Ten new deputy ministerial posts for MPs who worked hard for UPFA victory Wigneswaran to take oaths tomorrow before meeting Khurshid Govt. approves Sampur project despite warnings by Champika and UNP It has been trouble shooting for President Mahinda Rajapaksa since he returned to Sri Lanka after a visit to the United States. The official [...]


After the polls, Rajapaksa consolidates his position


  • Ten new deputy ministerial posts for MPs who worked hard for UPFA victory
  • Wigneswaran to take oaths tomorrow before meeting Khurshid
  • Govt. approves Sampur project despite warnings by Champika and UNP

It has been trouble shooting for President Mahinda Rajapaksa since he returned to Sri Lanka after a visit to the United States. The official segment was to address the United Nations General Assembly.  After a private engagement thereafter, he flew from New York to Berlin where he later boarded a waiting charter flight — Sri Lankan Airlines A-340 operating as UL 1538. Instead of Katunayake, the flight diverted to the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA), arriving there before the crack of dawn on Wednesday. A happy son and Hambantota District parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa tweeted, “Welcome to MRIA-@PresRajapaksa.”

The cause for the course diversion was to allow Rajapaksa to pay his last respects at two funerals. One was the passing away of Ven. Dr. Aluthwewa Soratha Nayake Thera, Chief Incumbent of the Kirivehera Temple in Kataragama. Rajapaksa was not only closely associated with the prelate but is also a strong devotee of the sacred temple. The other was the death of Katuwana Pradeshiya Sabha chairman Ariyadasa Weerasinghe.

Later that day, he boarded a Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) flight to Colombo. Like when he was away, upon his return, President Rajapaksa had briefed himself on various matters of domestic concern. That was not only on the Government side but also on the crisis within the main opposition United National Party (UNP). Of considerable concern to him was the oration given by Educational Services Minister Duminda Dissanayake at the cremation of his father Bertie Premlal Dissanayake, former chief minister of North Central Province, in Anuradhapura last week.

During his speech Duminda Dissanayake had praised former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga for being like a mother to him. He said when his late father was in hospital, she had wanted to visit him. However, his family had discouraged it. Later, his brother had telephoned him and said Ms. Kumaratunga wanted to visit the hospital and was requesting once again to see their father. Duminda had asked the brother to tell the former President not to come but she had replied that she was on the way. So they allowed her to see their ailing father. He was so pleased. That was the happiest day for him since he was hospitalised. She was a leader who had cared for those who worked for her. Duminda also made a brief reference to President Rajapaksa to thank him for telephoning from New York and expressing condolences.

Confidants of Rajapaksa debated whether Dissanayake’s remarks were made as a result of discontent or to cause any embarrassment to the President. The late Bertie Premalal Dissanayake was Chief Minister of the North Central Province from 1999 to September last year. During NCP polls in September last year, his main rival S.M. Ranjith secured the highest number of preference votes. The late Dissanayake came second.

There was yet an obstacle to Ranjith becoming Chief Minister. It was UPFA Government policy that no blood relative of a Cabinet Minister could hold the post of Chief Minister.  Therefore Ranjith’s brother, S.M. Chandrasena who was a Minister in the Cabinet resigned. That paved the way for his brother to become the Chief Minister.

Months later, instead of a cabinet position, Chandrasena was appointed a Deputy Minister of Agrarian Services and Wild Life. The late Bertie Premalal Dissanayake’s supporters claim that both Chandrasena and Ranjith came under the former Chief Minister’s tutelage. He had therefore been unhappy over these developments.

When the matter figured at the weekly ministerial meeting, two ministers, S.B. Dissanayake and Pavithra Wanniarachchi said young Duminda Dissanayake should not have made those remarks.

Tussle for CP chief minister post 

That turned the attention on the latest Chief Ministerial aspirant, Anuradha Jayaratne, son of Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne. He secured the highest number of preference votes at last month’s election to the Central Provincial Council. Rajapaksa told his close UPFA associates that long before the PC polls, Prime Minister Jayaratne had requested him to nominate his son Anuradha as the Gampola electorate organiser for the UPFA. At present Jayaratne represents that electorate. He had advised his Prime Minister that his son should instead contest a provincial election and gain some experience. He had decided that Sarath Ekanayake, though he won the second highest number of preference votes in the CP, be made the Chief Minister.

