President Rajapaksa Loses His Cool; State Officials Under the Radar
BY Gagani Weerakoon
The President does not seize illicit liquor, he doesn’t catch rapists, drug peddlers or terrorists. The President is entrusted with policy planning, giving directives and advising, was what former President Maithripala Sirisena insisted when the journalist who interviewed him last week for the BBC Sinhala service repeatedly asked whether he (Sirisena) feels, even slightly, responsible for the unfortunate Easter Sunday attacks in 2019 that occurred as a result of a major security lapse.
Sirisena was the President, Head of State, Minister of Defence, Minister-in-Charge of Police and also Commander-in-Chief, when the Easter Sunday attacks were carried out last year. Today, completes one year and two months after the attacks.
A brief translation of the conversation between former President Sirisena and the BBC journalist goes as;
BBC: Would you or former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe accept responsibility?
MS: Responsibility for what?
BBC: Responsibility for the Easter Sunday attacks...
MS: Why would I accept responsibility? Responsibility should be accepted by those who were responsible.
BBC: Were you aware of an imminent attack?
MS: If I were aware, would I have let it happen? What kind of question is that?
BBC: You were the President, Minister of Defence, Minister-in-Charge of the Police at the time...
MS: The President does not seize illicit liquor, nor does he catch rapists, drug peddlers or terrorists. The President is entrusted with policy planning, directing and advising.
BBC: There are reports that such directives were not issued...
MS: These duties were properly implemented by the President. It was those below the chain of command who have neglected their duties.
BBC: Neither you, nor former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have accepted responsibility for this attack. You have also not apologised to the public. In other countries, such an event would have witnessed apologies and the resignation of subject ministers. Would you like to make this an opportunity to apologise to the public?
MS: For me to apologise, I should have known about it. You keep on stressing this fact... I am amazed by your repeated questions. If the security officials of both the President and the Prime Minister were unaware of those, how would the President or the Prime Minister know?
Forced to shelve
President Sirisena who is contesting the forthcoming General Election from Polonnaruwa electorate was making headlines since Monday (15), as he was caught in an embarrassing situation.
The former President, who arrived in the Polonnaruwa District Monday morning to take part in an event organised to hand over education scholarships and gifts to some 260 students from the District, who had qualified to seek University entrance, was forced to shelve it following the intervention of officers from the Election Commission (EC).
Sirisena said that he had always adhered to Election Laws during his long political career, but expressed his regret at not being able to fete the students who had qualified to enter University, after they had arrived from far-flung villages in the District.
However, Sirisena vowed that one day he will invite the students to commend their achievement in qualifying for University education at an appropriate event to be held under his aegis at the end of the Parliamentary Poll.
Free and fair election
Chairman of the Election Commission (EC) Mahinda Deshapriya said the use of aircraft, helicopters or similar vehicles for propaganda activities of candidates targeting the 5 August General Election as well as the use of State finances for such activities, has been prohibited by the EC.
He said an Extraordinary Gazette Notification published in this connection by the EC has stipulated that all Ministry Secretaries and Heads of State institutions have given a declaration regarding the non-use of the aforesaid items for the upcoming Poll.
He said that no Cabinet Minister or member of his or her staff would be allowed to use vehicles of the State or State institutions sans the registered vehicle number issued by the Motor Traffic Department in the run-up to the Election.
Deshapriya added that two vehicles have been assigned for the use of officers attached to the President’s Security Division.
He added that all Ministry Secretaries and Heads of State Departments must ensure that their vehicles are not being used under bogus licence plates.
It is in this backdrop, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assured to create the background to hold a free and fair Election, while giving priority to the health protection of the public.
“The Ministry of Health has issued recommendations to hold the General Election on 5 August amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This will be recorded as the first Election to be held under such circumstances in the country. As such, the Government will extend its fullest cooperation to the Election Commission (EC) to make the Election process a success while adhering to health guidelines,” the President had said.
