By Rasika Jayakody –
The ruling party lost several budget votes one after another, in several local government institutions, causing embarrassment to the top echelons of the government who brag about a two thirds majority in Parliament. The main reason behind such defeats was personality clashes and internal power struggles between various individuals and groups in the same party. Although a defeat at a budget-vote does not warrant dissolution of a local government body it can certainly be viewed as something that spoils the feel-good factor of the government.
Irked by this new trend, Maithripala Sirisena, General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), sent a strongly worded letter to local government members and electorate organizers, urging them to take this matter into serious consideration. He asserted that everyone must work together to avert this kind of setbacks in the future and resolve internal issues.
In his letter, the SLFP General Secretary also accused some of the LG representatives of the ruling party for sabotaging votes due to their unresolved issues with heads of local government bodies. “This reflects badly on the government and the party leader and brings the party into disrepute. Therefore, everyone must ensure that this kind of problems do not arise in the future, “ the General Secretary said, reading the riot act to his representatives on the ground. This is a strong indication that such aberrations are becoming a serious concern for the government.
A few days after this letter was sent, the ruling party lost the budget votes of several other local government institutions namely Kesbawa Urban Council ,Embilipitiya Pradeshiya Sabha, Medawachchiya Pradeshiya Sabha, Imbulpe Pradeshiya Sabha and Wattala Pradeshiya Sabha. Several ruling party representatives voted in favour of the opposition, leading the government to an embarrassing defeat. The Chairman of the Rajanganaya Pradeshiya Sabha too, lost his position as the budget of the institution was defeated for the second time. Following these devolopment, Susil Premjayantha, UPFA General Secretary said the coalition will take a stern action against those who voted in favour of the opposition.
There is a reason for the government to panic. Although the ruling party appears extremely strong on the top layer, it is clear that it is dealing with numerous issues at the bottom level – particularly when it comes to local government bodies and their representatives. Over the past 24 months, stories have been reported in media almost on a daily basis with regard to unruly behavior of local government politicians representing the ruling party, showing the extent to which their discipline has been deteriorated. Their failure to toe the party line and inability to create a united force at crucial budget votes at the local government level is another facet of the same problem. In the end, all such issues collectively contribute to the erosion of discipline among rank and file of the ruling party – which has to be addressed by the top tier leadership.
Susara Dinal joins WPC fray
Susara Dinal de Silva, Channel Head of ‘Sirasa’ and the one who masterminded its most popular reality show ‘Sirasa Superstar’ is to contest the forthcoming Western Provincial Council under the UPFA ticket. Although this appears as a sudden move, sources close to him said that the channel head had had long-drawn discussions with several senior members of the ruling party with regard to his candidacy.
Susara will be the ‘popular face’, or perhaps the prize catch on the UPFA list for the Western Provincial Council election and he will primarily be fielded to attract youth votes around the party. In fact, Youth Affairs Minister Dullas Alahapperuma and Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa were instrumental in bringing him on board as a candidate. He will be representing the Gampaha district, a stronghold of the UPFA.
Susara Dinal has resigned from his position as the ‘Channel Head’ of Sirasa two months ago, and in the future he will stay in touch with the company in the capacity of a ‘Consultant’. Chandana Sooriyabandara, who is also a senior journalist in the electronic media, will replace him as the new Head of the channel.
Speaking to ‘The Sunday Leader’, Susara Dinal said, he met his boss, Rajendran Rajamahendran, owner of MTV/MBC media network, only after he made the decision to contest the election. “I informed him that I wanted to contest the election and he congratulated me for my new journey. Over the past seven and a half years, I achieved remarkable success at Sirasa. As much as I led the channel, I also learnt many new things from the experiences to which I was exposed. Politics is a different journey altogether and I am ready for that,” he said.
When asked whether he would contest the Parliamentary election too, Dinal said first he had to get through to the provincial council. “Parliamentary election would be the next step. But first things first,” the journalist told ‘The Sunday Leader’, sharing his political plans for the first time with a newspaper.
What happened to the wild boar?
Former Cricket Captain and Deputy Postal Minister Sanath Jayasuriya met with an accident on the Southern Expressway near the 92nd milepost of the highway where the Pinnaduwa entry point is located. The newly appointed Deputy Minister was on his way to Colombo after a funeral on Monday night and the vehicle was travelling at a blistering pace – 160 km per hour. When his SUV was about to overtake another vehicle, a wild boar, emerged from the darkness, suddenly crossed the road. Making a deafening sound, Jayasuriya’s vehicle collided with the wild boar and slid towards the railings in the middle of the Southern highway. Although Jayasuriya and his chauffer were befuddled by the crash, the latter somehow managed to take control of the vehicle and prevented a possible crash into the railings – which could have led to a fatal accident. The body of the wild boar literally broke into two pieces and its body parts were thrown more than 100 meters away from the point where the accident took place. Although Jayasuriya escaped unhurt, his vehicle was severely damaged.
The police immediately took action after the accident was reported and Jayasuriya, was given another vehicle, to travel to Colombo. Everyone was relieved that the world famous cricketer and his chauffer did not receive any injury.