Premier Jayaratne challenged the UPFA policy of not making a blood relative of a Cabinet Minister the Chief Minister by pointing out that Shashindra, son of Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa was the Chief Minister of Uva. How the touchy issue involving the Rajapaksa family was resolved emerged only later. President Rajapaksa had directed that the weekly ministerial meeting scheduled for Thursday morning be put off for 6 in the evening. The morning hours were devoted to the swearing-in of Dayasiri Jayasekera as Chief Minister of the North Western Province and Sarath Ekanayake as Chief Minister of the Central Province. With the swearing-in, the names of ministers were read out and they also took their oaths before Rajapaksa. When it came to the CP, there was an announcement of an office of “Chief Organiser.” That position went to Anuruddha Jayaratne. There is no provision under the provincial council law for a person to hold that office legally. However, such a move administratively is not likely to be challenged. 

Ahead of the swearing in ceremony, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella and Mahindananda Aluthgamage had briefed the President on a demonstration in the Kandy town reportedly arranged by Premier Jayaratne’s supporters. They had chanted slogans derogatory of Chief Minister-elect Ekanayake. This was to make the President angry. Rajapaksa also explained to his close associates why Pramitha Tennekoon, son of Minister Janaka Bandara Tennekoon had been given a ministerial position. He said both, during the previous polls and the one last month, Tennekoon had polled the highest number of preference votes in the Matale District.

During his speech at the oaths ceremony at the Presidential Secretariat, Rajapaksa was to warn his recently elected councillors not to sink to the depths of attacking their opponents. He referred to the current state of affairs in the opposition where some senior politicians had made lowly references to their leader. There was little doubt among those present that it was over the angry reaction of the UNP’s former Deputy Leader, Sajith Premadasa. In public remarks, he said he was a “leader” who had come forth “not to serve only the people in the South” but to “protect the entire maathru bhoomi or motherland.” He said “Napunsakayas” or Eunuchs in his party should allow him to become the candidate at the Presidential election. Premadasa’s remarks where he could be seen trembling in anger when he said those words were repeatedly broadcast on a television station. 

Last week, a front page report in the Sunday Times revealed exclusively that Matara District UNP organisations had resolved unanimously to ask the leadership to nominate Sajith Premadasa as the Chief Ministerial candidate when polls are held for the Southern Provincial Council (SPC). President Rajapaksa said it was imperative that discipline was maintained at all levels of the UPFA.

At a news conference this week, UNP Communications Chief Mangala Samaraweera responded to Premadasa’s remark when he sharply retorted, “I have never seen any Napunsakayas in our party. I am not sure whether Mr. Premadasa has been speaking whilst standing in front of a mirror.”

The two sides of the same party eventually clashed on the streets yesterday at Matara.

Budget Bill

It is only after resolving these issues within his own party that President Rajapaksa went to chair the weekly meeting of ministers on Thursday evening. One of the key matters of discussion was the Appropriation Bill, the precursor to the budget proposals, due to be presented in Parliament in November. This time, it is expected to be after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is concluded in Colombo. Rajapaksa referred to an impasse last year and said he wanted to take steps to avoid such an issue this time. He was referring to the Supreme Court ruling in October last year that Clause 2.1 of the Appropriation Bill tabled in Parliament on October 9, 2012 was inconsistent with the Constitution. The Court ruled that the Bill would need to be amended and re-presented to Parliament or would require a two-thirds special majority to be passed.
In an exclusive article he wrote to the Sunday Times on February 24, Opposition Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe accused the Government of violating the Constitution “in relation to the Appropriation Bill 2012, which authorises for the Government’s expenditure for 2013. This was the refusal of Parliament to adhere to the determination of the Supreme Court (made under Article 123 of the Constitution), holding Clause 2.1(b) of the Appropriation Bill to be unconstitutional because it violates Article 148 – Parliamentary Control over Finance. The determination specified an amendment to Clause 2.1(b) to ensure its conformity with the Constitution. Completely disregarding this, Parliament enacted the Bill as law without incorporating the proposed amendment but with the Government’s own amendment.”

