PM notches an unblemished 40 while Ravi K faces walking the plank | Sunday Observer

PM notches an unblemished 40 while Ravi K faces walking the plank

President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Minister of Justice and Buddhasasana, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe take part at the religious ceremony to mark the presentation of ‘Aktha Pathra’ to Agga Maha Panditha Most Ven. Kotugoda Dhammawasa Mahanayake Thera to commemorate the prelate’s appointment as the Mahanayake Thera of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Nikaya. The event took place at the Independence Square, Colombo last week. (Pic: Malan Karunaratne)
President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Minister of Justice and Buddhasasana, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe take part at the religious ceremony to mark the presentation of ‘Aktha Pathra’ to Agga Maha Panditha Most Ven. Kotugoda Dhammawasa Mahanayake Thera to commemorate the prelate’s appointment as the Mahanayake Thera of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Nikaya. The event took place at the Independence Square, Colombo last week. (Pic: Malan Karunaratne)

It seems, the Joint Opposition (JO) is holding out hopes for a vote of no-confidence, to oust Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake following the allegations against him over his penthouse at Monarch residencies, which was once allegedly leased by Arjun Aloysius, the man in the centre of the Treasury Bond issue.

JO members say they have handed over a no-confidence motion against Foreign Minister Ravi Karunananyake last week and are confident that it will be successful. JO MPs, Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Chamal Rajapaksa refrained from signing the no-confidence motion, while the former President’s son MP Namal Rajapaksa signed the motion.

But, given the way our party system works, could this really be possible? Political analysts say it is highly unlikely; and even if it does bear fruit - it will lead to another crucial situation in Parliament, depending on how and what decisions the MPs of the two main parties will take, in the circumstances. The analysts predict a few disagreements with political parties, especially, the SLFP MPs who may be divided on their decision on Karunanayake, while UNP will predictably, stand by him.

If the SLFP is divided over this ‘decision’ how would the government face up to it, remains to be seen. What is the stand of the JVP in this crucial matter? The analysts say, they would vote in favour of the motion while the TNA’s decision cannot be predicted yet, as they have not made any comments in connection with the latest findings of the commission. The Sunday Observer learns that the TNA members will take a decision on the issue, after a meeting scheduled for mid next week.

Analysts further say, the JO members’ decision to submit a no-confidence motion is mistimed. They have jumped the gun by making statements and submitting the document, at a time the Presidential Commission is still into recording evidence from Minister Karunanayake about the incidents in connection with the Treasury Bond issue.

“Nothing has been proved yet. All what comes out now is only evidence. The Presidential Commission of Inquiry investigating the issue will first have to hand over the Commission’s report to the President. Legal action can be taken only if the President seeks comments from the Attorney General; this is the normal practice. But, that is a long way off,” a senior political analyst said.

However, the current situation seems dicey for the government and it is a crucial time in the political arena where the President and the Prime Minister would have to put their heads together to come up with a proper strategy.

Over the past couple of weeks, people who voted to elect this government into power two years ago were pleased with some of the happenings during the two weeks, including the decision to get Karunanayake before the Presidential Commission. That gave them a chance to believe once again that the ‘good governance’ system still holds good and no politician or Minister, however powerful is spared within the system they helped create, two years ago.

It was reported that the no-confidence motion against Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake, has been submitted by JO members to Parliament Chief of Staff Neil Iddawela on Thursday evening, which the latter confirmed through various media reports.

It is noteworthy to mention that this is not the first time such action has been initiated by the JO members. In March 2016, a no-confidence motion was taken up against Ravi Karunanayake (then Finance Minister) but was defeated with a majority of 94 against the motion; 145 voted against the motion, while 51 voted for the motion, and 28 abstained. The no-faith motion stated the Minister had misled the House with inaccurate information on the economy and the finance of the country. The motion held the Minister responsible for the current economic crisis in the country.

In the midst of this, another news has broken; that “President Maithripala Sirisena has asked Foreign Affairs Minister and former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake to resign from his portfolio in the face of the allegations levelled against him in connection with the Central Bank bond sale. However, Karunanayake has denied these media reports.

Meanwhile, Karunanayake’s daughter, Onella Wiranthi Karunanayake, in a lengthy Facebook post, has lashed out at negative media reports on her father, saying they were “paid work” by those who want to bring her father into disrepute.

However, the Minister’s daughter, who is also at the centre of the bond investigation stayed away from making comments with regard to the ‘Penthouse’ allegedly funded by Aloysius. Karunanayake told the commission that the Penthouse was bought by his wife and daughter and he was unaware of how the purchase was made.

40 years

On Friday in Parliament, a leader who stood in favour of maintaining democracy and clean parliamentary affairs was felicitated by a group of parliamentarians during a special Vote of Appreciation. The leader who received this glowing tribute was Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. (See page 10 for comments by MPs). After the event the PM thanked those who took part with moving tributes, in his facebook. “I give my thanks to all the parties, Ministers, Members of Parliament, organizers and officers who came to Parliament to watch the debate that took place today, to celebrate my 40 years in Parliament. I am sorry for those who had to turn back because they couldn’t enter the parliament premises due to the large crowd that had gathered.

