brand logo
RW off to Switzerland, Uganda amid growing public dissention over double-standards on frugality

RW off to Switzerland, Uganda amid growing public dissention over double-standards on frugality

14 Jan 2024 | By Capt. Vasabha

  • AKD claims RW had undertaken 14 overseas tours within 14 months; four trips to the UK
  • IMF team informed of changes in revenue collection due to previous lower miscalculations
  • Suzuki indicates Japan’s willingness to resume stalled yen loans after debt restructuring
  • UNP Management Committee names RW as prez candidate; RW wants apolitical candidacy
  • Udayanga’s comments anger MR, asks people not to be misled by extended family members
  • SJBers concerned over crossovers, sidelining of economic experts Harsha and Eran by Nalaka
  • Sajith holds meeting on economic policies; asks Harsha, Eran, Kabir, Nalaka to pose together
  • SJB divisions in black and white in Parliament; Dilan slams Dullas, Charitha on SJB alliance
  • Maithri and CBK meet at Galle Face; Sirisena tells party of favours to Shan and Dayasiri
  • New Tamil leadership for the north; Sumanthiran favoured to win the battle for top post

You can fool all people some of the time and some people all the time. But you can never fool all people all the time” – US President Abraham Lincoln

While President Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Government’s economic policies continue to burden the masses, the failure of some members of the Government to adopt some of the austerity measures being preached to the general public gathered much criticism through the past week.

Starting from what is now being called “an observation mission to look at the development programmes” at the Colombo Port by State Minister of Ports and Aviation Premalal Jayasekara on Tuesday (9) that saw ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) legislators including Party Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) being given a red carpet welcome to a vessel belonging to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) that was reserved on 13 December last year, to President Wickremesinghe’s latest overseas tour that will keep him away from office for over one week, these developments have not done any favours for the Government. At least the Sri Lankan Government is sure to have made history by engaging in an observation tour of development work during night time.

Looking at the growing discontent against the Government, it would be prudent for the Wickremesinghe Government to keep in mind that you cannot fool all of the people all the time.

It is in such a backdrop that President Wickremesinghe left on Friday (12) to attend the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting that will commence on Monday (15) in Davos Klosters in Switzerland. Wickremesinghe will be in Switzerland till Thursday (18) and then travel to Uganda on an official visit to attend the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit. The President is expected to return to Sri Lanka next Sunday (21). He was earlier expected to return to the country on 24 January.

Wickremesinghe’s Ugandan visit has also put another person under the spotlight – Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Uganda Velupillai Kananathan. Kananathan is known as a loyalist of former President MR and had even made arrangements to provide a private jet to MR to visit Tirupati. However, upon hearing of Wickremesinghe’s visit to Uganda, it is learnt that the Ambassador has organised several meetings and events including a meeting with the Ugandan business community for the President.

Meanwhile, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)/National People’s Power (NPP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake had claimed in Parliament last week that President Wickremesinghe had sought parliamentary approval for Rs. 200 million under a supplementary estimate for foreign visits, fuel, and vehicle maintenance, in addition to the budgetary allocations.

According to Dissanayake, Wickremesinghe had visited the United Kingdom on four occasions and Japan twice while engaging in 14 foreign trips in 14 months. After highlighting these facts, the Opposition parliamentarian had urged the President to follow the financial discipline he has sought from everyone else by overburdening the masses.

Meanwhile, State Minister of Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya had told Parliament in response to Dissanayake’s claim that the allegations were baseless and that it was a contingency expenditure made in 2023 and presented to Parliament under 6.1 of the Appropriation Bill.

IMF in town

On the economic front, a group of officials from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) arrived in Sri Lanka on Wednesday (10) and is to engage in discussions for a period of one week. State Minister of Finance Shehan Semasinghe has said that the team will engage in technical meetings.

Semasinghe has told the media that the team will evaluate the progress made thus far in the IMF-backed reform programme. “It is not going to be an assessment per se. It is a routine staff visit before the upcoming review,” he had noted.

The IMF team met with President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Thursday (11) evening and had held a meeting with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) that morning.

The President’s Media Division (PMD) on Friday claimed that during a meeting between President Wickremesinghe, Sri Lankan authorities, and the IMF, the fund had congratulated the country on completing the first review under its programme.

The IMF had reportedly highlighted the positive start of the programme, recognising the challenging reforms undertaken by Sri Lanka and their significant impact on the domestic population.

Senior Mission Chief for Sri Lanka Peter Breuer had noted that encouraging signs had been observed regarding the programme’s impact on stabilising the economy, particularly in policy-oriented variables and fiscal areas. 

A recent meeting between the IMF officials and a group of Finance Ministry officials had revealed promising revenue collection, indicating the effectiveness of implemented policies since reaching a Staff-Level Agreement in the second half of 2022. 

