‘He should have resigned with honour to earn people’s respect’ | Sunday Observer

‘He should have resigned with honour to earn people’s respect’

The controversy surrounding Justice and Buddhasasana Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe took a dramatic turn when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked him from his portfolios on Wednesday (August 23) following an official request made by the UNP leadership to remove him from his post. The UNP Working Committee which met on August 17 had unanimously decided that Rajapakshe had breached the collective responsibility of the Cabinet and the party, and should be given time till August 21 to correct his statements. It was decided to remove him from all ministerial portfolios if he failed to do so before the specified date. He had however breached that agreement by failing to retract his previous statements and again violated the collective responsibility by continuing to criticize the Ministers of his party and Government policies. Consequent to Rajapakshe failing to abide by the Working Committee decision, it was unanimously decided to remove him from all his ministerial portfolios.

Foreign Employment Minister Thalatha Atukorale was appointed Justice Minister on Friday (August 25), the first ever woman to hold the Ministerial portfolio of Justice. Sustainable Development and Wildlife Minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera took his oaths as Buddhasasana Minister.

After bidding farewell to the Justice Ministry officials, former Minister Rajapakshe told the media on Wednesday (August 23) that he would talk about his political future in due course and that he has decided to function as an independent MP in Parliament.

He said, it was a shame for him to be in a Government and a Cabinet which sells the country’s national assets for a song. He said, the Hambantota Port agreement is a mere piece of paper which completely violates the Constitution so that it is null and void. However, several UNP front liners who spoke to the Sunday Observer said, the party hierarchy should conduct a disciplinary inquiry about the controversial statements made by Rajapakshe, and they will also request the party to initiate a disciplinary action against him. Earlier, the UNP hit out at Rajapakshe for being critical of the cabinet decision and also over his failure as Justice Minister to ensure investigations into corruption by the former regime, and its progress.

He alleged, the masterminds of the Treasury Bond scam used his ministerial portfolio as a scapegoat to cover up the massive fraud, the biggest ever, since King Pandukabhaya’s reign. For the first time in our history, allegations were levelled against a Justice Minister for interfering with the Attorney General’s Department and the Judiciary. On the contrary, the allegation against me was that I didn’t interfere with the AG’s Department and the Judiciary, Rajapakshe charged.

He said, there are two key reasons surrounding this controversy. One is that Hambantota Port has been leased out to a third party in contravention of the Constitution. By doing so, the Cabinet has collectively violated the Constitution. When I revealed this, allegations were levelled against me that I violated collective responsibility. According to clause 157 of the Constitution, a transaction like the Hambantota Port should be moved in Parliament and passed by a two thirds majority. However, this procedure was not followed. Although the Sri Lanka Ports Authority has power to engage in transactions relating to its operational activities, it doesn’t have power to vest or lease out a port in violation of the Constitution. When I exposed this, it was not palatable to certain sections in the Government.

I would like to state that at one time, I didn’t accept a ministerial portfolio in the Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga Government. Later, I resigned from my Ministerial portfolio and quit the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government within five months. Now, I have been removed from my portfolio. Some people are scared and shout when the masterminds of the Treasury bond scam and the transactions of the footnote gang are exposed. On receipt of the report of the Treasury bond Commission, legal action should be taken against the crooks and fraudsters, this is what the people expect. It was difficult to cover up the massive frauds so long as the AG’s Department functioned independently under my purview. Therefore, they decided to remove the incumbent Justice Minister, thereby breaking the backbone of the AG’s Department. The Attorney General had been summoned to Temple Trees on August 15 and insulted by thug MPs and UNP backbenches. Orders had been given to the Attorney General to take up the selected cases against their opponents and prosecute them within two weeks. That is the ideal way to protect fraudsters.

Allegations have been levelled against me that I have deliberately delayed cases relating to incidents that took place during the tenure of the Rajapaksa Government. I was made a scapegoat to sweep the Treasury bond scam under the carpet.

During the tenure of the 2002 UNP Government, national resources were sold at rock bottom prices. The people will take a decision on this Government which sells national assets for a song.

