SLPP and Wimal Lock Horns Again
|By Gagani Weerakoon|
Parliament became a hive of activity after some time last week as most of its consultative committee meetings and those attending them had been curtailed due to the COVID-19 impact.
Only the Consultative Committee on Finance had convened and a certain number of Government officials had attended it.
PM Mahinda Rajapaksa had become busy as he had to attend a few such meetings. The PM who arrived in the House at around 9:20 a.m. went straightway to Hall No. 1 where the Government Parliamentary Group meeting was due to convene. It commenced under the aegis of the PM and among those in the head table were Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena and Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando.
During the meeting several MPs aired their views. State Minister Susil Premajayantha was of the view that the report filed by the PCol into 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks would have to be examined thoroughly. He said it was important to brief the country regarding the recommendations of the PCol only after going through its contents carefully and in detail. He also advised the ruling party not to have any conflicts with any of its affiliated parties regarding the PCol report.
Afterwards a few others including MP Prof. Charitha Herath also spoke. Those who were due to speak at the adjournment debate on the PCol report were of the view that the time allocated for them to air their views in this regard had not been sufficient. Then the PM had advised to manage the allocated time to suit each other. After this meeting the PM headed to Hall No. 2 where another meeting took place.
The PM attended the inauguration of the official website of the women MPs to mark the International Women’s Day. The women MPs both from the Government and Opposition had attended it while Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella too were present.
After this the PM headed to Hall No. 1 where yet another meeting was taking place. It was the Advisory Board meeting of the Ministry of Finance and several officers from the Treasury and State Banks were in attendance. The PM attended it in his capacity as the subject Minister.
Another MP had arrived to meet the PM. He was ex-Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan. The PM having been informed of the presence of Sampanthan had advised the latter to be at the PM’s Office in Parliament and they held a discussion afterwards. They had spoken on the present political situation in the country as well. They had also spoken about the development of the North and a request made to the PM in this regard by Sampanthan, had been agreed to by the PM.
The PM also had another appointment at his office. C. Kuruppu is one of the senior most officers serving at the Library of Parliament. After going into retirement Kuruppu is serving as a Coordinating Officer at the office of the Leader of the House. The PM also appointed Kuruppu as his Information Director and it is an honorary post. Kuruppu had also authored a book containing speeches made by the PM as an MP till he had become President in 2005. Among those in attendance at the handing over of the appointment letter to Kuruppu by the PM were Leader of the House Gunawardena, State Ministers Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Lohan Ratwatte and the head of the PM’s Staff Yoshitha Rajapaksa.
Meanwhile, SLPP National List MP Mohammad Muzzamil revealed that Zaharan Hashim would have received part of the monies that had been accrued through the re-export scandal concerning pepper. He made this remark while submitting a question to Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardene. Muzammil had questioned regarding the total amount of pepper that had been imported to the country from 2015 up to 2019. The Minister said that 5 million kg of pepper had been imported to the country during this period and the total cost for it had been tabulated at Rs 3.72 billion. Muzammil charged that it had been Ilham and the former JVP National List nominee Ibrahim that had been engaged in the pepper scandal with the blessings of Zaha ran.
Why Namal Kumara left at large?
Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Ranjith Maddumabandara, on Wednesday (10), questioned as to why an investigation has not commenced into the conduct of Namal Kumara who exposed an alleged plan to assassinate former President Maithripala Sirisena and current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, yet.
Participating in a Parliamentary debate on the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the 21 April 2019 Easter Sunday Attacks, Maddumabandara said Namal Kumara’s allegation led to the arrest of then Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) Director, Nalaka de Silva.
“At that time, the TID had obtained a warrant to arrest Zaharan Hashim. Nalaka de Silva’s arrest disrupted the investigation against Zaharan. That was merely a drama. Now where is Namal Kumara? Why hasn’t an investigation commenced on his conduct? Most importantly, what happened to his allegations?” he queried.
