President requests fuel from Putin while public is preparing for the ‘final battle’

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While the general public is burdened with the fuel shortage and preparing to hold mass scale protests claiming that it would be the ‘final battle’ to send both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the government home, the President said he had held a teleconference with Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday (6) and had requested for credit support to import fuel to Sri Lanka to overcome the present economic challenges.

The President, in the afternoon tweeted that he had a productive teleconference with the Russian President.

In his tweet, following the conversation, the President said he had humbly made a request to resume Aeroflot flights to Colombo. “We unanimously agreed that strengthening bilateral relations in sectors such as tourism, trade and culture was paramount in reinforcing the friendship our two nations share,” President Rajapaksa said.

Meanwhile, two top Russian officials arrived in Sri Lanka within 24 hours of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s call to Russian President Vladimir Putin seeking fuel supply assistance.

The two Russian oil firm representatives arrived on Thursday (7) to reportedly discuss the purchase of oil.

Nimal Siripala de Silva resigns amidst bribery allegations

Nimal Siripala De Silva was compelled to step down from his Ministerial Portfolio on the instructions of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa following an allegation made by the Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa regarding a Cabinet Minister soliciting a bribe from a Japanese company.

Premadasa, in Parliament on Tuesday (5), alleged that a Cabinet Minister in the incumbent regime has solicited a bribe from Japan’s Taisei Corporation and this has angered President Rajapaksa.

Following the controversy, Rajapaksa called for an immediate formal investigation into the incident while the President’s Media Division, in a statement, said that De Silva temporarily stepped down from his position as the Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Services on the instructions of the President until the investigations are concluded.

Silva, in his letter of resignation to Rajapaksa, stated that although Premadasa did not specify a name, his Ministry has been involved with the said Japanese company and thereby the said allegation was linked to him on social media.

President booed out of Parliament

The President had to leave the Parliament Chamber amid booing and slogans being chanted at him by the Opposition on Tuesday (5)

The Parliament sitting was adjourned for 10 minutes following the Opposition’s protest against the President.

The President, who arrived at the Parliament complex, was welcomed by Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena and ruling party MPs on Tuesday (5) morning.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was presenting the road map with proposed solutions to the existing economic issues to Parliament at the time. The President listened to Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s speech on the economy and the progress of the discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

When Wickremesinghe, in a sarcastic tone, challenged Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake to take the Premier’s post for six months if the latter has a proper plan to recover the collapsed economy, the Opposition started to protest against President Rajapaksa, demanding his resignation.

They chanted “Gota Go Home” and “Wada barinam gedarayanna” (Go home if you can’t govern properly) while holding placards. Although Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena tried to calm them down, the protest continued.

Wickremesinghe continued his speech. The President and Wickremesinghe were seen smiling slightly as they watched the protest.

After a while, a group of ruling party MPs including S.B. Dissanayake and Mahindananda Aluthgamage approached the President’s chair. Minister Prasanna Ranatunga was seen shouting back at the Opposition.

Former Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa was seen standing up and smiling. He remained silent.

The Speaker, after several attempts to restore order, announced that he was adjourning the sitting for 10 minutes.

Even after that, the Opposition continued the protest until the President left the Chamber.

PM’s meetings

As it was a Parliamentary week PM Ranil Wickremesinghe spent most of his time being immersed in his work there. Though he did not venture out to the House on Monday (4) he spent most of the time on Tuesday (5) and Wednesday (6) in the House.

During both those two days heated situations were witnessed in the House. Though the PM did not go to Parliament, he decided to head to the PM’s Office as he had prior engagements there and because there were a few meetings as well. In the afternoon the PM attended a meeting of the Food Security Committee and he advised officials of the Committee to submit to him a report with regard to the aspect of the country’s food security by Thursday (7).

The PM then tasked Minister Prasanna Ranatunga with the challenge of providing relief to people encompassing the coastal belt from Negombo to Kalutara. In the evening the PM headed off to the weekly Cabinet meeting and there he made revelations with regard to the ongoing economic woes of the country.

As the Finance Minister the PM then submitted a paper to the Cabinet towards the monitoring of all casinos here as per a proposal mooted by the IMF.

Afterwards, he submitted a few proposals with regard to the issues related to fuel and cooking gas currently being faced by consumers. Accordingly, Minister Kanchana Wijesekera readily accepted the challenge of sorting out the burning issues on behalf of the consumers.

After that the PM attended the weekly Government Parliamentary Group meeting. Before attending the Cabinet meeting the PM was notified by an official from the PMs Office with regard to a ploy being adopted by a group of Government MPs to direct virulent criticism at the PM if the latter were to leave the Parliamentary Group meeting midway.

The PM noted that he has no intention of leaving that meeting midway this time around and stated that in the past week he had been forced to leave the meeting abruptly due to a few prior appointments.

During the Parliamentary Group meeting SLPP MP Sarath Weerasekera had repeatedly inquired about the MCC Agreement with the US and the PM observed that most do not have a favourable view of it.

After that he explained its virtues to the country and responded to questions posed to him by the MPs. He then told the MPs that he will be informing the House with regard to the country’s current financial situation as well as on the progress of ongoing talks with IMF officials.

