By Malinda Seneviratne –
In a meeting with media heads and editors on Friday at the President’s House, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe wanted to know where the media stood with respect to certain issues, in particular CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement).
Showing much irritation, Wickremesinghe blasted the media in general for making in issue out of nothing and indicated that he was embarrassed by the brouhaha regarding CEPA before and during his visit to India.
‘It was my first visit after becoming the Prime Minister and had nothing to do with any agreement,’ he said. He reiterated the sentiments of President Sirisena who said that there was no discussion regarding CEPA. Sirisena had said earlier, ‘We have talked about it, we haven’t discussed it and we haven’t taken any steps about it.’
Both the President and the Prime Minister also spoke at length about the controversial UN Report on the last stages of Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism. The President labored to say ‘it could have been worse’, i.e. had he not been elected President on January 8, 2015. With regard to the confusion over whether or not Sri Lanka will go along with the recommendations included in the report, especially with respect to the mechanism to investigate allegations of rights violations, the Prime Minister said that no decision has been taken. He said that all reports including the Udalagama and Paranagama reports and recommendations therein will be considered along with the UN Report.
A third issue discussed was whether or not the moratorium on capital punishment will be lifted. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has stated that the moratorium will be extended with a view to abolition. The President however said that a final decision either way will be taken by Parliament. Looks like there’s confusion. Again.
And it’s not only about the death penalty. There is no clarity on anything from the side of the Government. Not a single official or minister overseeing the broad subject of bilateral economic partnerships is ready to make any statement on the issue. No one knows if there’s a ‘concept paper’ or a ‘draft’ or a point by point agenda for discussion regarding economic relations between Sri Lanka and India. All that’s known is the acronym CEPA.
It’s the same with regard to the UN Report. While the President congratulates himself for ‘arranging’ a less-damning document, Samaraweera says ‘the report is balanced and fair’. Obviously neither seem to have read or understood the contents. It is largely an ‘update’ of that other problematic document, the Darusman Report. There’s obvious tokenism about the LTTE’s ‘share of blame’. There’s absolute disregard for context. It is clearly guided more by hearsay than anything else and worse, a trial is envisaged where claim is treated as fact. Finally, despite Wickremesinghe chiding the media for giving play to the term ‘hybird mechanism’ (of investigation), what is recommended is that Sri Lanka concede sovereignty in multiple ways.
His assurances to the contrary, citing for example the Paranagama Commission Report, are certainly welcome, but they have to be taken along with Samarasinghe’s hurrahs, Sirisena’s consolations and calling for blood by the likes of Rajitha Senaratne and Chandrika Kumaratunga, the latter ironically in charge of ‘reconciliation’!
There’s no clarity on anything Mr Wickremesinghe. Your Government does not know where it stands and therefore it seems rather ridiculous to ask where the media stands on anything. The media has to report and comment. Fairly. With balance. That’s a given. Right now, the only thing about which all sections of the Government are in agreement is the vilification of the previous regime and in particular Mahinda Rajapaksa.
There’s nothing illegal in that kind of solidarity of course, but this Government was not elected to do just that. It took Wickremesinghe and Sirisena weeks to appoint a cabinet. It’s been more than a month since the Government was elected and we are yet to know which institution comes under which ministry. The ministers themselves don’t know what the demarcations are with regard to their respective subjects. Little wonder they talk out of turn or worse act as though they’ve lost their tongues. The same goes for officials.
The Government has to get its act together. There has to be clarity. That’s the Government’s job, Mr Wickremesinghe. We can help, certainly, and we do when we point out the contradictions. Don’t vilify us just because your team doesn’t know where it stands. That’s puerile, really.