May Sanity Prevail and Legislators Not Get Booed in 2022!

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 1 2022
Ceylon Politics May Sanity Prevail and Legislators Not Get Booed in 2022!
By Gagani Weerakoon

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who met newspaper editors on Monday (27), said he was unable to fully implement the Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour Policy as he had to concentrate on battling the Covid-19 pandemic from just one month after being elected to office.

“For the first two years of my term I had to focus on controlling the Covid-19 pandemic. I could not fully focus on fully implementing the policies outlined in my election manifesto. The pandemic was a situation that no one anticipated. The whole world was affected by it, not just us. The economic crisis we are going through at the moment is not unique to us. No one was prepared to face this,” he said.

He also pointed out that when he took over the Government, the foreign currency reserves stood at USD 7.3 billion. Yet, Sri Lanka has to regularly settle maturing international sovereign bond as well as honour foreign debt servicing commitments. Currently Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves stand at US$ 1.6 billion.

“Every year, successive Governments managed to honour foreign debt servicing commitments and settle maturing international sovereign bond because there was a steady flow of foreign exchange through tourism and remittances. But, over the last two years, tourism dropped to a minimum. We are only now slowly recovering. And, the large number of workers who returned to the country from overseas jobs never went back. This is the main reason why the foreign currency reserves have dwindled,” he asserted. 

President Rajapaksa also said after he came to power he did not take any foreign loans for mega development projects and therefore did not add to the already burgeoning debt burden of the country. 

However, the President added, his full attention had been focussed on controlling the virus spread and expediting the vaccination programme, as that is the only way to get the country and the economy back on track. 

He assured that he would focus on fully implementing the policies outlined in his manifesto within the remaining three years of his term in office.

President Rajapaksa, however, said bureaucrats failing to understand his directives when implementing envisioned policies had left the Government in a compromising position. 

The President said there was a yawning gap between Government policy and implementation by certain Government institutions, especially when it came to agriculture and energy.

He also said issues pertaining to organic fertiliser stemmed from the failure of Agriculture Ministry officials to grasp the idea of gradually introducing organic farming to the country.

“The plan was to initially introduce organic farming to 30 per cent of lands, which was to be gradually increased over a period of a few years. But, what actually happened was that officials mistook it for mixing 30 per cent of organic fertiliser with 70 per cent chemical fertiliser. This proved to be futile as chemical fertiliser rendered organic fertiliser useless,” the President pointed out. 

He said the plan outlined in his Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour was to gradually shift to organic farming during his first term in office but he did not receive the necessary backing from the relevant department officials when it came to implementing the policy.

“Farmers and the public were not made aware of the fertiliser policy. This created a doubt among the people. Officials did not educate farmers on the importance of this policy,” he reiterated.

President Rajapaksa also said there are two schools of thought among academics when it comes to fertiliser. While one camp believes in the benefits of the organic farming, the other believes in chemical fertiliser use. The President asserted that he strongly believes in the first. He also said, although university professors were appointed to the Agriculture Ministry, outside the Sri Lanka Administrative Service, believing that they would render their expertise to implement the organic farming policy, but they had to be removed as the plan was not working out.

He also said even though academic experts have theoretical knowledge they have a problem converting them into practical implementation.

PBJ to exit 

Some, who were present, also asked the President about speculated resignation of President’s Secretary P.B. Jayasundera. He had not accepted the resignation letter by the time of the meeting. It was later confirmed that he had accepted the letter which will come into effect by 31 January. However, Jayasundera is likely to leave before the notice period ends. 

There had been continuous demands by the Cabinet Ministers calling for the resignation of Dr. Jayasundera.

The President probably was waiting till Gamini S. Senarath, the Prime Minister’s Secretary, agreed to succeed Jayasundera. Senarath, it was told, agreed to take up the position after much deliberation. Dr. Jayasundera stated in his letter that he will leave the post in January 2022.

However, at recent Cabinet sessions, the topic was briefly mentioned by the ministers, and practically all of those present expressed concerns and agreed that Dr. Jayasundera should leave and a new Secretary be selected.

One of the key charges, made at the meeting, was that Jayasundera was unavailable to discuss government topics whenever the ministers tried to call him, as well as other issues that have yet to be revealed.

Meanwhile, Minister of Industries Wimal Weerawansa, who called Jayasundera ‘Arthika Gathaka’ during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure, came on a political talk show the previous week and blamed Dr. Jayasundera for the current economic situation in Sri Lanka, claiming the latter was attempting to ruin the economy in order for it to conform to the objectives of India and the United States.

“Why was he not elected the President if he is so good at this job? He seems to be the one knowing everything about the US dollar crisis and the World Bank. If he is that smart, then why could he not predict and prepare for the crisis we are in now?” Weerawansa asked during the programme.

Meanwhile, the Samagi Jana Balawegeya (SJB) claimed, in reference to Dr. Jayasundera’s resignation, that the Government is trying to evade its failures by sending its secretaries home.

“When the Government’s failures surface, the Government cannot just ask secretaries to resign and escape from its responsibilities. The latest resignation is that of Dr. Jayasundera. Who made these appointments? If a certain individual is not suited for a role, then the person who made the appointment is also wrong. By appointing people who are not suitable for high positions in the Government, economic failure is made inevitable,” claimed MP Tissa Attanayake.

