One of the criticisms of the Yahapalana Government particularly during the latter part of its tenure was its inability to act decisively when the situation demanded. Hamstrung by policy differences between the two segments of Government led by President Maithripala Sirisena (SLFP) and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (UNP), the Yahapalana Government struggled to keep the [...]


PM undermined; Lanka grappling with issues of governance amidst uncertain leadership


One of the criticisms of the Yahapalana Government particularly during the latter part of its tenure was its inability to act decisively when the situation demanded.

Hamstrung by policy differences between the two segments of Government led by President Maithripala Sirisena (SLFP) and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (UNP), the Yahapalana Government struggled to keep the country on track causing concern among the people, including those who worked to bring the Government to power in 2015, to bring about a system change.

The dissatisfaction among the people at the ineptness of the post-2015 administration was so great, even the qualitative change brought about by the 19th Amendment in terms of strengthening the institutions of governance and opening up the democratic space was lost. Consequently the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) administration was catapulted to power on a platform that was highly communal and racist.

The SLPP-led Opposition projected Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the saviour and answer to all the ills of the country with a campaign that exploited the insecurity among the majority community. New organisations like Viyath Maga and Eliya comprising professionals were touted as the engine that would transform the country, while Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s lack of political experience was made out as a virtue that would enable him to take decisions that would benefit in the country.

Experienced politicians particularly, those with an SLFP background as well as the left, did not see the inherent dangers in vesting the task of governance with a leadership that lacked political experience. Today the amateurish efforts at governance are visible to all, with the people paying the price.

The more experienced politicians from the SLFP are twiddling their thumbs with little or no responsibilities bestowed on them while important positions have been conferred on those who are not sensitive to the needs of the people. The result is untold suffering faced by the people as well as an economic crisis that has been aggravated by Government bungling.

The recent call by Minister Wimal Weerawansa to bring President Gotabaya Rajapaksa into the leadership of the SLPP without confining him to the Presidential Secretariat is probably a recognition of the latter’s insularity from the larger polity and its impact on governance. Minister Weerawansa ignored the fact that it is an inevitable result of the centralisation of power in the institution of the Executive Presidency which automatically distances the holder of the office from the pulse of the people.

No amount of choreographed events like the Gama Samaga Pilisandara can make up for lack of interaction with the representatives of the people. This can only be done by a Head of Government who is part of a Parliament in which he will have to participate and be answerable to the representatives of the people.

This was brought out very clearly by the Presidential outburst against Parliamentarian Harin Fernando at the Gama Samaga Pilisandara. In normal circumstances Harin Fernando’s criticism could have been countered by the President in Parliament under the Westminister system of Government and the matter would have rested there.

The passage of the 20th Amendment has further contributed to a deterioration in the quality of governance. Apart from weakening the independent institutions of Government, the whole decision making process has raised several questions.

If one takes the case of the Eastern Container Terminal (ECT), the Government continuously said 49 percent of the ownership would be handed over to the Indian Adani group despite opposition from a section of its own supporters and its election promise that it would not sell any national assets.

The Government claimed such a step would not amount to a sale but only an investment. In its defence the Government said it was compelled to do so because of the MoU signed by the previous Government with India.

However, when it came to the Light Rail Project from Kaduwela to Colombo, the Government had no hesitation in unilaterally cancelling the agreement signed by the previous Government with Japan with no reasons stated despite the highly beneficial terms on which it had been agreed.

Finally amidst all the opposition it was left to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to put the matter at rest, by stating that the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) would hold 100 percent share of the ownership of the ECT.

The more recent fiasco was the fall out of the statement made in Parliament by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa with regard to burial of COVID-19 victims. Parliamentarian S. M. Marikkar raised the question whether the Government would allow burials for COVID victims, now that State Minister Sudarshani Fernandopulle had said the COVID-19 virus could not be transmitted by water.

Intervening, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene ruled out the Samagi Jana Balawegaya Parliamentarian’s question as being irrelevant. Although the Prime Minster could have taken cover under the Speaker’s ruling and avoided answering the question, he did not do so. In fact, the Prime Minister went out of the way and addressed Parliamentarian Marikkar by name and said burials would be allowed.

The Prime Minister’s statement was welcomed widely by the long suffering Muslim community, as well as diplomats and world leaders including Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. In doing so they relied on the plain meaning of the words uttered by the Prime Minister.

However, the next day State Minister Fernandopulle said the Prime Minister’s “proposal” would be put to the Health Ministry experts committee, whom

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader Rauff Hakeem described the committee as comprising pseudo-scientists. By what stretch of imagination the Minister could describe the Prime Minister’s announcement as a “proposal” is difficult to understand when it was clearly an announcement of the Government’s position.

In fact it raises fundamental questions whether the experts committee has the power to over rule the Prime Minster. Clearly the Prime Minister was seized of the expert committee’s recommendations as well as the overwhelming evidence of medical experts in Sri Lanka and abroad, as well as World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

Adding insult to injury was the statement of SLPP Parliamentarian Kokila Dharmawerdene at a SLPP Press Conference. He said the Prime Minister had only referred to normal burials and not COVID-19 burials.

Another incident involving the Prime Minister was the issue of a circular involving the import of tiles. Within 24 hours of the Prime Minister issuing the circular, the Imports Director General issued a circular nullifying the Prime Minister’s circular.

The unanswered question in the peoples’ minds is who or which force is undermining the Prime Minister’s decisions.



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