Sustainable Development and Wildlife Minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera:

I am the one who first raised this issue in the Cabinet. We pledged to the people who gave us a mandate to bring culprits to book. Despite allegations levelled on the political stage and news in the media, two years have lapsed without any concrete action being taken against the culprits. At present, 83 cases inquired into have been submitted to the AG’s Department. At every Cabinet meeting, we have been questioning about the delay in prosecuting the offenders, but there was no outcome.

Then, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said, “ When there are 16,000 normal cases, are you asking me to take these cases before those?” Actually, the Justice Minister was elected by the people to rid the country of corrupt officials.

Therefore, we were shocked when he made such a statement. The following week, I raised this issue with the Cabinet, and emphasized the need to take firm action on the 83 cases. Otherwise, I stressed, as a Cabinet member I couldn’t face the people. Then several other Ministers too raised this issue.

The following week, the issue was discussed at the UNP Working Committee and the Group Meeting and it was unanimously decided to ask the Prime Minister to take a decision. Former Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayke after making a statement on behalf of the party resigned.

“I was of the view that the Prime Minister should not be forced to give a judgment like in a court of law, but let him discuss the issue with party Chairman, General Secretary and the relevant Minister, and then take a decision. However, the Justice Minister didn’t resign and he was removed. He should have resigned with honour so that he would have been respected by the people.

After the controversial statement by Minister Rajapakshe about the Hambantota Port, all UNP members were totally against him and said, he has violated party rules. In the Cabinet, he supported the Hambantota Port agreement. Now he can’t say he is against it. He too was part and parcel of it. An open inquiry is going on about the Treasury bond scam. If there are any other corrupt elements on our side in connection to this, they would also be brought to book. We would not interfere with the judicial system. Judges must be independent and impartial to do their job. But, we can’t delay the case, as two years have already lapsed. The people expect to expedite these 83 cases handed over to the AG’s Department by the CID. Within the rule of law, a separate panel of judges can be appointed to hear these cases.

Tourism Development, Christian Religious Affairs and Lands Minister John Amaratunga:

It was mentioned at the UNP Working Committee that Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe has violated collective responsibility of the Cabinet. There were several newspaper articles where he has referred to certain decisions taken by the Cabinet, and made adverse comments.That was the reason to remove him from his portfolio.

“I think, the decision taken against him by the party hierarchy is justifiable, because there has to be Cabinet responsibility and accountability. A member of the Cabinet who has subscribed to its decisions cannot go back and criticize and condemn it later.

Asked whether his resignation would have any impact on the core ideals of the Yahapalana Government, Minister Amaratunga said, not at all. The Yahapalana Government should be complemented for taking that decision.

International Trade State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe:

The former Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe resorted to a completely wrong move and started to criticize the Government.

All of a sudden, he changed his stance. Earlier, he was highly critical of the Rajapaksas and their false nationalism. But, suddenly, he changed his stance and started talking nonsense. We knew he was in a totally different mindset.

He has been given a ‘dead rope’ by some astrologer. I don’t know why he resorted to such irresponsible remarks because he is a sensible person. He went bonkers, and started criticizing the Government by violating the collective responsibility of the Cabinet. He has told the media that he was removed to cover up the Treasury bond scam. What is the connection between his case and the bond scam? He is trying to find something to stand on. When a person who falls tries to hold on to something, it is a normal scenario. Actually, he didn’t resign, but was removed. Because, he was hoping even at the last moment that he can come back.

Definitely, the party hierarchy will conduct a disciplinary inquiry on the controversial statements made by him. We will ask the party to take disciplinary action against him. I also have struggled within the party, but we have never had dealings with the other side. We have been with the party and the system. So, that is the difference between him and us.

UPFA General Secretary and Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Minister Mahinda Amaraweera:

The removal of Justice Minister from his portfolio is irrelevant to the SLFP, it is entirely an internal decision taken by the UNP party hierarchy. It is up to the UNP to take a decision regarding Rajapakshe and it is their internal party matter.

However, if the Minister has violated collective responsibility of the Cabinet as alleged by the UNP, it is not proper.

We can have any arguments or different opinions at the Cabinet level, but such issues should not be publicly crticized or exposed.

Finally, it was up to the UNP to take a decision whether the Minister should be removed from his portfolio or not. We are of the view that the SLFP should not intervene into this internal party matter.