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RW draws up silent plan for ‘shadow Cabinet’ while Govt. focuses on private creditors, promised relief

RW draws up silent plan for ‘shadow Cabinet’ while Govt. focuses on private creditors, promised relief

25 Feb 2024 | By Capt. Vasabha

  • US Dy. Secy. Verma speaks of Easter Sunday attacks probe with Sabry and RW, says personal interest
  • Verma seeks private meeting with RW together with Chung prior to scheduled meet, RW agrees to it
  • US Envoy Julie Chung expected to leave after two-year term; Govt. gives concurrence to new nominee
  • CBSL’s staff salary hikes split Govt. with calls for new laws; warnings of another economic crisis in 2028
  • RW decides to appoint a ‘shadow Cabinet’ with allied party reps in preparation for Prez Polls campaign
  • Harin becomes National Organiser of RW’s campaign; confusion over Harin and Sagara roles in the UNP
  • Prasanna gives deadline for Govt. projects prior to polls; SLPPers split, continue to complain over RW 
  • Basil to return from US next month, advises SLPP to ‘wait and see’ before starting campaign this May
  • Yapa-Lanza alliance holds Colombo rally at Hyde Park; Bandara leaves GR for full-time work on alliance
  • SLFP-led alliance at a standstill with CBK denying leadership and Maithripala seeking prez candidacy
  • ITAK’s internal crisis intensifies with court order preventing National Convention, challenges leadership

In the midst of gearing for a Presidential Election this year, the Ranil Wickremesinghe Government seems to be focused on expediting the finalisation of the country’s debt restructuring programme prior to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) second review of the 48-month Extended Fund Facility (EFF). The Government earlier set the end of March as the deadline to finalise the debt restructuring programme, which has now been extended till June this year.

In a bid to expedite the finalisation of the debt restructuring process with private creditors, the Government had sent a new restructuring proposal to private creditors through its adviser Lazard.

Bloomberg had reported last week that a counter proposal to a bondholder group’s offer in October for a 20% haircut and the issuance of macro-linked bonds had been conveyed through Lazard. Details of the offer however were not immediately known.

Sri Lankan Government officials are also expected to travel to London to meet with the private creditors to finalise the restructuring plan.

State Minister of Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has stated that bilateral debt is expected to be restructured by March while discussions are ongoing with private creditors and their debt is likely to be restructured by April.

The Minister said the Government was hopeful the entire debt restructuring process would be completed by June.

Meanwhile, Chief of Staff to the President and National Security Advisor Sagala Ratnayaka had noted that while the country’s economy had stabilised, the income of the people had not kept pace with the rising cost of living.

He had further stated that many long-neglected economic reforms essential to the country’s progress were now being implemented, adding that past decisions driven solely by electoral considerations had led to economic setbacks.

Ratnayaka had added that the Government’s reforms, though not immediately yielding results, would benefit the youth and future generations.

Easter attacks probe

The Wickremesinghe Government meanwhile had an interesting encounter with United States Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard Verma on Friday (23). Apart from the usual topics of discussion ranging from the economic crisis, the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB), the Online Safety Act (OSA), and reconciliation, Verma had broached the topic of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks probe.

It is learnt that Verma had taken up the Easter Sunday attacks probe during his discussion with Foreign Minister Ali Sabry and later on with President Wickremesinghe as well.

It was later learnt that Verma had discussed the Easter Sunday attacks probe at a personal level since an individual personally known to him had been killed in the 2019 attacks.

It is also learnt that the Sri Lankan side had informed the US that they had also sought US assistance in the probe and that finally the US had informed Sri Lanka that the probe had been concluded on the side of the US. However, Verma had noted that the US was keen to see a conclusion to Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday attacks probe.

Private meet

It is further learnt that when Verma had arrived for the meeting with President Wickremesinghe, a request had been made for a one-to-one meeting with the President prior to the scheduled meeting between the President and the US official.

Wickremesinghe had agreed to the private meeting and had engaged in a closed-door discussion with Verma for a few minutes before commencing the official meeting. US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung had also attended the private meeting between Wickremesinghe and Verma.

During the official meeting between the President and the US official, the issues related to the ATB and OSA had been taken up. Wickremesinghe had explained the Government’s stance and the work carried out on both fronts.

