Miracles won’t happen with Basil officially entering Cabinet

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 10 2021
Ceylon Politics Miracles won’t happen with Basil officially entering Cabinet
By Gagani Weerakoon

With Basil Rajapaksa occupying the 9th front row seat on the ruling party side of the Chamber, on the days President Gotabaya Rajapaksa visits the House, the public can witness three siblings of the same family occupying seats next to each other in Parliament – a scene that is not very common in the world. The 7th front row seat is occupied by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Basil Rajapaksa took oaths as a new MP of 9th  Parliament before Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardenaon Thursday (8).

After the official oath taken before the Speaker, he signed the Member Roll kept before the Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake and took the front row seat next to Minister Pavithra Devi Wanniarachchi. This is the third time that he has entered Parliament.

Born in 1951 in Giruwapaththuwa, Hambantota, Basil Rohana Rajapaksa was appointed to Parliament from the National list of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance in 2007. In the 2010 Parliamentary Election, he was elected from Gampaha District by polling 425,861votes - the highest number of preferential votes in Sri Lanka.

He was the Cabinet Minister of Economic Development from 2007 to 2010 in the Sixth Parliament and 2010 to 2015 in the Seventh Parliament. He was educated at Isipathana College Colombo and Ananda College.

He was sworn in as the Minister of Finance on Thursday morning before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat.

He, as the Finance Minister will have following departments, statutory institutions and public corporations under his purview.

•     Treasury Affairs

-      General Treasury

-      Department of Fiscal Policy

-      Department of National Budget

-      Department of Management Services

-      Department of External Resources

-      Department of Public Finance

-      Department of Treasury Operations

-      Department of Public Accounts

-      Department of Trade and Investment Policies

-      Department of Information Technology Management

-      Department of Legal Affairs

-      Department of Management Auditing

-      Department of Development Finance

•     Government Revenue Management Affairs

-      Department of Inland Revenue

-      Sri Lanka Customs

-      Department of Excise

-      National Lotteries Board

-      Development Lotteries Board

-      Import and Export Control Department

•     Bank Financial and Capital Market Policies and Regulatory Affairs

-      Central Bank of Sri Lanka

-      All State Banks, Financial, Insurance and their subsidiaries and related institutions

-      Sri Lanka Insurance Board

-      Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation and its subsidiaries and affiliated companies

-      Credit Information Bureau

-      Department of Registrar Companies

-      Security and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka

-      Sri Lanka Export Credit Insurance

•     Provision of Funds

-      Lady Lochore Fund

-      Strike, Riot, Civil Commotion and Terrorism Fund

-      National Insurance Trust Fund

-      Employees’ Trust Fund

-      ShramaVasana Fund

-      National Health Development Fund

-      Kidney Fund

-      Tea Shakthi Fund

-      Kapruka Fund

The Ministry's responsibilities include macroeconomic policies, annual budgets and Appropriation Acts, public financial management, domestic and international savings and investments, public debts, banking, finance, and insurance activities, international financial cooperation, and directing social security and economic development activities.

Newly appointed Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa promised to be a father figure to everybody and said he is aware that he and his ministry will have to confront difficult times in the future.

"Like any father, I may have to take unpopular, unpleasant decisions in future,” he added. 

He also stated that, with the support of all Provincial Council and Local Government representatives, he will lead the country to prosperity under the leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

He made these remarks after assuming duties at the Finance Ministry on Thursday morning. He stated that the public’s needs are his and his ministry’s top concern and that they have a good concept on how to meet those demands and would take courageous decisions.

Brand new Ministry 

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa took oaths as the Minister of Economic Policies and Plan Implementation, a brand new portfolio established through an extraordinary gazette issued Wednesday night (7).

Premier Rajapaksa previously held the all-powerful Finance Ministry but opted to take charge of the new Ministry paving the way for SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa to be sworn in as the country’s new Finance Minister.

It was speculated for a while that Basil Rajapaksa would take up the Finance Ministry portfolio and decide on the recently increased fuel prices and various other matters that have had ripple effects on the economy.

Several institutions that were earlier placed under Finance Ministry have been gazetted under new Ministry of Economic Policies and Plan Implementation.

According to Extraordinary Gazette notification issued, PM Rajapaksa, who is also the subject Minister, will have the following institutions under his purview.

