President unveils ‘Pledge for Freedom’: Pledges to swing his sword against bribery and corruption | Sunday Observer

President unveils ‘Pledge for Freedom’: Pledges to swing his sword against bribery and corruption

Since the announcement of the Local Government elections, the Sri Lanka Podujana Party backing former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been dealt with several serious setbacks.

Before the announcement of the election, the Podujana Party claimed that the election victory would be a cakewalk for them. They said, the majority of grassroots level members of the SLFP were with them, and the Rajapaksa group was in a position to sweep the election to victory.

It was clear from the beginning that their sole strategy was to piggyback on the personal popularity of former President Rajapaksa.

Then, a few days after the announcement of the election, the ‘ground reality’ struck them.

Crossovers

Two stalwarts of Wimal Weerawansa’s National Freedom Party, Weerakumara Dissanayaka and Piyasiri Wijenaike, defected from the Joint Opposition and aligned themselves with President Maithripala Sirisena.

Holding a press conference in Colombo, Dissanayake criticized the Joint Opposition’s move to contest separately at the Local Government elections. He said, all JO members should have thrown their weight behind President Sirisina.

A few days later, Sriyani Wijewickrama, another JO MP, met the President and received membership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Wijewickrama, a member of Dinesh Gunawardena’s Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, represents the Digamadulla district, in the Eastern Province.

President Sirisena appointed her the Deputy Minister of Local Government and Provincial Councils.

In the offing

The other important crossover of the week was that of Somaweera Chandrasiri, the Vice Chairman of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, led by Dinesh Gunawardena.

Chandrasiri, a politician who has vast experience in the trade union field, addressing a press conference at the SLFP headquarters pledged support to President Sirisena. He met President Sirisena the same day, and obtained membership of the SLFP.

The majority of JO members who defected to the SLFP over the past few days were stalwarts of the minor parties supporting the former President. This means the rank and file of these minor parties are doubtful about the Rajapaksa group’s chances at the Local Government elections.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Party, which earlier exerted heavy pressure on the government to go for an election, is now playing on the backfoot. The crossovers have slowed down their momentum, and their grassroots level support-base is in a state of confusion.

They earlier claimed that with the announcement of the election, a sizable group of SLFP members would leave the government and join the Joint Opposition. Some JO members went on to claim that 10 SLFP members holding ministerial portfolios within the government were ready to switch allegiance ‘at any time’.

In fact, the recent developments only indicate a reversal of fortunes. It showed it was the JO members who were waiting for an opportunity to crossover to the SLFP camp led by the President. Informed sources from the SLFP also confirmed that a few more crossovers were in the offing.

Photographs

Adding insult to their wounds, some candidates of the SLFP had apparently used the photographs of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa for their election campaigns.

It was abundantly clear that the move was aimed at preventing the SLPP from piggybacking on the personal popularity of the former President.

The SLPP thought it was an alarming sign and quickly brought it to the attention of the elections authorities. However, the counter-argument presented by the SLFP candidates had a solid base.

They said, Rajapaksa was still a member of the SLFP. “The last time we checked, he was also a Patron of the party,” they added.

Also, there was no indication to believe that Rajapaksa had obtained membership of the SLPP, the party backing the former President. It seemed as if the candidates of SLPP were using the photographs of a leader of another party to promote their campaigns.

Regrets

Addressing a press conference in Colombo this week, Minister John Seneviratne said, the Joint Opposition would soon regret the decision of contesting separately at the Local Government elections.

“Some who talk about the victory of the flower bud party (SLPP), do not even have membership of that party. It is because they still need the SLFP and are scared of facing disciplinary action.”

“It is hard to unite, but easy to divide,” he said, adding that those who crossed over to the SLFP have understood the value of unity.

“The people of the country have also understood that President Sirisena is a leader who does not give a chance to racism, ethnic differences and other forms of discrimination. He is the leader who can usher in reconciliation. The SLFP will win this upcoming local government polls without any challenge,” he added.

Pledge for freedom

The highlight of the SLFP led UPFA election campaign this week was the launching ceremony of the ‘Nidahase Sammuthiya’ (Pledge for Freedom) with the participation of leaders and representatives of 31 political parties affiliated with the coalition for the upcoming elections, at the BMICH.

The ‘Pledge for Freedom’, a policy framework by UPFA for good governance free of fraud and corruption was presented to the Maha Sangha, including other religious leaders, by the President.

President Sirisena, addressing the event said his sole intention was to build a clean political culture for the future of the nation.

“No one in the field of politics can have a personal agenda. Everyone should have a common agenda for the future of the country, the nation and the people,” he added.

“The ability to hold the Local Government elections under the new electoral system is a great achievement, and the approach to a good political culture will be achieved through this system,” the President said, recalling the hardships he dealt with, in this regard, over the past few years.

“With our pledge for a concept of freedom, a group of people necessary for a clear political vision and a clean political movement will emerge in the country,” he said highlighting that everyone involved in his party’s election campaign was acting in an exemplary manner, showing great discipline.

“The SLFP has selected educated and clean young candidates at this election. I request all of our candidates to refrain from criticizing your political opponents at your election campaigns. Instead, speak to your supporters about your vision for a developed village and a prosperous country.” President Sirisena said.

He also pointed out that many political parties have taken corruption free politics as a motto in their election campaigns. “This tendency itself shows that what we lack in Sri Lanka is corruption free politics. We promise it because we do not have it. We have a very long way to go.”

Bond Commission

The report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Treasury Bond was presented to President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday.

