Sampanthan speaks on memorandum outlining Tamil people’s problems and helps his party to win the confidence of voters UNP and SJB in weak position; boycott what they call a politically motivated move Dr. P.B. Jayasundera’s ‘personal letter’ creates crisis; puts Govt. against public servants Barring changes at the eleventh hour, the government’s fourth attempt to [...]


TNA dumps opposition parties by attending PM’s meeting


  • Sampanthan speaks on memorandum outlining Tamil people’s problems and helps his party to win the confidence of voters
  • UNP and SJB in weak position; boycott what they call a politically motivated move
  • Dr. P.B. Jayasundera’s ‘personal letter’ creates crisis; puts Govt. against public servants


Barring changes at the eleventh hour, the government’s fourth attempt to gradually restore social activity countrywide gets under way tomorrow.

The three attempts earlier, one to restore from April 22 and put off for April 27, however, continued with round the clock curfew in the districts of Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara and Puttalam. Thereafter, what was meant to begin from May 4 was put off till May 11. The curfew is to continue. The reason was the sudden spurt in the number of people who have contracted Covid-19 and the isolation of new clusters to identify more victims.

Government offices are to open from tomorrow. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa told Ministry Secretaries during a meeting this week that they should, at first, endeavour to function with 30% of the staff. That is also in sectors that are essential services. The private sector has been allowed to work out its own priorities bearing in mind the different guidelines issued by the health authorities. Schools, however, will not re-open tomorrow as previously announced.

Around the clock curfew, the longest in Sri Lanka’s history, was introduced on March 20. It has continued till yesterday barring an eight-hour break from 6 am to 2 pm on March 24. In marked contrast to the early days, the roads remained relatively crowded and the traffic flow in the streets of Colombo was almost normal. Lorries laden with food and meat products moved around. Even shops were open in some sectors. This is not to say that threat levels from the spread of the deadly virus have receded.

To the contrary, the lockdown is turning increasingly symbolic whilst there is a spike in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases. Prolonging the curfew, the same way, government leaders have acknowledged, was having a devastating impact on the economy. Private sector firms which employ a large segment have also expressedserious concerns over prolonged closure which is costing them dearly. Among them were some who complained they were on the verge of bankruptcy. Government leaders are convinced that limping back to normalcy, instead of a complete lockdown, has become imperative. Adverse publicity in the social media and from organised groups abroad has triggered considerable public displeasure on the government.

The opposition parties are too weak and fractured to exploit the situation. On the other hand, too preoccupied with the campaign against Covid-19, the government has not been able to focus attention to this highly damaging aspect. The daily information overload locally has been on numbers, all of them related to Covid-19 and repeated self-congratulation by some key players. This has drawn thousands to their smart phones to catch up on video clips, cartoons and nasty comments which are not all good news for the ruling party. It is growing.

A case in point is an appeal Presidential Secretary P.B. Jayasundera wrote in a letterhead from the Presidential Secretariat to Prime Minister’s Secretary, Cabinet Secretary, Secretaries of Ministries, Provincial Council and Local Govt secretaries, the UGC chairman, all Vice Chancellors, heads of Departments, corporations, and other state officials. Marked “private appeal,” the four-page letter in Sinhala, said among other matters: “The government requires Rs 100 billion a month to pay state sector salaries and allowances. We can reduce the budget deficit by reducing the expenses for May if the salary for a month is donated to the Widows and Orphan pension scheme by those in the state sector, corporations, statutory bodies, the Central bank and Insurance companies which do not pay taxes to the government. It will help to reduce the pressure on debt management. This could be considered a social responsibility project from the state sector. I believe this could be done…..”

As is well known, the vast majority in the state sector are relatively poor cousins of their private sector counterparts. In the Western Province itself, those who are most affected by the pandemic, it could be said without doubt, are the state sector employees and their families. This is besides the self-employed. Some had to borrow money to survive whilst others cut down their eating habits. Even under normal circumstances, making ends meet with meagre resources have made them lead frugal lives. A government minister who did not wish to be identified declared angrily “they can sacrifice a month’s salary, but they and their family members would have to starve that whole month.”  He termed the request as “unconscionable.”