•     National Planning Department

•     Department of Census and Statistics

•     Institute of Policy Studies

•     Sustainable Development Council

•     Office of Comptroller General

•     Department of Valuation

•     Sri Lanka Accounting and Auditing

•     Standard Monitoring Board

•     Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka

•     Welfare Benefits Board

•     Public Service Mutual Provident Fund

This ministry will be planning and implementation of relevant policies, in order to accelerate economic development and social progress based on the National Policy Statement ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’.

The Ministry will concentrate on formulating policies on the subject of economic policies and plan implementation in accordance with the prescribed Laws, Acts, and Ordinances, implementing projects under the National Budget, State Investment and National Development Programme, and formulating, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating policies, programmes, and projects on the subject of economic policies and plan implementation.

The Presidential Task Force for Economic Revival and Poverty Alleviation, the Presidential Task Force for Transforming Sri Lanka into a Green Socioeconomic Economy with Sustainable Climate Change Solutions, and the Presidential Task Force for Gama Samaga Pilisandara Rural Development will be in charge of facilitating the implementation of relevant development activities while coordinating all ministries.

The special priorities are the formulation and implementation of national development programmes and projects to achieve the Policy Statement's sustainable development goals, the formulation of national policies, the coordination of the State, private, and cooperative sectors to facilitate private sector participation in economic development, and the implementation of rural and regional econometric studies.

The Ministry will prioritise coordination of all Ministries and other relevant institutions in directing infrastructure development, investment promotion, regulation of organic fertilizer production, and other Government flagship development programmes toward the expected goals, as well as taking necessary measures to consolidate International Banks, funds, and local banks in order to uplift the rural and regional economies while strengthening the national economy.

Interestingly, as per the gazette notification subjects that were under Prime Minister’s purview, such as the Minister of Buddhasasana, were listed under Minister Basil Rajapakasa.

This, led to the issuance of another extraordinary gazette notification on Thursday night amending the institutional and legal frameworks of the newly established Ministry of Economic Policies and Plan Implementation, and the Ministry of Finance.

As per the revised Gazette, the following institutions that were listed under the purview of Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, have now been transferred back to Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa:

-Buddha Sasana Fund

-Buddhist Renaissance Fund

-Central Cultural Fund

All is not so well

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila, said in Parliament that he has only two superiors, and that they are the President and the Prime Minister.

“I was appointed as the Minister of Energy by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, based on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s recommendation.

They are the only superiors of mine. They never tried to interfere with the activities of my ministry. They have only given instructions and guidance,” he said.

The Minister said so in response to a question raised by SJB MP Chaminda Wijesiri. Wijesiri queried whether there is a scheme to grant a Rs 6 billion tender to the US, linked to oil exploration in Sri Lanka.

“It is reported that the US Ambassador met you and requested to grant the tender to them. You seem to be under pressure from the US. Is it just the US or the persons who have connections with the US? Are they putting pressure on you? Will you have to hand over the tender to them consequently?” Wijesiri queried. It is true that Ambassadors met me and held discussions. But I notify the President and Prime Minister regarding those discussions.

The US Ambassador sent me a letter too. I will not cave into anyone, Gammanpila pledged.

Wijesiri: “I am happy you accepted that the foreign Ambassadors are pressing you.” Speaking further, the Minister said that his ministry is ready to start oil exploration in Sri Lanka, which was supposed to start in 1966. He also said a feasibility study is being conducted to decide whether to set up an oil refinery in the country.

“The Government has no intention to privatise or lease the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and we have not reached any decision to hand over the distribution of CPC products to a Chinese company or any other company,” Gammanpila said. 

Incidentally, Gammapila’s remarks on superiors were made on the same day Minister Basil Rajapaksa entered Parliament.

Before Gammanpila, Dayasiri Jayasekara, General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and State Minister of Batik, Handloom and Local Apparel Products has said that the present Cabinet of Ministers was not appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa but was created by Basil Rajapaksa.

Basil Rajapaksa and Secretary to the President, Dr. P.B. Jayasundera also created State Ministries such as clay, cinnamon pepper and batik, which he received, but were ridiculed by the people, he has said.

He also said that he and some other State Ministers have been sidelined by the Rajapaksas and that the SLFP has been treated as if was not a part of this Government.

“These ministerial posts were created by Basil Rajapaksa. Basil Rajapaksa appointed people to these ministerial posts. They also appointed the relevant ministers. They also formed ministries that were subjected to such jokes. They are the ones who have put us aside and have left us useless. So everyone should understand that,” Jayasekara said.

