The much touted cabinet reshuffle proved to be an anticlimax with just a few changes being effected and these only with respect to UNP members. Accordingly only six ministers, two state ministers and a deputy minister were sworn in before President Maithripala Sirisena at the President’s office today.
Apparently the other UNP ministers will retain their portfolios while the fate of the UPFA ministers will remain unknown for a further two weeks, which is when President Sirisena said relevant decisions will be made.
President Sirisena also struck an ominous note speaking at the swearing in ceremony, hinting that there could be changes in the subjects gazetted under each ministry, according to a release issued by the Presidential Media Unit.
However, while portfolios held by the UPFA members are intact and will be so for at least a further two weeks, there was only a minor ‘shuffle’ of portfolios, the key change being Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe taking ‘Law and Order’ under his wing, a subject formerly held by staunch loyalist Sagala Ratnayaka.
Critics observe that these changes are insignificant and even cosmetic, in particular Wickremesinghe taking over Law and Order. It is widely held that Ratnayaka was anyway doing Wickremesinghe’s bidding when he, Ratnayaka, was Minister of Law and Order, and that it was Wickremesinghe who was responsible for the foot-dragging on the enforcement of the law in several high-profile cases including that of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Ratnayaka had earlier wanted to be relieved of the ‘Law and Order’ subject while Sarath Fonseka expressed readiness to take it up. Ratnayaka retains the Southern Development portfolio while also getting the Youth Affairs Ministry. Fonseka has not featured in the reshuffle.
The overall ‘reshuffle’ therefore is a far cry from the complete overhaul talked of in political circles after Prime Minister Wickremesinghe vowed to take bold steps in view of the humiliating defeat of the UNP as well as its coalition partner, the SLFP at the local government elections.
Meanwhile the subjects assigned to Kabir Hashim and Lakshman Kiriella have been switched. Accordingly Hashim takes over Higher Education and Highways while Kiriella becomes Minister of State Enterprises and Kandy Development.
In other changes, Harin Fernando gets the Foreign Employment portfolio in addition to Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure, while Ravindra Samaraweera has Sustainable Development and Wildlife. Piyasena Gamage was sworn in as the State Minister for Youth Affairs and Southern Development, while Ajith P Perera was made State Minister for Prisons and Rehabilitation. Harsh De Silva, the third State Minister to be sworn in got the subjects National Policy and Economic Affairs.
J.C. Alawathuwala was made the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.