The controversial clause in the Bill, the petitioners, viz., the Centre for Policy Alternatives, claimed before the Supreme Court was that it “made provision for the expenditure of the Government (for the period beginning January 1, 2013 and ending on December 31, 2013) to be met “from the proceeds of loans which are hereby authorised to be raised whether in or outside Sri Lanka, for and on behalf of the Government, so however that the aggregate of such proceeds does not exceed rupees one thousand two hundred ninety five billion.” They challenged this clause on the grounds that it did not include a prior review of the terms and conditions of the loan and was therefore a violation of Article 148 of the Constitution where Parliament is charged with oversight over finance.

Rajapaksa told his ministers that he wanted to avoid a similar controversy this time and prevent people going to court. Hence, he said, he had decided to seek an opinion from the Supreme Court in keeping with constitutional provisions. Article 129 (1) of the Constitution states “If at any time it appears to the President of the Republic that a question of law or fact has arisen or is likely to arise which is of such nature and of such public importance that it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court upon it, he may refer that question to that Court for consideration and the Court may, after such hearing as it thinks fit, within the period specified in such reference or within such time as may be extended by the President, report to the President its opinion thereon.’ The Constitution allows such opinion, determination and report be expressed after consideration by at least five Judges of the Supreme Court, of whom, unless he otherwise directs, the Chief Justice shall be one. The proceedings will be in private unless the Court for special reasons otherwise directs.

President Rajapaksa told his ministers it was true the Government could have passed the Appropriation Bill with a two thirds majority. However, it was his wish that this has to be avoided “to guard ourselves over any future attempt to derail our budget,” he said. Pointing out that the Government should not depend on a two thirds vote for all issues, Rajapaksa delivered a broadside. “There are some parties with only eight members. They hold us to ransom,” he said looking at Minister Rauff Hakeem, leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). “Sir, I have eight members in my party. What you say seems to point at us,” he declared. Rajapaksa was quick to say the reference was not to Hakeem or his party. When the ministerial meeting ended, ministers who stood near Rajapaksa saw Hakeem approach him. He asked Rajapaksa “Sir, do you have any reservations about us?” The President was quick to pat him on the back with a broad smile and say “no, no.” That ended the episode.

However, in the higher command of the SLMC, which Hakeem heads, a new crisis is now brewing. At the last meeting, they discussed the issue of what they called “increased encroachment of land by the military in the Eastern Province.” The inconclusive discussion was to decide on raising issue with the Government. This is at a time when the SLMC-dominated Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) where an earlier resolution urging the Government not to tamper with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is still pending. Hardliners in the UPFA are worried that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that has secured control of the Northern Provincial Council could forge an alliance with the SLMC. The number of Muslim Congress seats in the EPC together with the TNA constitutes a majority. However, Hakeem told a ministerial colleague this week, “it is unfounded phobia and there is no move for any such thing.”

Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne’s son Anuradha greeting his supporters at the Kandy demonstration where his supporters insisted that he be made the chief minister

The ministers also discussed a water supply scheme to augment the availability of water in the City of Colombo. This is by tapping the Kalu Ganga in Kalutara through inlets and installing machinery to purify the water. The proposal for an Israeli company to undertake the task was placed before the Cabinet by Nimal Siripala de Silva, Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Management. His colleague, Water Supply and Drainage Minister Dinesh Gunawardena urged that the Government move carefully on the project. This was particularly in the light of installing so many intake gates closer to the seafront. President Rajapaksa inquired about the possibility of following the Indian practice and obtaining water through an underground tunnel system. A decision on the matter has been deferred.

Meeting with TNA chief

Rajapaksa also had other issues to look at. On Thursday, his office received a telephone call from Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, leader of the Tamil National Alliance seeking an urgent meeting. As exclusively revealed in the front page lead story in the Sunday Times last week, the TNA was to invite the President to visit Jaffna and swear-in the Chief Minister designate and Councillors of the NPC. Sampanthan was told to turn up at 8.30 a.m. on Friday at the Janadipathi Mandiraya (President’s House) in Colombo Fort.

