UNP resolves to speak in one voice | Sunday Observer

UNP resolves to speak in one voice

United we stand, divided we fall, is a phrase attributed to teamwork and to promote and inspire unity and collaboration. It is no secret, the leaders of the island’s most successful industry- the apparel sector- often attribute their success to this phrase which signifies united effort. The stakeholders of the industry have one voice. All their conflicts are managed within their core premise, and they go out with credible and workable proposals, instead of promoting individual agendas.

The members of the United National Party seem to have taken a cue from the successful apparel sector in the country. At the last UNP working committee meeting, the members argued and debated on their stand on issues of national interest and decided to stick to the ‘one voice’ concept whenever they make public speeches and comments in connection with development activities and other relevant issues in the country. This issue had to be taken up at the meeting following some negative comments made by Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, on Hambantota development projects.

According to a senior member of the committee, the discussions were confined to the arrangements of UNP’s May Day rally, the reorganization of the party and, more importantly, about the party’s stance when making comments on current development projects in the country. Earlier, the members were irked by Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s comments on the 99-year proposed lease term of the Hambantota Port development project. At the meeting presided by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the members ganged up against Rajapakshe. UNP General Secretary Minister Kabir Hashim, Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera, State Minister of International Trade Sujeewa Senasighe and MP Lakshman Wijemanna directed their criticism at the Justice Minister’s statement on the Hambanthota Port agreement, saying the members of the government should act in a responsible manner, when voicing their views on the government’s decisions.

Minister Samaraweera, in a strong statement mentioned that he was not only referring to the negative comments made by the Justice Minister, and said the government should make the right decisions without pandering to elements attempting to derail the ruling alliance’s economic reforms process. Ministers Kabir Hashim and Mangala Samaraweera were quite vociferous and the members finally agreed to speak in one voice and maintain the party’s unity and collaboration. “We understand the sensibility of the issues and do not want to promote individual agendas. So the members have agreed to talk in one voice in the future,” a senior member of the told the Sunday Observer.

From ‘One voice’ they moved on to discuss about the party restructuring program; it focused on meeting the future challenges of the party, especially, in connection with elections. The discussions continued with arrangements for the forthcoming May Day rally which is to be held in Colombo.

However, as some of the media reports had indicated that a change in the party’s top tier positions was to be made, no such discussion took place during the meeting. Following the meeting, Minister Kabir Hashim told the media, such talks can be discussed at a meeting later.

Shashi Tharoor on Chinese presence in Sri Lanka

Amid the cross talks in the UNP working committee meeting, we saw another important occasion in Colombo where the political biography of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was launched at the BMICH, at which event, eloquent speaker and former Union Minister of India Dr. Shashi Tharoor paid a glowing tribute to PM Ranil Wickremesinghe.

On the same occasion, Dr. Tharoor also flagged India’s concerns over Chinese presence in Sri Lanka when he made the keynote speech. Explaining his concerns over China’s many development activities in Sri Lanka, Tharoor pointed to “military intervention in the guise of trade”.

Referring to Chinese admiral Zheng He’s explorations in the 15th century, Tharoor said, they were not just initiatives to promote trade, but also “direct military intervention under the pretext of ushering in a harmonious world order under China’s emperor.” He raised concerns over Indian businesses not receiving the same treatment as Chinese firms.

He said, many Indian private sector firms have complained of the extraordinarily stringent Environmental Impact Assessment regulations Sri Lanka has applied to Indian firms, noting that Kirloskar has been waiting three years for environmental clearance of an irrigation project. “Some of the Indian executives say, that Chinese companies never seem to face as many environmental hurdles as Indian companies do.”

This was however, not the first time that Indian officials or academics have shown serious security concerns over increasing Chinese presence in Sri Lanka. It was only last February that the Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar visited Colombo – to hold discussions with the heads of the Sri Lankan government. Sri Lankan concerns were also heightened as Jayashankar’s visit took place while the Sri Lankan government was negotiating some comprehensive economic partnerships with China. The Indian officials described Jaishankar’s visit as a routine one to keep himself abreast of the latest developments in Sri Lanka. As this column explained, during that visit, Jaishankar was entrusted with the task of keeping track of the progress of existing Indian development projects, and to explore possibilities of future engagement in the development and commercial sectors.

Speaking after Tharoor’s comments at the book launch, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said, “We see a lot of opportunities in the region, the wealth of which helped the West in the past. It is now time for us to ensure we can rebuild the Indian Ocean and strengthen ourselves. There is much more scope for us to work together with India.”

Wickremesinghe also reinstated his commitment to the Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) that India and Sri Lanka are currently negotiating. It was scheduled to be signed in December last year. The Prime Minister added that ‘the countries of the Bay of Bengal, along with the five southern States of India, and Sri Lanka could focus on an economy larger than trillion dollars in value.’

However, economic analysts feel that India may have lost interest in pushing ETCA on Sri Lanka. “From the vibes we see India is now interested in working on large-scale development projects directly, outside trade agreements, similar to what China is doing,” said a senior economist.

