Energy Minister Gammanpila found himself stranded on the government highway and left holding the can for the oil hike, after the governing party secretary accused him last Saturday of being responsible for the increase and called for his immediate resignation. In a letter sent last week to Gammanpila, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Secretary, Sagara [...]


Scapegoat Gammanpila turns the tables on SLPP

Bid to leave Energy Minister holding the can backfires

Energy Minister Gammanpila found himself stranded on the government highway and left holding the can for the oil hike, after the governing party secretary accused him last Saturday of being responsible for the increase and called for his immediate resignation.

In a letter sent last week to Gammanpila, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Secretary, Sagara Kariyawasam, stated the Government had to face this critical situation as the subject Minister had failed to take correct decisions at the right time. He also stated they have a reasonable doubt if such decisions are made on purpose to discredit the SLPP and its leaders.

But the normally docile and servile Gammanpila, the leader of his one-man party, the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya — whose fraud case involving an Australian citizen was one of the criminal cases the Presidential Commission of Political Victimisation recommended to be withdrawn from the courts and action taken against the complainant — surprisingly, did not take the affront lying down but stood his ground, emerging from his Pivithuru cubbyhole with all guns blazing.

Rather than be the sacrificial Yom Kippur goat with government sins piled on its expendable back and banished to the wilderness, Gammanpila deemed it time to adopt the role of the mouse that roared in a sudden show of defiance.

Holding a hastily arranged media conference on Sunday afternoon to refute his detractor’s earth shattering claim he was single handedly responsible for the fuel price increase by his failure to take adequate steps to prevent it, Gammanpila produced the dossier on the fuel price hike and revealed ‘who dun it’.

According to Gammanpila’s blow by blow account:

First, the Central Bank had issued a letter to the Treasury on May 31, warning it of the impending financial doom facing the country’s banking sector; and, with the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation owing the state banks over Rs. 600 billion, they had strongly advised that the fuel price must be raised. This had led the Treasury to insist on a fuel price hike to avert an imminent collapse of the entire banking system.

Second, he had announced the fuel price hike last Friday, only after the decision had been taken by the President on Wednesday, June 9. This followed a committee meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and attended by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena, Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Power Minister Dullas Alahapperuma, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa and State Ministers Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Lasantha Alagiyawanna and himself.

Third, he had merely been a passive spectator to the unfolding drama of discussion; and, once the crucial decision had been taken, he had simply volunteered to pick up the megaphone and blare the bad tiding to the nation to spare the President and the Prime Minister from the political fallout.

Fourth, before he had publicly announced on June 11 the presidential decision arrived at after a committee had sat on it, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had signed, as the Minister of Finance, his official approval for the fuel price hike, which he had received on June 10. So, Gammanpila pointed out, how could he be singled out for castigation and his resignation arbitrarily demanded when it was clear it was a collective decision of the Government?

Fifth, by calling for his resignation as the Energy Minister, what SLPP Secretary Kariyawasam had done, in effect, was to have attacked Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa by making a statement on a party letterhead bearing the Prime Minister’s photograph, and raising a needless issue as to who should singularly carry the can for the fuel price hike? In  doing so and placing the Prime Minister in a spot, wasn’t the resignation of Kariyawasam’s the one to be truly called for?

And sixth, perhaps as his four leafed clover to ensure his metered run of good luck still remains active and runs continuous without glitch, he enthusiastically defended the Government’s decision to raise the fuel prices, never mind the hardship it caused to his voters, the public. Masters must, of course, be served first.

After throwing down the gauntlet to the ruling party, if Gammanpila spent a restless night tossing and turning and fearing the worst and sweatily wondering whether he had been, in indigenous hela urumaya style, served with a surfeit of ‘pala’ to signal it was time to leave the high table, and felt forlorn and alone in that wretched hour, then did the anticipated message of support from the other eight parties who straddle the Government and yet strum out such drivel to feign an independent streak, bring him any relief or comfort?