Not surprisingly, Secretary Jayasundera was the ‘star’ of the week in the social media. He was lampooned in cartoons, criticised in unfriendly language, and called different names. That may be forgotten when a week goes by. However, it has a demoralising effect in the minds of state officers. Not even spending millions of rupees could reverse such a situation. It is akin to the Sinhala adage Gahen wetuna ekkanata gona anne wagey or being gored by a bull after a fall from a tree. Life for most state sector workers has been most difficult during the days of round the clock curfew. Among those queued up before pawn shops during non-curfew hours were state sector employees. They raised money by pawning jewellery.

UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam told the Sunday Times,“it is grossly unfair to call for state sector employees to donate their May salary to the government. They face grave hardships. They have to pay for housing and the upkeep of their families. There are those who have to pay for vehicle leases. We feel President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should take the responsibility for his Secretary issuing this letter.”

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara charged that the government had gone bankrupt after just five months in office. He told the Sunday Times the government was spending Rs 32 billion for new road projects but was finding it difficult to pay state officer’s salaries. He said their party was apprising voters through video conferencing and by word of mouth about “this sad state of affairs” and declared that 95 percent of the UNP organisers in electorates were now backing the SJB.

By Friday midnight, the number of Covid-19 cases rose to 835. Unfortunately, the epicentre of the pandemic in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lanka Navy with 404 confirmed cases. This is almost half the number affected by the horrible virus. Conscientious Sri Lankans reacted with sympathy and support for the inflicted sailors. Some posted video comments praising the role of sailors for being at the vanguardwith their colleagues in the campaign against Covid-19 and the sacrifices they have made. That is without doubt absolutely true. However, the absence of preventive measures by those in the higher command, who placed them in harm’s way, do not in any way absolve them from thisserious situation. This is a war without weapons and consideration should have been given to their welfare and safety. More so, since a spike in the number of inflicted sailors was never dreamt of, leave alone being envisaged.  Three Army personnel including two officers who contacted the virus have been discharged.

Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa meeting a TNA delegation last Monday evening at his Wijerama official residence.

The district distribution of the afflicted cases on Friday afternoon are: Colombo (150), Gampaha (36), Puttalam (35), Kalutara (34), Kandy (13), Kurunegala (11), Jaffna (07), Ratnapura (05), Kegalle (04), Moneragala (04), Anuradhapura (2), Kalmunai (2), Matale (2), Badulla (01), Matara (01), Galle (01), Batticaloa (01) and Polonnaruwa (01), Quarantine cases returning from abroad were 41, those quarantined locally 65, foreigners (3), Navy 393 and other forces (11).

Health authorities have conducted 32,078 PCR tests since the Corvid-19 outbreak in Sri Lanka. In Colombo, four different areas – Grandpass, Hetay Watte in Torrington, Dabare Mawathaa in Narahenpita and Nagalagam Street – have been declared “active” areas meaning quarantine measures were in force. Other such areas are in Kurunegala and Gampaha. Four people were reported dead, two from a Quarantine Centre in Mullaitivu and two from Galkanda due to cases not involving Covid-19, a military officer in the area said. The number of tose who have recovered so far stands at 240 whilst the death toll remains at nine.

It is amidst these developments that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa called a meeting of all former members of Parliament. This is from the last Parliament (dissolved on March 2) and the previous one. A total of 177 former MPs took part and it saw the participants being updated on how the government was tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. Those who took part raised a variety of questions. Some centred on the financial grant of Rs 5,000 given to the needy. There were allegations that such money was given only to supporters of the ruling party — a charge which Premier Rajapaksa strongly denied. On Tuesday morning, he despatched to every participant a list containing the names and addresses of the persons to whom such payments have been made.

When the near two-hour meeting ended, the focus was not on what was discussed or not discussed last Monday at Temple Trees. It turned out to be the emergence of a wholly new political reality. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which took part in the meeting, emerged as the most effective among political parties in Sri Lanka. If the others, like the United National Party (UNP), the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) gave their reasons but it prompted Prime Minister Rajapaksa to say, “The TNA did their duty by their people.” He told the Sunday Times, “This is the time to help the people. I gave an opportunity to come over and tell me if there were grievances or any other issues. They were all former MPs who came from different areas. Regrettably, some parties did not heed my call. To say the least, they lost an opportunity.”

