The Political Column

18th January 1998

Stalwarts meet after a major controversy

By Our Political Correspondent

Ranil-Cooray handshake: reconciliation of two giants at hand?
There are signs of political recon ciliation in the UNP with specu lation that one time strongman Sirisena Cooray would take to politics and actively campaign for the party during the oncoming Provincial elections.

It was what most loyal UNPers were probably waiting for. The meeting and a handshake by their leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and their one-time General Secretary, Sirisena Cooray.

And what may have warmed the cockles of the hearts of die-hard greens even more may have been that the one-time Cabinet colleagues, later estranged over no-one really knows what (except themselves possibly) met at the Stanmore Crescent home of the Premadasa clan.

It was a well-known secret that not only was Ranil, Cooray and the Premadasas virtually not on talking terms with one another, but that party workers were disheartened that the government was enjoying the split.

After some hardwork by essentially the erstwhile loyalists of President Premadasa, the 30th birthday of Sajith Premadasa (not the hot favourite of the party leader still) became the axis for renewing old ties.

Accompanied by his schoolmate and millionaire garment exporter Malik Samarawickrama, the UNP leader had agreed to 'drop in' only.

As the party was in progress Mr. Wickremesinghe spoke to many as he walked towards the door.

He also had a word with lawyers Hemantha Warnakulasuriya and Lakshman Ranasinghe.

Mr. Ranasinghe said, "Sir we have two guests to open the dinner table".

"One is you".

"Who is the other one?" Mr. Wickremesinghe asked with a grin.

"Mr. Cooray", was the reply.

The UNP leader then walked up to Mr. Cooray, shook hands and shared a few pleasantries.

The Ranil-Cooray meeting was the first after a major controversy last year over the Premadasa birthday celebrations organized by the Premadasa Centre.

Eventually, Mr. Cooray could not take part in those celebrations as the government detained him under Emergency Laws.

The Supreme Court later ruled his detention was unlawful and ordered his release.

After his release Mr. Cooray went to Australia and then to Bangalore where he met many Sri Lankans including Sarath and Shanthini Kongahage and Hemantha Warnakulasuriya.

But now more than the Ranil-Cooray handshake political circles are interested in a possible reconciliation between the Premadasas and Mr. Cooray.

The Premadasas fell out with Mr. Cooray soon after the assassination of President Premadasa in 1993.

They were at loggerheads and the Premadasa family kept its distance from the Premadasa Centre which Mr. Cooray headed.

However, behind the scene manoeuvres by Asad Sally and Hemantha Warnakulasuriya brought the two factions together once again and Premadasa and Cooray loyalists have approved this move overwhelmingly.

Mr. Sally is a UNP Municipal Councillor and nephew of Minister Fowzie.

As a prelude to the Cooray-Premadasas reconciliation, Mr. Sally had extensive talks with the Premadasa family, speaking to them of the importance of such a reconciliation.

On the other side, Mr. Warnakulasuriya persuaded Mr. Cooray to come to terms with the Premadasa family.

Mr. Cooray had discussions with Mr. Warnakulasuriya in Bangalore.

Mr. Cooray agreed but felt the initiative should come from the other side.

Thus came the invitation for Sajith's birthday party. Accepting the invitation, Mr. Cooray came for the party around 9 p.m. which ended late at night with the birthday boy joining Sunil of the Gypsies for a grand sing song.

Mr. Cooray will not step into politics immediately. He is waiting for an opportunity and says he will join the UNP only if he is invited to do so.

At present he is spending his time in Katana attending to his private work.

For the government, the controversy over the Galle Port expansion is turning into a legal battle. The UK-China Consortium's local agent S. A. Kandasamy is consulting lawyers over this issue and is likely to file action in the Colombo District Court challenging the decision of the government to revoke the letter of intent.

It is now revealed that Ports and Shipping Minister M.H.M. Ashraff had come under strong pressure to present the Cabinet paper to cancel the project.

When Mr. Ashraff said he was unwell, the President had apparently asked him as to whether it was all right if some one else drafted the Cabinet paper for him.

He was told that he would put his signature once it is sent to him and the Deputy Minister could present it to the Cabinet.

But Minister Ashraff made it a point to present the Cabinet paper himself.

It is now rumoured that the BOI is thinking of handing over the project to the Johore-Port of Malaysia through another Sri Lankan agent.

The person had several meetings with Mr. Kandasamy to strike a deal.

He too has strong Malaysian connections, worked out through a former Sri Lankan Ambassador.

But now Mr. Kandasamy has written to the President requesting an extension of at least six months for the Consortium to accomplish its task.

While thanking the President for denying press reports that she accused the Consortium of deceiving the government, Mr. Kandasamy said the Consortium felt that surety bonds are not given in BOT projects and hence they refused to contribute towards it.

In the circumstances Mr. Kandasamy states that the local promoter of the project, the CAPS, took the initiative to do so.

According to the LOI, he states that the bond was required only to ensure that the feasibility studies were submitted on or before the date stipulated in the agreement.

Mr. Kandasamy, however, says that to show that the Consortium is determined to conclude the project, the surety bond was extended on a monthly basis up to December 31, 1997.

However, before December 31, 1997 the Secretary to the Ministry of Port Development called for the bond.

But subsequently the Ministry received a directive from the Attorney General's representative to refer the matter to him before taking such action.

The stand taken up by the Ministry now is that they are in a position to cancel the directive calling for the bond if it appears to be contrary to the stipulated conditions.

But now the matter is likely to come up before Courts. Thus the Galle Port project may not get off the ground this side of year 2000.

More than the Galle Port, the government is concerned about the local elections in Jaffna.

The government is keen to have this election as scheduled despite intelligence reports that the voter turnout would be low.

At the same time the government is keen to have the TULF in the Jaffna Municipal Council Elections and is doing everything to make that possible.

The TULF has tried to reach an out-of-court deal with the PLOTE but it has failed.

Whatever the results, some analysts see the holding of elections as a victory for President Kumaratunga.

Meanwhile, the President is reported to be planning to appoint five new Deputy Ministers so as to further streamline the work of the government.

It is learnt that one deputy ministership might go to the CWC, but the government is wondering whether it should go to R. Sathasivam or Arumugam Thondaman of the CWC. Government sources say if the choice is left to the CWC, it might choose Arumugam Thondaman.

But most Ministers feel that the government's interest is better served if the post is given to Mr. Sathasivam who is known to wield much influence with CWC voters.

A similar problem cropped up over the portfolio for the LSSP.

One question was whether the LSSP should be called upon to nominate a ministerial successor to Bernard Soysa or whether the President should make the choice.

Except for three Cabinet Ministers all the others argued that the choice should be given to the LSSP, though the SLFPers prefer Athauda Seneviratne.

Though some Ministers insisted that it should be Athauda Seneviratne, Minister D. M. Jayaratne intended to avert a crisis.

He said according to the PA agreement the LSSP should be allowed to nominate a member of its choice.

He stressed that unnecessary disputes should be avoided at a time they are planning to go ahead with a referendum and Provincial Council elections.

Finally the President gave the green light to the PA General Secretary to write to the LSSP requesting it to nominate a member for appointment as a Cabinet Minister.

Batty Weerakoon: ironic acceptance of a portfolio
The LSSP itself was divided on whether to accept the portfolio with some senior members saying the party should stay out of the Cabinet in view of serious differences with government leaders on economic issues such as privatisations. Eventually, the party politburo decided to accept the portfolio and nominated acting leader Batty Weerakoon, who ironically earlier was reported to have opposed the acceptance of a portfolio.

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