By Amrit Muttukumaru –
We Sri Lankans are born suckers due to our gullibility worsened by a short attention span. Our politicians since independence have confirmed this. Promises by politicians over the years include bringing rice even from the moon, a ‘Dharmishta‘ (Righteous) society, Capitalism with a ‘human face’ and a ‘Yahapalana’ (good governance) administration. Cutting across all this is the perennial promise by all politicians for a corruption free administration with transparency and accountability. It is superfluous to articulate how all this turned out. The parlous state of the country for which all administrations since independence bear responsibility – some more than others tells its own story.
In the context of the prevailing widespread anger and frustration due to the unbelievable missteps of the present regime which could be considered far worse than what prevailed on the eve of the 2015 presidential election, a replay of the incompetence and duplicity of the 2015 Yahapalana government is a possibility. This time it will be through former UNPers now in the SJB.
Many of them including SJB leader Sajith Premadasa held key positions in the Yahapalana government. The possibility of UNP leader for life Ranil Wickremesinghe being part of the mix cannot be ruled out in the context of even inane utterings of his laid-back cousin Ruwan Wijewardene being given top billing in his father’s newspapers. An example is the front page report in the ‘Daily Mirror’ of 20 November 2021 Common Opposition alliance will be in place next year: Ruwan where Ruwan has said “Some Ministers in the government are currently talking to our leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. He is a capable leader who could build up the nation.”!
The agenda to derail the prospects of the SJB is such that the banner headline of ‘The Island’ 30 November 2021 Forex crisis will lead to power cuts, warns Ranil is a boost for Wickremesinghe. ‘The Island’ is published by Upali Newspapers Limited (UNL) founded by the late Upali Wijewardene a cousin of Wijeya Newspapers Limited (WNL) owner Ranjit Wijewardene. Next to the dominant WNL in the print media comes UNL.
Rerun by SJB Yahapalanists
A rerun by SJB’s Yahapalanists is a possibility even if all what the electorate hears from them is the usual pie in the sky promises of politicians. The ground reality today presents a rare opportunity for those who really have the interest of the country at heart and not their self interest for power at any cost to ‘educate’ the voters on what needs to be done to get this country moving in the right direction. J.R. Jayewardene in 1977, Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1994 and the 2015 Yahapalana government in which SJB leaders figured prominently having the support of significant sections of the majority and minority communities squandered such an opportunity.
There is no better example of broken Yahapalana promises than the outrage of Dr. Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickramaratne at a press conference in the run-up to the 2015 presidential election Casino, Drug & Ethanol Mafias (11:15 onwards). They are projected as the economic ‘brain trust’ of the SJB
This outrage did not prevent the Yahapalana government in which these two gentlemen figured prominently to propose dubious FDI projects such as the “$ 3.85 billion oil refinery in Hambantota” and the 2017 Volkswagen vehicle assembly plant in Kuliyapitiya which turned out to be a hoax.
To prick the collective conscience of SJB leaders, given below is the abuse of power and corruption they tolerated or maybe even participated in during their active time in the 2015 Yahapalana government. Placing the entire blame on then President Maithripala Sirisena and then Prime Minister and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is disingenuous.
Will SJB leaders Sajith Premadasa, Champika Ranawaka, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and others bite the bullet and act as statesmen /stateswomen and place national interest prior to their own self interest to attain political power at any cost? This is why a ‘social contract’ with the people is a necessity right now endorsed by SJB leaders.
SJB & Money Laundering
1) The hypocrisy of the SJB and to some extent the JVP is stark in the petitions they filed in the Supreme Court through SJB parliamentarian, Eran Wickramaratne and JVP Political Bureau member, Sunil Handunnetti alleging that the SLPP proposed Finance Bill encourages money laundering.
2) Did not the Yahapalana government in which SJB leaders figured prominently and JVP supported, in effect facilitate money laundering when it repealed the Exchange Control Act No. 24 of 1953 and brought into law the new Foreign Exchange Act No. 12 of 2017? The new law certified on 28 July 2017 became effective from 20 November 2017. Eran Wickramaratne who is now very concerned about money laundering was State Minister of Finance from May 2017!
3) A precursor to the dangerous Yahapalana inspired Foreign Exchange Act was the ‘invitation’ issued by then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake through India’s ‘The Hindu’ of 5 October 2015 to “Sri Lankans and Indians who had to take back their deposits from banks in Switzerland to place their funds in Sri Lanka”. He had further assured that “No questions would be asked”!
SJB & Bond Scam
1) The egregious Central Bank bond scam was unleashed on the country under the watch of not only Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who was Minister of Policy Planning and Economics Affairs but also a host of SJB stalwarts which include economist Dr. Harsha de Silva who was Deputy Minister of Policy Planning and Economics Affairs under Wickremesinghe. Readers can gauge Dr. de Silva’s obvious embarrassment (21:26:23 onwards) when responding to a question from a journalist on his controversial ‘footnotes’ in the COPE report in respect of the bond scam. Should not Dr. de Silva possibly the finance minister in the event of a future SJB dominated government clarify matters in this regard?
2) It is also noteworthy that both the JVP and TNA continued to politically support the Yahapalana government despite the bond scam and its responsibility for the April 2019 Easter Sunday carnage – for both of which there is still no accountability. The incumbent Rajapaksa led presidency and government pussyfooting on the accountability for these two outrages is proof that ‘The more things change the more they stay the same’!
SJB & Minorities
Although the main issue keeping this country down is the absence of social peace largely due to the minorities being debilitated since independence, the 2015 Yahapalana government even with the TNA on board merely paid lip service to minority issues. Should not have the Yahapalana government in which SJB leaders figured prominently have ‘educated’ and created ‘awareness’ among the public on the need for national unity?
