Communication Blunders Put Government in Jeopardy

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 9 2021
Ceylon Politics Communication Blunders Put Government in Jeopardy

External Affairs Minister of India Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, in his recent visit underlined four vital areas of concern and support for Sri Lanka, namely the maritime security and safety of countries in the Indian Ocean, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution for an inclusive political outlook, seeking Sri Lanka to have access to the COVID-19 vaccine from India and India’s fullest support for an early economic recovery in the island. 

At the joint Media briefing, soon after talks with the Foreign Ministry delegation and meeting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Indian External Affairs Minister also pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has not dented India's bilateral cooperation with Sri Lanka and that his Government is looking at post-COVID cooperation with Colombo. 

“We are now looking at post-COVID cooperation and I carry back with me Sri Lanka’s interest in accessing vaccines from India. We discussed cooperation for post-COVID health and economic recovery. India will be a reliable partner in Sri Lanka's development,” he further said.

He also said, COVID has given an opportunity to collaborate even more closely and through India’s Neighbourhood First Policy, has supported Sri Lanka’s efforts to tackle COVID through timely medical assistance. 

He highlighted that in India, COVID numbers have come down sharply, the prospect of mass vaccination is in sight, the Indian economy has also shown strong signs of recovery in the last few months, and these developments will obviously have a positive impact on Sri Lanka.  

On the 13A and its importance he said, “ It is in Sri Lanka’s own interest that the expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace and dignity within a united Sri Lanka are fulfilled. That applies equally to the commitments made by the Sri Lankan Government on meaningful devolution, including the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.”

With the implementation of the 13A, he noted that the progress and prosperity of Sri Lanka will surely be advanced as a consequence and as a supporter of peace and well-being in the region, India has been strongly committed to the unity, stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, hence the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka is longstanding, as indeed for an inclusive political outlook that encourages ethnic harmony.

While meeting President Rajapaksa, they had reviewed in detail the progress of the Indo-Lanka partnerships. He stressed there are many proposals under discussion, including infrastructure, energy, connectivity, and an early implementation is obviously in mutual interest and would definitely accelerate Sri Lanka’s economic recovery.

He added, the Indian business sector is strongly interested in investing in Sri Lanka and that he had discussed some important opportunities including in special zones for pharmaceutical manufacturing and also in tourism. “I will ensure an early follow-up,” he said.

On the maritime, he added, countries in the Indian Ocean, India and Sri Lanka have a shared interest in ensuring maritime security and safety and he is confident, the domain of cooperation will continue to expand in the days ahead. “We stand ready to enhance Sri Lanka’s capabilities to meet growing Maritime and security challenges,” he added.

With regard to matters covering fisheries, he added that the Indo-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group on the issue and has met recently where all outstanding issues were discussed in an open and candid manner.

He also stressed that India was looking forward to an early return of their fishermen detained in Sri Lanka.

Tourist plan in jeopardy 

The Ukraine tourists group which arrived in the country last week left for Mirissa last Saturday and to Yala the following day. After a decision had been taken to separate the safari jeep drivers who had taken the tourists to Yala, they decided to oppose that move saying they had not been briefed beforehand. This led to a tense situation. 

Having been informed of the incident the President and the PM rang Minister Prasanna Ranatunga to inquire about it. By that time however, Ranatunga having got in touch with the Army Commander, Minister Namal Rajapaksa and State Minister D.V. Chanaka was attempting to diffuse the situation. The President at the outset advised Ranatunga to bring the Yala incident under control. Ranatunga said, he had already intervened to sort out the matter. 

He informed the President, that it had taken place due to failure on the part of the officers to communicate effectively with the safari drivers. The Minister then said he had ordered the officials to separate the 28 safari drivers from the tourists and keep them in a different place. He further told the President that the safari drivers were being kept in a bubble, but not in quarantine. He said even dry rations had been supplied to the homes of the drivers. The President was content with Ranatunga’s response and said the Opposition would wade into the topic as they are struggling to latch onto any issues of the day effectively. 

He charged that the Opposition had used the social media platforms to sling mud at the Government even using a voice cut of a safari driver to criticise the Government over this incident. On Monday, Minister Ranatunga summoned the three tourist firms that had organised the visit of the Ukraine tourists to the country to his Ministry. He also invited the health officials and all institutional heads behind the project of bringing down the tourists. 

He then said, in no uncertain terms that incidents such as those that took place at Yala should not be allowed to happen again. He stressed that if the firms that are involved in this project are unable to coordinate matters smoothly then they should refrain from undertaking the task. During the Cabinet Meeting that was held on Monday evening the Ministers inquired from Ranatunga regarding the Yala incident. He then explained the incident. Minister Namal Rajapaksa said that the Opposition would use the topic to criticise the Government. 

He said that the Government had re-opened the airport on behalf of some three million people who were making a living off tourism both directly and indirectly. He charged the hidden aim of the Opposition was to derail the entire project and to score brownie points through it. The President then observed that it would not be practical to keep the country in lockdown indefinitely. He mentioned that the country would have to be re-opened systematically based on the health guidelines. He said the Government has the responsibility to prevent the spread of COVID-19 24/7. 