When Sampanthan arrived wearing a trouser and shirt instead of his traditional verti and shawl, Rajapaksa had just finished his yoga exercises. He walked up to the TNA leader, stretched his hand and declared “congratulations on your victory.” Shaking Rajapaksa’s hand, Sampanthan replied “congratulations to you too, Your Excellency, for the polls victories.” Niceties over, they sat down for a 45-minute chat. Also present was Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga. This is where Sampanthan invited Rajapaksa to Jaffna. The President, who said he would have wished to come, pointed out that his engagements in the next few days were heavy. However, he said he would be happy to swear-in Chief Minister designate C.V. Wigneswaran in Colombo. When there was agreement, the swearing-in was slotted for 9.30 a.m. tomorrow (Monday). This would enable Wigneswaran to meet visiting Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid as the Chief Minister of the Northern Province when he visits Jaffna on Tuesday on a two-day visit to Sri Lanka. Sampanthan assured Rajapaksa that the TNA’s Northern Provincial Council looked forward to working with his Government. Upon taking his oaths, Wigneswaran is to swear-in the four other ministers in his Provincial Cabinet on Friday (October 11) in Jaffna. The TNA is planning an elaborate event.

Sampanthan went into a meeting of the TNA constituent partners at their Colombo office immediately after the meeting with the President. It lasted two hours. There were parties who were opposed to Wigneswaran being sworn-in by the President but Sampanthan’s view prevailed. The TNA is also engulfed in a crisis over portfolios. This has prevented it from finalising its five member cabinet even by yesterday. Sampanthan told the Sunday Times, “Choosing a cabinet is not easy. We have five parties in our alliance. We have to listen to everyone. There is bound to be different voices. We have to give an ear to them. We will resolve it very soon.”

Sampanthan said that Wigneswaran, a former Supreme Court Judge, had called for the curriculum vitae of all its Provincial Councillors. Besides the provincial ministers, he said, the remaining 25 will be attached in batches of five to advise each Minister. This will be based on the different backgrounds of the councillors. All of them together will form an Executive Committee. That Committee will monitor the progress of work and TNA’s programme of action. He said such a practice existed even under the Donoughmore Commission. He was referring to the Executive Committees in the old State Councils, an idea that was mooted for the present Parliament, and partly exercised through the Consultative Committees of each Ministry. “Only competent persons will be assigned portfolios,” he said.

Presidential Secretary Weeratunga had to intervene over a minor tussle that developed between the TNA and the Northern Province Governor, retired Major General G.A. Chandrasiri earlier this week. The Chief Minister designate and councillors have refused to take their oaths before Chandrasiri. During the polls campaign, they did seek his removal and the appointment of a civilian official in his place. An issue arose when Wigneswaran who was accompanied by M.A. Sumanthiran (TNA National List MP) met Chandrasiri and sought a letter of appointment as Chief Minister (for Wigneswaran) from Chandrasiri. The latter felt it could be issued only after he was sworn-in. The impasse saw Sampanthan telephone Weeratunga. He promptly resolved the issue by asking Chandrasiri to provide a letter.

Khurshid’s visit

Meanwhile, Indian External Affairs Minister, Salman Khurshid arrives tomorrow (Monday) around noon. He will meet President Rajapaksa to deliver a special message from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He will also meet External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and have lunch on Tuesday in Jaffna with the Governor Chandrasiri. The visit to Jaffna by Minister Khurshid is to convey the Government of India’s congratulations to the TNA for its victory at the Northern Provincial Council elections and inspect Indian housing projects in the province. He is also to assure development support to the NPC through the central government in Colombo. India has already pledged to construct houses for the internally displaced and is continuing to restore rail services in different sectors.

