Growing Tension Between Political Leadership and Bureaucrats Raises Concerns

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 11 2021
Ceylon Politics Growing Tension Between Political Leadership and Bureaucrats Raises Concerns

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa left for Italy with a delegation on Friday (10) as Government decided to extend prevailing quarantine curfew till 21 September. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is scheduled to leave the country for the USA to attend 76th Session of United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) which commences on 21 September. President Rajapaksa and Ioma Rajapaksa are also expected to visit a very special guest on the sidelines of his New York tour. It was reported that First Lady is planning to bear her own expenses of the US visit, during which both will visit to see their newborn granddaughter. 

PM Rajapaksa was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the inaugural session of the G20 Interfaith Forum Italy2021, to be held in one of the Europe’s oldest seats of learning, the University of Bologna. The visit will also include several other high level diplomatic meetings. PM Rajapaksa was accompanied by External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L Peiris and Prime Minister’s Secretary, Gamini Senarath. Responding to recent claims, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that at no stage has the Prime Minister requested nor has he received an invitation to visit the Vatican for an audience with His Holiness, the Pope. Meanwhile, this would be President’s first address to the United Nations General Assembly and also the first foreign conference to be taken part outside of the country. 

President Rajapaksa is expected to hold bilateral discussions with several Heads of State on a number of areas including economic, education and agriculture during the visit. Foreign Minister Prof. Peiris, Principal Advisor to the President, Lalith Weeratunga and Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage will accompany President Rajapaksa during the visit. The President has decided to undertake the visit with the least number of delegates in line with his principle in light of the current situation in the country, making this the smallest Sri Lankan delegation to attend the United Nations General Assembly in recent history. 

Back-to-back resignations 

There were several resignations marked within the past week raising concerns of a growing tension between the political leadership and the bureaucrats. The most spoken about such resignations came earlier in the week when senior Consultant Physician attached to the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH), Dr. Ananda Wijewickrama resigned from the Intercollegiate Technical Committee of the Director General of Health Services. Dr. Asoka Gunaratne, Consultant Anaesthetist, too has stepped down from the same Technical Committee after Dr. Wijewickrama’s resignation. “Several key decisions in respect of the Home Care Management, vaccination programme and other matters related to COVID-19 pandemic in the country, which were supposed to be taken by the relevant committee, have been taken by several makeshift and unofficial committees on several occasions,” sources said. 

Decisions such as to give the Sputnik-V to Kandy with a letter which stated that they are given only a single dose of the vaccine and to vaccinate individuals in the age group of 20 to 29 in the Hambantota District with Pfizer have been taken without the knowledge of the committee in which Dr. Wijewickrama was a key member. The decision to give Pfizer to 20-29 age group was the immediate cause that precipitated the resignation and the letter issued by DGHS on this has been against all recommendations made. Accordingly, Dr. Wijewickrama and the other consultant have resigned in protest of the arbitrary decisions taken beyond the due recommendations. However, the gazetted body which mainly decides on the immunisation strategy in the country is the Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases (ACCD), which has been in action prior to the pandemic. 

The ACCD has a wide representation unlike the Intercollegiate Technical Committee of the Director-General of Health Services, which was appointed after the pandemic and is an official committee. Meanwhile, DDGHS Dr. Hemantha Herath appeals both to reconsider their decision. Earlier, top immunologist Prof. Neelika Malavige from the Sri Jayewardenepura University and Prof. A. Pathmeswaran (Community Physician) attached to the Colombo North (Ragama) Medical Faculty had also resigned from the independent vaccine advisory expert committee of the drug regulator. 

Amidst these controversies, Director General of Zoological Gardens Ishini Wickremesinghe also gave her resignation from the post. Her decision to resign from the post came in the wake of a Gazette Notification that followed a court ruling to handover several tamed elephants kept under State custody, back to the owners. State Minister Wimalaweera Dissanayake ruled out any political reasons behind her resignation and claimed her letter of resignation only mentioned the decision was taken due to personal reasons. He however, acknowledged that Wickremesinghe was concerned about the whole tamed elephant controversy. 

Cabraal to resign and return? 

State Minister of Money, Capital Markets Ajith Nivard Cabraal is tipped to resign from his ministerial portfolio and parliamentary seat by next week. He is also expected to return to Central Bank of Sri Lanka as its Governor, a post he held for several years during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure. SLPP MP Jagath Kumara said that Cabraal has confirmed reports that he would accept the Central Bank Governor’s post. Responding to a question by a journalist at a press conference at the SLPP Headquarters, the MP said State Minister Cabraal, when contacted by him, confirmed that he would succeed incumbent Governor Prof W. D. Lakshman. 

Meanwhile, Prof. Lakshman, Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) on Friday (10) announced his retirement. Addressing a virtual press briefing, Prof. Lakshman announced that he will be retiring from his post on 14 September. Appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prof. Lakshman assumed his duties as the 15th Governor of CBSL on 24 December 2019. An undergraduate at the University of Ceylon in Peradeniya, Prof. Lakshman commenced his university teaching career in his alma mater and joined the University of Colombo in 1981 to take up the position of the Department’s Founder Chair of Economics. 

He held this position for over 25 years before retirement as a Senior Professor in 2007. Prof. Lakshman has been a prolific researcher. He has authored numerous research papers on a wide range of topics including Political Economy, Economic Development of South Asia, Japan Investments in South Asia and SocioEconomic Impact of Structural Adjustment Policies in Sri Lanka. He has also served as a Member, Presidential Commission on Finance and Banking, 1990, the Senior Economic Advisor to Ministry of Finance and Planning (2008-09), Member, National Economic Council (2008-10),Chairman, Presidential Commission on Taxation (2009-10), Chairman, Institute of Policy Studies (2010-15), Vice Chancellor, Sanasa University Institute, Kegalle (2014- 19) and the Chairman, Committee of Experts appointed by the President to examine the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement in 2018. If reports are to be believed, Cabraal will assume duties as the CBSL Governor on 16 September and Jayantha Ketagoda, who resigned from his Parliament seat to pave way for Basil Rajapaksa to enter Parliament, is likely to re-enter the House.

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 11 2021

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