However, it is learnt that Wickremesinghe had not told Verma that the ATB would be held back till after elections for a new Parliament to take up, which he had communicated recently to USAID Administrator Samantha Power.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court had determined that certain clauses in the ATB must be approved by a special majority or through a referendum. Sections 3, 40, 53, and 70 are inconsistent with the Constitution and should be approved by a two-thirds majority and through a referendum. The court had further stated that the bill could also be passed by a simple majority if the amendments recommended by the court were incorporated.

On the issue of the OSA, the President had noted that an amendment bill was currently in the making and that the new legislation would not hinder the commercial digital space and would accommodate industry proposals as well.

Julie moving out

‘The Black Box’ learns that the incumbent US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Chung, is on the way out, with the US State Department nominating a new name for the post of US envoy in Sri Lanka.

The new nominee for the post of US Ambassador to Sri Lanka has already been informed to the Government of Sri Lanka and it is also learnt that the Government has given its concurrence to the State Department’s nominee.

Chung commenced her tenure in Sri Lanka in 2022 and completes her second year this month. Many of the previous US ambassadors have served a tenure of three years before being posted elsewhere and Chung’s end of term in two years has been discussed among political as well as diplomatic circles.

CBSL splits Govt.

Meanwhile, the recent report of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) increasing the salaries of its members gathered much criticism while also causing a split within the Government. The irony is that the CBSL’s move comes amidst an economic crisis and austerity measures pushed by the said institution on the general public. The Government and the CBSL have continuously called on the masses to tighten their belts in order to address the ongoing economic crisis.

The Opposition last week raised the issue in Parliament and demanded to know how the CBSL had increased salaries without parliamentary concurrence. 

Nevertheless, the Government’s response to the CBSL’s arbitrary action was more shocking. State Minister Siyambalapitiya had told Parliament that the CBSL had the autonomy to decide on its salaries after the recently-passed CBSL Act and also that the CBSL salaries were not paid by the Government’s joint fund as for the other public servants but instead from the CBSL account.

The State Minister had added that such decisions should be taken to keep economists and other reputed academics in the CBSL, as there was a lot of potential for them to migrate. However, other members of the Government do not seem to share Siyambalapitiya’s views on the CBSL’s action.

Senior Government Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva last week criticised the CBSL’s salary hike, claiming that Parliament should be given the right to decide on the salaries of CBSL employees. “Parliament should approve any salary hikes for Central Bank officials as it is the Legislature that has the power over finances. Let us bring in such a law,” he had said. De Silva’s statement has been endorsed by a group of senior Government ministers.

Lu’s Sri Lanka 

Amidst Sri Lanka’s ongoing struggle with the economic crisis, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu has hailed Sri Lanka as an example of the success of the administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy in collaboration with partners such as India.

Lu, speaking at a high-powered panel along with other administration officials from the State Department, National Security Council, and the Pentagon on the administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy at the US Institute of Peace (USIP), a think tank in Washington DC, last week, had said he would like to narrate “a comeback story”.

He had said that a year-and-a-half ago, Sri Lanka was in crisis with “mass riots on the streets, lines for petrol and food… the seizing of the President’s home, protesters swimming in his swimming pool”. 

Lu had added: “If you have been to Sri Lanka lately, it is a very different place. Currency is stable. Goods and fuel prices are stable. They have gotten reassurances on their debt restructuring. And IMF money is flowing.”

Return to bankruptcy

Meanwhile, dissident Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Patali Champika Ranawaka has warned that Sri Lanka will fall into bankruptcy once again by 2028, with the State unable to repay loans due to the economic contraction caused by very high electricity bills and fuel prices.

He had said last week that an average family of four had lost Rs. 800,000 of earnings and suffered under intense pressure due to a contracting economy.

The former Power Minister had called on the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) to understand that electricity tariffs should be decided while giving due consideration to the public and the failure to do so would draw their anger.

According to Ranawaka, very high electricity costs have caused much misery to industries, which are turning to competitive countries that offer lower rates. He had added that State revenue had risen by Rs. 2,000 billion solely due to the taxes imposed on the public.

Backtracking on abolition

Interestingly, on the political front, the recent talk that emerged in the political circles of moves to abolish the Executive Presidency and the possibility of using this move to delay the holding of the Presidential Election took a new turn last week.

President Wickremesinghe had told the Government parliamentary group last week that the abolition of the Executive Presidency was a long process and that it could not be done in a hurry. The President had added that the Presidential Election could be held on time.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse had also noted during a political talk show last week that the Presidential Election could not be delayed and would have to be held during the stipulated time frame.

Referring to the move to abolish the Executive Presidency, Rajapakshe had said that there was not enough time now for such an action. He had further noted that he had directed the Justice Ministry to stop the work that was being done on amending the Constitution.

