President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Transport, Environment and Women’s Affairs Minister Srimani Athulathmudali, the only two ladies in the cabinet, have made public their long simmering differences - and the first major split in the two-year-old People’s Alliance Government, according to political analysts is imminent.
This week the first salvo was fired across the DUN(L)F bow when PA General Secretary D.M. Jayaratne sent a warning letter to MP Ravi Karunanayake, right-hand man of DUN(L)F leader Srimani Athulathmudali.
He was asked to shup up without rocking the PA boat with his repeated criticism of the government. Mr. Karunanayake’s leader came out strongly to his defence by shooting back a letter to the PA Secretary where she alleged that SLFP MPs were criticizing her and that Mr. Karunanayake’s comments - about telephone tapping - are constructive’ and should be taken in the spirit in which they are made’.
In a separate interview with The Sunday Times (see page 4) Mr. Karunanayake defiantly said he will continue to do what he has been doing, i.e. criticise the PA where criticism is due.
The second salvo against the DUN(L)F came later in the week from the president herself. She got her office to issue a press release with specific instructions that it should be published as on Sunday - for maximum publicity - that it is she who has now solved the transport problem’.
The release refers to commuters now facing great hardships due to daily deteriorating bus services.’
The aim was crystal clear. For the past 6 weeks ever since Ms. Athulathmudali went to New York (where she had to also undergo surgery) state TV, and SLFP MPs have been making noises about the transport services, admittedly, collapsing. This week it has climaxed with the Presidential howitzer firing heavy artillery.
Soon after the release was issued, The Sunday Times spoke to Ms. Srimani Athulathmudali who was by then unaware of such a release.
Her reply, equally telling;
I am very happy the President has taken an initiative to solve the transport problem. These were the same problems I have been telling her and the cabinet for the last two years to no effect.’
Ms. Athulathmudali in her letter to the PA Secretary recalled that issues regarding the transport system have been discussed at length with the Cabinet, Treasury and has been brought to the attention of the President.
I have also submitted several Cabinet memos, on the transport crisis and have kept the government appraised of the situation, therefore it is unfair for these MPs to make public criticism of a cabinet minister’, Ms. Athulathmudali had said in her letter sent to Mr. Jayaratne on Wednesday.
Several proposals put forward by the Transport minister to improve the state-run transport sector has either been rejected or ignored in the past on the grounds of lack of funds in the Treasury. The minister also tried to prevent the increase of bus fares, by offering subsidies to the private bus sector, but the proposal was not accepted by the Treasury, analysts said.
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