MR and Muruththettuwe Thera in Cross Connection

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 16 2021
Ceylon Politics MR and Muruththettuwe Thera in Cross Connection
By Gagani Weerakoon

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Sunday (10) in Anuradhapura while acknowledging the existence of several shortcomings in his Government assured to bring a new Constitution, as he had promised, within the next year. “I will also establish a new electoral system as well,” he said. The President made these remarks at a ceremony held at the Gajaba Regiment Headquarters, Saliyapura in Anuradhapura, to mark the 72nd Anniversary of the Sri Lanka Army. President Rajapaksa also said he will not make excuses for any displeasure the public may be feeling. 

“The people elected me as the President of this country with high hopes. From the day I was elected, during the last two years we had to face such a situation that the world has never seen before in its history. We have been fighting for the last two years to control the COVID-19 pandemic. We were compelled to take various measures such as lockdowns and implementations of various restrictions to control the spread of this disease, these measures had a huge impact on our economy. But, I do not make any excuses,” he said. He also said: “It was a great pleasure to participate in today’s parade and other ceremonies, which were held to mark the 72nd Army Day. 

As a young person, I started my life serving in the military. I served in the Army for 20 years. Subsequently, I served as the Secretary of Defence for 10 years. I began my military career in the Signal Corps. Next I served in the Sinha Regiment. After that a new regiment called 'Rajarata Rifles’ was established at this place when General Denis Perera was the Army Commander. I came to that regiment as a Founding Officer. I also chose this premises for the headquarters. Today, I can see that some buildings have changed a lot. 

After sometime it became the Gajaba Regiment. As a young officer, I spent most of my time serving the Gajaba Regiment. Coming to this place makes me feel like I came home. Particularly, when we served in the Gajaba Regiment, under the leadership of General Vijaya Wimalaratne, who led the Regiment, I, the Defence Secretary, the Commander of the Army and other Senior Officers, learned what was meant by Army? What is leadership? How to fight without fear? How to train an Army? How to lead an Army for the country? I am very proud of this place. For the first time in the history of our country, I am proud to say that I was able to become the Commander-in-Chief and the President of the country without being a politician. I was able to do that, because as an Army Officer I fulfilled my respective duties towards the country. As the Secretary of Defence, I rendered my service to the country. 

That is why the people trusted me and elected me as the President of this country. I believe that all of you too can be proud of that.” Meanwhile, in a historic move to mark the 72nd Anniversary of the Sri Lanka Army, 567 Officers and 10,368 Other Ranks (ORs) were promoted. The promotions were made with the approval of Commander-in-Chief President Rajapaksa on the recommendation of General Shavendra Silva, Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Army and the Ministry of Defence. Accordingly, eight Senior Brigadiers to the rank of Major General, 17 Colonels to the rank of Brigadier, 42 Lieutenant Colonels to the rank of Colonel, 60 Majors to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, 256 Captains to the rank of Major, 10 Lieutenants to the rank of Captain, 152 2nd Lieutenants to the rank of Lieutenant and 22 Probation Officers commissioned to the rank of Lieutenant (QM) in total received these Army Day promotions yesterday. 

The Sri Lanka Army said that after General Silva took the mantle of the Army Command on 18 August 2019, the highestever number of promotions have been granted to both Officers and Other Ranks in the organisation within a short period of two years. Unprecedented in its history of 72 years, a record number of 3,873 promotions to Officers and 78,707 promotions to Other Ranks including yesterday’s ones have been granted to-date after 18 August 2019. In his Army Day Message, the Commander said they have also been able to successfully enhance the cadre vacancy of the Volunteer Force with seven Brigadier Ranks, 17 Colonel Ranks, and 48 Lieutenant Colonel Ranks to avoid any hurdle to career progression of the Volunteer Force Officers. 

Meanwhile, journalists raised concerns on the President Rajapaksa’s acknowledgement of shortcomings in his administration during the weekly Cabinet Media briefing and some queried whether this admission was an indication of the President stepping down from his post. Cabinet Spokesman Minister Dullas Alahapperuma said the acknowledgement is not a sign of weakness nor signals the end of the Government. He further said the President never admitted to failure but made a humble selfcriticism about unfulfilled wishes of the 6.9 million Sri Lankans who voted for him. 