Prasanna’s revelation

The Government meanwhile has indicated recently during a district development meeting that this year is indeed an election year.

The indication had been given by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) senior, Minister Prasanna Ranatunga, who had told Government officials during the recent Matale District Development Meeting at the Matale Divisional Secretariat that the officials should be mindful and only take up new projects that could be completed by 31 July this year.

Ranatunga had explained that the development programmes in the districts that had been stalled during the past three years should be started with the funds allocated by the annual Budget, but that such projects should also be concluded by 31 July.

SLPPers complain

However, another group of senior SLPPers have expressed displeasure over the manner in which President Wickremesinghe is conducting the affairs of the Government.

SLPP MP S.M. Chandrasena, who has made several previous comments over the President’s actions against the SLPP, has once again noted that Wickremesinghe continues to ignore the SLPP. He had said last week during a news conference at the Party Headquarters that SLPPers had to now resort to expressing their displeasure and proposals to the Government through the media, hoping that the President and the Government would heed them.

Basil’s return

Meanwhile, SLPP theoretician Basil Rajapaksa is due to return to Sri Lanka from the US in early March. Basil left for the US last December and, while overseas, had been engaged with the party on planning its ongoing activities on the ground.

Basil, it is learnt, has advised party seniors including SLPP Leader, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR), MP Namal Rajapaksa, and party General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam that the SLPP should adopt a ‘wait-and-see’ strategy. Basil had noted that it was important to observe Wickremesinghe’s actions targeting the Presidential Election and who would align with him.

According to Basil’s estimates, the SLPP needs to look at starting its Presidential Election campaign around the month of May.

The latest survey carried out by Basil on the SLPP’s popularity at grassroots level has once again revealed that MR continues to remain the party’s main attraction for the people. Given the fragile state of the SLPP at grassroots level, it is evident that Basil feels the party should be mindful of the alliances it makes during election time to hold onto the party’s existing vote base.

Leaving Gota

The SLPP dissidents’ group led by MPs Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and Nimal Lanza continues to expand its operations, with a series of planned rallies islandwide.

The new alliance also saw a significant addition to its fold when former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s (GR) Private Secretary Sugeeshwara Bandara handed in his resignation on Tuesday (20) from his position as private secretary to GR. In his resignation letter to GR, Bandara had noted that he had decided to join with a new political programme aimed at preventing the country from its current downfall.

When initial reports revealed Bandara’s affiliation with the SLPP dissidents’ group, senior members of the Rajapaksa family had called on GR to speak to Bandara in order to prevent a split in the SLPP ranks with the formation of a new political alliance. Bandara at the time took steps to announce publicly that he had not joined any political alliance.

However, Bandara was seen at the maiden rally of the Yapa-Lanza alliance that was held in Ja-Ela last month. Bandara also played a key role in the alliance’s next rally that was held in Colombo yesterday (24). The rally in Colombo was organised by Minister Susil Premajayantha and Bandara.

RW’s ‘shadow Cabinet’

While the Presidential Election campaign continues to generate interest among the political circles with the formation of new political alliances, President Wickremesinghe, it is learnt, is quietly making his moves in preparation for the upcoming Presidential Election.

Wickremesinghe is considering the formation of a trusted group consisting of members of political parties and movements that support him in the shape of a ‘shadow Cabinet’ to commence the campaign work. He had recently told a group of confidantes that the ‘shadow Cabinet’ must begin its work soon.

Focus on youth

Wickremesinghe meanwhile has also made his focus on the youth of Sri Lanka a priority. Throughout his tenure as President, the mantra ‘2048’ has resonated. This past week the drive for youth empowerment has been stepped up. On Monday, at the Cabinet meeting, the President took an unprecedented decision when he opened up the Cabinet meeting to the student parliamentarians of Mahamaya Balika Vidyalaya, Kadawatha. This was the first time in Sri Lanka’s history that students had been invited for a Cabinet meeting.

Those participating had been provided with an opportunity to learn how a Cabinet meeting was conducted, including the intricacies of such governance. The President had reportedly told several of the students that they should not look at this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but rather the start of a journey that would lead them back to such a room.

The President’s engagement with the youth did not end there. On Thursday (22), the President paid a surprise visit to the Ratmalana Lalith Athulathmudali Vocational Training Centre. During the visit he was given a tour of the ongoing courses, which included vehicle mechanics. President Wickremesinghe urged the students to complete their training and help modernise the country’s economy.