The statement issued by eight party leaders on Monday, most of whom are one man bands, was nothing more than an expression of solidarity with the Government on its decision to raise fuel prices.

Signed by Water Supply Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara of the Democratic Left Front, Industry Minister Wimal Weerawansa of the National Freedom Front, MP Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera of Our Power of People’s Party, MP A.L.M. Athaullah of National Congress, and four others, the statement underscored their support for the Government, stating that in the midst of a COVID crisis, the Government had to take unpopular decisions and the increase in fuel prices was one such decision.

It merely made a reference to the man at the centre of the storm in the Government’s own tea cup, Gammanpila, passingly saying it was unfair to hold him solely responsible for a collective decision made by the Government. It also gave a rap on the SLPP secretary’s knuckles, stating his resignation call may have given the impression there were cracks within the government ranks.

Thus, all that this jingbang of political hitch-hikers did with their professed show of die-hard  support toward Gammanpila, was to make it abundantly clear that, having got on the government bandwagon, they had no intention to risk being thrown off from the gravy train.

Vasudeva Nanayakkara himself gave a hint that the happy ending may well be in the offing when he told reporters on Tuesday the whole episode was due to a misunderstanding which a little bit of reasoning couldn’t but fail to clear.

But Gammanpila was clearly not content with this tepid response. Later he went on the offensive, telling TV journalist Chamuditha Samarawickreme in a televised interview: “If a person hits me with a pole I do not get angry with the pole but with the bearer of the pole. I was not the real target of this attack. The real target was Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. It may even be a foreign conspiracy to isolate the prime minister from his strongest supporters.”

On Tuesday, in an interview with Hiru TV, Gammanpila was more forthcoming. Propelled by some vitriolic fuel, perhaps, he seemed a loose missile gone out of government control, revealing the true penniless state of affairs which had, hitherto, been kept under official wraps. Speaking on the fuel price hike, he said it was impossible to give any relief to the people, revealing that the Government did not have foreign exchange to purchase oil. In a bid to maintain local fuel prices a reserve fund had been set up to deposit the monies saved when world oil prices were down and to be used as a set off when prices rose. But when the fund stood at Rs. 48 billion, the sum was used to partly settle the Rs 650 billion debt owed to the two state banks.

At another press conference held earlier in the day, he revealed the contents of the Central Bank’s warning issued on May 31. It had warned that if oil prices were not increased, it would lead to the collapse of the banking sector, the country’s foreign exchange reserves may totally be exhausted, the dollar rate will further soar and imported goods will cost more. This was the stark reality that stared in the Government’s face. According to him, “The government had to decide what was more important to maintain: The price of oil or the rate of the dollar? If my attempt to shield and protect this Government is a problem for those within the Government, then the enemies of the Government are not outside but within.”

While this side show was continuing in full flow and kept further alive in the public theatre with the SLLP Secretary refusing to withdraw his resign call, saying there was no change in his or his party’s opinion and the Opposition planning to bring a no-confidence motion against Gammanpila in parliament and Gammanpila himself thoroughly enjoying being the cynosure of the times, the Government issued a statement on Monday that not only sought to justify the fuel hike but advocated why it would be the Vitamin B 12 fed saline drip to boost the moribund economy.

In the statement the Presidential Media Division said that “it was only a key factor of a common strategy aiming to strengthen the local economy. It said that the decision to increase fuel prices was taken to maintain a low interest rate by strengthening the banking system in the country, strengthen exchange rate by reducing foreign exchange spending, ensure health and wellbeing of the people and to transform the import-dependent consumer economy into an investment and consumer economy dependent on domestic production.”

If that is indeed the case, what a pity the Government hadn’t acted earlier but tarried until its popularity had sunk to its nadir and the burdens on the masses had piled to its peak to find, in fuel prices, a new economic wand to dawn the Miracle of South Asia.

PS: And the moral of the Gammanpila tale: Even a mouse can bite back when cornered.


Lightweight Gammanpila comes out of his corner

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