“There were Governments in this country where MPs’ resignation letters would be in the [Leader’s] pocket, in dictatorial periods in which we also worked as journalists,” the journalist-turned-politician said. “Don’t take this as a weakness or a sign of the Government’s end,” he added. On the other hand, Minister of Industries Wimal Weerawansa said the trust placed in the present Government has begun to erode in the eyes of the public, as this Government is doing what it has not promised at the last national elections. He said this in a Facebook post. 

The Minister also found fault with a few Social Media sites who had twisted his comments related to the President and the Cabinet. Weerawansa called for a broader dialogue within the Cabinet ahead of taking critical decisions related to the country’s national resources or assets, rather than striving to take overnight decisions which could be detrimental to the Government. He also called for the President to step into active politics, rather than only playing a peripheral role, as it could go a long way towards resolving many issues. 

Nevertheless, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader R. Sampanthan on Wednesday said it is not justifiable that the President requesting another period of two years to prepare a Constitution suitable for the country. He said President Rajapaksa should focus his attention immediately on compiling a new Constitution. He was quoted expressing these views in response to the speech the President made in Anuradhapura recently. Sampanthan noted that if the President is attempting to find solutions for the Tamil problem in the country as well as other problems through a new Constitution, he should expedite preparing it. “The President appointed a special committee to look into preparing a new Constitution. 

Even though several months have passed since then there is no mention of the activities of the committee. We submitted many facts to this committee. Other Tamil parties too did the same thing. We do not know what happened regarding those facts that were presented. Up to now we have not been informed about anything. The reason for all these delays is the objection and the indolence of granting something to the Tamil people through the Constitution. However, the Tamil people in this country have to have rights,” he commented. 

“Many things were destroyed due to the 30-year war. A solution should be granted for the Tamil people at least now. Therefore, the country requires a new empowered Constitution which will provide solutions to the Tamil people’s problems,” he added. 

PM and teachers

With the Government aiming at resuming all academic activities in schools by November, leaders of several key teacher-principal trade unions met at Temple Trees on Monday (11) for a ‘crucial and final’ discussion with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and other relevant ministers and officials. The Ceylon Teachers' Union (CTU) had however informed Education Ministry Secretary and all the Provincial Education Secretaries that they will boycott any type of invitations to report to work or attend school for any purpose.

This includes discussions regarding the commencement of schools. CTU Secretary Joseph Stalin urged the Government to bring about solutions to the teachers’ and principals’ salary anomalies issue before the reopening of schools on 21 October. “Until the Government finds a solution to the teachers’ and principals’ salary anomalies issue our trade union action would continue. If the Government is unable to find a solution to their issues, a decision has to be made on opening the schools,” Stalin said. He further claimed that it has been 89 days since the teachers' and principals' struggle. “Principals of the schools with less than 200 students had been summoned, on the 8th for a discussion regarding the commencement of schools. We know that the Government is planning to re-open the schools on 21 October,” he added. 

Speaking with Ceylon Today, Stalin also requested the Government for an immediate discussion with the trade unions and to provide a reasonable solution before the deadline, if not the trade unions will take stern decision regarding the reopening of schools on the scheduled date. However, the planned meeting was postponed with short notice and the CTU expressed their discontent over the postponement of the meeting with Prime Minister Rajapaksa. According to CTU General Secretary Joseph Stalin, the authorities cancelled Monday’s meeting with short notice. 

“We have opposed the Government’s plan to provide teachers with a Rs 5,000 allowance until their proposals are incorporated in the 2022 Budget, as well as to include recommendations submitted to the National Salaries Commission (NSC) in the Budget in 2018.” “Instalments will not be accepted unless the entire intended sum is included,” Stalin added. This meeting between striking teacher-principal trade unions and Prime Minister was mediated by Chief Prelate of Abhayarama Temple Ven. Murutthettuwe Ananda Thera. PM Rajapaksa wanted to meet Ven. Thera prior to the planned meeting on Monday morning and vice versa. 