However, there are two important questions arising from the accident.
As everyone knows, there is an accepted speed limit for vehicles travelling on the Southern Expressway. Do parliamentarians, cricketers and cricketer turned parliamentarians have a special speed limit and special traffic laws on highways that the common public is still unaware of? It is important to make the public aware of such exemptions so that they know they have to resort to safety measures when such privileged individuals are travelling on the highway.
The next question is what exactly happened to the wild boar which was killed in the accident. Out of sheer curiosity, The Sunday Leader contacted various parties that were involved in the post-accident clearing to know what exactly happened to the fragmented body of the wild boar which was killed in the accident, no one was able to come up with a satisfactory answer. None of the parties –including the Police- knew what happened to the wild boar after it was removed from the location. That also remains another mystery!
Gamini Jayawickrama Perera lashes out at John Amaratunga
During the debate on the Ministry of Law and Order, Gamini Jayawickrama Perera, senior Parliamentarian of the United National Party, threw a tantrum at MP John Amaratunga, Chief Opposition Whip of Parliament, for giving priority to youngsters and sidelining the seniors when allocating time-slots to speak during the budget debate.
He accused Amaratunga of giving his time-slot to two young Parliamentarians representing the same party – Harin Fernando and Sujeewa Senasinghe.
What really happened on that particular day was a slight miscommunication between several opposition parliamentarians rather than a senior-junior issue. Harin Fernando was scheduled to speak as the second parliamentarian from the UNP after Mangala Samaraweera, who opened the debate for the opposition. Since Harin was coming from Badulla, his electorate, he informed the Chief Opposition Whip to place his speech towards the end and promote someone else to his original time-slot. As per the request, Gamini Jayawickrama Perera, formerly a Chairman of the UNP, was informed that he would be speaking, substituting Harin and the latter would be pushed down the order. However, Harin was able to make it on time and he was therefore given his original time-slot. Following this move, Gamini Jayawickrama indicated that he was leaving. Sujeewa Senasinghe, another young Parliamentarian of the UNP, spoke after Harin and things went on smoothly.
Although Gamini Jayawickrama Perera initially indicated that he was leaving, he returned after sometime, much to the surprise of the two opposition MPs. After his return, Jayawickrama Perera wanted to speak but there was no time-slot available for him. Annoyed to the hilt, the senior Parliamentarian lashed out at the Chief Opposition Whip for giving priority juniors over seniors during parliamentary debates. Although Amaratunga tried to pacify his parliamentary colleague, the latter was not ready to reconcile!
“I’ve been with the party for more than four decades but today we don’t get a proper time-slot to speak in Parliament? Those who joined just a few years ago get priority over us! Why is this discrimination? Is this the way the party treats its senior members?” Jayawickrama Perera asked.
UNP MPs come to Sajith’s rescue
After Sajith Premadasa withdrew himself from the Leadership Council of the party, the power-equation of the council changed rapidly, in favour of the party leader who anyway had an axe to grind with the former. With his withdrawal, Preamadasa lost clout in the supreme decision making body of the party and following suit, Thalatha Atukorala, who is also a strong supporter of the Premadasa faction, stepped down from her position in the council.
However, a group of young Parliamentarians representing the UNP has now come to Premadasa’s rescue. They have decided to bridge the gap between Premadasa and the Leadership Council of the party. They are planning to hold fresh discussions with Premadasa as well as the UNP Leadership Council to get him back on board in the decision making process of the UNP.
The group of Parliamentarians, who are usually known as ‘moderates’ in the party, are of the view that someone like Sajith – who can truly inspire the grassroots level – should not distance himself from the leadership council. On the same note, they assert that Premadasa should re-align himself with the national plan of the party without giving priority to his personal aspirations. So, the discussions, one UNP Parliamentarian said, will be held along those lines. They also say that the Leadership Council should give a second chance to Premadasa, considering his potential to re-awaken the grassroots level and give a fillip to the party re-construction programme.
Daysiri’s birthday wishes to Johnston
The recently concluded North Western Provincial Council election was more like a battle between Johnston Fernando and Dayasiri Jayasekera as Dayasiri’s son, Johan, vied with Jayasekera for the Chief Minister position in the provincial council. During the election campaign, there were heated arguments between Jayasekera and Fernando over many issues and there was a growing antipathy between the two camps.
Following the election, the Fernandos and Jayasekera had no option but to make peace with each other as both of them were given important positions in the council. While Jayasekera was made the Chief Minister, Johan Fernando was made the Chief Whip of the ruling party. Although there was a current of bitterness running behind the scenes, both of them shook hands and extended their gentlemanly courtesy towards each other at least in the eyes of cameras. Many considered this as nothing but a love-hate relationship.
Last week, Dayasiri was among one of the first people to wish Johnston Fernando on the latter’s birthday. The Chief Minister telephoned Fernando early in the morning and had a friendly chat with him, after extending birthday wishes to his old friend. The duo discussed many things concerning the North Western Province and their political activities. Strangely, both Fernando and Jayasekera sounded as if they have erased the bitterness of the North Western Provincial Council election from their collective memory. After all, collective and selective memory loss is an essential part of Sri Lankan politics, in this day and age!