Interestingly, on that same day, the President’s Director of International Affairs Dinouk Colombage had visited the National Youth Services Council in Akuressa, where he had been given a tour of the facilities, which included the only gem-cutting training centre under the National Youth Services Council. This initiative had been originally set up by the President during his tenure as Minister of Youth Affairs. With the President dispatching several of senior aides to youth-oriented centres, it is clear that President Wickremesinghe is driving forward his youth-oriented policies. 

Harin to the fore

On Wickremesinghe’s campaign front, there have been some considerable changes taking place with regard to positions.

‘The Black Box’ last week reported that Minister Harin Fernando would be leading President Wickremesinghe’s overall campaign. However, it is now learnt that the United National Party’s (UNP) Management Committee that met last week had discussed appointing Fernando as the National Organiser of the President’s campaign.

Following the initial discussion, it was decided that while Fernando would serve as the National Organiser for the election campaign, President’s Chief of Staff Ratnayaka would serve as the National Organiser of the UNP. However, there is now a discussion on whether the role of two National Organisers will create confusion on authority during the election campaign.

Fernando had also asked Wickremesinghe to make a formal announcement of his appointment as National Organiser in order for him to carry out the required work. However, it is learnt that Wickremesinghe had asked Fernando to present the plan for the election campaign before making any official announcement about Fernando’s new appointment.

SJBers to UNP

Amidst the ongoing clashes within the SJB, the UNP has stated that scores of SJB members from both the Provincial and Local Government levels are to join the UNP in the coming days. The UNP notes that there are many SJB members at electoral level who have already joined the UNP.

Meanwhile, the committee appointed by UNP Leader, President Wickremesinghe to handle his Presidential Election campaign is placing a great emphasis on the strengthening of the UNP as a political party in the overall efforts targeting the election. 

One of the areas being looked at is the rebranding of the party prior to the election.

Call to join RW

Meanwhile, a group of SJBers representing Local Governments have recently proposed to several senior SJB members to once again urge the SJB leadership to join forces with President Wickremesinghe in order to establish a strong government after the next election.

The Local Government representatives had pointed out that, given the existing divisions in the political landscape at present, only a joint effort would enable a candidate to form a powerful government. They had therefore called on the senior SJBers to once again discuss the matter with Premadasa in order to convince him to look at joining with the President.

The proposal had further noted that in the event Premadasa agreed to do so, a united effort could be made to make Wickremesinghe the next President and Premadasa the Prime Minister.

However, when a similar proposal had been made to Premadasa on an earlier occasion, he had turned it down and made public comments that he would not be associated with President Wickremesinghe.

A group of SJB MPs had also held several discussions with representatives from the President’s side to explore the possibilities of working as an alliance during elections.

Sajith-SF clash intensifies

Meanwhile, the clash between SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and Party Chairman, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka took a new turn last week, with the latter taking Premadasa and the SJB to court.

The Colombo District Court on Monday (19) issued an order preventing the SJB from removing Fonseka from the positions held by him in the party. The enjoining order is to be effective for 14 days.

Fonseka meanwhile last week said that he associated with President Wickremesinghe and that it was a different kind of relationship. “It was Ranil who introduced me to politics. Therefore, I do associate with him. I have no intention of joining the National People’s Power (NPP). There is a difference between my politics and theirs,” Fonseka had told a group of journalists after obtaining the enjoining order against the SJB.

Fonseka has meanwhile stated that he had no intention of leaving the party or his party members.

Fonseka’s clash with Premadasa reached the public domain when former Army Commander General (Retd) Daya Ratnayake joined the SJB. The comments made by Fonseka where he criticised the party and its leadership over the decision to get Ratnayake to the SJB fold resulted in many SJBers calling on Premadasa to rein in Fonseka before he became an errant MP.

Premadasa also stated then that stern action would be taken against SJBers who criticised party decisions irrespective of the positions held by them in the party. It is in this backdrop that the SJB leadership and seniors discussed the need to remove Fonseka from the post of Party Chairman.

It is learnt that Fonseka had then tried to straighten out the matter on several occasions by making representations to Premadasa and Party General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara, asking them not to take the matter any further and to resolve it amicably. Premadasa, it is also learnt, had informed Fonseka that there was nothing he could do and that the party’s Working Committee would make the final call on the matter.

It is then that Fonseka had moved to seek legal redress to prevent his removal from positions in the SJB.