Sampanthan raised issue over a number of matters, most of them contained in a memorandum he had handed over to Premier Rajapaksa during a party leaders meeting at Temple Trees earlier. Reminded of this, whilst the former MPs meeting was under way, the Premier telephoned his Secretary Gamini Senarath. He urged that another meeting with the TNA be arranged for the same day at Temple Trees. That took place last Monday at 5 p.m. at the Premier’s Wijerama residence. Taking part on behalf of the TNA were Sampanthan, Mavai Senathirajah, M.A. Sumanthiran and E. Saravanapavn. There was a 12-member team on the government’s side including Basil Rajapaksa, G.L. Peiris, Gamini Senarath, Chaminda Kularatne (Additional Secretary).

Sampanthan also sought government assistance to the North’s needy who were finding it difficult due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He also said there were a large number of farmers who were ready to return to their fields. He said the government should provide them the required assistance. Other matters discussed related to devolution of power and a request for the further release of lands owned by Tamil civilians in the north. Sampanthan also appealed for the release of Tiger guerrilla suspects who have been held in custody for more than 20 years now.

Last Sunday (May 3), partner leaders of the TNA led by Rajavarothayam Sampanthan issued a statement. It noted that the alliance and other political parties made an appeal to the President for the dissolved Parliament to be re-convened but the “response thus far has been negative.” It is in this background, the TNA said, that the Prime Minister has “invited all Members of the dissolved Parliament to a meeting at Temple Trees.”

The statement listed four different factors: (a) “the Coronavirus – has been gradually escalating – much more needs to be done to eradicate it completely from our country, there is a legitimate fear among people it would further escalate with grave consequences… (b) For the past 25 years, over Five terms of both Parliament and Presidency, the people have in the exercise of their sovereignty – rejected” the 1978 constitution for the enactment of a new constitution…. (c) the Parliament elected in 2015 unanimously resolved to convert itself into a Committee of the whole Parliament – termed a Constitutional Assembly with a Steering Committee and sub committees in charge of different Subjects and an Experts Committee to formulate a new Constitution dealing primarily with the Executive Presidency, Electoral Reforms to Parliament and the “National Question the Tamil Question – sharing powers of governance…”

Hence, the TNA said it needed to attend the meeting with the Prime Minister, because all these issues outlined needed to be addressed and to clearly indicate that “we are prepared to extend our co-operation to the resolution of these issues in a reasonable and acceptable manner in the interests of the country and all its people.”

The UNP which has remained the largest party in the opposition until its offshoot SJB was born, claimed that Premier Rajapaksa chose to host the meeting for a “politically motivated move.” That should have been quite obvious to the UNP. This is why in the statement it confirmed it was decided to attend “so as to once again re-iterate the party’s official stance that politics must be put aside in the face of the growing national crisis caused by Covid-19.”

However, the statement said, “the party has learnt that the invitation to this meeting has been extended to all former MPs and other active political leaders, including those from previous Parliaments, expanding the invitation from the original 225 MPs.” Hence, the statement said “no meaningful dialogue can be held in this type of meeting. Instead, the Rajapaksa regime is focused on playing party politics at a time when the nation needs unity in the leadership.”

Handing over a TNA memorandum to Premier Rajapaksa during a party leaders meeting are Rajavarothayam Sampanthan and Abraham Sumanthiran.

In the next sentence, the UNP statement  refers to; “…playing politics at a time when the nation needs unity in the leadership.” That bitter truth probably extends to the UNP as well i.e. the Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa fractions – which have been playing politics with little or no unity in the party. That is how an extended group, has emerged as the Samagi Jana Balavegaya under Sajith Premadasa. That unity broke. According to a UNP insider, a factor that weighed strongly against their delegation taking part in the meeting with Rajapaksa was to obviate accusations from the Sajith faction. They had said the UNP was taking part since it was tacitly supporting the government.

The SJB statement claimed credit for first raising the issue of Covid-19 outbreak in Parliament on January 24, and again on February 25 but charged that “the government was acting irresponsibly.” It said; “the SJB had reservations regarding many decisions taken by the government to eradicate Covid-19. However, we ignored the shortcomings and opted to support the government efforts.” Ignoring shortcomings is not the responsibility of an opposition political party like the SJB. It neither helps the people of the country, their own voters nor the government in power.

