24 May, 2022


PM’s Ludicrous Response To The Chamber

By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

Sanjeewa Jayaweera

The letter sent by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (Chamber) Chairman, Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe on July 03, 2019 is not in the public domain.  

Nevertheless, the Chamber, in a media release stated it wished to express its concerns about the increasing level of speculation among its membership and society at large. It relates to the consequences arising from the proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Agreement. The media release also requested the government to provide an enhanced level of transparency concerning these agreements and their potential consequences besides clarification to the current position and exact status of the negotiations and /or execution.  

The media release further stated, transparency and additional information would also add value. It would provide comfort to relevant stakeholders and the public at large of due process such as legislative approvals being followed when negotiating and executing these agreements. 

The Chamber also acknowledged it was inevitable for differences in opinion to arise as to the pros and cons of these agreements. A commitment to transparency by all parties would ensure a fair and balanced discussion.

Responding to the letter, Secretary to Prime Minister, E.M.S.B. Ekanayake stated, the government had adhered to the values of good governance and transparency. The letter claimed, the Chamber and its constituent members had been appraised of ongoing negotiations concerning the MCC. According to Ekanayake’s letter, dates of several such instances going back to April 2016 up to October 2018 had been provided. It also stated that the Chamber had also been informed of the specific projects coming within the MCC and U.S. government would provide USD 490 million as a grant. The Chamber had been a stakeholder participating in the process. Hence the PM had expressed surprise of the Chamber’s now claimed ignorance.

The Secretary’s letter further claimed, there was no SOFA between the Sri Lankan and the U.S. governments. 

However, what is most astonishing, disappointing, and reprehensible is the final part of Ekanayaka’s letter. It states, “In his view (Prime Minister’s), this brings up the question of your own motives and credibility in following the line taken by certain political parties with their own agenda for elections. The politicization of this reputable business conglomerate under your recent assumption of leadership is to be much regretted.”  

At the outset, I wish to state I do not know Wijayasuriya on a personal level and as such, have no knowledge as to his political affiliations. Presumably, as with many of us, he too must be neither to the right, left or center!

What I do know is that he has been the Director /C.E.O. of the largest mobile communications operator in the country for nearly two decades. Given the success of that organization, his track record as a successful business leader is far superior to that of the Prime Minister besides that of several Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers, and state officials since independence in 1948.

I have never worked for the Chamber nor held any honorary positions. I am not too familiar with its internal governance. Nevertheless, it would be correct to assume the letter signed by  Wijayasuriya does not represent his personal views. It would have contained the collective opinions of a majority of the Chamber Board comprising of several senior C.E.O.’s of large corporates in the country or even their unanimous approval. 

The Chamber Board would have agreed on the contents of the letter sent. Therefore, to cast aspersions singularly on the political affiliations of Wijesuriya is totally unacceptable and below the dignity of the office of the Prime Minister. While I am no lawyer, I would think that there is enough ground for Wijayasuriya to sue the Prime Minister for slander. 

The attempt to cast aspersions on the Chamber Chairman is a clear case of attempting to bully and browbeat a private individual holding a key position in the business community. I say this because for too long has our  Private Sector been silent and subservient to the powers that be. 

Those who work in the private sector complain bitterly of ineptitude and corruptness of rulers. They do so within the confines of their offices and homes. They nevertheless grin and bear the indignities heaped on them and their organizations by politicians. 

The response of many as to why they would not stand up to those in power would be “I cannot jeopardize the interests of the shareholders.”  

This country endured a debilitating civil war for nearly 25 years during which time the Private Sector remained mostly silent and passive despite the adverse impact that it had on the various businesses. 

In the above context, people of this country need to applaud the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce for taking up an issue causing considerable concern to many of us. Until the Political Editor of a leading Sunday newspaper disclosed details of SOFA, none of us knew about it. Citizens were in the dark and would no doubt have remained so if not for the efforts of the investigative journalists. They alerted the general public of a possible agreement that may have serious implications for this country. In the minds of many, the grant of USD 490 million under the MCC agreement may be linked to SOFA which may or may not be the case. 

Under the circumstances, the letter written by the Chamber and signed by its Chairman is perfectly justifiable. It should not have resulted in the Prime Minister publicly casting aspersions on Wijayasuriya. That is not the way things should be done. I hope the rest of the business community and the people at large join me in the outright condemnation of the Prime Minister’s statement communicated through his Secretary. 

Finally, it reminds me of the special tax/levy that was imposed as a one-off on many companies after the present government assumed office in 2015. The tax/ levy referred to as the “Super Gains Tax” was justified based on taxing the “ill-gotten gains” during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.  

