister Akila Kariyawasam should have spent more time studying the Dambulla dossier before he gave the green light to his officials to announce on Monday to place a blanket indefinite ban on the Dambulla Caves and its temple which had existed for over two thousand years.
He should have considered the following:

  • Cannot the restoration work be done cave by cave — for there are three caves and in the main cave, cannot it be done section by section – instead of closing down the whole complex?
  • Why does it have to be closed indefinitely and left to a ministerial decision to decide if and when it is to be opened again for public viewing and worship? Has the government minister the power to deny freedom of worship as guaranteed by the constitution on the basis of conservation?
  • Was the Kelaniya temple closed down indefinitely and the public banned from paying homage to the Buddha when Soliya Mendis was painting his murals for nineteen years? Or, come to that, was the Sistine Chapel indefinitely closed and the Pope debarred from prayer in his private church at the Vatican whilst Michelangelo spent four years painting his masterpieces on the chapel’s ceiling?

On Wednesday the Prime Minister stepped into the wasp storm and said that if the chief monk of the Dambulla Temple which comes under the overlord ship of the Asgiriya Chapter was agreeable to forfeiting Dambulla temple’s UNESCO’s World Heritage status due to a reluctance to effect restoration work, then it was not an issue.

He said: “It is essential to conserve the Dambulla Rajamaha Viharaya also known as the Cave Temple Complex if the historic site is to retain its world heritage status. The Government is prepared to stop the conservation work if the Maha Nayake Theras want it stopped. However, it is up to the Maha Nayake to decide the fate of this historical site. It is unfortunate if the Cave Temple Complex is to lose this status.”

So what if UNESCO denies Dambulla its heritage status? Would it mean that tourists will not visit the art filled rock caves of a thousand Buddhas or that Lankan Buddhists will cease paying worship at this ancient temple without UNESCO’s tag of approval? Does UNESCO contribute financially to the conservation of their heritage sites or it is merely a badge of honour to flaunt at ancient historic sites? If finances are indeed needed – even if it means a billion bucks from the public coffers to restore the ancient Dambulla caves – do you think the public will grudge one cent of their contribution to conserve Lanka’s heritage dedicated to the Buddha when without the people’s consent the Government do not stint in dishing out over 4 billion bucks to enable MPs to buy luxury vehicles duty free and make a quick killing by selling them overnight at a profit of over Rs 30 million each? Just for a one day stay at Hotel Diyawanna?

But on Friday, it was a case of All’s Well That Ends Well”. A meeting took place in Kandy between the Dambulla chief monk and the Buddhist Commissioner and education ministry officials and it was resolved that the ongoing restoration work – which had been ongoing even before the crisis blew – will continue to go on and will not necessitate any closure of the Temple for even a day?

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, why government ministers should go with their catapults to fling stones at sleeping wasp nests?
Perhaps it is because they do not realise the damage it will cause to the Maithripala- Ranil government to be castigated as Buddhism’s iconoclasts – especially when there is a raging controversy promoted by the joint opposition that the government is hell bent on demoting, in the new proposed constitution, the foremost place given to Buddhism in the present one -and the danger of being labeled as the government that closes down Buddhist shrines of worship and art .

All’s well that ends well indeed, but more like much ado about nothing. Except that the whole episode has only served to leave a big black blotch on the government’s face.

Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.