The mandate period of the Treasury Bond Commission was extended until December 31, on December 7, 2017.

The extension was done by an Extraodinary Gazette notification in terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act, Section 4.

Many believe, the report of the commission will lead to significant developments in the political domain. The timing of the Commission report is also crucial as it comes out just six weeks ahead of the Local Government elections – the first island-wide election after the unity government’s ascension to power.

The President has already pledged stern action against bribery and corruption. Addressing the BMICH event, the President said, it was unimportant for him as to which party, colour or relative is slashed by his sword in the journey for clean politics.

Many speculated that this remark was a prelude to the report of the Bond Commission.

However, all parties in the government, including the UNP, agree that if there has been an act of corruption in the Treasury bonds issue, action has to be taken against perpetrators.

“Many have this misconception that the UNP does not want to punish the culprits of the bond issue. It is wrong. The UNP too is strongly of the opinion that the perpetrators should not go scot free. Our position is that the due process has to be followed before determining who the real culprits are. The inquiries should be carried out without political bias and the whole process should not be a witch-hint against one party,” a senior UNP Parliamentarian who also holds a ministerial portfolio told the Sunday Observer.

Way forward

Informed political sources said there were two possible scenarios following the submission of the Bond Commission report.

One possible way forward is to forward the report to the Attorney General’s Department to initiate legal action against the culprits.

“But, it will be important to ensure that the AG’s Department proceeds on this matter without delay. The biggest allegation against the AG’s Department is the delay on its part, when it comes to crucial bribery and corruption investigations. Therefore, it would be important to ensure that there are no such delays with regard to the Bond investigation,” a senior government spokesman said.

The second option is to appoint a panel of experts to study the report and entrust it with the task of making recommendations on future action.

The final decision in this regard, however, lies with the President. It is the President’s course of action that will determine the ramifications of the Bond Commission report.

The President, however, has indicated that the matter will not end here. He has already announced the appointment of a new Presidential Commission to probe into SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka which ran into heavy losses under the previous administration.

The new Commission is expected to be appointed in January, after the President receives the Bond Commission report.


MR’s selective amnesia on SAITM issue

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a contentious statement this week on the SAITM issue.

Obviously, Rajapaksa’s selective amnesia has pushed him to a point where he no longer believes that SAITM was formed under the watch of his government.

It was common knowledge that Dr. Neville Fernando was a close, personal friend of former President Rajapaksa and the institution received backing not only from the University Grants Commission, but also from the state banks.

The current government inherited this issue and at the time it came to power, the SAITM matter had turned out to be a highly complicated issue. After years of negotiation and deliberations, the government has finally formulated a solution that seems to be a settlement acceptable to all parties.

It goes without saying that Rajapaksa’s statement was aimed at washing his hands off concerning the controversy his own government created. He now calls upon the government to resolve the issue.

Some salient points of Rajapaksa’s statement are as follows:

‘Two years of continuous protests and agitation by the student unions and the Government Medical Officers’ Association against the medical degree course offered by the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine ended last November due to the undertaking given by the government that this medical course will be abolished. Now however, the GMOA and the student unions have expressed concern that the government is preparing to renege on their pledge.

‘Even though members of the government have been saying from time to time that the SAITM was started by my government, this is a private enterprise started by its owners, not by any government.’

‘At the initial stages in 2008, SAITM was called the ‘South Asian Institute of Technology and Management’ and was to offer courses in Information Technology, Management and Finance, Engineering, Vocational Studies, Nursing, Languages and Health Sciences. No mention had been made in the original Board of Investment application about a medical degree course. The BOI had granted approval for the enterprise on the condition that approval will be obtained from the Ministry of Health before providing training in Health Sciences. SAITM had commenced enrolling students for a medical degree course from September 2009 onwards.’

‘From the very beginning, the Sri Lanka Medical Council had been warning the public by way of newspaper advertisements that they do not recognize the medical degree offered by SAITM. In February 2011, this institution changed its name to ‘South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine’. If any private educational establishment wishes to offer a course in medicine, it is entirely up to them to obtain the necessary approvals from the Sri Lanka Medical Council, which is the body that oversees medical education and accredits and licenses medical professionals in this country.’

‘A great deal of correspondence has passed back and forth between SAITM, the SLMC, the Health Ministry and the Higher Education Ministry from the time this medical course commenced at SAITM, but they have not been successful in obtaining accreditation for their medical course. My government never interfered in the work of the Medical Council which is an independent body. When the SAITM started its medical course, there was no established procedure whereby a private institution could be accredited to offer medical degree courses. There was no legal provision for the government to prohibit private institutions from commencing medical degree courses either. Since 2009, the SAITM medical degree course has existed in this grey area of the law and the regulatory framework. This can be described as a complication that has arisen due to a lacuna in the law.’

‘After more than two years of agitation by the GMOA and the student unions, the Yahapalana government finally announced that the SAITM medical degree will be abolished. Now the parties that spearheaded this agitation complain that this pledge is not being implemented. The government should ensure that there is no further disruption of medical education with university students taking to the streets and medical officers forced into taking trade union action on account of this disputed medical degree course.’

‘The SAITM issue has already come to the attention of the medical authorities in countries like Britain and Australia with which the Sri Lankan medical profession interacts very closely. Therefore, this issue should be resolved in a just and reasonable manner without further delay.’

Rajapaksa’s statement is nothing but a class case study on how ‘opportunism’ plays a vital part in power politics. 

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