Just when you thought it was safe to return to the water again and that the Lankan sea was calm again after 54 days of tossing and turning in turmoil, think again and brace yourself to what’s in store. New political tsunamis are afoot to lash the shore once more accompanied by economic earthquakes, and [...]


Lanka’s Year of the Pickle


Just when you thought it was safe to return to the water again and that the Lankan sea was calm again after 54 days of tossing and turning in turmoil, think again and brace yourself to what’s in store. New political tsunamis are afoot to lash the shore once more accompanied by economic earthquakes, and may well send shockwaves throughout the nation’s political, economic and social systems and make the dawned New Year Lanka’s Year of the Pickle.

President Maithripala Sirisena

Whist there was some semblance of stability till that fateful night of October 26 when the President had to go and upset the apple cart for naught except to become the architect of his own disaster and the subject of the nation’s contempt, a survey of the surrounding scene reveals a wasteland, with the pillars of the Executive and the Legislature crumbling and its economic structures in shambles.

President Sirisena’s rash and ill-advised action taken in the belief or ignorance that he could kick the constitutional book and dismiss the legally appointed prime minister and swear in his once sworn foe to the post, that he could dissolve parliament at will no matter what the constitution stated in clear terms and be a law unto himself made him eat humble pie when the Supreme Court ruled otherwise.

The apex Court held the dissolution of Parliament was illegal and later refused to vacate the stay order issued by the Court of Appeal restraining Rajapaksa from functioning as Prime Minister. This forced Sirisena to reappoint Ranil Wickremesinghe – a man he had said he will never reappoint as prime minister if it was the last thing he would do – served to bring about his own downfall.

And forced to surrender before Ranil’s UNF’s majority in Parliament, tendered the government lock stock and barrel to the UNP leader to formulate his own legislative agenda in the House. When, for the last three and a half years, Sirisena had his own UPFA MPs as cabinet ministers in a mutually agreed power sharing formula, he was forced to yield the cabinet monopoly to Wickremesinghe who now lords over it.

Worse it has made President Sirisena impotent in Parliament. He may be the Defence Minister, the Law and Order Minister, Mahaweli Development Minister and the Environment Minister but if intends to introduce a bill or amendment in Parliament and see it made law he, having none of his own in the cabinet, has to depend on Wickremesinghe’s largess and condescension to get his own legislative intent introduced in the House. He maybe the all powerful executive president in the country, but in Parliament he has been reduced to the status of a eunuch in a harem.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

Speaking to the Daily Island this Wednesday, UNP MP Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, said: “In the absence of UPFA ministers in the cabinet, President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces has no option but to depend on the UNP to move amendments or introduce new bills in parliament. Against the backdrop of much publicised differences between the UNP and President Sirisena, moving amendments or introducing bills could pose quite a problem.

He said, “President Sirisena had been crippled in parliament and was certainly in a dilemma over obstacles to his legitimate right as the President as well as the minister in charge of a particular subject to move amendments or introduce new bills.”

Thus, the Executive President of this country, elected to office by 6.2 million votes, stands powerless in Parliament today. But if that’s the sorry fate that has befallen Sirisena, does the Prime Minister’s power and position in Parliament portend any better? Though he can bring any bill, any amendment before the House for its debate and discussion, does he have the majority to get it enacted?

The 123 MPs brigade who expressed their support for the confidence motion brought in favour of Ranil Wickremesinghe that he commanded the confidence of the House was made up with 14 TNA members and 6 JVP MPs to bolster the UNF’s 103 seats. They did so not because they thought he was a jolly good fellow and the most popular chap in parliament but only for the sake of democracy and to strike a blow for the indispensable necessity to uphold the constitutional tenets. It was no blank cheque the TNA and the JVP signed and handed over to Ranil with a guarantee to honour it again and again when Ranil sought to get his UNF bills and amendments passed. Unless, he makes some horse deal with the TNA and the JVP to obtain their blessings in return for the platter of fruits they will demand ad hoc, Ranil’s own legislative programme will end damned even before it has begun.

Thus not only does the presidency lie paralysed, so does Ranil’s legislative hopes face castration.

But that’s not the only ghost that is set to rise to haunt Ranil this year. There’s the question of an old but renewed challenge to the leadership of the UNP which he had dominated over as its Tsar for the last 28 years.

