Throughout history, people have expected increases and decreases whenever a Budget is presented. Finance Ministers also presented the Budget in that format. But Budgets in developed countries are projections, not low-growth statistics. President Ranil Wickremesinghe broke that 77-year-long tradition when he presented his maiden Budget as Finance Minister. The President presented the 78th Budget in the history of Sri Lanka to Parliament last Monday, clarifying that a Budget is a policy statement that decides the future development of the country.
On Monday morning, the Cabinet of Ministers had been called by the President to approve the Budget. Budget proposals and the ‘Aswesuma’ program were also discussed. The Cabinet of Ministers was informed about ‘Aswesuma’ by the President’s Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayaka.
Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe, who had publicly said that he would not drink even a glass of water if he went to the Presidential Secretariat, was also present at the Cabinet meeting. At the end of the Cabinet meeting, when Minister Roshan Ranasinghe stood up, Minister Kanchana Wijesekera who was next to him, said, “If you are afraid to drink water here, drink from my water.” When Minister Wijesekera said it in a sarcastic manner, Minister Ranasinghe left pretending that he didn’t hear anything.
At the end of the Cabinet meeting, President Wickremesinghe said that he will authorise the Ministerial Sub Committee appointed to take forward the issue related to cricket. After the Cabinet meeting was over, the President called Minister Ali Sabry, the Chairman of the Sub Committee, to meet him and went to his office with him.
“Bring the Chairman of the Cricket Board to the Presidential Secretariat in the evening to talk about the ban on Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC). Talk to him and then tell me what happened,” the President told Minister Sabry.
The President also prohibited the setting up of Interim Committees without the approval of the Cabinet. According to the President’s instructions, the Ali Sabry Committee had summoned the President of the Cricket Board to the Presidential Secretariat on Monday evening and had taken the necessary steps.
The President and his team arrived in Parliament around 11.30 am on Monday, carrying the Budget documents. The President and his entourage were welcomed by a group of Ministers including Leader of the House Susil Premajayantha, Chief Government Whip Prasanna Ranatunga, Minister Geeta Kumarasinghe and Sergeant-at-Arms Narendra Fernando.
They accompanied the President to his office in Parliament and many Ministers immediately came to the President’s office when they heard that the President had arrived. When the President entered his office, he saw Minister Diana Gamage and said, “We have also included the tourism economy that you want.” When the President said that, everyone laughed.
When the President came to Parliament with the briefcase containing the budget proposals, the ruling party MPs started thumping on their tables. The President, who did not speak for hours, made sure to finish his speech within the two-hour limit. At the end of the speech, the President again invited the Opposition to join the journey of developing the country.
As the Budget was presented in the afternoon, Parliament had prepared a lunch for the guests present. While the President, Prime Minister, Speaker and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa were having lunch at the same table, the Ministers approached the President and congratulated him saying that he presented a good Budget. SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva, S.M. Marikkar, Eran Wickramaratne and TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran were also present at the President’s luncheon.
The President went straight to Parliament after attending the Security Council meeting on Tuesday morning. He made sure to go to the Opposition lobby and the ruling party lobby to discuss with the MPs even though he did not go inside the Chamber.
When the President was seated in the Opposition lobby, MPs Dr. Tilak Rajapaksa, Dr. Upul Galappaththi, Mohomad Muzamil, K.P.S. Kumarasiri, Channa Jayasumana, Nimal Piyatissa, Waruna Liyanage, A.L.M. Athaullah, Uddika Premaratne, Kavinda Jayawardene, Ashok Abeysinghe, Ranjith Madduma Bandara and J.C. Alawathuwala gathered around him.
“Sir seems to be very free and happy.” When MP Waruna Liyanage told the President he smiled and said, “I have come to see you all.”
Looking at MP C.V. Wigneswaran who came closeby, President Wickremesinghe said, “We are giving the land rights to the farmers.” Money will be given to those affected by the war. The needs of your people have been fulfilled by the Budget. So, support the Budget.”
When MP Uddika Premaratne came, the President greeted him as the ‘King’. “Now free lands are given to the people, ownership of flats is given to the people and houses are also given to the upcountry people. The hopes of those who stitched suits targeting the election were shattered.” The President smiled when the MPs said that.
When an MP said, “They say that the problems of doctors and university teachers have not been solved,” the President replied, “They were resolved before the Budget. The Budget is a document where policies are discussed.”
When the MPs were talking about the agriculture and fisheries sector, the President asked Prof. Ashu Marasinghe to give the details to him as this has been discussed in the Sectoral Oversight Committees.