Ranatunga then opined that the bringing down of tourists from Ukraine was only a pilot project. He agreed there would be shortcomings in it but stressed that having identified the loopholes they were confident of re-opening the BIA and Mattala for commercial flights from 21 January. Then the President and the Cabinet Ministers agreed it was a shrewd move on the part of Ranatunga but advised the latter to always keep tabs on the adherence to health protocols by the tourists. In the meantime, the first meeting of the Government Parliamentary Group took place under the aegis of the President and the PM at the Presidential Secretariat. The President kicked off the meeting saying that the New Year too would be challenging to the Government similar to the year just ended. He then invited all its MPs and Ministers to help him and the PM to revitalise the nation which is presently grappling due to the COVID pandemic. 

During this meeting it was State Minister Arundika Fernando who made a startling allegation. He said that the entire concept of bringing down tourists from overseas had become rather confusing. He alleged that certain elements had turned the project to a racket. He said some had even levied sums of Rs 25,000 to include the name of those in Sri Lanka to the register. 

He charged millions of rupees were being sought from hotels. Namal then intervened and said the allegations mentioned by Arundika were true. He said the Government would need to probe how certain hotels had charged unreasonable sums from Sri Lankans while undergoing the quarantine programme. He said the concept of charging money for undergoing quarantine programme at hotels has to be suspended and allow the people to opt for home quarantine. 

Then Ranatunga said that many had started to criticise him severely over the programme of bringing down expatriate Sri Lankans. He said that many are of the view that it was his baby as the Minister of Tourism. Afterwards both the President and the Prime Minister assured the Ministers that the matter would be looked into and a decision on it would be taken shortly.             

Ranil gets a call 

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe cancelled all his official engagements last Thursday morning as he was slated to head to the Indian High Commissioner’s official residence due to a sudden invitation received. A personal friend of the UNP Leader, Indian Foreign Secretary Jaishankar did not forget to meet his Sri Lankan friend during his brief visit to Colombo. 

The Indian Foreign Secretary who had met the President, PM and the TNA Leader officially had decided to meet Wickremesinghe as well. Wickremesinghe upon arrival at the Indian HC’s residence was welcomed by Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Gopal Bagley and the latter immediately escorted him for the meeting with Jaishankar. The UNP Leader at the outset urged the Indian Diplomat to make available to Sri Lanka the vaccine that is being trialled in India to prevent COVID-19. The Indian Foreign Secretary insisted that he had already held talks in this regard with the SL Government officials. 

Afterwards they held private discussions and what they had talked about was not disclosed to a third party. The meeting between the UNP Leader and the Indian Foreign Secretary also was closely monitored by both the Government ranks and the Opposition as India continues to keep close tabs on Sri Lankan politics. After a reception, the UNP Leader left for his residence. Even before his arrival, there were many party activists who had converged at his house. Wickremesinghe began talks with UNP Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene regarding the future course of the party, before advising acting General Secretary Shamal Senerath to convene a Working Committee (WC) meeting in the coming week to decide on the new set of office bearers of the party. The UNP Leader said that the posts such as General Secretary and Chairman should be filled with the consent of the party’s WC while the rest of the posts should be ratified accordingly.

He said that posts such as Deputy Secretary and Vice Secretary also have to be filled. The Leader said that more than coveting portfolios those in the high posts should be determined to perform the duties entrusted to them. He then handed over the task of filling up the key posts of the UNP to its Deputy Leader. Those involved at this discussion then decided to formulate a new programme to be followed in the New Year. They also agreed to reorganise the District Committees and discuss further on how to organise public meetings amidst the COVID-19 crisis. The Leader said that those who are appointed to top portfolios of the party would be monitored during a six month period before taking a firm decision on whether to retain them or not. He said that a system should be drawn up where those who deliver the goods for the party should be able to come to the fore. Then Range Bandara wanted to know as to what issues had been discussed with the Indian Foreign Secretary. 

The Leader said that it had been nothing special but that they had focused on the political situation here, international political scene and the impact of COVID-19. Sandith Samarasinghe said that social Media had mentioned that the Indian diplomat had discussed about the COVID-19 situation, the delayed PC Poll, the East Terminal of the Colombo Port and the vaccines being tried for COVID in India in talks with the Government officials. Wijewardene then intervened and said there is every possibility that the East Terminal would be sold to India. 

Vajira Abeywardena said some are even comparing the present political situation in the US to Sri Lanka as well with supporters of US President Donald Trump having dashed into Capitol Hill to thwart the Presidency of President- Elect Joe Biden from being ratified by the Congress. The Deputy Leader then explained about the world political situation and maintained that Trump, Biden, British PM Boris Johnson and the Sri Lanka President had assumed power amidst chaotic scenes. Sandith Samarasinghe then charged that there was no smooth coordination between the Government and Sri Lanka Tourism when bringing down tourists from Ukraine. 

