Focus/Spotlight

Ranjan’s dud

By Maheesha Mudugamuwa

With State Minister of Highways and Road Development Ranjan Ramanayake calling on all parliamentarians to take a drug test, it’s the perfect time to bring up one of the biggest issues in the country that the successive governments have avoided – the alleged links between politicians and drug dealers.

It is a well-known fact that the subject of crimes and drugs is entwined with politics, and every single voter in the country is aware that the so-called politicians (though not all), who they are willing to elect as a members of Parliament, receive the utmost service from criminals and/or drug dealers either to fund their election campaigns or to silence the opponents.

But there has not been a disclosure of solid proof to show the alleged links, partly due to the lack of proper investigations conducted by law enforcement authorities or successive governments, or the possibility of political parties taking the initiative to chase out the drug dealers and criminals away from their government or respective parties.

On 11 February, during an inspection tour to the Central Expressway, Minister Ramanayake alleged that some Cabinet Ministers were consuming cocaine. Since the statement came weeks after the arrest of local drug kingpin Makandure Madush in Dubai, it received wide publicity, and the United National Party (UNP) was forced to conduct an internal inquiry regarding the matter as the Minister’s allegation was basically targeted on Cabinet Ministers where the majority of them are members of the UNP, including Minister Ramanayake himself.

On 20 February, the UNP appointed a special committee headed by Minister of Public Enterprise and Kandyan Heritage Lakshman Kiriella and comprises several other members including State Minister of Finance Eran Wickramaratne, Prof. Ashu Marasinghe, and President’s Counsel Nissanka Nanayakkara.

A minister in a hurry

Minister Ramanayake was summoned before the committee and the report was handed over to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last week, which was again forwarded to the UNP Working Committee. At present, the report is in possession of the UNP Working Committee, but none of the UNPers are willing to reveal the names revealed by Ramanayake to the committee.

When The Sunday Morning contacted Minister Ramanayake, he said that the committee headed by Minister Kiriella told him that he did not need to reveal the names to the committee, but he ought to reveal to the National Dangerous Drug Control Board (NDDCB) as well as the CID.

Therefore, according to Minister Ramanayake, the UNP still does not know the names of the alleged cocaine consumers.

Explaining the statement made by him, Minister Ramanayake said: “The statement was an open invitation for all parliamentarians to prove innocent before the public. The responsibility of clearing their names is in their hands,” adding: “They could go to any hospital, whether it is private or a public, to get their blood test done, but they should do it soon.”

“Minister Buddhika Pathirana and I already got our blood tests done and Minister Sajith Premadasa said that he would get his blood test soon. MP Susil Premajayantha also said that he is willing to get his blood test done any time. So why can’t the other do so?” he questioned.

“I reveal the fact that there are some MPs and ministers who consume cocaine for the ‘betterment of the country’, and if the party is ready to take action against me for that, I would accept whatever is darted at me,” he said.

“But I can assure my voters that I would not change my political party. If the UNP expels me from the party, I would contest the next general election independently,” Minister Ramanayake said.

When asked whether he was summoned by the CID, Minister Ramanayake said the CID has informed him that he would be given a date to make a statement in the near future.

Mixed responses from Parliament

In this backdrop, United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MP and former Cabinet Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa raised the question as to why the UNP was not revealing the names of those who were accused by Minister Ramanayake.

“He is accusing some people without exactly naming them. It is quite unreasonable as we have 225 MPs in Parliament. So, when he creates a doubt about everyone, it affects our integrity. And if he has credible information, it is up to him to reveal it – at least to the party that he belongs to. Suspecting alone is not enough and we should have concrete evidence to prove that these people in fact consume cocaine,” Minister Yapa said.

“The UNP should reveal the names and allow them to defend themselves, and they should definitely bring other MPs out of this mess. As a result of this issue, the integrity of all parliamentarians has been severely tarnished,” he stressed.

Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) National Organiser and former Cabinet Minister Duminda Dissanayake stressed that parliamentarians should be more responsible and think before they speak in public, as it affects the entire country.

“Being an MP is not easy in Sri Lanka, as every action taken by them or their relatives gets involved with politics. And it is also because of the conduct of a few parliamentarians. Unlike other professions such as medicine, law, or engineering, in this profession, politicians themselves tarnish their profession, and ultimately, the people look down on politicians in the same way they look at thugs or criminals,” MP Dissanayake stressed.

“The image of the country is affects by the irresponsible statements made by parliamentarians, and therefore, they should be more responsible,” he said.

Non-cabinet Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution Harsha de Silva said that the remarks made by Minister Ramanayake over the alleged usage of cocaine by parliamentarians was found to be “unsubstantiated” by the committee appointed to probe the allegation.

Minister de Silva, taking up the issue on his official Twitter account, following the UNP’s Working Committee meeting held on 26 February, said the claims lacked evidence and that the list of accused parliamentarians and ministers – which was read out at the meeting and incidentally did not include any current UNP MPs – has been sent to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) for further examination.

However, when contacted Minister John Amaratunga, he said that the UNP would not take disciplinary action against Minister Ramanayake.