“The Budget has allocated Rs. 1.5 billion for cricket and the take over of the school cricket section, and on the other side, Mahaweli A, B, and C Zones have been taken. The Ali Sabry Committee has been appointed to solve the cricket issue. Interim Committees cannot be appointed without seeking Cabinet approval. The distribution of Mahaweli lands has been stopped. The Sports Act has been brought by curtailing another section of it. The wings of the Sports Minister have been clipped even without knowing him.” When the Opposition Parliamentarians said this, the President left with a smile.
As the President was leaving, MP Waruna Liyanage said with a smile, “The Sports Minister has also raised his hand to reduce his powers in the Cabinet because he is caught in the President’s tussle.”
President Wickremesinghe who was in the Opposition lobby for half an hour, went towards the ruling party lobby to discuss with the MPs there. The President also held talks with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his team.
MP Wajira Abeywardena told former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, “You are supporting but Namal Rajapaksa is criticising.”
“He may have been misled by somebody,” former President Rajapaksa said.
A group of MPs chanted several slogans in front of President Wickremesinghe. “‘Son, we have a way’ and ‘Our lands are now our own’.”
“The Opposition is stuck in the President’s Budget speech. Now they can’t say good or bad because the President has brought a new plan for a new economy,” MP Samanpriya Herath said.
“Why couldn’t Sajith Premadasa give the ownership of the houses built by his father President Ranasinghe Premadasa to the people even when he was the Housing Minister.” Polonnaruwa District MP Jagath Samarawickrama asked the President.
When Minister Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said, “At that time, he only had a dream of becoming the Party Leader.” The President looked away.
The President met newspaper Editors and heads of media institutions at the Presidential Secretariat on Tuesday, November 14 afternoon, where the President was asked questions about the Budget as well as cricket. The President told the media heads that cricket will be rebuilt just as the collapsed economy is being rebuilt.
That evening, President Wickremesinghe went to the Nelum Pokuna Theatre to attend the Presidential Film Awards ceremony. The scene that touched everyone’s heart was when President Wickremesinghe came down from the stage and went to Nanda Malani and presented her with an award.
President of the Sri Lanka Foundation, Saman Athaudahetti, laid the foundation for that unusual event. Nanda Malani had been invited to the awards ceremony saying that she had been nominated for an award. Prof. Sunili Ariyaratne had informed Saman Athaudahetti who compered the program to provide the opportunity for her daughter to come on the stage as Nanda Malani would not be able to get on the main stage if she got an award due to her illness.
Athaudhahetti came to know that Nanda Malani had won the award for the Best Female Singer as soon as he got the paper inviting her to receive the award. After thinking for a moment, Athaudahetti approached State Minister Shanta Bandara, who had been giving the awards till then, and talked about changing the agenda.
When the President got up from his seat without saying anything, nobody could not imagine what was happening. President Wickremesinghe was the first to raise his hands and applaud when Athaudahetti mentioned Nanda Malani’s name after taking the microphone from the female announcer.
The President took the microphone from Saman and said, “I was there when she received the first award at the Sarasaviya Film awards ceremony in 1963. Today, after 60 years, I have to give her an award. I still have in my mind the moment when I heard the ‘Doiya Baba’ Nalavili song in her voice in the film ‘Gamperaliya’.”
The best actor award was presented to Kamal Addararachchi, who played the role of Rohana Wijeweera in the film ‘Ginnen Upan Seethala’. When he received the award, the President said, “Mr. Rohana Wijeweera, you should come to our meetings and speak.” Kamal also couldn’t stop smiling when the President said that.
“Shan, Ranjith Wijewardene and I were the only ones who went to see the Sarasaviya film festival that day. We all went to watch ‘Gamperaliya’ that day. I still remember Nanda’s background song in it. It came out as a song without harmony,” The President told Director General of Government Information Dinith Chinataka when he came out after the ceremony.
The President also joined the Budget discussion organised by the Colombo University MBA Alumni Association on November 15. On the morning of the following day, the President visited the Ministry of Finance to discuss the Budget and that evening, he also joined the 10th death anniversary commemoration of R.I.T. Alles, an eminent teacher.
President Wickremesinghe left for the Maldives on Thursday night to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the Maldives President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu. President Wickremesinghe joined the ceremony held on Friday on the invitation of the new President of Maldives.
A ceremony was organised in Kunming City, Yunnan Province, China with the heads of political parties in Asia and Southeast Asia to mark the 10th anniversary of China’s One Road One Belt initiative. It was the idea of the Communist Party of China to share ideas about the ten-year progress and the next ten-year plan.
UNP General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara, SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam and a group of Sri Lankan party representatives attended the conference. At the conference, Range Bandara’s name was pronounced by the announcer in a strange manner. When the leaders of the Communist Party asked why the people of Sri Lanka were laughing, when they interpreted it, they too could not stop laughing.