As the Sunday Punch commented in 2017 July when Ranil celebrated forty years in politics, “Even when the senior UNP stalwarts Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudalie rose in revolt and broke away from the UNP to form their breakaway group the DUNF and sought thereafter to impeach President Premadasa in 1992, Ranil Wickremesinghe to whom the Gamini-Lalith camp would have been natural terrain and liberal habitat, chose not to stray but to stay put and stay loyal to the tempered way of his then leader Ranasinghe Premadasa.

“It confirmed him as a team player, gifted  with patience, one who will bide his time to reach his goal post when the moment was opportune and not stab his leader in the way Brutus plunged the knife into Caesar’s back.

“Ranil Wickremesinghe,  like his uncle Dickie, JR,  did not pray at heaven’s gate for entry but patiently stood in line for his turn to gain entrance, in the belief that everything comes to he who patiently await.

“Fates held otherwise. And offered him the presidency on a platter at the age of 44. But such was the calibre of the man that he was in no hurry to pick the crown that had tumbled down into a wayside gutter down Armour Street in Colombo 13 on that momentous May Day 1993 when President Premadasa was killed in a Tiger bomb blast.

“Ranil did pick it up. But ever the stickler to protocol, given to follow procedure to the letter  and to place the nation’s welfare first before his own personal ambitions, and conditioned from birth to do the right thing, he did, indeed, pick it up. But not to place it upon his own head as he could easily have done as the undisputed heir to the UNP throne. Nay, he picked it up only to crown the then Prime Minister D. B. Wijetunga with the presidency, in the manner the constitution dictated and his own conscience commanded.

“When he held in the palm of his hand the near absolute power to anoint himself as Lanka’s new president, what did the man do? Like Siri Sangabo in the Jatakas, he cut his own neck and offered it to D. B. Wijetunga who did not even ask him for it.

“In that shining hour, Ranil proved his mettle and demonstrated that the strongest steel is that which had gone through the hottest furnace and emerged strengthened. And that was only for starters.

“Ranil Wickremesinghe was blessed at birth as few men ever are. But thereafter, by his own efforts, he has achieved every goal he had set eyes on, even setting world record last year for being the only person to have been sworn in five times as prime minister.

“Except the elusive presidency.”

And as he turns 70 this year on March 24, Ranil Wickremesinghe faces the ultimate challenge to his leadership. It comes from one who has already been anointed as the heir apparent to the Sirikotha throne. Former President’s son Sajith Premadasa. Though he stood by Ranil and spurned the presidential offer to be appointed last month as the prime minister, it is hard to see him not making his move this election year for his place in UNP history.  As the maxim holds true for both nature and politics: The younger rises when the old must fall.

In 2015, in that early dawn of Yahapalanaya, Ranil got his image as Mr. Clean of Lankan politics dented when he was accused by his political enemies of collusion in the Great Bank Robbery of the Century. There was no evidence whatsoever. Only his error of judgment in appointing Arjun Mahendran as the Governor of the Central Bank who is accused of being the mastermind behind the bond scam and is absconding justice having fled abroad. But the calumnies stuck and were to shadow Ranil. Last year’s  constitutional coup which he braved unto its end by standing his ground and refusing to budge from Temple Trees and braving the siege laid on it contributed immensely to regain an abundance of goodwill from the public for saving democracy from the political werewolves, hungry and howling for power.

What a pity then, when everything seemed to be going well for him, Ranil had to put his foot in it and blotch his copybook by appointing Ravi Karunanayake as his cabinet Minister for the all powerful Power and Energy, and, if that wasn’t enough, appointing him as the minister for Enterprise Development to boot.

Whilst the nation lifted its eyebrow in amazement, UPFA members raised their voices in protest at restoring Karunanayake to cabinet rank and questioned why National Lotteries Board and the Development Lotteries Board had also been placed under his purview.

Ravi Karunayake resigned in disgrace when the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Bond Scam heard evidence in August 2017 that he and his family had stayed for eight months in 2016 at the 4000 square feet luxurious penthouse suite at the Crescat Residencies next to the Cinnamon Grand in Colombo 3, and that it had been paid for by the man at the epicenter of the Central Bank bond scam, namely, Arjun Aloysius?

At the tune of Rs 1.45 million a month. For eight months. Totting up a lease bill of Rs. 11,600,000. And that he knew nothing?

