Ranil Should Reveal Progress of 21A

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Yesterday saw the country taking the first step to be once more recognised, by the international community, as a country that respects the rule of law with the arrest of SLPP State Minister Sanath Nishantha.

Sanath Nishantha is wanted in connection with the assault of peaceful protesters at “MynaGoGama” (opposite Temple Trees, Kollupitiya) and “GotaGoGama” (opposite the Presidential Secretariat, Colombo) last Monday (9 May).

Those peaceful protesters were assaulted because they called for the sacking of the country’s immediately preceding Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa and younger brother President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Mahinda subsequently resigned and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe (MP) was appointed as the new Premier six days ago on Thursday
(12 May).

The arrest of Sanath Nishantha is the first of several steps that has been taken to win the confidence of the masses and the international community, where, with the exception of India and China which have ‘special’ geopolitical interests on Sri Lanka, Wickremesinghe in particular will have to show tangible results to curb the President’s powers as well.

‘The Hindu’ on Monday, quoting Wickremesinghe, said that the 21A to the Constitution to curb the Presidential powers would be discussed with the Attorney General’s Department (AGD) on 16 May (Monday) so, that it can be submitted to the Cabinet for approval.

21A is expected to annul the 20A which gave unfettered powers to President. The first Cabinet meeting was held on Sunday (15 May). Special attention was paid to fuel imports at the meeting, ‘The Hindu’ added.

The Premier needs to make a special statement when Parliament reconvenes today about the status quo of the proposed 21A vis-à-vis his discussions with the AGD.

This will give greater credence to the masses and to the international community whose aid in kind and cash is sorely needed to feed the masses, provide uninterrupted electricity right round the clock, to import the much needed medicines, cooking gas, diesel, petrol and kerosene and to break the vicious cycle of daily, unending queues to purchase such essentials.

This is in the context that Wickremesinghe successfully voted to defeat a Motion mooted by the Opposition SJB, expressing displeasure over President Rajapaksa and in a tragicomic turn of events, his support to SJB MP Rohini Kaviratne for the post of Deputy Speaker was successfully defeated in Parliament on the same day with SLPP MP Ajith Rajapakse voted in for this post in a secret ballot.

Wickremesinghe in his address to the nation made on Monday said, the “Finance Ministry is finding it difficult to raise $ 5 million required to import gas as well. To ease the queues, Sri Lanka must obtain $ 75 million within the next couple of days. At the moment, the country only has petrol stocks for a single day.

For over 40 days, three ships with crude and furnace oil have been anchored within the maritime zone of Sri Lanka. We are working to obtain dollars in the open market to pay for these shipments.

We must also immediately obtain $ 20 million to provide gas to consumers. The ‘situation’ for kerosene and furnace oil is even more urgent. Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), State, private and foreign banks are all facing a US dollar shortage.

Another grave concern is the lack of medicine. Payments have not been made for four months for medicines imported by the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation (SPC).  As a result, pharmaceutical companies are taking to blacklisting the SPC.

Our Medical Supplies Division is unable to provide even two critical items of the 14 essential medicines that we currently need. These two are medicines used to treat heart disease and the anti-rabies vaccine.

However, in the coming months, our foreign allies will assist us.”

Wickremesinghe in his speech last Monday however, was careful not to blame the Rajapaksas for the current US dollar shortage in the country, the root cause of all of Sri Lanka’s current socioeconomic ills, caused by questionable and expensive foreign commercial borrowings of short tenures as opposed to concessional foreign borrowings which have longer payback periods.