In a message on ‘Ranil Wickremesinghe- a political biography’, Weerakkody said, “Wickremesinghe, unlike many of his contemporaries, and those who followed, has believed strongly in the strength of the local education system to go to the University of Colombo for his degree, rather than to a foreign university”. The book talks of Ranil’s ancestry and his rise, his vision for a new Sri Lanka, the policy options available and that there is a big difference between connecting with voters and delivery. It is dedicated to the late Ven. Sobitha Thera and his generation of locally rooted social and intellectual leaders who have shared a common set of universal values.

PM’s visit to India

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who is visiting Japan from April 10 to 18 for bilateral talks and furthering economic relations with that country is expected to travel to India on his return. The Indian sources say the PM will attend a wedding in Rajasthan. But, he will also go to Delhi to discuss a wide range of topics with Indian Premier Narendra Modi, based on speeding up forthcoming Indian projects in Sri Lanka, reconciliation, preparation of the constitution and also to update Modi on the Hambantota development work. He is expected to meet other high ranking Indian officials during this visit.

Patali propaganda

Minister of Megapolis and Western Development, Patali Champika Ranawaka asked the media to gather at Water’s Edge, Battaramulla for a fellowship, last week. At this gathering he spelt out some of the key plans of his Ministry.

He also made an impressive presentation on what projects are lined up for development over the next three to five years – with details. The major infrastructure projects will interconnect the transport, ICT, plantation, tourism and industrial networks of the Western Province, adding the western region to the global list of similar megapolis, such as, Greater London and Greater Tokyo.

Some of the key objectives of the western region megapolis projects are; create jobs, increase investment opportunities, and strengthen public services across the Province. This will give people the opportunity to comfortably live and work in their native areas without having to travel to Colombo for every single need, be it work, education, health care or public services.

Concerning these factors, people wonder whether the Megapolis would be a strong image building campaign for Ranawaka. The common opinion is that Megapolis is a great opportunity for Ranawaka to launch an image building campaign, thereby ensuring a strong vote base. As of now, he doesn’t belong to a party which has a stronghold in the Western Province, unless he contests through a main political party. The plan, political analysts point out, is that he could become a common candidate in a future election if he is really vying for the big post.

Inland Revenue Act

Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said, via a cabinet decision, the government's policy is to broaden the income tax base by removing excessive tax incentives/expenditures and thereby raise government revenue.

Accordingly, all income tax incentives are proposed to be streamlined and will be based solely on the investment made on capital assets, employment generation and the area in which the investor invests.

The Finance Minister added that further incentives will be dealt with under the Inland Revenue law.

The new Inland Revenue Act which provides for the imposition and collection of income tax is being re-drafted as proposed in Budget 2017 and approved by the Cabinet.

The new Act provides for new investments, incentive schemes and an incentive scheme for small and medium investors who invest in the period 2017 to 2019.

May Day

The United National Party will hold its May Day rally at Campbell Park under the theme, “A green light for the working forces.” Media Minister Gayantha Karunatilaka told the media last week that the party has made all arrangements to mark the May Day on a grand scale and trade union leaders and a large crowd will attend the May Day Celebrations this year. The May Day procession of the UNP will commence at 2 pm from the P.D Sirisena grounds and will march through Panchikawatte, Maradana, Punchi Borella and via Borella to Campbell Park.

Meanwhile, the Joint Opposition plans to hold their May Day rally at the Galle Face Green under the patronage of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The party leaders have boasted that they would bring a massive crowd to their rally.

Political analysts say, it is a test for the JO to show their strength, and on the other hand, the decision by the government to allow them to hold Labour Day rally at the Galle Face Green is a strategic move to check JO’s real strength.

End of a shameless fast

May Day preparations were not the only item on the JO’s agenda last week. JO members were also busy negotiating with the government to get National Freedom Front leader MP, Wimal Weerawansa bailed out. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has reportedly said, the government had no intention in keeping Weerawansa in jail and has directed judicial authorities to expedite the legal process.

Weerawansa who was arrested and remanded for allegedly misusing 40 vehicles belonging to the State Engineering Corporation (SEC) during the former regime, incurring a loss of Rs. 91 million to the government was released on a cash bail of Rs.50, 000 with two sureties of Rs.500, 000 by Colombo Fort Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne on Friday.

Soon after his release, Weerawansa told the media that he ‘never begged for bail from the President or the Prime Minister after being behind bars for over 80 days.’ He also said the government was interfering with the judicial process which is far from the truth. The country knows how the previous government in which Weerawansa was a key figure, wielded influence over the judiciary.

SAITM saga continues

The week ended with confusion over the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) as the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) rejecting the solution offered by the government, to run the Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital (NFTH) under the Health Ministry.

GMOA Secretary Dr. Navin de Zoysa said, they wanted SAITM to be shut down and not taken over by the government. Now, the GMOA is planning to take their protest against SAITM forward by setting up a branch within the newly nationalized NFTH. The government also said, the MBBS graduates from SAITM would be given further clinical training at the Homagama and Avissawella Hospitals, and thereafter sit a mandatory examination under the joint supervision of the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) for provisional registration