Then, the President stated that he too will be present in the House to listen to the Prime Minister’s special speech in Parliament. The PM stated that if the JVP Leader Anura Kumara is willing to put the country’s economy back on track then he was more than willing to hand over the Premiership to the JVP leader. A group of SLPP MPs told the PM that they are content to see the country’s ship being steered to safety by a seasoned leader like Wickremesinghe.

On the evening of the same day the PM also attended the National Security Council meeting convened by the President. The meeting focused on a few vital issues concerning national security.

Before heading off to the House on Wednesday (6) a group of Government MPs told the PM that Minister Dhammika Perera had held a media conference and that he had demanded the PM to resign forthwith as the Finance Minister. The PM stated that he will inquire into it.

SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva also posed this same question to the PM in the House but being the canny politico that he is the PM refused to respond and he decided to keep mum with the aim of safeguarding unity of the Cabinet.

The following day SLPP MPs WasanthaYapa Bandara, Chamara Sampath Dissanayake, Madura Vithanage and Minister Susil Premajayantha met the PM at his Office and asked whether a Cabinet Minister can request another Cabinet Minister to resign.

Minister Susil Premajayantha opined that if such a request has to be made then it should be made to the President at the Cabinet and not via the media. Then, MP Chamara Dissanayake urged the PM to take disciplinary action against Perera for having violated the unity of the Cabinet. MP Vithanage too agreed with the sentiments expressed by Dissanayake and the PM too assured the MPs and the Minister that he will broach the issue at next week’s Cabinet meeting.

When the PM met the UNP activists they too advised the PM to institute disciplinary action against Minister Perera for having flouted the Cabinet disciplinary code via his actions. This was intimated to the PM by UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardene.

PM’s special statement on the economy

The depreciation of the rupee has reduced the value of the money in the Employees’ Provident Fund and the Employees’ Trust Fund by 50 per cent and the real value of pensions has also decreased by 50 per cent, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in Parliament on Tuesday (5)

Wickremesinghe presented the road map of the Government to revive the collapsed economy and the progress of the discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“We are now participating in the negotiations as a bankrupt country. Therefore, we have to face a more difficult and complicated situation than in previous negotiations. Once a staff-level agreement is reached, this will be submitted to the IMF Board for approval. But due to the state of bankruptcy our country is in, we have to submit a plan on our debt sustainability to them separately. Only when they are satisfied with that plan can we reach a staff-level agreement. This is not a straightforward process.”

But we have been able to end the rounds of discussions effectively despite these difficulties. According to the IMF’s official announcement, “Positive and productive discussions were held on supportive economic policies and reforms. Significant progress was achieved.” The next step is to submit to them the plan on debt restructuring and sustainability, which is being prepared by financial and legal experts Lazard and Clifford Chance. We hope to submit this report to the IMF by August. Once this is done, we will be able to reach an agreement. However, even after this agreement, it must be presented to the IMF Board for approval.  After approval is granted, a comprehensive loan assistance programme will be prepared for 4 years. We are now on that path, he said.

“After reaching a staff-level agreement, we will organise a donor conference by bringing together the friendly countries that provide us with loan assistance, such as India, China, and Japan. We hope to create a system where we can get loan assistance through a common agreement.”

Wickremesinghe said by 2025, the Government aims to create a surplus in the primary budget and raise the economic growth rate to a stable level. The Government’s expectation is to establish a stable economic base by 2026.

“We have to pay USD 3.4 billion between June and December this year, USD 5.8 billion in 2023, USD 4.9 billion in 2024, USD 6.2 billion in 2025, USD 4.0 billion in 2026, and USD 4.3 billion in 2027. The total debt burden of the Government at the end of 2021 was Rs 17.5 trillion and by March 2022 it has increased to Rs 21.6 trillion.”

“No matter how much we are in the middle of a huge economic crisis, we cannot forget the problems faced by the poorest sections of society regarding food. The upcoming interim budget will allocate money to provide short-term relief to the lowest sections of society. This relief will be given to the people under the Social Welfare Benefits Act. We are also launching activities to prevent malnutrition caused by a lack of food,” he said.

PM’s challenge to Anura Kumara Dissanayake

During the statement, the Prime Minister challenged Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake to take over the Premier’s post and revive the country’s collapsed economy in six months.

The Premier put forward this challenge while President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was in the Chamber.

Wickremesinghe, while delivering a special statement on the economic situation and the progress of the discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said he is ready to step down and hand over the post to Dissanayake if the latter can present a road map to the President or Parliament as to how he is going to revive the economy in six months.

“Dissanayake has said he can revive the country’s economy in six months. I request him to present his plan to the President. If he does not want to meet the President, he can present it to Parliament. If his plan is better than ours, we will implement it. Such a plan would be brilliant enough to win the Nobel Prize in Economics,” Wickremesinghe said.

Dissanayake made a strong comeback, countering Wickremesinghe’s claims, and criticised the latter for the sarcastic tone used when challenging the JJB.