He said this during a meeting he had with the Chairman and Members of the EC at the Presidential Secretariat on 17 June.
The Government took all possible measures to control the spread of COVID-19 and this operation was not aimed at the Election but to secure the wellbeing of the people, said the President, adding that the prevention mechanism will continue for several months more.
“The Election can be held without any obstacle if the public is made aware of the situation,” he has opined.
Initial preparations have been completed and the contribution of all political parties and officials and members of the security forces will be essential for the process, Chairman of the EC said.
Deshapriya pointed out the importance of establishing a legal basis to ensure the compulsory participation of public officials in Election duties. He was of the view that these regulations should be incorporated into the Establishments Code. When all partners act in a responsible manner during Election rallies and house-to-house campaigns, an effective Election can be held, he had pointed out. He highlighted the importance of the necessity of declaring future COVID-19 prevention recommendations through a Gazette Notification.
The President agreed to provide the required assistance in the event of the lack of space related facilities, while holding the Election adhering to health instructions.
Deshapriya pointed out the need for providing transportation facilities to those who will leave for their hometowns from 31 July and return after the Election.
Under the radar
Signs of Presidetn Rajapaksa getting frustrated with public officials were evident time to time over the past few weeks and he evidently lost his cool finally last week as he reprimanded the topmost officials of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.
On Monday (15) he informed heads of State Banks that the State Banks must directly intervene to revitalise the stalled economy of the country and had warned that if anyone attempts to scupper the policies of the Government in this connection, he will not think twice before taking stringent action against such officers.
The President had stressed that he had, under no circumstance, advised anyone to grant loans to only his relatives, friends or those who had supported him in whatever capacity.
The President had made these remarks during a review meeting convened to look into activities of the BOC, held at the Presidential Secretariat on Thursday.
Rajapaksa had pointed out that by levying a double-digit interest for loans, the aspirations of a Nation cannot be fulfilled and averred that it should be brought to a single-digit before supporting the development initiatives of the Government.
He had then opined that the State Banks should take the lead in providing financial relief to farmers, small and medium-scale industrialists and investors.
The President had further emphasised that he will not renege on the promises that he had given to the masses during last year’s Presidential Poll campaign and warned that anyone who attempts to scuttle it will be dealt with.
And, then came the bombshell.
In a scathing attack on the hierarchy of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), President Gotabaya Rajapaksa reprimanded them of miserably failing in carrying out their duties in reviving the economy and regulating finance institutes despite earning handsome salaries.
“The Government had put forward its proposals for economic revival. The Central Bank has not extended its support towards it thus far,” the President noted while asking them to give reasons for their failure.
He made these observations at a meeting held at the Presidential Secretariat where Governor of the Central Bank Prof. W.D. Lakshman and officials of the Central Bank, Secretary to the Treasury S.R. Attygalle, Secretary to the President P.B. Jayasundera and Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga were present.
Central Banks in leading countries such as the United States, Japan and Australia as well as in small countries have put in place required mechanisms to revive economies in their respective countries, he pointed out.
“What is the tool we have used? We have used nothing. Our Central Bank has not done anything towards this. Monetary and Fiscal Policy has been formulated by the Central Bank. That should be done in accordance with the economic policy of the President of the country.
“You have several tools that can be used. Those tools have to be utilised. However, our Central Bank does not use a single tool. It just remains idle. We asked to release Rs 150 billion to Banks. This is not a fault of the business. The Government owes a huge sum of money to companies due to mismanagement in the past. Let this money be kept as a security for Banks to release loans to them. Then they can run the economy. This is a money circulation process. This is a very simple tactic and this is a basic economic principle. But, what are you doing? Governments have to take the blame for your conduct. You do not monitor. Look at the status of finance companies.
“It is your responsibility to regularise and monitor these companies. However, you have failed in your task. Leasing companies too evade their responsibilities. The ETI is not in a position to repay the people. The Finance has closed down without informing. How are we going to pay for that? There is no management there. All at the Central Bank are economic specialists drawing very high salaries. You have a responsibility. I have presented you a mechanism. If you are unable to follow it, present me your version of the mechanism by tomorrow morning.
