President Ranil Wickremesinghe left on a personal visit to Anuradhapura last Saturday. During the private visit, the President had given an opportunity to meet religious leaders, organised by UNP General Secretary Range Bandara. A group of religious leaders including bhikkhus representing the Northern and Eastern Provinces attended the meeting on Sunday evening.
Religious leaders led by bhikkhus pointed out to the President the problem with the Kurundi temple and the problem in Batticaloa.
Vavuniya Bodhidakshinaramadhipathi Ven. Siyambalagaswewa Wimalasara Thera said that all these problems are being created by the people who come to the area from outside including politicians. “Hand over these ancient sites to the Department of Archaeology by permitting everyone to worship.” All religious leaders asked the President in one voice.
It was at this time the religious leaders of Trincomalee complained to the President about the harassment from the Eastern Province Governor. President Wickremesinghe, who listened to all the facts carefully, answered them one by one and talked about the development of the Northern and the Eastern Provinces.
The President explained about a university to be set up in the Mullaitivu district, developing Mannar as a tourist area and also about renewable energy and expanding forestation in places where it was less.
He also outlined to the religious leaders about developing Vavuniya as a manufacturing city, the Trincomalee oil refinery and the boat service starting from Talaimannar to India.
The religious leaders were surprised to hear about the President’s plan to develop the North and the East. The religious leaders blessed the President at the end of the discussion.
When the discussion was over and the President was leaving, UNP General Secretary Range Bandara’s phone continuously rang because the religious leaders were calling him and saying that they were impressed by the knowledge and understanding of the President compares to any other state leader.
President Wickremesinghe, who spent his leisure in Anuradhapura, arrived in Colombo on Monday morning. On reaching the office, the President first met the Media Officers Committee and then joined the Finance Ministry’s progress review meeting.
There was a long discussion about the Budget that will be presented to Parliament on November 13. At the Cabinet meeting that evening, the President also gave a long explanation about increasing the salaries of public servants through the Budget.
Amid the applause of the Cabinet, President Wickremesinghe also said that this salary increase is not based on the request of political parties and trade unions and said that when the price of goods increase, it is based on the same objective of increasing the income.
On Tuesday morning, the President arrived at the Taj Samudra Hotel to join the round table discussion between the heads of international financial institutions and the heads of the country’s financial sector.
The President, who joined a discussion with the heads of 10 recognised financial institutions including the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank spoke about recovery from the crisis and sustainable development. Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, several Ministers and a group of officials including Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayaka were present.
That evening, the President joined the UNP Management Committee meeting. The President inquired about the party’s organisational activities and advised them to prepare future plans. The President, who spoke about the country’s political situation and legal matters, left early as he had to attend another function.
On Tuesday night, the President went to the Shangri-La Hotel to join the 25th anniversary celebration of CEAT-Kelani Tyres. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was also present and they engaged in non-political conversation as they were sitting at the same table.
Meeting with local businessmen
The International Road Safety Conference – 2023 was held on Wednesday morning at Galle Face Hotel, under the patronage of President’s Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayaka. He said that the President had instructed to set up a high-level committee to make decisions about road safety.
On that day, President Wickremesinghe discussed with several heads of the private sector including local businessmen regarding the measures to be taken to overcome the economic crisis facing the country and also the Budget proposals.
The National Industry Excellence Awards ceremony was held at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre under the patronage of the President. The President promised to provide relief for industrialists in the upcoming Budget.
His attention was focused on including proposals from the private sector to build the economy. President Wickremesinghe said that the Cabinet of Ministers is making very difficult decisions regarding the Budget. Looking at Minister Ramesh Pathirana, the President said that if everyone works like young Minister Pathirana, it will not be difficult to get out of this crisis.
Another discussion was held with a group of private sector businessmen regarding the Budget on Wednesday evening. A pre-discussion was held with the heads of private sector institutions about Budget 2024 to get their views and suggestions. Several such discussions were held last week.