Dr. Jayasundera joined the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) as an Economist in 1974 and was later promoted to Senior Economist in the 1980s following his postgraduate studies in the US. In 1990, he was seconded to the Treasury as an Economic Adviser. In 1995, he was appointed as Director General of the Department of Fiscal Policy and Economic Affairs of the Ministry of Finance and from 1997 to 1999, he served as the Deputy Secretary to the Treasury. He served as Secretary to the Treasury and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance from 1999 to 2001. He then served as Chairman of the Public Enterprises Reform Commission, Senior Policy Adviser at Ernst & Young Sri Lanka, and as Consultant to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Dr. Jayasundera was reappointed as Secretary to the Treasury and Ministry of Finance in 2004.

A past pupil of Maliyadeva College in Kurunegala, Dr. Jayasundera graduated from University of Sri Lanka, Colombo in 1973 with a Bachelor’s in Economics. He also obtained a Master’s in Development Economics from Williams College in 1980 and a PhD in Economics from Boston University in 1984.

Rulers booed 

There had been several incidents of ruling party members being jeered at by general public in several locations. The video footages of such instances were circulating in social media platforms like hot cakes.

The latest such incident was reported at Jubilee Post area in Pitakotte where those who were queued up to buy milk powder packs from a local manufacturing outlet, had reportedly booed at a VIP convoy passing by.

Later, the STF had visited the place and had told the outlet manager to issue milk packets on a token basis. 

Jet controversy 

Controversy sparked when images began circulating on social media of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa disembarking from a blue Embraer Legacy 600 business jet at Tirupati International Airport, in line with his private two-day visit to the temple city for a pilgrimage on 23 December.

The Country’s main Opposition, expressed concerns on the mysterious jet that landed in Ratmalana and then travelled to Tirupati, India.

Colombo District SJB MP Mujibur Rahman charged the Prime Minister of the country decides to go to Tirupati in a private jet amidst the nation being in chaos and nobody questioned the purpose of his visit.

He queried as to why this jet arrived at Ratmalana, all the way from Uganda, spending a huge sum of money just to take the Premier from Sri Lanka to Tirupati and how come the Prime Minister’s son is unaware of the secret benefactor for the journey.

‘There is no Customs Office or Immigration and Emigration Office in Ratmalana. So why did this jet take off from Ratmalana?’

Kurunegala District MP for the SJB, Nalin Bandara asked who they were lying to because the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff – Yoshitha Rajapaksa said that the jet in question was given by a ‘friend’ whose  identity was unknown to him.

The MP noted that if a Sri Lankan citizen wants to carry Dollars when travelling abroad, only 100 USD is allowed which is close to Rs 20,000 – Rs 22,000.

” Some unknown force has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Rajapaksas to go on pilgrimage to Tirupati, and nobody knows whether these benefactors are either crooks, scoundrels, thieves, or even devils,” said MP Bandara.

Meanwhile, SLPP Parliamentarian Milan Jayathilake on Thursday (30) said that a powerful businessman in India had sent his private jet to Sri Lanka for the Prime Minister to travel to Tirupati.

“The jet was sent for a personal matter and the cost was borne by that Indian businessman,” he said.

The MP also snapped at the JVP for attempting to label the private jet as the property of the Prime Minister.

Wasantha Samarasinghe of the JVP, on Wednesday (29), slammed the Prime Minister for undertaking a visit to Tirupati at a cost of USD 32 million using a private jet, while the people in the country were struggling to survive.

He said the Government that says it is not in possession of US Dollars to procure fertiliser and other essentials, is easily allocating dollars for private trips to Tirupati.

He said that it was the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Uganda Velupillai Kananathan who sent the private jet for Prime Minister Rajapaksa to travel to Tirupati.

He said these incidents make it clear that the missing LTTE gold, as well as the money stowed away in foreign accounts, are surfacing through these events.

He warned that the rulers will have to use that once again to leave the country with their families when the people start asking questions.

The Frontline Socialists Party, meanwhile, said that the private jet used by the Prime Minister to travel to India on pilgrimage recently has a flight history that is a cause for concern.

“The T7 – JSG has a very interesting flight history,” said Pubudu Jagoda of the FSP, and the flight path detailed by him is as follows:

10 December 2021: Arrives at the Katunayake Airport from India.

10 December 2021: Flies to Jomo Kenyatta International from Katunayake Airport.

14 December 2021: Flies  to multiple locations in Kenya

14 December 2021: Flies to Bukoba Airport, Tanzania

15 December 2021: Flies to Kampala Airport (Entebbe International Airport) from Tanzania

16 December 2021: Arrives at Colombo International Airport, Ratmalana.

Pubudu Jagoda claimed that after reaching Sri Lanka on 16 December, the private jet had flown to Cochin and Chennai in India on two separate occasions, before reaching the country once again.

23 December 2021: Flies to Thirupathi

24 December 2021: Returns to Sri Lanka

27 December 2021: Flies to New Delhi, India.

He said that irrespective of who makes the payment, it has an impact on the country’s foreign reserves.