Indian EAM Khurshid’s visit to Colombo is two-fold. The most important is the talks with President Rajapaksa to determine his Government’s current official position on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Earlier, the Government proposed to rush constitutional amendments to withdraw police powers to PCs, just weeks ahead of the September 21 polls. It later abandoned the idea but appointed a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). Headed by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, its primary task is to formulate a political package to address Tamil grievances with or without provisions that now exist in the 13th Amendment. The PSC comprises only members of the UPFA and its task has been slow prompting Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) to pull out. The JHU has accused the Government leadership of reneging on a promise to exclude land and police powers from the 13th Amendment before the September 21 PC polls. It complained that an assurance to do so was given during a meeting of leaders of UPFA constituent parties.

Diplomatic sources say a decision by Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh whether or not to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo would largely hinge on this issue. After the PC polls, the Indian Government issued a statement which said that New Delhi expected Sri Lanka to implement the 13th Amendment and go beyond it in keeping with assurances given to the international community. However, there are signs that New Delhi’s stance may be thawing. Another issue, which Sri Lanka Government officials believe would pave the way for Premier Singh’s visit is approval for the Indian-backed Sampur Coal Fired Power project. At their meeting on Thursday night, ministers approved the project and the draft agreements without any major changes. It came on the recommendation of Power and Energy Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi. The only objection to the move came from the former Power and Energy Minister, Champika Ranawaka who now holds the portfolio of Technology. He argued that Sri Lanka stood to lose anything between Rs. 6 billion and Rs. 14 billion every year due to this deal and made comparisons with the poor performance of the Norachcholai coal fired power plant. 

The agreement, including some eight MoUs (Memoranda of Understanding) on the Sampur project will be signed by Khurshid in Colombo tomorrow or more likely on Tuesday after he meets President Rajapaksa, a high ranking Government source said. In terms of the draft agreements, the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the Indian Government owned National Thermal Power Company (NTPC) will jointly set up a coal fired power project in Sampur, Trincomalee. The NTPC, whose project is approved by the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka, will sell electricity from the joint facility to Sri Lanka. The NTPC has also concluded a Coal Supply Agreement and an Implementation Agreement. An MoU on Indian Government technical assistance for the Government’s Tri-lingual Sri Lanka project will also be signed.

In an unexpected development, the main opposition UNP has voiced strong objections to the Sampur Coal project. At a news conference on Friday, Colombo District parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake criticised the UPFA Government on several economic issues. He left the coal fired power project issue to be raised by Nalin Bandara, MP for Kurunegala District. He said, “The Government is on the verge of entering into a project that is very harmful to the country. Through this agreement we will be out rightly giving away our resources to another country. A 500 Mw coal power project is due to come up at an investment of US$ 600 million. We will own only 50 per cent. There are a number of issues about the proposed project. One of them is that India is already having a coal crisis. It does not have enough production and has problems in quality.
“The ‘Plant Factor’ of the project too has been reduced to 33 per cent as there cannot be adequate coal supplies. This amount should be above 45 per cent. In 2005, India imported 105 million tons of coal from Australia and Indonesia. The reduction of the Plant Factor is going to result in a loss of Rs. 2.4 to Rs 4.9 billion per year. The maintenance cost too will increase from 20 million US dollars to 32 million US dollars.

“Return on investment says 18 per cent. This cannot be accepted. This is to the advantage of India. This figure should be around 12 per cent. This is adding to the losses. The Agreement has not specified the cost of purchase of an electricity unit. There is doubt about that. They can use this to introduce their own rates. Due to these reasons we believe that the estimated loss will be around Rs. 7.3 billion annually. 

Accordingly, the CEB will have to add to Rs. 1,500 to each consumer’s bill annually in order to ensure that no losses are suffered. There are also environmental issues. In India about 120,000 people living around coal power plants die due to adverse environmental impact.”

Sources at the Presidential Secretariat are now more confident than before that Premier Singh would after all be present at CHOGM in the light of the new developments. That might also mean winning Indian support for the Rajapaksa administration in international fora. 

Buoyed by polls victories and confident of becoming the Chairman-in-Office of the Commonwealth for the next two years, President Rajapaksa is in an unassailable position now. In the coming week, he is to appoint another ten Deputy Ministers to bolster his position in the UPFA and keep his flock content. Those in line for the reward are the MPs who worked hard in their electorates in the North Western and Central Provinces to ensure UPFA victories. So the coming weeks are celebratory for Rajapaksa.

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