Coalition reset after President’s outburst over corruption probes | Sunday Observer

Coalition reset after President’s outburst over corruption probes

Picture issued by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office of him speaking with President Maithripala Sirisena Oct 13, 2016 at the Walukarama temple in Colombo. (www.economynext.com)

President Maithripala Sirisena’s speech at a military welfare event in Colombo, on Wednesday, created an unexpected controversy in the country’s political sphere.

In his fiery speech, the President hit out at the Police Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID), the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and the Bribery Commission for carrying out investigations to benefit what he termed as political agendas.

Expressing his strong displeasure over producing former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and three former Navy Commanders before court, the President said the independent commissions should function in a responsible manner, within their frameworks.

“There is a purpose and policy for setting up independent commissions in the country. Those serving in the independent commissions should know their scopes,” the President said to an audience full of former soldiers and their family members.

He also said, “I express my strong displeasure and condemnation over taking three former Navy Commanders and producing them before court. If there is a problem about the Defence Ministry and various other agencies, there is an accepted way to investigate them. As the President as well as the Defence Minister, I should have been informed in advance.

The people who elected me as the President wanted political reforms, protection of law and order, supremacy of law, freedom, democracy, human rights and fundamental rights. When I am executing these things, I will not be submissive or under obligation to anybody. As the President I am bound to ensure the national security, to protect the tri-forces, give necessary facilities to them and protect their honour.

“I would never allow the weakening of the Security Forces. If the intelligence officials now in remand custody have allegedly committed any offense they should be tried in courts, after getting them released on bail. If not ensure their early release. The suspects have their fundamental rights to secure bail and get their case be heard before the courts of law.

“When the intelligence officers were first arrested, I was informed that they would be in remand only for two weeks. Then they said it was only for a month. Then it turned out to be six months. But, they are still in remand!”

Unreported

However, there was a part of the President’s speech that went unreported in mainstream media. Towards the end of the speech, the President said the present government would not collapse, although some parties were attempting to create problems. Many reporters who covered the event turned a blind eye to the latter part of his speech, as they were busy sensationalizing the President’s remarks on corruption investigations.

Be that as it may, the President’s speech, without doubt, ruffled a lot of feathers among political circles. Especially the groups supporting the President, such as civil society representatives and human rights activists, were surprised to hear the President’s statement as they strongly pushed for action against Army intelligence unit officers, allegedly involved in attacks on journalists, under the previous regime.

On the other hand, one of the key promises of President Sirisena’s election campaign, in January last year, was to prosecute those involved in attacks against journalists. Civil society leaders urged the public to vote for President Sirisena to mete out justice to the families and loved ones of Lasantha Wickrematunge and Prageeth Eknaligoda who suffered for many years without proper investigations. In that context, those who demanded justice for Wickrematunge and Eknaligoda expressed serious concerns over the President’s remarks on Army intelligence wing members.

Concerns

A day before his speech, the President invited the Prime Minister and a group of senior Ministers for a special meeting, after the weekly Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. At the meeting, the President expressed his concerns over the manner in which the former Navy Commanders were taken to court over the Avant Garde investigation.

He said the Bribery Commission should have informed the President, who is also the Defence Minister, before taking action against former Navy Commanders. A Cabinet Minister who was present at the meeting on Tuesday, told the Sunday Observer that the President at the meeting did not make any remark on former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

Some ministers too expressed their concerns on corruption investigations at the same ministers. For instance, Minister Champika Ranawaka said the Police were chasing behind ‘haalmesso’ (sprats), without trying to net ‘big fish’.

Therefore, one has enough grounds to believe that the President’s remarks on Wednesday was not a knee-jerk reaction. However, the most damaging outcome of the speech was that it gave rise to many rumours and speculations on the national government’s political future. Some even went on to assume that it damaged the goodwill among members of the ruling alliance in an irreparable way.

One of the most ‘popular’ rumours was that the President was planning to take over the Ministry of Law and Order, held by Minister Sagala Ratnayaka. Interestingly, a senior Cabinet minister also ran into an unexpected trouble as a result of the rumours emanating from certain corridors of power.