Maddumabandara queried, “A Cabinet Minister in this Government recently said Zaharan Hashim had provided information to intelligence officers before 2015. At that time, Major Suresh Salley was the Military Intelligence Chief. Now, the same persons are conducting investigations against Zaharan. I would like to ask, how did they conduct investigations on Zaharan?”
He requested to bring an independent international investigation body to investigate the 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday Attacks.
Maddumabandara said that the AG had stated that 22 volumes of the final report compiled by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry which probed the 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday Attacks, had not been submitted for his perusal. He therefore urged the Government to order an independent inquiry into the terror attacks which occurred on 21 April two years ago.
The SJB General Secretary stated that the final report released by the Commission had failed to identify the masterminds behind the carnage and those who had funded the violent crimes that had been committed. He mentioned that the Commission report had only identified those who had failed to prevent the carnage after being forewarned of it, but insisted that if a similar attack in the future is to be averted, it is imperative that the brains behind the blasts are revealed to the Nation.
Harin played cricket
Joining the debate, Minister of Agriculture, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, accused SJB MP Harin Fernando of playing cricket in Negombo on ‘Black Sunday,’ which was declared a day of protest, demanding speedy justice for the victims of the 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday Attacks.
“Harin was playing cricket on ‘Black Sunday.’ How pathetic was that? Everyone was remembering the Easter Sunday victims. He was just enjoying his time instead of going to Church and participating in the protest. Shame on Harin Fernando! Allegations have been levelled against three leaders of the SJB in regard to the Easter Sunday Attacks. Do not point your fingers at others. The previous Government let this massacre happen,” he added.
Adding the person who is responsible for the bombings and five other suicide bombers have already been killed, Aluthgamage said seven women who are believed to have taken oaths before Zaharan are now in CID custody. Another seven suspects who had connections to the attacks are also in CID custody.
Also, there was clear information that Zaharan and his group supported SLMC leader, MP Rauff Hakeem during the elections. Hakeem has also supported these extremists, he alleged.
“The other one is MP Rishad Bathiudeen. He is the one who spends the most on the SJB. It was clearly mentioned in the PCoI report that he had gone to meet suicide bombers. Not only that, he has also tried to release some suspects who were arrested in this connection,” he further said.
Two in trouble
Minister Wimal Weerawansa and SJB MP Ashok Abeysinghe made headlines last week following their remarks made on various people linked to the Easter Sunday Bomb Attacks.
At least two MPs, Rishad Bathiudeen and Kavinda Jayawardena went to the CID seeking a probe on Weerawansa’s recent remarks on Easter attacks.
Weerawansa’s accusations that there are clandestine links between a section of the Government and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) Leader Bathiudeen, allegedly involved with those responsible for 2019 Easter Sunday carnage did not sit well with the Government ranks.
Delivering a public lecture at Sambuddhathva Jayanthi Mandiraya, on Tuesday (9), lawmaker Weerawansa alleged a group of decadent ruling party politicians who realised the need for entering into political marriage with what the Minister called Islamic extremism in the future had prevented the exposure of the likes of Bathiudeen.
The SLPP is understandably furious after Weerawansa’s remarks and claimed the latter had stabbed the Government in the back and had caused irreparable damage to the Government.
This comes just weeks after Weerawansa and SLPP ranks locking horns over an infamous newspaper interview in which the outspoken Minister claimed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be given a key leadership role in the SLPP.
Meanwhile, Rishad Bathiudeen, lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigations Department on Wednesday (10) requesting for an inquiry on the statement made by Minister Wimal Weerawansa.
The complaint was lodged regarding a comment made by Weerawansa that former Minister Bathiudeen’s brother was engaged in telephone conversations with Saharan Hashim, the main suicide bomber involved in the Easter Sunday attacks.
Speaking to Media after handing over the relevant complaint, MP Bathiudeen said he filed a complaint with the CID against Minister Wimal Weerawansa for misleading the public by spreading false information that he and his brother had links with Zaharan Hashim.