And that Ravi Karunanayake and his family took residence thereat and occupied the top floor suite without any lease agreement between him or anyone of his family with the owner of the premises Anika Wijesuriya, the witness who made the claim under oath before the presidential tribunal? Of that, too, he knew nothing?

This is what the Bond Commission, which is purely a fact finding body of inquiry whose mandate restricts it to only make recommendations without powers to indict and prosecute, has to say in its final report which was handed over to the president:

“As stated earlier in Chapter 24, we recommend that the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption should consider whether Hon. Ravi Karunanayake, MP. while he was Minister of Finance, derived a substantial benefit from the Lease Payments made by Walt and Row Associates (Pvt) Ltd [which is an Associate Company of Perpetual Treasuries Ltd and which is owned and controlled by the same persons who own and control Perpetual Treasuries Ltd for the lease of apartment occupied by Hon Ravi Karunanayake, MP and his family and, if so, determine whether appropriate action should be taken against Hon. Ravi Karunanayake, MP, under the Bribery Act;

“25) As stated earlier in Chapter 24, we also recommend that, the Hon. Attorney General and other appropriate authorities consider whether some of the evidence given by Hon. Ravi Karunanayake, MP before us is shown to have been incorrect and, if that is the case. whether Mr. Karunanayake should be prosecuted under Section 179 and/or Section 188 of the Penal Code or other relevant provision of the Law, read with Section 9 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act No. 17 of 1948.”

If the appointment of Karunanayake was the first blot then the second blot on the government landscape is the appointment of Vijayakala as the State Minister of Education.

In a speech delivered at the 8th Presidential Public Service programme titled ‘Nila Mehewera for Northern Province’ held at the Veerasingham Hall in Jaffna on July 3 last year, the State Minister of Child Affairs as she was then, Vijayakala Maheswaran boldly announced her trumpet call for the internationally and locally banned terrorist organisation, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, to be revived again and be the guardian deity of the northern and eastern Tamils.

She declared, without blink or blush, ‘Today we realise from our bottom of our heart how we are proud to have lived under the times of LTTE prior to May 18, 2009.”

But she did not stop there but batted on and on as if there was no tomorrow for the Northern and Eastern Tamils without the LTTE to ensure their safety and peace of mind.

She said: “Our main objective is to resurrect the LTTE in the North and East in order to ensure our survival. If we wanted to lead a peaceful life, more importantly if our schoolgoing children are to  return home safely, the hands of the LTTE should be strengthened.

“We have faced three decades of war in recent past. Other than releasing some plots of lands in Valikaamam North, the government did nothing for the Tamil people. We are also part of this unity government. We too also bound by party rules and regulations but today we have to violate those rules considering true plight of our people.”

Her speech outraged the nation, which had suffered so much in blood and tears for over thirty years. And she was soon forced to resign from office and her speech is presently being studied by the Attorney General whether she can be prosecuted for violating her constitutional oath and the law which prohibits one from hailing a proscribed terrorist organisation as the LTTE is.

It seems eighteen to six months in the UNP laundry is all it takes for one to be whitewashed, dry cleaned and come out smelling roses.

If these are some of the predicaments facing the President and the Prime Minister, the battle now has moved to the ranks of the official opposition. Mahinda Rajapaksa now sits on the official seat of the opposition leader and does so with the Speaker’s blessing. It’s a funny sort of situation though. Though UPFA having withdrawn from the coalition government on October 26, the president of UPFA is President Sirisena who is not only the Head of Cabinet as the constitution states he must be, but he also seems to be more than a figurehead being the Minister of Defence, Mahaweli Development and Environment and it can be argued that UPFA due to this reason is still part and parcel of Government.

Further there is the added problem whether Rajapaksa has ceased to be a member of UPFA itself having publicly accepted membership of the Pohottuwa Party on November 11 last year in a widely publicised ceremony at his official residence in Colombo 7.  If that be the case, then Rajapaksa would have ceased to be a member of Parliament by the operation of Article 99 of the Constitution which state that if a member resigns, expulsion or otherwise ceases to be a member of the party from which he was elected to office he shall lose his seat in the House. With the reported intention of the TNA to go to courts on the matter, the battle will no doubt have to be fought in the Supreme Court.