He was none other than Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake whose name was used for rumour mongering by some party, on Thursday.

Using Facebook and Twitter accounts purporting to be official social media profiles of Ravi Karunanayake, a social media operator posted a story saying the President was planning to take over the Ministry of Law and Order. This story was widely shared by many journalists on social media platforms as it came from a seemingly credible source.

Karunanayake, however, was quick to deny the story, distancing himself from the Facebook and Twitter accounts used for rumour mongering. He also alerted the CID and the Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) of the incident.

Fake Facebook

Issuing a statement explaining his position, Karunanayake said, “It has been brought to my notice that a fake Facebook account accompanied by an interconnected Twitter account under the names of Ravi Karunanayake Lanka Intelligence and Ravi [email protected], implying them as the official Facebook account and official Twitter account of Ravi Karunanayake, Finance Minister of Sri Lanka.

I have no connections whatsoever with these two pages which publishes news detrimental to the interests of the national unity government and the coexistence of the Sri Lankan society. I have informed my officials to lodge a complaint with the CID in this connection. It has also been brought to the attention of CERT, a national centre for cyber security which functions as a division of LK domain registry with academic partners to provide computer emergency response services to the public and private sector institutions in Sri Lanka.”

JVP

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) took a strong position on the President’s statement saying it could weaken ongoing investigations into serious bribery and corruption allegations. In fact, it was the JVP, as an opposition political party, that brought many serious bribery and corruption allegations to the attention of law enforcement bodies after the new government came to power.

In a statement on Thursday the JVP said, “arbitrary comments” by the President led to weakening of the institutions established to investigate serious allegations. They said the President should refrain from making such comments and affecting the morale and independence of those investigative bodies.

“If the defeated Rajapaksa regime is attempting to misinterpret the actions of law enforcement agencies investigating corruption in order to create a certain impression within the military, the response to that would be to defeat such attempts, rather than seeking to demoralise or weaken institutions working on corruption cases,” the JVP media release noted.

The JVP asserted that the allegations against the CID, the FCID and the Bribery Commission could not be taken lightly as the President himself had raised them.

“The President must then make it clear to the country exactly whose agenda these agencies are working towards,” the JVP statement said, adding that some corruption allegations against top-brass members of the current administration were not being probed by the law enforcement bodies.

“We can only assume that these cover-ups are also happening according to someone’s political agenda,” the party said.

Civil society

A day after the JVP condemned the President’s statement, Puravesi Balaya (Citizens’ Power) and several other leading civil society organisations convened a press conference in Colombo to voice their concerns on the issue.

Before the press conference, its organisers expressed fears that an influential group was attempting to sabotage their event by ‘planting’ stooges to disrupt proceedings. However, the press conference took place without any interruptions and the civil society leaders were able to express their views freely.

Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya, Gamini Viyangoda, Saman Rathnapriya, Joseph Stalin and K.W. Janaranjana - some leading activists who supported the President’s election campaign in January last year - addressed the briefing held at CSR building, Colombo.

“There are forces attempting to derail investigations carried out by independent commissions. We all should look after the officers who put their lives on the line to carry out these investigations. We cannot put them at risk,” Wijesooriya asserted while addressing the press conference.

“Don’t discourage the officers involved in the investigations. It will make a serious impact on law and order of the country,” he said.

“If Sobhitha Thera were alive today, he would have been utterly disappointed to see such developments,” the civil society activist said, pledging they would never allow the Rajapaksa camp to regain control of the country.

“We will not topple this government. But we will make sure that the current government is on the right track,” he added.

Strengthening Wijesuriya’s argument, Puravesi Balaya stalwart Gamini Viyangoda said the executive should not, in any way, interfere with anti-corruption investigations.

‘We urge the President and Prime Minister to be accountable to the people, not to their own political agendas’, Viyangoda pointed out.

Rathnapriya and Stalin also highlighted the need to protect what they termed as the ‘January 8 mandate’. They said both the President and the Prime Minister, the two ‘centres of gravity’ of the national unity government, should pay attention to fulfill their duties to the nation, without pursuing individual agendas.