“What Minister Weerawansa said was a pathological lie. I challenge him to prove the allegations,” the former Minister said adding that he expects the CID to investigate the claims and take necessary action.
On the other hand, the SLPP filed a complaint with the CID against MP Ashok Abeysinghe.
The SLPP has filed the complaint against SJB MP Abeysinghe’s public speech on Saturday (6) linking President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks.
MP Abeysinghe had claimed that both President Rajapaksa and SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa had jointly staged the attacks, and that Chairman of the Avant Garde Floating Armoury Nissanka Senadhipathi had funded the attacks.
The SLPP pointed out that legal action must be immediately initiated against MP Ashok Abeysinghe for making such false allegations against the President and the SLPP National Organiser.
The party further said a complaint was filed with the CID under Article 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act.
Abeysinghe who evaded CID for four consecutive days, appeared before the CID on Thursday (11).
The MP arrived with Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, who came in support of Abeysinghe, at 9:30 a.m. He left the CID premises after five hours.
Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said when questioning Abeysinghe about the source of his statement, the MP refused to divulge any information.
The investigators further informed him about the dangers of making a public statement which the public will believe to be true and detailed the dangers of providing false information. Abeysinghe made an apology to the CID in regard to the statement that he made. DIG Rohana further said the CID is seeking advice from the Attorney General in order to take further action.
Meanwhile, accompanying Abeysinghe to the CID, SJB General Secretary Ranjith Maddumabandara said that instead of giving the utmost chastisement to the real masterminds of this barbaric attack, the Government is hunting the Opposition and the public who question them.
“This Government was elected by the public on one expectation which is to seize the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday Attack and give him the utmost chastisement and do justice to this barbaric attacks, instead of working on it, the Government has started to hunt the ones who comment or speak against their crippled measures and investigations on the Easter Sunday attacks,” he said.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said that as the SJB’s leader he believes that he should defend and protect the members of his party.
“That is why I accompanied him [to the CID] in my car.” The public are waiting until justice is served for those who lost their family members in the bombings. Everyone who was involved in the shameful attacks must be punished accordingly,” he stressed.
UNP discusses President
The UNP Working Committee met a few weeks later last Tuesday. After coming to Sirikotha headquarters that morning, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe summoned several party activists, including Party Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene, General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara, Chairman Vajira Abeywardena and Assistant Leader Akila Viraj Kariyawasam.
“Everyone is committed to rebuilding the party by going round the country when the party is in a difficult situation. This journey cannot be stopped or ended here. We must move forward with this vigour,” Wickremesinghe said.
“We have a plan B. Let’s move it forward” the crowd agreed with what Bandara said.
There was a lengthy discussion on the second phase of the party reorganisation. It was later decided to present the proposal to the Working Committee meeting to be held in the evening and to approve it.
When the leader arrived in the evening, former Deputy Leader Ravi Karunanayake, National Organiser Naveen Dissanayake and Arjuna Ranatunga were also present at the Working Committee meeting. They were welcomed by Wickremesinghe.
Speaking at the Working Committee meeting, Wickremesinghe thanked all those who had worked hard for the success of the reorganisation process. It was then that Bandara presented the Plan B proposal. The Working Committee discussed it and agreed that it should be implemented. Some said this should be done soon.
Abeywardena noted that the Party should forgive the 15 party members who left the party at the last General Election. “Those who left the party at that time have realised the value of the party now,” others agreed with Abeywardena.
The 44 Local Government representatives have again joined the party, and Bandara presented a report containing their details. Also, the names of the other 18 members who had disciplinary investigations were submitted and the Working Committee approved the expulsion.
Later Shantini Kongahage, who rushed to the Working Committee, presented a proposal that was approved at the Lakwanitha Women’s Day. The proposal stated that a quota of 25% from the UNP candidate lists should be given to women in the forthcoming Provincial Council or Local Government elections.