As Sagara Kariyawasam’s birthday was also on that day, the Chinese representatives had also prepared a cake for him. It was a conundrum for the representative of the Bangladesh Awami League when everyone from the ruling party and the Opposition were eating birthday cake.
“We clash on policy matters in politics but we stand together when we come out.” When a member of the Sri Lankan delegation said that, the Bengali representative said that there is no such atmosphere in his country. On the last day, when Palitha Range Bandara sang the song ‘Ratakin eha’, it was explained to the Chinese and other Asian representatives and translated into English by Sagara Kariyawasam.
Supremacy of Parliament
Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena yesterday requested all parties to protect the supremacy of Parliament without using it as a platform to distort and make fun of everything. He also requested members not to make fun of the Sinhala language, which has a unique history and which is internationally researched, by giving other interpretations and making fun of it to harm the honour of the Sinhala language.
The Prime Minister said that it is not only the Speaker’s responsibility to protect the supremacy of Parliament, but also the responsibility of all MPs. He said this while answering questions in Parliament yesterday.
Premier Gunawardena said, “Speaker, I am very sorry about one thing. The Sinhala language is not only in our country, it is a language that has transformed our country to a special importance in history. The international community is also doing research on it. Therefore, do not insult the language. Not pronouncing it correctly is not the problem, but interpreting it in a different way and making fun of it.
I very earnestly request all the MPs not to do such things in this august assembly. A moment ago there was a debate about Parliament. Why are we meeting here like this? Everyone has agreed on Standing Orders. Accordingly, the Speaker has been authorised to discuss and finalise the Budget debate.”
“Now our time is diverted to other things entirely. Therefore, Honourable Speaker, protect the supremacy of Parliament. You cannot protect the supremacy alone. As Parliamentarians, we must protect our supremacy. Therefore, if we accept everything as a joke, if we turn everything into a distortion and make it a platform for chatting, then we are sadly moving in the wrong direction,” he said.
The verdict of the Supreme Court about the people responsible for the country’s economic crisis was a special decision. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa came to know about this while on his way to join the program to provide smart classroom equipment worth Rs. 1 million to Agalawatta Mihindu Central College, Kalutara,under the 47th phase of the ‘Sakwala’ Information Technology Program. At that moment, the Opposition Leader expressed his gratitude over the phone to Dr. Atula Siri Samarakoon, Dr. Maheen Mendis and Dr. Morais who filed the petition on behalf of Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB).
President of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya Lawyers’ Association, President’s Counsel Upul Jayasuriya who contacted the Opposition Leader on the phone about this victory, said that it was the SJB which first submitted the petition to the Supreme Court. Jayasuriya said that the Supreme Court decision is a historic decision. At that moment, the Opposition Leader spoke on the phone to SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara and the media unit and asked them to immediately inform the media about the verdict of the Supreme Court.
Ranjith Madduma Bandara who attended an event of the Sama Samaja Party, immediately came to the Opposition Leader’s office and made a media statement saying that the SJB has succeeded in winning public opinion.
Commenting on this, Mujibur Rahuman said that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Basil Rajapaksa and others who were declared guilty by the Supreme Court should no longer be given privileges by the Government.
MP Lakshman Kiriella said that the law should be implemented against these people who bankrupted the country and if the prevailing laws are inadequate, a special Presidential Commission should be appointed to take action against them.
The Opposition Leader instructed his secretary and the legal secretary of the party to find out about the possibility of the people who were aggrieved by this and prepare a suitable program to take action to get compensation for the damages caused to them.
When the COPE committee of Parliament summoned Sri Lanka Cricket administrators, COPE Committee members Hesha Vitaranage and MP Nalin Bandara, who presented the facts to the Opposition Leader about the behaviour of the COPE Committee Chairman, said that his behaviour was a serious situation.
The Opposition Leader said that a person from a foreign country had informed him that the COPE had brought Kanishkha Bandara, the son of COPE Chairman Ranjith Bandara.
MP Lakshman Kiriella said that it is a serious situation and a statement should be made in Parliament. Accordingly, the Opposition Leader made a statement at the beginning of Parliament on Thursday regarding the behaviour of the COPE Chairman, the relationship between him and the Cricket Board and the fact that the COPE Chairman’s son is sitting on the COPE Committee.
The Opposition Leader advised SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara to implement a program of presenting a brief analysis of the Budget through social media. General Secretary Madduma Bandara, the media unit of the Opposition Leader and the media unit of the SJB were given instructions to prepare the program.
As requested, the program titled ‘Vimasuma’ was launched and MPs Eran Wickramaratne and Rohini Wijeratne were present for its first program. SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara has advised that the program should be planned by highlighting the illogical and unrealistic areas in the Budget.