Take for example the creation of the ‘Office on Missing Persons’ (OMP) touted as a major achievement of Yahapalana in minority affairs – particularly for Tamils. This is what the website Groundviews has to say about OMP: “It was meant to reduce tensions and to buy time to allow a slow process of undermining the demand for compliance with the State obligations to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these violations.” (emphasis mine)
Although the SJB is fully aware it can never win a presidential or general election without minority support, it has still not changed track being confident it is lesser of the evils for the minorities. It is foolhardy for the SJB to think it could prevail against the SLPP on a Sinhala nationalist platform while forever paying lip service to minority grievances. All that will happen is that the status quo bleeding this country will continue with more dangerous consequences.
Should not TNA leaders like M. A. Sumanthiran who scream from the rooftops about human rights and good governance be ashamed of themselves for supporting the Yahapalana government through thick and thin including the egregious bond scam? When people of his caliber conduct themselves in this manner, what hope can this country have?
The first salvo with the potential to derail the prospects of a SJB led administration under Premadasa was fired by the ‘Daily Mirror’ owned by Ranil Wickremesinghe’s maternal uncle Ranjit Wijewardene. Wijewardene’s laid-back son Ruwan is the Deputy Leader of the UNP under first cousin Ranil.
It is alleged (not denied) that Wickremesinghe had gone to Temple Trees on 9 January 2015 in the company of Thirukumar Nadesan to meet then President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the context of Rajapaksa losing the just concluded presidential election being a foregone conclusion.
Under the circumstances, the banner headline of the ‘Daily Mirror’ of 23 November 2021 UNFAVORABLE to the electoral prospects of SJB “Local IS had planned attacks in all 9 provinces this year, probe reveals- Prof. Rohan Gunaratne is not a surprise. It is presumably duplicated in other WNL publications which include the country’s highest circulation Sinhala language newspaper ‘Lankadeepa’. This has the potential to drive fear into the psyche of the country’s Sinhala–Buddhist, Christian and other communities due to security concerns.
No matter what, the SJB will be hard–pressed to overcome the advantage Gotabaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa have in the mindset of the majority community to provide national security in the context of the duo being given most of the credit for defeating the LTTE. Apart from this, did not the Easter Sunday carnage take place under the watch of the Yahapalana government in which SJB leader Sajith Premadasa and other SJB stalwarts played a prominent role?
Ruwan & Easter Attack
It is pertinent to state that the fear of the media influence of WNL is such that no one – not even the Cardinal is seeking accountability from WNL owner’s son Ruwan Wijewardene for his share of responsibility for the Easter Sunday carnage when he was State Minister of Defense during the ENTIRE period of the Yahapalana government. Even if he was kept away from some meetings of the National Security Council (NSC), are we expected to believe that Ruwan did not have knowledge of the attack even to the extent of Harin Fernando’s hospitalized father?
Apart from this, is it not reasonable to surmise that investigative journalists in his father’s media empire would have tipped him off? Why are only Hemasiri Fernando – then Secretary, Ministry of Defence and some others in the Defence establishment being held accountable while the State Minister of Defense is molly-coddled?
Why is SJB stalwart Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka silent on this issue?
If the SJB wishes to be taken seriously as the ‘government in waiting’ it better conduct itself in this manner. What is the signal SJB leader Premadasa gives the national electorate:
1) When he gets the SJB parliamentary group to adopt a ‘vote of confidence’ in him?
2) When he takes on board Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka as his Adviser, International Affairs when until quite recently he was for many years a strong supporter of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his policies?
3) One is at a loss to fathom what SJB front liners Dr. Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickramaratne stand for, when they are pictured with Jayatilleka at the time Premadasa made the appointment?
4) When SJB national organizer Tissa Attanayake’s daughter is appointed to a diplomatic post in Australia by the incumbent government it hopes to succeed?
5) Previously on the eve of the January 2015 Presidential election, did not this very same SJB national organizer exit the UNP under controversial circumstances and support the candidature of Mahinda Rajapaksa?
6) Premadasa meekly accepting being characterized in WNL’s ‘Daily FT’ as the “son of the mass murderer”?
7) It is such weakness in leadership that has emboldened SJB parliamentarian Champika Ranawaka to boldly state at an interview with reference to his 43rd Brigade – “we think of future politics beyond the scope of SJB.” (‘Daily Mirror’ 13 July 2021)
By no stretch of the imagination is this writer expecting Premadasa to be an autocrat. What is being espoused is that apart from being principled and a good listener, he must exude confidence in himself. The ‘confidence’ aspect is clearly deficient.
The ground reality today presents a RARE opportunity for those who really have the interest of the country at heart and not their self interest for power at any cost to ‘EDUCATE’ the voters on what needs to be done to get this country moving in the right direction. The question is – will the leaders of the alternative government in waiting led by the SJB eschew the usual pie in the sky promises and act as statesmen /stateswomen? Their past record is dismal.
Will SJB leaders, in particular – Sajith Premadasa, Champika Ranawaka and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka rise to the challenge and present a cohesive SOCIAL CONTRACT to the people in which national UNITY figures prominently?
Does not realpolitik suggest that SJB seriously consider having the JVP on board in a joint opposition formation subject to a principled common platform? After all, JVP did figure prominently and support the Yahapalana government. It is hoped that both SJB Yahapalanists and JVP will eschew the downside of Yahapalana!
I am well aware that the mainstream media will not touch this article even with a barge pole!