I, for one, never understood as to how hundreds of listed companies in this country colluded with the Rajapaksa government to have accrued “ill-gotten gains.” 

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Latest comments

  • 6

    The deification of Mr. Hans Wijesuriya that this writer seeks with his high-toned piece should be juxtaposed against the same Mr. Wijesuriya’s conduct when he headed the conglomerate that COMPLETELY ILLEGALLY AND AT THE BEHEST OF MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA when the latter was riding roughshod over our civil liberties, BLOCKED THE LEGAL ACCESS that Sri Lankans had, up to then, to foreign internet sources of information?
    It took the efforts of civil libertarians, at significant risk to themselves, to provide Sri Lankans with PERFECTLY LEGAL access to foreign media.
    Isn’t it about time that considerations of democratic practice and ethics entered into these discussions?

    • 2

      This response is as bad as that of RW. As explained by the writer, Hans Wijesuriya signed the letter as head of the CCC to communicate a majority or unanimous decision of the CCC Board and not in this personal capacity or as Director/CEO of Dialog. Why kill the messenger? This is a poor attempt at the deification of RW.

  • 2

    These valid protestations will just bounce off the buffalo hided Ranil. RW is a past master at chucking red herrings in reply when he knows someone has put him on the spot.

  • 8

    It is very naive to say this . Wijesuriya and Dialog must disclose all the business they have done with the Rajapakse regime before they comment on politics as representative of the Commercial world.

    Did they lose business under the UNP ?

    How close is Wijesuriya to the Rajapakse family ? Has he done ant favours for the Rajapakses and vice versa ?

    Did the Malaysian company Dialog enjoy a near monopoly status under the Rajapakse government ?

  • 2

    why blame hans instead of ranil
    he is a past master of koheda yanne malle pol replies

  • 2

    PM has become a Clown. HE is continuing to lie to people and go to KERALA to ask help from GODs. PM is just destroying the country.
    I heard, there won’t be signing for SOFA. It needs only a YES or agree in a letter. Other than that, all three agreements should be considered in unison.
    It looks Ranil can not handle as the International community is very aggressive and pressuring. Pakisthan had a SOFA agreements and Pakisthan was becoming a Terrorist country attacking near by countries. In the case of Sri lanka, IT will lose natural resources. They exploit it. SOFS will allow America military contractors who are fighting for Wars for a fee. In other words, War criminals. who could become common criminals , are allowed in Sri lanka.

    • 0

      Is China better than the US? A majority of our exports are bought by the US. China just wants to exploit corrupt politicians into signing debt traps. Any such from the US? Also a SOFA was then signed by Gota in 2005. Any comments on that?

  • 3

    Mahinda Rajapakse also did lot of very corrupt things. So, People expected better from Ranil. Ranil became worse. but, the party constitutions won’t allow anyone to come forward other than their political families. Only some one who i snot greedy and knows what he/she is doing need to lead the country. Because, International community promotes corruption. they want unstable govts. when there is instability it is easy for them to carry out their agenda. that is what is happening in Srilanka. Because, both parties know how good it is to be in the governing side.
    If the International community can not handle both the governing party and the Opposition, they ruing the country simply by destroying it. I heard in Venezuela, they do not like even GUIDO. MAduro is their enemy. Now, they want a third man who is simply destructive to the country.
    That may be the reason why they want Executive presidency abolished. Then the parliament is very unstable. It becomes simply a auction place for politicians. and you will be able to buy votes and win everything with money. Buying parliamentary votes and winning had happened in East European countries.

    • 0

      The executive presidency works only if the parliament majority is of the same party. MY3 Gota knew of the Easter Sunday attacks and did nothing just to get back into power. The executive must go, then only the prime minister can and will be held responsible by the parliament. MY3 currently is protecting the Rajapasses so they can get back into power.

  • 0

    The man would have faired better as a stand up comedian. His response when questioned about ‘sofa’ in parliament recently was an absolute gem .

  • 4

    Always follow the money. I am told Hans Wijesuriyas salary package is about Rs 10 million a month . When such people with deep rooted self- interests comment about public matters we must be suspicious .
    Now this so called Chamber of Commerce , has it no opinion of one of its members bringing in toxic garbage , harming the whole country and putting all of us at risk ?
    As long as Commercial interests can make money is it OK ?

    Utter hypocrisy on the part of this Hans chap ! ( Is that a German name or a reference to the Chinese dynasty ?)

    • 2

      Dialog Axiata has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Sri Lanka and employs several thousand young people who are professionally trained to international standards. Hans deserves every penny he earns , and one should look at the bigger picture rather than engage in nit picking.

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