The State Minister also said that it will be difficult for the Government to go it alone without bringing all parties together.

He also said just because Basil Rajapaksa comes to parliament and gets a ministerial post, miracles will not happen overnight and the people should be made aware of the crisis in the country.

He said the country was currently experiencing a major economic crisis, and $ 29 billion was needed to pay off debts by 2025.

He said that instead of saying that this problem would be solved when Basil Rajapaksa came to Parliament, they should explain the real situation to the people and how they could contribute to the recovery of the economy.

“Our country has no dollars. The people of this country should be told how they can contribute to the recovery of this economy. We all have to face this crisis. It is fair if they can say here's what we do.”

He also emphasised that neither this Government nor the President will be in power if SLFP decided against supporting it to stay in power.

This received much flak from SLFP ranks and those including Sagara Kariyawasam, Nimal Lanza and Dilum Amunugama heavily criticised the statement made by Jayasekara.

Meanwhile, Shasheendra Rajapaksa was sworn in as the State Minister of Organic Fertilizer Production, Supply and Regulation and the Paddy and Grains, Organic Food, Vegetables, Fruits, Chillies, Onion and Potato Cultivation Promotion, Seed Production and Advanced Technology for Agriculture. He, by far, has the longest ministry portfolio.

Furthermore, Mohan de Silva was sworn in as the State Minister of Coast Conservation and Low-Lying Lands Development.

Opposition on Suppression 

Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, on Wednesday (7), slammed the Government, alleging that it has reverted to the “old habits” of suppressing opponents and anti-Government views. 

He said the arms of this suppression have reached Media institutions, journalists, and voices of the common people.

Speaking in Parliament, Dissanayake criticised the arrests of JVP and Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) activists, who carried out protests against the shortage of fertiliser, environmental destruction at Muthurajawela Wetlands, and violation of labour rights recently.

He queried the logic behind banning the protests, while spas are allowed to operate, public transport services are operating, and hundreds of people are working in offices.

There is a genuine concern among the farmers regarding fertiliser. The fishing community is suffering because they lost their livelihood following the MV X-Press Pearl vessel fire. There is environmental destruction around the country. The Selendiva entity was created to sell national assets. A majority of people have grave concerns and now they have started to protest against them. These are fair protests and people have a right to do that. But the Government is gradually extending its usual suppression, Dissanayake alleged.

He praised Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, who spoke before him for pointing out the threats to Media freedom in the country.

“Premadasa, as a responsible Opposition Leader raised concerns about a report he received about an alleged attempt to shut down Sirasa TV. Now, what should a responsible Government do when a concern like this arises? A responsible minister should give a formal answer. Instead of doing so, Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena asks us to provide proof. He wants us to show Gazette Notifications. What kind of nonsense is this?” he queried.

“No government would issue Gazette Notifications before they attack the Media. As everyone knows, Sri Lanka is currently led by a person who has a dark past for suppression. It was under this same leader Sirasa TV was bombed and Siyatha TV was burnt down. It was this same leader who ordered the murder of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, assaults of journalists Poddala Jayantha and Keith Noyahr. It was under this very same leader Lalith, Kugan and Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared. It was under him that Roshen Chanaka was shot dead. Sivaram was forced to disappear under his orders,” he alleged and added, “Was Sirasa TV bombed or Siyatha TV set on fire, and Lasantha Wickrematunge killed after issuing notices or gazettes?”

Now the same leadership-led Government is extending its suppression gradually, as they did in the past to silence the voices of the people. MP Kumara Welgama knows very well about this. He once spoke about the same. A person who has every power to suppress the people being in the top position in the country is dangerous, Dissanayake stressed.

“Now, the people are being intimidated directly and indirectly while public leaders are being intimidated as well. The Media too is being intimidated. When the 18th Amendment was brought to this House, I warned about this. Yet, those who are sitting on front seats in the Government camp, in this Chamber, did not care. Now, the same persons passed the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution blocked the persons who have dual citizenship from entering Parliament. You voted for the 20th Amendment to let dual citizens enter Parliament. Let me warn you again today, this suppression will finally come to you one day; only their lapdogs could survive. Those who have even a small conscience and backbone would not be able to survive. This suppression could be started with us, but it will land on your heads in the end. This is the nature of suppression. You all should keep this eternal truth in your minds,” he said.