Therefore, Ven. Ananda Thera left for Temple Trees on Monday at around 9:15 a.m. without making a prior appointment. As the Venerable Thera reached Liberty Roundabout at Kollupitiya his mobile phone started ringing and the number appeared to be that of the personal mobile phone number of Prime Minister Rajapaksa. “Ven. Thera where are you? I came to the Temple to meet you,” PM asked when Ananda Thera answered the phone. “I am at the entrance of Temple Trees …I came to meet you” “Oh… I came to your temple to meet you. 

Now that you had already reached there, could you please wait till I rush back?” PM asked and returned from Narahenpita in ten minutes. The planned meeting however, took place on Tuesday. The discussions between leaders of Teacher Trade Unions and Prime Minister Rajapaksa ended without a conclusion. CTU Secretary Stalin said Premier Rajapaksa has given his word to provide the requested allowance in two stages, although the Cabinet SubCommittee suggested paying the allowance in three stages. 

“One third of the allowance will be paid in January 2022 and the rest of the amount will be paid by January 2023. But we have not said whether we accept this decision and at the same time we have not decided to stop the trade union action,” added Stalin. Meanwhile, Ceylon Teachers’ Service Union (CTSU) General Secretary Mahinda Jayasinghe said the Premier rejected their proposal to pay the said allowance in one go, claiming it is tough to take such a decision given the economic situation in the country. “The Premier said there is no way to allocate further provisions since the Appropriation Bill has already been tabled,” he added. 

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s Office, issuing a Media release yesterday said: “The Prime Minister has proposed raising teachers' salaries in the first phase through the Budget for Fiscal Year 2022, and the remaining instalment through the Budget for Fiscal Year 2023.” Thus, after meeting members from the teacher and principal trade unions, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa assured that the Government will agree to increase salaries in two stages as a solution to the effort to eliminate compensation irregularities. 

The Prime Minister, who intervened to resolve the issue, summoned representatives of teachers and principals to Temple Trees and presented the resolution, emphasising that the Government was sensitive to the problem of teachers and principals and agreed that salary anomalies should be rectified. The Premier said the decisions made by the Cabinet Sub-Committee constituted by Dullas Alahapperuma on 9 September will be carried out in the future. Therefore, the provisions governing the recognising of teachers’ and principals’ services as a closed service will be published in November, and additional proposals will be adopted within six months. 

The gathering was also attended by Ven. Murutthettuwe Ananda Thera, Chief Prelate of the Western Province. 

Garlic matter 

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa directed the Ministry of Public Security to conduct an extensive probe into the allegations levelled by former Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) Executive Director Thushan Gunawardena. Dr. Bandula Gunawardena, Minister of Trade, who participated in the Cabinet Media briefing, said the Cabinet meeting on 11 October had discussed the matter. "The President has ordered probes into the statements made by Thushan Gunawardena regarding State-run entities and various claims based on those statements". 

When asked why there has been no internal probe on Gunawardena’s claims, Minister Gunawardena stated that the President’s and the Government’s sole intention is to provide justice and steps have been taken accordingly. “In relation to the garlic fraud, the CID has produced four high officials of Sathosa before the Court. If you, as a Media institution, have any knowledge on the said fraud, I believe it would be quite beneficial to provide that information to the CID, even anonymously,” Dr. Gunawardena added. Meanwhile, Public Security Minister, Rear Admiral (Retired) Sarath Weerasekara assured tight security for former Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) Executive Director Gunawardena, who has filed a complaint claiming he had received death threats following his recent statements to the Media. 

Cabinet Spokesman Minister Alahapperuma said Weerasekara informed him that Gunawardena’s security would be ensured through the use of CCTV cameras and that a mobile Police unit would also be deployed to protect Gunawardena as he is a key witness in the investigations into the infamous Lanka Sathosa Garlic scam. Speaking at the weekly Cabinet Media briefing, he stated that the Government will never put a key witness’ life in danger until justice and the truth are served. Gunawardena has filed a Police complaint about the suspicious activities of an unnamed group in a white vehicle, near his home. Gunawardena said in a complaint filed with the Kirulapone Police that the strange white van had arrived near his house. 