“We have serious concerns over the visits made to Chennai and Cochin. Who travelled in the private jet during these two visits? What were they carrying,” he said.

Jagoda pointed out that around Rs 32 Million was spent on this private jet and raised concerns as to why the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka would resort to using a private jet when he could have easily used a passenger plane.

Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Yoshitha Rajapaksa has told media that the provision of the jet was a gesture of goodwill.

“One of sir’s friends gave that aircraft to him free of charge for his travel to Tirupati. I do not know the name of the person, but he is a friend of the Prime Minister and it was a gesture of goodwill,” he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, amidst increasing criticism, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s staff announced that his anticipated visit to Dubai, to attend the Expo 2020 Dubai will not happen.

His long-term Media Secretary Rohan Welivita said Rajapaksa never officially announced his visit to Dubai thus there was nothing to cancel. 

However, Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Yoshitha Rajapaksa has told several media outlets that the cancellation was to enable the Prime Minister to remain in Sri Lanka to help resolve the pressing economic issues in the country.

Considering the present economic situation at home and the issues that need to be addressed, the Prime Minister decided not to undertake his visit to Dubai, scheduled for next week. He was invited by the UAE Prime Minister to attend the Dubai Expo as Chief Guest on 3 January, but he will be unable to attend. The Prime Minister has pressing issues to address, and is optimistic the economic situation will improve next year, he was quoted as saying.

2022 for Ranjan

The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) vows to dedicate the coming year, 2022, to ensure former MP Ranjan Ramanayake’s freedom. The party will fight for that purpose intensely, stated SJB MP Harin Fernando writing on his Facebook page on Christmas Day (25), after visiting Ramanayake in jail. 

“Ranjan told me that he would be glad if he is released in 2022 to engage in his higher studies. He was grateful to all who are calling for his release. I told him that I would be pleased to sacrifice my Parliamentary seat for him if he is released,” Fernando said.

When so many persons, who were engaged in massive frauds such as the Lanka Sathosa sugar scam, are living in the country freely, Ramanayake is languishing in jail for mistakenly uttering one-word, he added.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa launched a scathing attack on Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, claiming the latter was a puppet of the current foreign currency mafia in the country and as a result was putting citizens and exporters at risk.

Premadasa expressed these views while addressing the second day of the ‘Manushyathwaye Charikawa’ in Ambalantota.

“We have heard that a person who initiated the government’s path to destruction of the country has resigned from his post. He is the mastermind of the economic destruction caused by the ‘lotus bud’ party. Such persons cannot escape from what they do to this country. They cannot escape from the crime they committed to destroy the country’s economy,” the Opposition Leader stressed.

Ranil asked to be PM 

After UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe concluded his visit to Diyathalawa and returned to Colombo, he first met with party officials last Tuesday. 

The leader having headed off to Sirikotha, then held talks with party deputy leader Ruwan Wijewardene, Chairman Vajira Abeywardena and General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara regarding the future activities of the UNP. 

The group talked at length on the importance of taking the party forward in the New Year via a four-pronged plan. Wickremesinghe then instructed his officials to initiate this programme under categories such as youths, women, policy and increasing membership. 

The UNP leader was of the view that via the LG members all efforts should be made to revive the party at grass roots level. He then ordered party general secretary to make arrangements to meet the local government members during the first week of January. The leader then briefed the party officials on views that were expressed to him by the people during his recent tour of Diyathalawa. 

He said that all indications point to a famine taking shape in the country during the first quarter of 2022 and he noted these views were expressed to him by many farmers in Diyathalawa. Wijewardene then said that many people here still believe that there won’t be a shortage of food in the New Year, but he begged to differ. 

Range Bandara said that after the leader had explained that the only option left for the Government is to go to the IMF, many in the Opposition had now begun to express similar sentiments. He then urged the leader to further brief the masses with regard to the perilous economic situation in the country. Having accepted the request made to him, the leader released a special statement to the media last week on the current economic state of the country. He also put forth the best possible solution to an impending famine here during the first quarter of this year. 

Party officials had informed the leader that they will be leaving for their respective hometowns to spend the New Year holiday period. In the meantime Wickremesnghe decided to meet private stakeholders and both political and non-political groups. 

Most of them who met the leader at these meetings urged the latter to unite the Opposition ahead of taking the reins of the country. He reacted positively to their requests. 

Another group also urged him to accept the Premiership as he is the only politician here who could transform the country’s stagnant economy due to his links with the IMF. 

The party activists then visited the leader’s residence last Thursday to discuss the current political situation here. Vajira Abeywardena said that ludicrous statements made by the CBSL Governor had already brought embarrassment to the portfolio by its present incumbent. The leader too concurred with the view expressed by Abeywardena. Ruwan Wijewardene then opined that it would be prudent to purchase rice, vegetables and fruits from India. He pointed out that Sri Lanka could be the only country in the world that had turned its back on countries such as US, China, India and Japan all at once. Sagala Ratnayake, meanwhile, charged that when there was a severe foreign reserves crisis here the PM had flown to India on a private jet.

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 1 2022

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