Opposition fishes in fuel price hike muddied waters | Sunday Observer

Opposition fishes in fuel price hike muddied waters

20 June, 2021

The central topic in media circles during the week was that General Secretary of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MP Sagara Kariyawasam has demanded Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila to accept the responsibility for the recent fuel hike and resign from his portfolio. A statement issued by MP Kariyawasam said the fuel hike has heaped the burden on the public who are facing economic hardships due to Covid-19 pandemic and that Minister Gammanpila should accept the responsibility for causing hardships to the public.

Issuing a joint statement, Leaders of eight constituent parties of the Government condemned the move to palm off the responsibility of the fuel price hike on Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila. They said SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam attempted to hold Minister Gammanpila solely responsible for the fuel price hike despite it was a collective decision taken by the Government with the participation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The coalition partners of the Government, in their statement, said that the Government and the people are in the grip of a crisis triggered by the pandemic. Therefore, any Government would be compelled to take some unpopular decisions and the fuel price hike was one of them. Stressing the need to give redress to the low-income groups under these circumstances, the Party Leaders condemned the move to put the entire blame of the price revision on the subject Minister.

Gammanpila retaliates

Minister Udaya Gammanpila told reporters that he only announced a decision taken by the Government led by the President and Prime Minister in hiking fuel prices. Responding to a statement calling for his resignation, the Minister said the SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam was condemning the decision taken by the President and the Prime Minister, who hold the top positions in the SLPP.

Minister Gammanpila said he voluntarily took the risk of announcing the price hike to protect the President and the Prime Minister, given that an Energy Minister had never announced a price hike in Sri Lanka before. He said the SLPP General Secretary had committed a serious offense by condemning the decision made by the President and Prime Minister.

However, SLPP General Secretary Kariyawasam said that he is still of the stance that Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila should resign from his ministerial post. Speaking to the media in Colombo on Wednesday (June 16), Kariyawasam said the SLPP is also of the same stance since the Energy Minister is responsible for the domestic fuel price revision. He said the SLPP was formed by the people and therefore it will work for the best interest of the public. He said they will continue to discuss with SLPP members and take forward the Government to serve the people.

Responding to reporters, State Minister Nimal Lanza said SLPP architect and National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa would not have allowed a fuel price hike at this juncture. He told the media the people are facing immense difficulties due to the Covid-19 epidemic and the increase in fuel prices couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time.

Lanza said, “For about a year and a half people have been facing job losses, pay cuts and inability to pay loans. A hike in fuel prices affects all goods and services. Therefore, this is not the time for it.” He said, “The people have gone from the frying pan to the fire. They’re already suffering. Though I am in the Government, I must say we interact with people in our communities. Some in Colombo can say various things, but when we go to the village, people tell us they find it difficult to live.”

China–Sri Lanka friendship

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka was able to stand before the world as an independent nation due to the support of the Chinese Communist Party and our leftist movement. The Premier was addressing the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party through video technology at Temple Trees on June 15.

The Prime Minister address said, “We all know that the rise of Asia is due to the rise of China in this century,” and that historic victory was given by the Chinese Communist Party that was established 100 years ago. Highlighting the historical similarities between China and Sri Lanka, the Premier said the two nations maintained the same state, language and religion ever since. Our historical similarities as well as friendships are very powerful.

Premier Rajapaksa said, “China, as a powerful country, has greatly helped to preserve Sri Lanka’s independence. It has helped us to grow economically. Sri Lankans still remember the China Rice-Rubber Agreement. We can never forget China’s service to Sri Lanka’s independence at the UN Human Rights Council. I always say China is our oldest friend in terms of history.”

He said it was the Communist Party of Sri Lanka that brought the Chinese Communist Party so close to us. In the past, Buddhism connected China and Ceylon. After independence, the Communist Party was the first to build relations between us.

Ranil to Parliament

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is scheduled to be sworn in as a Member of Parliament on June 23. The United National Party (UNP) has informed the Election Commission regarding the appointment to their National List MP seat in Parliament. The UNP Working Committee previously nominated Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe for the vacancy.

A letter informing of the UNP’s decision to name the former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to occupy the vacant National List MP seat was handed over to the Election Commission on Wednesday (June 16). The letter was officially handed over to Chairman of the Election Commission Nimal G. Punchihewa by UNP General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara and former Minister Sagla Rathnayake. The Election Commission will issue an Extraordinary Gazette notification shortly, declaring Wickremesinghe as a Member of Parliament.

No Confidence Motion

The Main Opposition, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), has taken steps to move a No-Confidence Motion (NCM) against Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila in Parliament on the basis of a number of factors including the recently increased fuel prices.

Opposition Leader and SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa put his signature to the relevant NCM at his office on Wednesday (June 16). In the 10-point motion handed over to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, the SJB said that the statement made by the General Secretary of the ruling party, SLPP, calling for the resignation of Minister Gammanpila, it is apparent that he had taken measures to increase fuel prices without Cabinet approval.