He charged that former SL Envoy Udayanga Weeratunga was behind the racket of bringing down tourists from Ukraine. Shamal Senerath then said that the Government had expressed hope of distributing a vaccine to the people here by March 2021. Afterwards the UNP Leader said that he had discussed at length regarding a vaccine being obtained from India to treat COVID-19 patients in this country. 

Vajira then said that the intention of the Government is to win the PC Poll by having supplied whatever vaccine possible to the people. The Deputy Leader said that when only 20 per cent are given the vaccine the remaining 80 per cent would not be entitled to it. He said this has to be sorted out. He further said that presently the public were struggling amidst several burning issues such as the rising cost of living, loss of jobs, etc. 

The Deputy Leader said that before thinking of staging the PC Poll, the Government would have to resolve these concerns of the people. He said the people were now longing for the leadership of the UNP Leader as when he was in power the lot of the masses had improved. The UNP Leader then stated that it was imperative for the party to formulate a new programme to win the hearts and minds of the people after the setback suffered by the party at the last General Election. He then urged all and sundry to unite and charter a new journey for the UNP in the New Year.           

CBK lashes out

Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga said that the incumbent Chairman of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), MP Maithripala Sirisena, is illegally holding the post and that she was still the chairperson of the party.

The slain Prime Minister and Founder of the SLFP, S.W. R. D. Bandaranaike's 122nd birthday was commemorated on 8 January and the SLFP had organised a special ceremony for the occasion under the patronage of Sirisena. However, Kumaratunga, along with Sunethra Bandaranaike, early in the morning paid floral tributes to the Bandaranaike statue at the Galle Face Green.

However, after the two left the venue, it was reported that some members of the Sirisena faction had removed the wreaths they had kept and later re-placed them at the venue due to protests by party members.

Speaking to the Media after paying tributes to Bandaranaike’s statue, former President Kumaratunga said everything she had said about the SLFP a year ago has now come true. Asked whether the SLFP is on the right track, she said there was no way for the SLFP to conclude that it was right or wrong.

When asked about reports of various injustices being inflicted on the SLFP by the current Government, Kumaratunga said she wanted to strengthen the party and move forward. Those in the party will take care of those things, she said.

She said she is with the SLFP forever and had never left the party, adding that although she was still a lifelong patron of the SLFP and a member of the Politburo, Sirisena had told others not to invite her to any party meetings.

Responding to a question on whether she would launch a programme to protect the SLFP in the future, she said that she had come forward and saved the party on four occasions when the party was on the verge of collapse.

Meanwhile, journalists asked her about her arrival and paying floral tributes to the statue before the commencement of the ceremony organised by the SLFP, and Kumaratunga, in response, said the statue did not belong to anyone and that she could come at any time. She also said that she had not received any invitation from the SLFP for the event.

Also, commenting on reports that she has been expelled from the SLFP, she said it was only a dream of Sirisena. She further said that Sirisena had visited the United National Party (UNP) office five times and requested permission to address its Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as 'Sir' and that she had never been to the UNP office as Sirisena did.

Speaking to the Media, former President Sirisena said that he was very grateful to Kumaratunga for coming early in the morning and attending the Bandaranaike’s birthday commemorations. Commenting on Kumaratunga’s statement that she would not accept his party Presidency, Sirisena said there were no any divisions or other problems while working in the country. Everyone is working together, he said.

When asked if the SLFP was moving forward with the Government, he said, "Let's see, there is still time. Now there is this Government."

Decimating ‘43 Brigade’

SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva decimated the ‘43 Brigade’ formed by MP Patali Champika Ranawaka, without the consent of the SJB leadership, when the former launched a virulent verbal attack against the new group, at the SJB Parliamentary Group meeting.

According to party sources, Ranawaka was criticised during the meeting following details regarding his group’s formation were revealed in our last Sunday’s Edition.

Ranawaka had allegedly maintained during the meeting that he had not formed a political group but only a social movement and had charged that several Media outlets had given it a twist.

He had insisted that his modus operandi had been to rope in those who were dissatisfied with the Government to join his movement.

During the meeting, MP de Silva had queried as to what would make people join the new movement rather than the SJB.

He had then asked what the ethics are of forming a social movement, when such tactics are mired in party politics, and had compared it to the Viyath Maga concept, which had been set in motion in the run-up to the 2019 Presidential Poll, by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

At the meeting MP Sarath Fonseka too had inquired as to what response Ranawaka would give if any of those in his social movement were to oppose the candidature of the present SJB Leader for the next Presidential Poll or any other election.

SJB General Secretary MP Ranjith Maddumabandara had also criticised Ranawaka’s conduct and had opposed the formation of his so-called social movement.

The General Secretary had stressed that there was no need to create different movements and that the SJB was the only platform for to mount any opposition against the present regime.

MP Ashok Abeysinghe had noted that it would be apt for SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa, its General Secretary and MP Ranawaka to discuss the issue separately rather than attempting to criticise it at the Parliamentary Group Meeting.

Finally, the SJB Leader had opined that it would be opportune to continue with the SJB as a political alliance instead of striving to create different movements which could pave the way for its members to head in different directions.

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 9 2021

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