“For my 40 years in Parliament, since 1977 till today, everyone who voted for the UNP, who gave their blessings, were the people. Also I give my heartfelt thanks to all the members of the party and the Opposition who attended the debate today.”

On the economy front, the cabinet has decided to sell a 100 percent stake in Canwill Holdings (Pvt) Ltd, a state company which owns Colombo’s Grand Hyatt project. The cabinet of ministers has decided to sell a 100 percent stake to a strategic investor. At present there are no employees in the company hence there are no plans to allocate shares to employees.

Canwill Holdings is 45.09 percent owned by the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation, 27.03 percent by Litro Gas Lanka Ltd, and 27.03 percent by Employees Provident Fund.

Canwill Holdings owns the Grand Hyatt project through Sinolanka Hotels and Spa (Pvt) Ltd. Canwill also has another subsidiary, Helanco Hotels and Spa (Pvt) Ltd, which owns a site where a Hyatt Regency was expected to be built in Hambantota.

Helanco Hotels stock will be transferred to SLIC, Litro Gas and EPF in the proportion of the parent, to separate the two projects. The Hambantota project will be divested separately. A transaction advisor will be appointed to seek prospective investors and shortlist two to three investors who will bid for the 100 percent stake on the Colombo Stock Exchange.

The Hyatt hotel in Colombo is built on a troubled real estate project initiated by the failed Ceylinco group, which was expropriated by the Rajapaksa administration.

Hambantota

Another burning issue in the political arena last week was the signing of the Hambantota port agreement between Sri Lanka Ports Authority and the Chinese company. The JO as well as JVP sent shockwaves across the political spectrum demanding the vesting of eleven oil tanks and jetties at the Hambantota Port of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation. The strike launched by the JVP had the full blessings of the JO affiliated trade unions as well.

The Government did not loosen its position. Meanwhile, although the President who promised to the trade union representatives that the signing of the agreement with the Chinese company would be postponed, it did not materialise as envisaged. The trade unions still pin their hopes on what has been pledged to them.

The political analysts believed the Govt’s strategy of pledging boldly to revise the agreement and if necessary, introduce a clause that the Agreement could be revised with the consent of the two parties, was to stymie the trade union even temporarily. One could have argued that the Chinese company too concurred tactfully. Politicians know heart to heart that a special agreement such as Hambantota Port cannot be changed or revised at one’s whims and fancies. Oddly enough they express their political opinions as if they are unaware of this stark truth. Despite Basil Rajapaksa’s assertion that the Hambantota port would be nationalised by a future government of their own, his elder sibling Mahinda Rajapaksa kept mum despite media insistence, probably knowing well the future political repercussions. The former President would have thought it not prudent to damage his cordial relations with China.

The President in a move to ensure “we have nothing to conceal,” released copies of the Port Agreement to the Cabinet ministers asking them to indicate their response within a week, at the next Cabinet meeting. “We could consider them all”, the President quipped.

In another move, the Cabinet at its meeting last week decided to extend the privilege of importing duty free vehicles to the Northern Provincial councillors too. Housing and Construction Minister Sajith Premadasa reiterated his complaint which he repeated previously at Cabinet meetings and outside.

Samurdhi

“There are some problems confronting Samurdhi officials. The Joint Opposition has already pledged to some Samurdhi officials unofficially that they would be permitted to contest Provincial Councils elections. The majority of Samurdhi officials work in such a way as to inconvenience the government and often sabotage the Samurdhi program.

The real beneficiaries do not receive the Samurdhi benefits. They are manipulating to put the blame on the government. The motive behind this is of course to embarrass the government”, Minister Premadasa charged.

The President concurred with him and added that the case of Samurdhi beneficiaries needs to be reviewed.

Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council Chief Minister and a group of SLFP MPs were present at a meeting held at WPC Chief Minister, Isura Devapriya’s residence last Tuesday. Ministers Duminda Dissanayake, Nimal Siripala de Silva and S.B. Dissanayake explained matters on the importance of holding PC elections on one day. Sabaragamuwa Chief Minister and SLFP MPs agreed to the proposal. They assured that they would always abide by the policy decisions made by the government. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had visitors last week. Now and again, both local and foreign guests visited his official residence at Wijerama. Ven. Avissawella Dhammananda domiciled in Thailand too along with a deputation of Chinese Bhikkhus and entrepreneurs paid a visit to the former President.

The Ven. Thera has apparently invited him to attend a ceremony in China organised by the bhikku. Rajapaksa has accepted the invitation, according to sources.

A series of events were held recently to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Open Economy as well as the Prime Minister’s political career. Home Minister Vajira Abeywardene bore the brunt of the organising these events. All the way from Galle, he came to Colombo to take part in the exhibition held at the National Youth Services Council, at Maharagama. For him the Home Ministry stall was the cynosure. 

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