Meanwhile, a group of artistes representing the two civil society organisations decided to boycott a meeting with the President scheduled for Friday night. They openly stated they would not attend the meeting in protest of the President’s statement on corruption investigations. The gathering, however, was organised to discuss problem faced by artistes involved in the entertainment industry.

SLFP’s response

While the UNP and the civil society leaders were dissatisfied with the development on Wednesday, some SLFP stalwarts in the ruling coalition sounded upbeat as they saw it as an opening to form an ‘SLFP government’, in the future.

Even the SLFP MPs representing the Joint Opposition left aside their differences of opinion and held press conferences to express their support to the President.

MP Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, a Parliamentarian supporting the Rajapaksa camp, openly backed the President’s statement, calling his supporters to strengthen the President’s hands. Mahindananda Aluthgamage, another Parliamentarian facing multiple bribery and corruption investigations, also joined Abeywardena. They said it was the beginning of the downfall of the national unity government formed after the Parliamentary election last year.

However, other parties supporting former President Rajapaksa’s political agenda were skeptical of the President’s statement, saying it could be a ‘nicely orchestrated drama’ to hoodwink the SLFP.

“The SLFP is on the verge of a major split. The rally held in Rathnapura last week showed the strength of the Joint Opposition group. The President, as the Chairman of the party, wants to retain his ground level supporters. So, we suspect that he is trying to attract them by criticizing the UNP. It can be a move to weaken the Joint Opposition,” a stalwart representing the Joint Opposition told the Sunday Observer on Friday, when asked about his views on the current state of affairs in the national unity government.

“The government has postponed the Local Government election. The date for the election is not yet fixed. The government keeps buying time using electoral reforms. The SLFP is aware that it does not have slogans to attract their traditional supporters. Probably, this is a ‘drama’ to draw their support,” the Parliamentarian opined.

“After the Local Government election,” he said, “they will conveniently forget their anti-UNP sentiments and work as a ruling alliance. Party supporters at the grassroots level will be hoodwinked,” he said, on a prescient note.

UNP meets President

Most of the UNP MPs were in a state of confusion after the President’s speech made headlines on Wednesday and Thursday. They received numerous phone calls from their supporters and the MPs were not in a position to give them convincing answers. Meanwhile, a press conference scheduled at the party headquarters was cancelled at the eleventh hour on Thursday. Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure Minister Harin Fernando was due to address the press conference.

It was in this context that President Sirisena held a special meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wcikremesinghe and several senior Cabinet ministers over the national unity government’s way forward.

Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake and Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam also attended the meeting at the President’s Office on Thursday.

The President speaking to ruling alliance members said, he previously informed law enforcement bodies to inform him, before taking action against top brass members of the military. He explained to them that this process had not been followed when the Bribery Commission sued three top-level officers of the Navy over the Avant Garde investigations.

The President was also dissatisfied with the manner in which the Commission handled the investigation involving State Minister A.H.M. Fowzie, an SLFP stalwart representing the national unity government. The Commission last week filed a case against Fowzie for the alleged possession and use of a vehicle owned by the Disaster Management Centre while serving as the Minister of Disaster Management.

However, the President stressed that there was no threat to the stability of the government and everyone should work together to achieve the government’s collective goals.

“The meeting was very positive. Everyone was on the same page about the future of the national government. There is absolutely no threat to the political stability of the country and the President stressed the need for unity,” a senior Minister who attended the discussion told the Sunday Observer.

He said the independent commissions would function as usual and the investigations into large-scale corruption allegations would proceed.

Denied

The Minister also denied speculation that Dilrukshi Dias Wickremasinghe, Director General of the Bribery Commission might resign from her position following the President’s statement.

“She is abroad at the moment. We will discuss her issues when she comes back. But I don’t think she will resign,” he said. After the discussion, the President and the Prime Minister attended the opening session of the annual perahera, organised by the Sri Walukaramaya Temple in Colpetty. The UNP Ministers looked satisfied with the outcome of the meeting, as the President had allayed their fears and concerns. The meeting, however, brought a tumultuous political week to an end as it convinced the ruling party stalwarts that the President did not intend to jeopardise the ‘existence’ of the national unity government. 