“Look at what governments of other countries have implemented to save their small scale and medium scale businesses. Do we see the same efforts over here? It looks as if you are here to hinder the government effort and are trying to impede my duties. I do not have to assume this tone if you stood by your duties. It has been eight months since my appointment to office, and I have been requesting you to revive this collapsed economy ever since.
“I do not want to talk about mistakes of the previous government. As all of you know, you were there when the Central Bank Bonds scam was executed. If you supported them to commit this crime, there is no reason for all of you to not to join hands with me to deliver justice. The public must be made aware of the issue of how we move forward with these types of officials. The people of this country have bestowed a great power on me to build this country. I request all of you to allow me to build this country.
“COVID-19 has spread throughout the world. Now it has become a global economic crisis. Due to the firm commitment of our works in the health sector, Army, Intelligence and the Police we were able to return to normalcy before many other countries in the world. The restructuring of the country’s economy before it further collapses lies in your hands. Lend your support to me to achieve success in this endeavour. Either accept my suggestions in this regard or reveal your strategies.
“In this context, a place like the Central Bank where the top economic experts are rendering their service, isn’t it your responsibility to present a proposal to conquer this situation. What have you submitted in this regard. What is the guidance you have given me? There is nothing and you have not come forward to support me.
“If you are not on the same page with my suggestions please give me your strategies to revive our economy by tomorrow morning. Give me your suggestions on how to strengthen the economy, how to assist Banks under these dire circumstances, how to categorically assist small scale and medium scale businesses. If what I say is wrong, do not hesitate to let me know,” the President insisted.
Waking up from slumber
The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), which appeared to be in a deep slumber for several months, has finally woken up and has come up with a number of measures to provide relief to the public who have been plunged into dire financial straits due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but only after being severely chastised by the President.
In a decision made late Tuesday night, following a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, attended by CBSL Governor and officials at the Presidential Secretariat, the Monetary Board of the CBSL decided to make available a total of Rs 265 billion, to the businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Monetary Board announced the decision to introduce new credit schemes under Section 83 of the Monetary Law, Act No. 58 of 1949, thereby providing funding to commercial Banks at the concessionary rate of 1 per cent against the pledge of a broad spectrum of collateral, on the condition that the banks should pass on these benefits through increased low-cost lending to domestic businesses.
This scheme, including the existing refinance scheme of Rs 50 billion, is expected to inject a total of Rs 150 billion additional liquidity to the commercial banks, which will in turn on-lend to domestic businesses at 4 per cent.
The Board also announced the decision to reduce the Statutory Reserve Ratio (SRR) applicable on all rupee deposit liabilities of licensed commercial banks, which will result in injecting around Rs 115 billion of additional liquidity to the domestic money market, enabling the financial system to expedite credit flows to the economy.
In addition, construction sector enterprises will be provided with a facility to borrow from commercial banks, using guarantees issued by the Government equivalent to the amount due on account of contracts carried out in the past, under a new dedicated credit scheme funded by the CBSL and made available at the aforementioned concessionary rates.
The Monetary Board announced that operating instructions on these new credit schemes will be issued in due course.
The Board asserted that the financial sector is expected to pass the benefit of the high level of liquidity and the reduced cost of funds to the economy without delay, by increasing lending to businesses and households at low cost. The Monetary Board will continue to monitor economic and financial market developments and will take further policy and regulatory measures to support a sustained revival of economic activity in the period ahead.
The question however is why did CBSL officers have to wait until being lambasted by the President, in order to provide relief to the public who are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fact that the Monetary Board was able to come up with these relief measures within a matter of few hours was equally surprising. The question that arises from this scenario is whether it was sheer lethargy that prevented the CBSL from coming up with these measures or whether something else had influenced them to fail so spectacularly in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic?