Gunawardena’s recent discoveries about various financial misdeeds at the CAA led to the discovery of the ‘Garlic scam,’ which involved Lanka Sathosa. In a statement to the Media, he also chastised Minister of Trade Bandula Gunawardena and State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna over their actions. 

Sajith blames Govt 

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa stated the current Government has very successfully constructed the expressways while making farmers suffer to death by banning chemical fertiliser. Premadasa said the ultimate responsibility of human beings is to keep human beings alive, but the present Government is making farmers helpless day by day, by pushing them from the frying pan to the fire. 

“The country is on the verge of a catastrophe due to Government's arbitrary decision to ban chemical fertiliser. The Government is not sensitive to this issue. Farmers are suffering from the debt burden, today. They are unable to repay loan instalments,” he added. Premadasa also noted that he looks forward to consulting the vegetable growers when making Agricultural Policies because it’s important to have the ideas of those who work at ground level. 

Premadasa met the vegetable farmers at Eppawala and Kattiyawa during a 'Govi Hadagasma' programme recently. Prior to the programme he also paid floral tribute to the statue of former Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake, the founder of the Katiyawa Agrarian Colony. Elsewhere, Opposition Leader Premadasa claimed the tea harvest has dropped by 50 per cent resulting the Ceylon Tea's reputation to be tarnished due to the Government's arbitrary decision to ban fertiliser and that the tea industry has suffered a severe setback and the livelihood of the tea farmers has collapsed and a situation has arisen where not even enough tea leaves are available to run the factories, he said. 

“Even a child knows that tea cultivation in Sri Lanka is not possible without chemicals and fertilisers, but the Government is unaware of this. The T-65 fertiliser is essential for tea nurseries and when the nursery is not properly nourished, the tea plant and the resulting tea tree will deteriorate and lose the ability to obtain quality seedlings. When the tea leaves are broken, the tree loses some of its nutrients and if the tree is to grow, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium should be applied to the tree and the farmer has lost the fertiliser to apply to the tea tree due to the Government's decision. 

As a result, short-lived plants will lose the ability to get a long-lasting tea bush,” he said. Premadasa said that successful commercial tea cultivation could not be done with organic fertilisers alone and that the tea industry was in dire straits. Premadasa joined the Govi Hadagasma programme, to inquire into the problems faced by tea farmers in the Wanduramba Mabotuwana area in the Baddegama electorate in the Galle District. 

JVP warns 

The JVP on Friday (15) alleged that the Sri Lankan Government’s deal with US firm New Fortress Energy regarding Kerawalapitiya power plant could result in a loss of at least USD 1.5 billion to the country. 

Addressing a Media briefing at JVP head office, former MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa claimed that the said US firm is on the edge of bankruptcy and it does not have prior experiences about providing LNG. Therefore, it is questionable as to why the Government decided to reach for an agreement with them to provide LNG to Kerawalapitiya power plant, Dr. Jayatissa stressed. “There is a court case going on in Puerto Rico against this company because of a corrupt deal conducted without a tender procedure in 2018. Their financial stability is in danger. They have had debts worth of USD 1240 million by March 2021. According to the income statements, this firm only has USD 360.1 million reserves. 

Their performance in US stock market is not good either. Why did this Government choose such a company for Kerawalapitiya deal?” he queried. Speaking further, Dr. Jayatissa said that according to the calculations of Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) engineers, the country would lose at least USD 800 million because of providing LNG to Kerawalapitiya power plant. However, as per the agreement this company could provide LNG to any power plant constructed associated with Kelanitissa, Kerawalapitiya and the power plant which is scheduled to be constructed in Muthurajawela. So, it could be assumed that Sri Lanka would lose at least USD 1.5 billion from the corrupt deal with this company, he claimed.

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 16 2021

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