The nation’s economic front is even bleaker. With the rupee sliding even further downhill against the dollar and with a low GDP expected, the Government has announced plans to raise US$ 1600 million through the issue of Development Bonds. Alas not only has the rainbow in the Yahapalanaya revolution disappeared long ago, but the promise economic miracle has never materialised even on the horizon.

The only saving grace which this country is blessed with is the Supreme Court. And may the gods be thanked for that one silver lining in Lanka’s dark cloud of despondency.

Palitha Range Bandara

Range’s 500m bribe claim
UNP MP Range Bandara was on Wednesday summoned to the Bribery Commission office to record a statement over the allegation he had made a few weeks ago that he had been offered a bribe of Rs 500 million to cross over to the UPFA side. He had also released a tape recording where a UPFA member urges him to pole vault as soon as possible promising him a cabinet portfolio if he made the jump.

Last week, disgruntled at not being appointed as a cabinet minister by Ranil Wickremesinghe, he claimed that he had been the catalyst in preventing UNP members from making their exodus to the other side at the prospect of receding 500 million buck bribes to do so. “My public revelation stopped the tide,” he said but later denied having said he turned the tide in favour of the UNP by his public revelation.
Whatever the case maybe, he should thank his lucky stars that he did not succumb to temptation and stayed put in the UNP pen. And here’s why.

On the same day a High Court judge in Colombo sentenced a traffic cop to 8 years in jail for accepting a bribe of Rs 3000. If that’s the new yardstick used as sentencing policy for the offence of bribery, guess what the prison term will be for a bribe of Rs. 500 million?
One million three hundred and thirty three thousand years in the slammer doing hard labour.

Pope’s Star of Hope for New Year
Message that transcends religious divide
Pope Francis last week delivered a moving and inspiring message to the world, a message that transcends religious divides. It’s a brief do-it-yourself manual how to weather the storms that blow, how to overcome life’s myriad troubles, one that emphasises the power of the mind and the importance of striking the correct attitude to find happiness in this earthly life. It’s as follows:

“You can have flaws, be anxious, and even be angry, but do not forget that your life is the greatest enterprise in the world. Only you can stop it from going bust. Many appreciate you, admire you and love you. Remember that to be happy is not to have a sky without a storm, a road without accidents, work without fatigue, relationships without disappointments. To be happy is to find strength in forgiveness, hope in battles, security in the stage of fear, love in discord. It is not only to enjoy the smile, but also to reflect on the sadness. It is not only to celebrate the successes, but to learn lessons from the failures. It is not only to feel happy with the applause, but to be happy in anonymity. Being happy is not a fatality of destiny, but an achievement for those who can travel within themselves. To be happy is to stop feeling like a victim and become your destiny’s author. It is to cross deserts, yet to be able to find an oasis in the depths of our soul. Being happy is not being afraid of your own feelings.

It’s to be able to talk about you. It is having the courage to hear a “no”. It is confidence in the face of criticism, even when unjustified. It is to kiss your children, pamper your parents, to live poetic moments with friends, even when they hurt us. To be happy is to let live the creature that lives in each of us, free, joyful and simple. It is to have maturity to be able to say: “I made mistakes”. It is to have the courage to say “I am sorry”. It is to have the sensitivity to say, “I need you”. It is to have the ability to say “I love you”. Use your losses to train patience. Use your mistakes to sculptor serenity. Use pain to plaster pleasure. Use obstacles to open windows of intelligence. Never give up …. Never give up on people who love you. Never give up on happiness, for life is an incredible show.”

- Pope Francis

The Cycle
By Don Manu
I can see in the morn’s blossom
The eve’s death kiss;
How the reaper’s scythe’s shadow
Falls on new born bliss;
I can hear in the distance
Of the infant’s cry
The echo wail the last shrieks
Of the old that die;
I can discern in the swell
Of the roaring wave
The soft splash on the shore
Signal its silent grave;
I can admire the beauty
Of the eastern sunrise,
And know the marvel must meet
Its western demise;
I watch, spellbound, stars ‘dorn
The orbed maid’s midnight ride
And wonder where they vanish
In daybreak’s azure sky:
I see in the crystal raindrop
Mighty rivers born
That surge headlong homeward
Back to the ocean’s yawn;
I see in life’s full circle,
The wheel’s eternal whirl
That wrings constant change
In a yet unchanging world.


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