On Thursday morning, President Wickremesinghe went to Temple Trees to attend a meeting organised by the Melinda Gates Foundation regarding climate change. The Foundation is working with Sri Lanka under the coordination of Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayaka. This meeting was held as a preparation before participating in the International Climate Change Forum or Cop 28 conference.
Later, when the President arrived at the Presidential Secretariat, a group of Ministers had come to discuss the week’s activities as well as the Budget.
Their main topic was Pohottuwa’s attempt to distance itself from President Wickremesinghe.
Prof. Ashu Marasinghe: “Secretary of Pohottuwa Sagara Kariyawasam has criticised the President twice. He spoke about ministerial portfolios once. Now he is saying another thing. What are these people doing?”
MP Wajira Abeywardena: “They supported the appointment of the President saying that they would permit the President to work independently. So, they can’t influence him now.”
MP Nimal Lanza: “If they wish to go separately, tell them to go separately. The President works independently. If the Budget is defeated, we will take care of it at that time.”
Although the President was not involved in the conversation, the Ministers who were there started whispering that Pohottuwa was far away from the President.
“It is a very good thing to create an authority to expel MPs guilty of corruption. As a leader who does what he says, the President is making the changes demanded by the youth. The President walks the talk unlike other politicians,” Minister Bandula Gunawardena said, joining the conversation.
The President went to the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium on Thursday evening to join the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Indian Origin Tamil (IOT) people in the hill country. The event was honoured by the presence of Indian Finance Minister Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman, who was warmly welcomed by over 5,000 people from the hills.
President Wickremesinghe and Indian Finance Minister Sitharaman laid the foundation stone for a project to construct 10,000 houses with Indian aid in the lower part of Mount Vernon Estate, Dimbula, Kotagala. A new auditorium and computer unit at the Hatton Vocational Training Centre was launched virtually and school equipment was distributed to students.
President Wickremesinghe thanked Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for contributing to Sri Lanka’s financial stability. He also commended Indian Finance Minister Sitharaman for her dedication to the cause. The President said that this celebration marks the beginning of a new journey for the hill country Tamil people, and the Government is committed to providing them with land titles and ensuring their right to education.
Following the ceremony, the official bilateral meeting with the Indian Finance Minister was held at the President’s House. During the weekend, the President visited Nuwara Eliya and Badulla districts.
PM in Vavuniya
Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said that the issues with regard to the ownership of the land should be settled for cultivation in the Vavuniya District.
At the Vavuniya District Food Security Program held on Wednesday, November 1 at the Vavuniya District Secretariat, in conjunction with the New Village – New Country National Program, the Prime Minister said, “One of the issues in the Vavuniya district is the land issue. The second problem are the issues that have been there for a long time due to conflict with the Forest Conservation Department and forest conservation rules and regulations. When I presented the Vavuniya water scheme project as the Water Supply Minister, one department after another came up with hurdles and did not give permission to start the water scheme. But somehow provisions were allocated, and water was sent through pipes in the forest to implement the project. Now water is brought through pipelines laid through the jungle.”
The Premier said there are about 500 villages in Vavuniya. These villages should be transformed into self-sufficient developed villages with human habitation. It should yield more harvest through cultivating paddy.
He said, “I visited this area several times as a young student when my father was the Industries Minister. At that time, C. Suntharalingam who was a leader in Vavuniya had retired from politics. It was amazing that grapes were grown in Sri Lanka at a time when everything was imported. Everything was grown in Suntharalingam’s garden. It was stated that Vavuniya, which has such a history, can be self-sufficient in paddy cultivation and various other crops. As the Government, we are obliged to give strength and support to make it a success.”
SJB discusses future activities
A discussion on the future activities of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) was held at the party headquarters recently and a group of MPs of the party attended it. SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara discussed the further strengthening of the trade unions of the party.