Comments

Politicians are elected by people. People expect honesty truth justice FairPlay. Failed justice is bad for the society. All criminal and civic violations are and must be investigated by justice system to clear the conscious of the individual and the society

WHO IS THIS GAMUNU WIJERATNE/The Puravasi Balaya TO THREATEN THE PRESIDENT OF SRI LANKA? This fellow is just the so-called leader of one of the Private Bus Operators association, which calls itself a Civil Society organization. It is a know fact that the Private Bus Owners Association are the serious violators of the Motor Traffic Act in Sri Lanka and the drivers employed by people like Gemunu Wijeyratne are daylight killers on the road of innocent women, mothers, elders and children. The maximum membership this rascal's association has is about 500 Private Bus Owners, all considered as thugs operating in common bus stand/stations. Conniving with the corrupt government officials and CTB operational staff at all bus depots/stands, these racals have destroyed the CTB to become a burden on the taxpayers of Sri Lanka. It is reported/rumoured that this fellow, with the help of a few bus owner thugs has manupilated many regulations in favour of his association exposing himself as the man who brought the “Yahapalana government” to power. It is also rumoured that he exerts pressure on Motor Traffic Police officers to make Motor Traffic offences lenient when the drivers of his bus-owner operators are nabbed by police officers, creating coomunicational expressions/metaphors of his closeness to the government. President Maithripala Sirisena should set-up a probe/inquiry into the activities of this individual and apply the “Rule-of-Law” to punish these so-called “Activist”, even though they has supported the “HANSAYA’ during the presidential and general elections in 2015. LET IT BE KNOWN TO THIS RASCAL that it was the MUSLIMS and the TAMIL VOTERS with the support of some of the anti-Mahinda SINHALA voters that brought the “Yahapalana government” to power. Gemunu Wijeyratne is also fully financed by the SAITM Institution operators/owners and has facilities to educate his daughter free at SAITM in medical education for the favours he is doing, shouting to defend SAITM against the on-slaughter of the GOMA which is doing a wonderful “public interest action” in defending the credibility and high standards of the Medical Education system in Sri Lanka. Many Muslim parents whose children who failed to gain University Admission who are studying (especially medicine) at SAITM may support this unscrupulous character who pretends that he can do any thing with President Maithripala Sirisena, but “The Muslim Voice” stands for the “DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE”, “THE RULE OF LAW” and the “DEFENCE OF THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY OF SRI LANKA from all UNSCRUPULOUS MUSLIM POLITICIANS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS. In recent times it is witnessed that almost 90 % of the Civil Society Groups and persons who were with the late Thera and who joined the stage at Hyde Park on Tuesday the 2nd., December 2014 have abandoned the present Puravasi Balaya Leadership of which this fellow claims to be a leader and belongs to a hand full of certain individuals like Co-Convener Saman Rathnapriya, Prof. Sarath Wijeysuriya, Ravaya editor K.W. Janaranjana, Gamini Viyangoda are undemocratically steering this movement for their personal political agenda and holding to ransom the "Yahapalana government” under the pretext of safeguarding the rights of the people/voters, while they indirectly benefited from the President and the PM and are lobbying for "anti-people" activities blackmailing the government appearing as the saviours of TRUE DEMOCRACY. It is the duty of the peace loving people of this country and the patriots who love their "Maathruboomiya" and the MEDIA be vigilant of this situation and defend the country and the nation from the political disaster a hand full of so-called "Civil Society" elements who are up to political mischief for their personal glory and gains at the cost of the sacrifice made by our Security Forces personnel and our Ranaviru. This thug GEMUNU WIJERATNE or the Puravasi Balaya cannot be allowed to run this country and dictate terms and conditions to the Executive President and the Prime Minister or the Cabinet of Ministers or Parliament, for that purpose. They are NOT the VOICE of the people, but just a hand full of individuals and a small ad-hoc group of some civil society organizations for that matter. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Joint Opposition also should be careful and VIGILANT about this so-called civil society OPPORTUNIST THUG in the future. Noor Nizam - Peace and Political Activist, Political Communication Researcher, SLFP Stalwart and Convener "The Muslim Voice"
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