The statement then went on to give other reasons. Among them: (1) There is a curfew in the country by “unlawful means.” We let the matter be in order to support Covid-19 eradication efforts. (Note: by saying this, the SJB takes up the position that unlawful things could be carried out by the government, but they would let things be. How funny?) (2) The curfew has been misused to arrest social media activists. Curfew passes are being issued to business associates and to those who politicise relief efforts. (3) For six weeks, the people have sacrificed so much and endured so much pain in the belief that their government is capable of overcoming this national crisis. (4) If the six weeks lockdown has been successful, the curve showing new Covid-19 patients should drop. It has gone up rapidly. Evidently, the SJB was unaware that other than former members of the last Parliament, others too have been invited. The statement observes: “On the one hand, the President and the Government proclaim that there is no need to convene Parliament. These pronouncements are given wide publicity. In this same situation, the PM calls a meeting of all 225 MPs in Parliament. This only shows the two-faced nature of the government.”

According to the SJB; “the only practical solution to this crisis is to reconvene the old Parliament under the former Speaker. That is because only Parliament has the authority to look into state finances and pass relevant legislation.” The government has made its position clear on the matter. They insist that moneys from the Contingencies Fund were being utilised in the next three months and approval from a new Parliament would be obtained. As for relevant legislation, the government, it is clear, has no new laws to be passed to deal with Covid-19.

If all these and other reasons are causes why the SJB chose not to attend Premier Rajapaksa’s meeting, one wonders whether it has chosen not to have a dialogue with the government altogether. After all, it could list out the same reasons when it is invited for any other dialogue with government leaders. It is the SJB’s paramount duty as members of an opposition party to place such concerns and challenge government leaders. A senior SJB member said that some of their leaders were strongly swayed by a statement issued by JVP leader, Anura Kumara Dissanayake. So much so, he said, they followed the same line. Dissanayake said last week that his party was not attending the meeting. However, the JVP leader said they would take part in meetings of party leaders if invited and also support efforts to counter Covid-19.

It is clear from these developments that the TNA took a dispassionate view and seized the opportunity of a meeting with Premier Rajapaksa. That way, they have  been able to place on record the issues that confront it and won the confidence of its voters that it is fighting for their demands. That too with a parliamentary election pending. What of the two other major opposition groups — the UNP and its stronger offshoot SJB? The psychological warfare among them is affecting each other. It was not many weeks before that at least two from the SJB were said to be wanting to switch sides to UNP after the elections. In addition, the SJB also seems injected with the revolutionary zeal of JVP leaders fired through words, their only weapon nowadays. Leave alone the public, the statements issued by them do not convince their own membership. That has become the fate of the opposition parties and there is more than a lesson they could take from the TNA.

In a two-page statement, Premier Rajapaksa noted that “the opposition’s concern obviously is that if the election is held in a situation where the anti-coronavirus campaign in Sri Lanka has shown much better results than in most other countries, they would be placed at a serious disadvantage. Hence, we see the opposition’s present efforts are aimed at getting the old Parliament reconvened and using their majority in Parliament to block government finances, thereby sabotaging the anti-coronavirus campaign in order to bring the government into disrepute before the election.”

All opposition parties are now focusing their attention on the Supreme Court where the fundamental rights petitions of at least four parties are listed for hearing tomorrow (May 11). The first to file was Charitha Gunaratne, an attorney at law and backer of the SJB. The other petitions are also to be taken up tomorrow. Among those who are petitioners are: Victor Ivan and seven others – T.M Premawardena, Prof Anton Meemana, A.M. Jiffry, S. Sivagurunathan, Mahinda Hattaka, M.S. Jayakodi and Dr H.D.S.F.D. Herath, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and its Executive Director, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and the SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara.

In essence, the petitioners are all challenging the decision by Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya to fix June 20 as the new date for parliamentary elections.

In the midst of this, former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, who is Chairman of the Constitutional Council, wrote on Thursday to all members to attend a meeting to be held tomorrow (Monday) at the official residence of the Speaker in Battaramulla. The letter does not accompany an agenda and the exact reason for the meeting has not been given. However, official sources said the meeting was intended to discuss the functioning of different independent commissions. The move, these sources said, would include a “possible discussion” on the functioning of the Election Commission. This is particularly in the light of increasing reports about continuing friction between the Chairman and a member of the Commission.

Social activity resumes tomorrow after a prolonged curfew. The two major challenges for the government are to speed towards a return to normalcy after reducing the spike in Corvid-19 cases. It is a rough road and one with obstacles. A further spike in cases could slow things down.  For the opposition parties, barring the TNA, their immediate focus to re-summon Parliament has failed. The government is firm it will not re-summon the dissolved Parliament again. The opposition parties’ hopes are now pinned on the outcome of petitions before the Supreme Court. In all this, the TNA, as an opposition grouping, has outsmarted all others.


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