Few more to be summoned
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has decided to summon a few more officials from State departments and corporations, who are not ready to toe the line of the Government, a senior official at the Presidential Secretariat said.
He added the President would seek their views as to why they oppose the advice and instructions given to them by the present administration and conduct their activities in such a manner.
The representative from the Secretariat said that already a spate of complaints had been received by the President’s Secretary regarding a growing number of State institutions that are guilty of dereliction of their duty by the people.
He noted that President Rajapaksa’s attention has been drawn to such institutions who shirk their service by the public, either intentionally or unintentionally.
The officer from the Secretariat added already that they were conducting a programme to identify all State institutions that have failed to efficiently perform their duty by the people on the advice of the President.
He said the President would shortly summon heads of such institutions to seek their views in this regard and affirmed that those who shirk their service would be taken to task by the President.
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing acts of political victimisation on Monday issued summons to 17 persons including four politicians to appear before it based on the complaint lodged with it by the Chairman of Avant-Garde Security Services Private Limited, Nissanka Senadhipathi.
Senadhipathi, in his complaint, had alleged that certain persons in the previous United National Front-led regime had allegedly attempted to forcibly take over his firm and the Rakna Lanka Security Firm, who were both engaged in deep sea protection services.
President of the PCol, Judge Upali Abeyratne issued the summons to 17 persons after having perused the evidence given before the Commission by Senadhipathi.
Hence, the summons were issued to former Ministers Patali Champika Ranawaka, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and Arjuna Ranatunga, former Parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake, former Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, President’s Counsel (PC) Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe, former Navy Commander Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, Retired Deputy Inspector General of Police S.A.D. Gunawardena, former Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Senior Police Inspector Shani Abeysekara, Rear Admirals J.J. Ranasingha and Nilantha Heenatigala, former Officer-in-Charge of the Galle Harbour Police Inspector Induka, CID Police Inspector Aluthge Senarath, Assistant Superintendent of Police Lasantha Ratnayaka, Additional Solicitor General Wasantha Navaratna Bandara, State Counsel Janaka Bandara, Upul Jayasuriya PC and Lieutenant Commander W.H.P. Weerasingha respectively.
Abeyratne also ordered the Police Inspection Unit which is attached to the PCoI to record statements from each of the 17 persons before launching a probe into the statements.
Sallay vs Sooka
A known LTTE sympathiser, Yasmin Sooka, has been sent a Letter of Demand to the tune of Rs 1 billion, by Director of the State Intelligence Service, Major Genaral Suresh Tuan Sallay.
The letter sent through Maj Gen Sallay’s Attorney Pasan Weerasinghe, states that on or about 1 June 2020, Sooka, in her capacity as the Executive Director of the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) has issued a press statement, making various defamatory remarks against Maj Gen Sallay. The press statement is said to be published via the ITJP’s Sri Lanka website.
The letter of demand notes that the defamatory implications have resulted in parties with vested interests making attempts on the life of Maj Gen Sallay.
Further, it states that the defamatory remarks of Sooka published by the ITJP Sri Lanka website have caused unto the Maj General’s character and reputation a significant damage, which the Major General has valued at Rs 1 billion and in turn, demanded that Sooka and the ITJP pay the stated amount.
The letter of demand has also notified Sooka and the ITJP to cease and desist from issuing further defamatory remarks and of the intention of Major General Sallay to seek litigative remedies, both civil and/or criminal, if Sooka and the ITJP fail to adhere to the said demands.
Sooka is very well known for her bias towards the LTTE.
She first became involved with Sri Lanka when the former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed her as one of the three panel members to advise him on the last three months of the conflict in Sri Lanka. The panel was headed by Indonesian politician Marzuki Darusman.
The heavily biased final report that was leaked in 2011, co-authored by Sooka, came out with damning allegations against the Sri Lanka military.
Sooka was also a guest speaker at the 2013 conference of the Global Tamil Forum, another known LTTE front, in the UK where she was introduced as ‘comrade’.