A military party

However, Premadasa’s move to welcome many retired military personnel and loyalists of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the SJB fold has caused some concern among a group of SJBers. 

Former SJB MP Chaminda Wijesiri has recently observed that the SJB leadership needs to be very mindful not to be misled by individuals who have joined the party lately.

“There are some politicians who have become independent after the country’s economic downfall and then joined new political parties. Our leaders should not welcome these political prostitutes. They will destroy the party if they are welcomed,” Wijesiri had said.

Namal ready for SF

Meanwhile, SLPP MP Namal Rajapaksa has said that the SLPP is ready to welcome Fonseka to its fold. 

Namal had told the media last week that the SLPP had no issue in welcoming Fonseka to the party as it was ready to work with any of its opponents for the betterment of the country. He had also noted that the SLPP had decided to support President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had been the main rival of the Rajapaksa family-led SLPP camp, despite all the political and policy differences, and that, therefore, in such a context, Fonseka could also be welcomed if he was ready to follow the SLPP’s policies.


Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)/NPP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD) has recently spoken of President Wickremesinghe.

AKD has noted: “Some people say Ranil is a crafty man. He became the President with a single seat in Parliament. He will do something to evade the Presidential Election as well. Ranil is not a crafty man, as many believe. He will have to go home even before his term of office, if he attempts to evade the Presidential Election. Ranil became President because Sajith Premadasa refused Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s request to take up the presidency. Otherwise, Ranil would be just an MP now. Gotabaya first requested Sajith and then Sarath Fonseka to take up the presidency. Fonseka wanted three days to make a decision and Gotabaya was not in a position to delay it by three days. As the third option, he requested Ranil.”

AKD has also called on the masses to decide, claiming that no citizen could remain neutral at this critical juncture for the country. He had noted that the upcoming political clash in the country would be over choosing between standing for a common cause or supporting the VIP class.

Taking over AKD

Meanwhile, UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardena had recently made an interesting statement about AKD during a tête-à-tête in Parliament with several other MPs, including Ajith Rajapakse, Upul Galappaththi, and Udeni Kirindigoda.

Abeywardena had told the MPs that he had in his possession the horoscopes of all those looking at contesting at the Presidential Election. Galappaththi had then asked Abeywardena who was likely to become the next president. Abeywardena had laughed and said that it could not be revealed at the moment.

However, Abeywardena had noted that AKD was gaining ground at grassroots level and that it was a little too much for his liking. “That’s okay, let him gain ground now. We can take over AKD at the right time,” the UNP MP had said, giving the impression to the other MPs that he (Abeywardena) had a plan to neutralise AKD’s popularity.

SLFP alliance stalls

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)-led alliance that is in the making is currently facing a stalemate due to several issues. One was the statement by former Leader of the SLFP, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK) that she had not accepted the leadership of the People’s Alliance (PA).

The next issue faced by the alliance is that of the candidate to be fielded by the alliance in the making. It is learnt that SLFP seniors are looking at a senior in the legal profession to support as the presidential candidate while SLFP Leader, former President Maithripala Sirisena has expressed his preparedness as the party’s presidential candidate.

These issues have resulted in the planned signing of the SLFP-led alliance that was to take place in early March facing a further delay.

ITAK blues continue

Meanwhile, the internal issues in the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) seem to be far from over, with a court directive being obtained to prevent the holding of the party’s National Convention. The Trincomalee District Court had last week issued an enjoining order preventing the ITAK office bearers from holding the National Convention that was scheduled to be held last Monday (19). 

The court had made the order following a plaint filed by one Chandrasekaram Para, who is an ITAK member, and the enjoining order will be effective till 29 February. The plaintiff has also challenged the election of the party’s new Leader due to alleged irregularities that had taken place during the election process. 

Mavai Senathirajah, S. Shritharan, P. Sathiyalingam, S. Kugathasan, S.X. Kulanayagam, M.A. Sumanthiran, and S. Yogeshwaran have been named as respondents in the case.

The plaintiff had further sought an enjoining order restraining ITAK office bearers from implementing the decisions taken at the General Council meetings held on 21 and 27 January this year. 

Udaya pushes 22A

Meanwhile, SLPP dissident MP Udaya Gammanpila last week presented a Private Member’s Bill to Parliament proposing a 22nd Amendment to the Constitution. Through the proposed constitutional amendment, Gammanpila has sought the removal of Police powers from the Provincial Councils.

The discussion on Police powers vested with the Provincial Councils has continued for years since the piece of legislation was implemented as part of the controversial Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987.


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