Bribery Charges against 09 ruling party politicos
Reports came from the Bribery Commission earlier said that more than 50 politicians – including parliamentarians, PC and PS members – have now been trapped in the bribery net. This week, it was revealed that o9 influential members of the ruling parties are facing inquiries at the Bribery Commission, chaired by former Supreme Court Judge Jagath Balapatabendi.
However, doubts are looming large whether the Bribery Commission is being utilized as a ‘tool’ to tame some of the ruling party members as there is no consistency in the process. The best example is the bribery and corruption investigation against Minister Mervin Silva which has already come to a standstill.
When Minister Mervyn Silva earned the ire of some top echelons of government due to his rumbustious conduct, the Bribery Commission started an inquiry against him. Putting two and two together, one can come easily to the conclusion as to how the Bribery Commission investigation coincided with the fallout. However, when the Minister made peace with his bosses after a few months, the investigation, strangely, hit a snag. This has brought the efficacy and integrity of the Bribery Commission into serious question.
Internal sources of the commission claim that most of the ruling party members, who earlier faced bribery & corruption charges, have already found their way-outs from the bribery net. If true, this reflects badly on the government as well as on the mechanism looking into bribery and corruption. It is now up to the Bribery Commission to prove its transparency and integrity by showing consistency in these inquiries against ruling party politicians.
India is Sri Lanka’s only “flicker of hope” in oil & gas
When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to boycott CHOGM held in Colombo, bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka strained – to a great extent. Although the Indian Government strong armed Sri Lanka on the diplomatic front by boycotting CHOGM, it has now inadvertently become Sri Lanka’s only flicker of hope on the hydrocarbon front. Understandably, oil politics and geo-politics play a crucial role in Sri Lanka hydrocarbon exploration process which has a history of more than four decades.
Saliya Wickramasuriya, Director General of Sri Lanka’s Petroleum Resources Development Secretariat, said on Friday that Sri Lanka received one bid each for three exploration blocks in the Mannar and Cauvery basins. Cairn India has made a bid for a block in the Mannar basin while Canada’s Bona Visa has placed bids for two blocks in the Cauvery basin. Cairn is the company which is already handling hydrocarbon exploration in the Mannar basin. With the recent buyback of more than $900m of shares, Cairn India provided an exit route for its former UK sister company Cairn Energy.
The number of bids received for the second round licensing certainly comes as a disappointment for Sri Lanka. It is clear that the newly opened exploration blocks in several South East Asian countries have made a negative impact on Sri Lanka’s hydrocarbon exploration sector. It is in this context that the Indian company is continuing to show interest in Sri Lanka’s hydrocarbon sector, creating a fresh equation between India and Sri Lanka.
If we look at the political aspect of this matter, India’s foray into Sri Lanka’s hydrocarbon exploration certainly comes with a collateral agenda. Their interest in this particular sector comes against a backdrop where China is spending heavily on the infrastructure development of Sri Lanka. China is the largest development aid provider to Sri Lanka, having given $1.05 billion to the country in 2012. Although India is only second to China, it has only given aid worth $700 million last year. It is clear that India doesn’t recognize China’s growing influence in Sri Lanka is a good omen for India. And apparently, India is now catching up on the hydrocarbon exploration front, an industry that is of great importance to Sri Lanka, politically as well as commercially.
Cairn has one block in the Mannar basin and has already discovered two hydrocarbon deposits in the area; the fact that Cairn bid for the second time have a fillip to many industry giants in the world to look into Sri Lanka’s hydrocarbon sector. Initially, global oil giants such as Exxon Mobil Corp, Royal Dutch Shell, France’s Total, Eni of Italy, Sinopec and CNPC of China showed interest in Sri Lanka’s hydrocarbon exploration process, although they haven’t placed any bids for the second round licensing.
Oil and gas exploration in the Mannar basin is something that was highly politicized on electoral platforms. However, the outcome of the second round licensing indicates that the government is no longer in a position to travel that path. There are certain issues in the hydrocarbon exploration sector – such as problems with regard to the availability of data – that need to be addressed and without fixing those gaps, it is unrealistic to paint a rosy picture about the future.
Reginald Cooray’s daughter passed away
Minister Reginald Cooray’s daughter, Muditha Sanjeewani Cooray, passed away on the 3rd of December. According to the sources close to the Cooray family, the 35 year old university lecturer who was working at the University of Kelaniya, died of cardiac arrest. She had collapsed while making a presentation in front of a panel of senior university lecturers, with regard to her post graduate degree (m.phil).
The university staff had immediately rushed her to the Kiribathgoda hospital, and later she had been transferred to the Colombo North Teaching Hospital in Ragama. Following a brief stay at the Ragama hospital, again she had been transferred to the Colombo National Hospital where she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
On the 3rd of December, at around 5.15 in the morning, she had passed away while undergoing treatment at the ICU.