This conspiracy to silence the people and the Media should be stopped immediately. It is true that we do not agree with the conduct of some Media institutions and journalists. But they are entitled to freedom of expression. That right should be ensured. That right is guaranteed for everyone, not only the henchmen of this Government, he added.

There was uproar in Parliament Thursday, after Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa alleged that there was a move to suspend the operations of a private television channel by cancelling its licence.

"We have reliable information that the Government has already embarked on cancelling the license. We want someone responsible to make a statement on this,” Premadasa said.

The uproar began when the Speaker went ahead with the business of the House when SJB MPs raised points of order.

SJB MPs then started shouting, while MP Velu Kumar, who was raising a point of order, stormed into the Well, while the other SJB MPs stormed in minutes later. A few Government MPs also stormed into the Well.

Minister Bandula Gunawardena said the present Government will not suppress the Media at any time. “Those who shout today are the ones who killed journalist Richard de Zoysa. ‘Who is he, what is he doing’ is unheard of even today. These Opposition MPs always come out with false allegations and disrupt the House. It is the Yahapalana Government which suppressed the Media most,” the Minister said.

 “The Opposition today fabricates things and disrupts democratic institutions without tendering an apology for their past wrongdoings. There is a way to raise questions. An MP has to submit a written request prior to raising a question,” Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena said.

“Disrupting Parliament is also a serious crime. We oppose this move by the Opposition,” Gunawardena added.

UNP begins party restructuring 

A number of Pradeshiya Sabha and Urban Councillors who had been elected from the party but had switched to support another party were also present at Sirikotha on Tuesday and Wednesday when party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe came to party headquarters. UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardena, General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara, Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardena and Sagala Ratnayake too were there.

Wickremesinghe was on his way to his office when an elderly person stopped him and told him that he realised his (Wickremesinghe’s) value.

“People have now begun to understand the effort you put amidst the then President obstructing your work in every possible way, and they regret their decision today,” he said.

In response, Wickremesinghe patted his shoulder saying; “Even though people forgot us, we didn’t forget them. It’s the nature of the people to forget easily.

Wijewardene, Range Bandara, Abeywardene, Ratnayake, and others came to Wickrmesinghe’s office to discuss party reforms. Wijewardene and Range Bandara began by discussing the Pradeshiya Sabha and Urban Councillors’ efforts to re-join the party.

Give these people new responsibilities and tell them to go to the village and complete work, Wickremesinghe remarked.

Abeywardene elaborated on the progress made, stating that they can form a committee for each electorate and coordinate that electorate through that committee. Wickrmesinghe then discussed the steps that must be taken to improve restructuring party network, as well as the new additions.

Wickremesinghe stated emphatically that they must move forward with new faces and a new programmes, and that no one should take this lightly. "Start this work in the following week. Increase the rate at which committees are formed.”

Abeywardene asked Wickremesinghe about the no-confidence motion against Minister Udaya Gammanpila, and the general consensus, including Wickremesinghe’s, was that the motion would only strengthen the Government.

Ratnayake went on to say that the public had forgotten about the fuel price hike and had moved away from the principle of constant reminders of the people’s genuine issues. In addition to the tasks assigned to him, Wickremesinghe asked Wijewardene last week to look into incidents of threats to journalist and media institutions.

The Chinese international community held a special conference on Tuesday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China. The Republic of China has invited 500 recognised political parties from 121 countries to strengthen its international contacts.

The Chinese Embassy also invited the UNP, one of Sri Lanka’s oldest political parties, to the summit, which was hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Wickremesinghe, Wijewardene, and Ratnayake connected virtually to the conference from the headquarters of their respective parties. The Prime Minister spoke on Sri Lanka’s behalf, and representatives from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna also attended the virtual conference.

According to Abeywardene, Wickremesinghe had already suggested that the finance minister go to the IMF to get out of the economic crisis. Prof. Ashu Marasinghe then asked Wickremesinghe if the Government had banned rallies and demonstrations in order to conceal its failings, and if so, whether this was permissible under the Quarantine Act.

"There is no provision in the Quarantine Act for protests or demonstrations. No one, on the other hand, is going to Court to get a definition. Let us go to Court together,” everyone agreed with Wickremesinghe’s statements. The group, on the other hand, has decided to hold a meeting at the party’s bar next week and file the lawsuits.

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 10 2021

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