“The Premier had taken my statement out of context. Wickremesinghe is famous for taking others’ speeches out of context. I only said the country must be stabilised and that an election must be held after six months. A Cabinet must be appointed by us and used to stabilise the country in a short period of time. Thereafter, an election must be held in six months. If this can be done, I will definitely accept the Premiership. I said the same thing about two months ago. But you did not care. You (Wickremesinghe) accepted the Premiership two days after my statement,” the JJB Leader stressed.

If that happens, we will provide solutions to the present fuel, gas, and medicine issues in the country within the next six months and after that an election must be held, he added.

Speaking further, Dissanayake said, “You (Wickremesinghe) can never relate to the sufferings of the people. He lives in his own bubble. You are insensitive. I know why you joke about my statement. You only want to create Media hype by making these worthless jokes. Throughout your life, you have engaged in politics by playing games, striking deals, and inciting people from every side. But you should remember deal politics do not last long. The country is in this situation because of deal politics like yours.”

Perera Vs Wickremesinghe

Minister of Investment Promotion, Dhammika Perera demanded the Prime Minister to resign from his Finance portfolio.

He said, the Finance Minister is bracing for disaster, as he has no plans or motivation to address the US dollar crisis. The country’s economic woes, he said, are tied to the currency crisis.

“There are around 300 individuals in line, and USD 300 million is scheduled to be brought in this month that has not been handled by the Finance Minister. I will not let this calamity continue,” he added.

He also said he believes he will be required to attend the protest to show his support. “We can’t fix people’s problems unless we talk about them. The Finance Minister intends to borrow money from family and friends. He also said he has no plans for future capital inflows into the country,” he elaborated.

He stressed that the Finance Minister has delayed all matters pertaining to dollar earnings, borrowing finance, and accessible credit lines, and that this is why he believes the Finance Minister should quit.

“After this point, we cannot continue with the present protests. I’m going to stand until he resigns,” he said.

Minister Perera challenged the PM to a debate as well.

When SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva queried from the PM about Perera’s statement, Wickremesinghe dodged the question.

Dr. de Silva: “There are media reports that Minister Dhammika Perera demanded that you to resign from Finance Minister portfolio. What is this? You have to clarify.”

Instead of replying, Wickremesinghe cracked a joke and refrained from answering the question.

Wickremesinghe: “We are treating you (Dr. de Silva) as a member of our government. Now you have two more steps to join the government.”

Wajira meets trade unions

A special discussion took place between UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardene and a group of trade union representatives last Monday (4).

During the discussion Abeywardene and the trade union represemtatives spoke at length on the social, political and economic woes faced by the country and how best the country’s political establishment could intervene to resolve those issues.

They commended the measures currently being adopted by the PM towards the resolution of the issues faced by the people and they had assured the UNP Chairman of their support at workplace level to place the country back on track.

During the almost two-hour-long discussion the trade union reps put forth valuable proposals and suggestions with regard to tiding over the country’s burning issues.

Afterwards the UNP Chairman promised the trade union reps that their suggestions and proposals will be submitted to the perusal of the PM and he assured to get back to them shortly with the Prime Minister’s response.

‘Husmak’ with Sajith

The ‘Husmak’ programme which has been initiated by the SJB primarily intends to hand over equipment and medicinal items to hospitals that are in dire need of them. This is a brainchild of Opposition and SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa.

On 18 May during the Parliament sessions the programme was highlighted by MPs and the PM urged the Opposition Leader if possible to distribute vital drugs to the hospitals via his project. Afterwards the SJB leader inquired into the need for vital medicinal stocks to the hospital sector here.

Dr. Anver Hamdani informed Premadasa that there was an acute shortage of the drug known as Recombinant Streptokinase which is recommended for heart patients.

Dr. Hamdani stated that the drug in question was in dire need for patients who are waging a life and death struggle to remain alive. He therefore urged the SJB Leader to supply it if possible urgently.

Acting on it promptly the SJB leader was able to bring down 4,000 vaccines of the drug at a cost of Rs 15.6 million.

 MP Nalin Bandara stated that his leader had accepted the challenge posed to him by the PM and been able to import the aforesaid drug in no time to protect lives of scores of heart patients.

MP Rajitha Senaratne too agreed with the remarks made by MP Bandara. Sajith then vowed to resolve the country’s fuel crisis as well and he received the backing of his MPs including Gayantha Karunatilleka.

Premadasa also advised the PM, during his speech to the House, not to throw challenges to the Opposition in vain but instead to strive to resolve the pressing issues of the masses without wasting time by appealing to the country’s gallery.

Maithri meets Sajith

SLFP Leader, MP Maithripala Sirisena met Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and a group of his MPs at the latter’s office last week.

Among the SJB MPs who were in attendance were SJB General Secretary MP Ranjith Maddumabandara, SJB Chairman Field Marshal MP Sarath Fonseka, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Mano Ganesan, Rauff Hakeem, C. Vigneswaran, P. Digambaram along with civil society activists Victor Ivan, Janaranjana, Gamini Viyangoda and Rohan Samarajeewa.

On 6 July, the SJB Leader met civil society activists, trade union reps and the protesters, who are engaged in the struggle to oust the incumbent President from Office, to discuss ways and means towards the setting up of an All-Party Government shortly.