General Secretary Madduma Bandara said that there has been an increase in agitations by Government employees demanding salary increase. The last time the salaries of public servants were increased was by the Good Governance Government in 2019.
MP Eran Wickramaratne, who joined the conversation, said that at present, not only the salaries of the public servants but also the allowances of pensioners should be increased. Wickramaratne said that considering the increase in the price of rice, fuel and electricity, Government employee’s salaries should be increased by at least four fold, not by Rs. 20,000.
MP Kabir Hashim said that the Government has increased the electricity tariff three times. The Government took a Cabinet decision to increase the electricity tariff twice. For the third time, the Government increased the electricity tariff even before the Cabinet decision was taken.
MP Mujibur Rahuman was the first to talk about JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s visit to the US. He said the double standards of the JVP was revealed by Anura Dissanayake’s recent visit to the US.
General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara said that Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who criticised American expansionism, is now speaking under the American flag. The JVP, which celebrated May Day in memory of Che, Karl Marx and Lenin, went to the US and said that all the people in the left-wing camp and the socialist camp will be united.
MP Kabir Hashim, joining the conversation, said that it is ridiculous for Anura Kumara, who opposed the 88-89 Indo-Lanka Agreement and created public opinion against India, to go to the US and talk about India.
MP Eran Wickramaratne said that Anura Kumara who visited the US said to strengthen the economy, we need to strengthen the export sector. But the JVP group was the first to oppose the opening of the country’s economy to the world through Free Trade Zones.
General Secretary Madduma Bandara said that they have now forgotten how they destroyed the economy by setting fire to factories.
Meanwhile, MP Kavinda Jayawardena said that he will continue to work to check corruption in the health sector. MP Jayawardena said that they have decided to complain about the frauds in the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA). He said that despite the Minister being changed, corruption in the health sector should not be covered up.
MP Rohini Kavirathna said that Dr. Ayesha Lokubalasuriya, head of the school health service, says that children between the ages of 12 and 13 do not go to school. Children stop going to school and find jobs to survive. This is a serious matter. Although the economy is said to have been rebuilt, the Government has not paid any attention to this. This is a great tragedy.
At a discussion about the economy, MP Eran Wickramaratne said that the price of goods will go up rapidly when the 12 percent VAT which was increased to 15 percent last year and further increased up to 18 percent next year. Therefore, the people will have to face a big economic challenge in the future.
MP Dr. Harsha de Silva turned to Eran Wickramaratne and said that the talk about graphite in our ‘Blue Print’ conference is going mostly on social media because of Anura Dissanayake’s visit to the US.
Harsha laughed and said that there is talk about it not only in social media but also in newspapers. “One thing is clear, no political party has any program other than the economic program of the SJB. When Anura Dissanayake went to take care of the work that we had just done, he became a laughing stock.”
The Chairman of the anti-corruption force of the SJB said that they have arranged to hold two conferences in Moratuwa and Matugama. The Government doesn’t talk about the loss of US$ 6.5 million due to the import of organic fertiliser. The audit report has not been given to the COPE committee. Therefore, steps will be taken to submit a fundamental rights petition to the Supreme Court next week.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa hosted one of India’s celebrated public intellectuals, Member of Parliament Dr. Shashi Tharoor. SJB Leader Premadasa led an expert panel including Dr. Tharoor, Prof. Arjuna Parakrama, MP Dr Harsha de Silva and MP Eran Wickramaratne at the Opposition Leader’s Office.
The gathering was organised by the National Council of Professionals affiliated with the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) as part of a series of events that brings together eminent figures to deliberate over critical facets of governance, economics and diplomacy.
The insightful and interactive session was guided by the Opposition Leader with Dr. Tharoor offering frank and forthright thoughts on a diverse range of topics. The event generated an informed discourse, underscoring the SJB’s commitment to engaging in important conversations which helps to better appreciate the multitude of complexities arising from the nation’s current trajectory. The gathering was limited to ‘invitees only’ and included selected legislators and professionals.