The SJB said that the Parliament and the public were not informed of the profits made by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and the Government by maintaining high fuel prices when the global fuel prices were low in the past one and half years since January 2020.

Addressing a press conference on Thursday (June 17), Minister Gammanpila dismissed the contents of the No-Confidence Motion signed by the SJB against him over the recent hike in fuel prices as baseless. He said it was a childish move by the main Opposition. Gammanpila said fuel prices can be increased upon receiving the nod from the Finance Minister adding that the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers is not required for such a move.

He said, “I must remind the SJB that I was appointed to the post of Energy Minister in August 2020, not in January 2020 as mentioned in their NCM. The Parliamentarians who signed the motion have shown the country that they know nothing about the law.”

Extending his greetings to the communist Party of China on its centenary, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said the rapport between Sri Lanka and China has developed into a strategic relationship in recent years.

The Minister said that since 1949, the People’s Republic of China has been treading on the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics and has now changed the international balance of power for the better. The progress China has made in social, poverty alleviation, cultural, religious, political, economic, scientific, technological and research spheres deserve respect.

Minister Gunawardena said, “Today China plays a major and a decisive role in global politics. With its help many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America have achieved great growth. It was through the Non- Aligned Foreign Policy of the MEP Government, formed in 1956 under Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike that it was possible to vigorously expand Sino-Sri Lankan relations.” He said in the international arena China has always supported Sri Lanka unreservedly adding that China assisted Sri Lanka greatly at the recently held UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) session as well.

Luxury vehicles

Co-cabinet Spokesman and Minister of Mass Media Keheliya Rambukwella said the decision to import luxury vehicles for Parliamentarians and state employees has been cancelled altogether. Speaking to media in Kandy recently, the Minister said following the discussions with the local bank that opened Letters of Credit and the vehicle dealer, the purchase order will be annulled.

He said although a decision was initially taken to import vehicles for Government institutions, the Prime Minister decided to withdraw the proposal considering the prevailing situation in the country. The Minister said although they have taken a policy decision to cancel the order, they have to follow a certain procedure to terminate the agreement. However, certain political opponents are deliberately propagating misinformation to bring disrepute to the Government based on the incident. Minister Rambukwella assured that the entire order will be cancelled in the next few days.

The main Opposition, SJB, has rejected the Government proposal to purchase luxury vehicles for Government and Opposition MPs using funds from the treasury. Opposition Leader SajithPremadasa urged the Government to use the funds to vaccinate the public against Covid-19.

“The SJB will never approve of using public resources for the betterment of the lives of politicians, rather such resources should be invested in promoting a prosperous and a developed motherland,” Premadasa had tweeted. SJB Parliamentarian Dr. Harsha de Silva, echoing his Leader Premadasa, proposed that if the Letters of Credit cannot be revoked – as it may result in Bank of Ceylon being blacklisted – the SUVs be exchanged for 112 ambulances for the SuwaSariya emergency service.

EU Parliament

The Foreign Ministry has expressed its regrets over the adoption of a resolution on Sri Lanka in the European Parliament on June 10, 2021. The Foreign Ministry in a statement issued said the resolution entitled “The Situation in Sri Lanka, in particular the arrests under the Prevention of Terrorism Act”, contains factual inaccuracies, and does not take cognizance of the multifaceted progress made by Sri Lanka in reconciliation and development.

Addressing concerns raised regarding the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act (PTA), the Ministry said it was invoked to address heinous acts of terrorism committed on Sri Lanka’s people, and recalled that the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks of 2019 resulted in significant loss of life, including of several European Union (EU) nationals.

It was further underscored in the press release that the Sri Lankan Government maintains a regular, vibrant and cordial dialogue with the European Union (EU), covering all aspects of bilateral relations. “The engagement is sustained through the close and cordial dialogue maintained with the European Commission, the Council and the Parliament by the Sri Lanka Mission in Brussels; and with the EU delegation and EU Ambassadors in Colombo by senior interlocutors of Government.”

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, at a meeting convened at the Foreign Ministry a couple of days ago briefed Chargé d’ Affaires of the Delegation of the European Union in Colombo Thorsten Bargfrede, as well as Colombo-based EU Ambassadors and Chargé d’Affaires from France, Italy, Romania, Germany and the Netherlands on the Sri Lanka Government’s position.

LG members to desert SJB

UNP General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara said that 16 Local Government members who supported the SJB have re-joined the party on June14.

He said ten members representing the Gampola Urban Council, three members representing the Kandy Municipal Council and three members representing the Uva Province Pradeshiya Sabhas have re-joined the UNP. General Secretary Bandara also said that all the members representing the SJB in the Gampola Urban Council have joined the UNP.

He said that a number of LG members representing the SJB have requested to re-join the UNP and those requests are being considered. The UNP has decided to re-admit 200 Local Government members who left the Party to support the SJB.

These Local Government Members representing Municipal Councils, Urban Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas will be readmitted to the UNP after they submitted affidavits during the amnesty period declared by the UNP for dissidents to re-join the party.