“This is the position of our party. The leader as the Prime Minister brought this through a Bill, but it was sabotaged,” the members of the Working Committee raised their hands and agreed.
After Ananda Kularatne, Karunasena Kodithuwakku and others made various statements regarding the party’s progress, Lakshman Wijemanne, who was rumoured to have joined another party, stood up with a few clothes, including a blood stained shirt. Everyone was focused on his speech when he spoke.
“I got shot because of the party. These clothes are covered with blood. Even two of my close associates had to die. I did everything for the party. I will never leave the party. I will work towards rebuilding the party,”he said emotionally.
“We know the sacrifices Wijemanne made for the party. I have entrusted the Party Chairman with the responsibility of gathering those who have left the party.” Wickremesinghe responded.
Shamal Senarath also expressed his views on the reorganisation of the party and Ananda Kularatne also made a proposal regarding the strengthening of party funds. All these matters were unanimously approved by the Working Committee.
“As the Pradeshiya Sabha representatives have also been appointed, divide them into several groups and start the second reorganisation process. When these activities start before the Sinhala New Year, our people can go to the village and celebrate the Sinhala New Year,” Wickremesinghe said with a laugh.
“The second reorganisation process will begin in the last week of March,” Bandara said.
The leader also took steps to appoint a committee to elect organisers to strengthen the new network of organisers. Accordingly, everyone will give the opportunity to apply for the party organiser post.
At the end of the Working Committee discussion, the leader thanked Kongahage for organising a Women’s Day celebration attended by a large number of women.
The leader saw Karunanayake on his way to his office and had a long chat.
Wijewardena, Bandara, Abeywardena, Kariyawasam and others joined the conversation with the leader after Karunanayake’s departure.
I did not fail, the President says that he passed, Sandith Samarasinghe said with a smile.
“Next election will show whether the President failed or passed. We can say anything we want until the election actually tells us who has passed,” Bandara said.
“The Indian Company Serum has refused to provide the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is apparent as a State issue,” he noted.
“There is a shortage of vaccines in the world because everyone is asking for it. But we were late in ordering the vaccine. Before us, Myanmar, Thailand and even Bangladesh, ordered the COVISHIELD vaccine from India. The Government has no money to order,” Wickremesinghe noted.
The group then discussed the global economic crisis as well as the crisis in Sri Lanka. They also exchanged views on printing money and the rising the cost of living. It was there that the leader heard of the death of beloved wife of Pandith Amaradeva, his music teacher as a child. Everyone was saddened by the news. The leader went there on the morning of the funeral and paid his last respects to Wimala Amaradeva.
Namal gets into trouble
A motion was filed in the Court to release Namal Rajapakse’s passport in order for him to visit Dubai after the airport was re-opened after the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Minister was planning to attend an Expo Dubai Exhibition and discuss issues related to the migrant workers.
Namal Rajapaksa and Minister D.V. Chanaka faced an unexpected situation when they arrived to the airport on Sunday (8) morning.
When Namal Rajapaksa and Minister D.V. Chanaka arrived to the airport on Sunday morning (8) Minster Rajapaksa faced an unexpected situation where the Immigration officials said “We cannot grant permission for you to fly to Dubai as your travel ban has not been lifted”.
Namal Rajapaksa: “How is it that you did not receive my letter? I was given approval by the court to travel abroad last Thursday”.
Emigration Officers: “Unfortunately we have not received any form of documentation as of yet”. Minister Rajapaksa said “please look into this further as I must travel today”.
The officers then spoke to their superiors who said “Unfortunately there is nothing we can do”.
Meanwhile the Minister of Tourism and Aviation Prasanna Ranatunga spoke to Rajapaksa and said “What is the situation and why are you not being allowed to travel?” Namal Rajapaksa related the entire dilemma to Minister Ranatunga who then made the officers quickly locate a copy of the letter given to Namal Rajapaska by the Court which then granted Minister Rajapaska and MP Chanaka permission to fly to Dubai, although it was an hour later than originally planned.