It is learnt that some officials had miscalculated the revenue generated by the Government through taxes.

The second review under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF) arrangement is scheduled to be held in March-April this year and will look at the performance for the July to December 2023 period. 

Meanwhile, the CBSL has stated that it does not see the need to change the course of the current monetary policy path set off in June last year, as inflation remains well anchored, despite the near-term blips in the price indices due to the recent hike in Value-Added Tax (VAT).

Yen loans

Meanwhile, President Wickremesinghe held talks with the Japanese Finance Minister Suzuki Shunichi this past week, following the latter’s arrival in Colombo on Thursday (11). During the discussions, Suzuki had indicated Japan’s willingness to resume the stalled yen-denominated loans to the country, pending the finalisation of the debt restructuring talks with the Official Creditor Committee (OCC). The news was welcomed by the Sri Lankan side, which indicated that the project they were keen to see resumed and completed first and foremost was the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) project. 

The possibility was also raised that alongside the final stages of the debt restructuring with the private creditors, the two Governments could begin the initial groundwork for the resumption of the loans. While no answer had been forthcoming, this appears to be an angle that the Sri Lankan Government will continue to pursue. 

During the 48-hour visit of the Japanese Finance Minister, the Japanese delegation had paid a visit to the J.R. Jayewardene Centre – a fact that the Minister was keen to relate to the President. This is not the first time in the recent past that Japanese dignitaries have made their admiration for the former President known.

Incidentally, the meeting between the President and the Finance Minister was the third such meeting, with the previous two being held in the Philippines and Japan.

Meanwhile, Japan last week restated the importance of the early completion of signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Sri Lanka and creditor nations on debt restructuring, after an agreement was reached in principle late last year. It had also emphasised on the need to ensure transparency and comparability in agreements with creditors outside the OCC. Japan, France, and India co-chair the committee of 15 creditor nations.

Election dates

Amidst much speculation over the dates of the next national-level election, former General Secretary of the United National Party (UNP) Akila Viraj Kariyawasam has echoed President Wickremesinghe’s statements by saying that the Presidential Election will be held first.

Kariyawasam has noted that the Presidential Election will be held around September this year and that the General Election will be held around January 2025.

It is learnt that the decision on the time period to hold the national-level elections were reached during the UNP’s Management Committee meeting that had been held on Tuesday (9) at the Presidential Secretariat.

However, Kariyawasam’s comment has drawn criticism from Opposition MPs, who have asked how the UNPer had made statements on election dates when it was a task assigned to the Election Commission.

Decision on RW

The UNP Management Committee had also decided to name President Wickremesinghe as the party’s candidate at the next Presidential Election.

It is in such a backdrop that President Wickremesinghe had expressed his desire to present himself as an apolitical candidate at the next Presidential Election in the event he were to contest at the polls.

Senior UNPer, former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake has said that Wickremesinghe, who is well-armed with political knowledge and experience, would be a non-political candidate at the next Presidential Polls.

However, it is learnt that no final decisions had been made on how Wickremesinghe will be fielded as the presidential candidate since the UNP is also looking at forming an alliance.

RW meets UNPers

Wickremesinghe is also in the process of galvanising support for the party. During his recent visit to the Northern Province, he had convened a meeting with UNP members from Jaffna and Kilinochchi Districts at Valampuri Hotel, Jaffna.

Wickremesinghe had emphasised his commitment to making unpopular decisions for the benefit of the country’s economy and had highlighted the significance of the Northern Province in Sri Lanka’s Tamil civilisation. He had further pledged to connect its economy to the national economy swiftly.

The President had stressed that with rapid economic development in the north, new job opportunities and investment prospects would emerge. He had also sought the support of all representatives in the region to contribute to the development of both the north and the country. The meeting, organised by Jaffna District UNP Organiser and former Minister of State Vijayakala Maheswaran, had provided a platform for approximately 600 party members to directly present their concerns to the President.

A young artist named K.A. Ravi had presented President Wickremesinghe with a portrait during the meetings, showcasing local talent.

Lanza’s assurance

While President Wickremesinghe continues to remain silent on his willingness to contest the Presidential Election, his supporters continue to claim that he will contest the impending polls.

Dissident SLPP MP Nimal Lanza, who is now seated in the Opposition and has extended support to Wickremesinghe, has said that while the Presidential Election will be held first, President Wickremesinghe will definitely contest the Presidential Election. He had made this observation after meeting with a group of businessmen in Colombo.

According to Lanza, trust is being built among many people over Wickremesinghe’s economic policies since they have addressed key issues faced by the country.

“I have to say very clearly that the Presidential Election will be held first. We have great confidence that President Wickremesinghe will contest the Presidential Election. There’s much acceptance for the President since he has managed to salvage the country that had fallen due to the crisis. The people believe that the country will be salvaged if this current system is continued,” the former SLPPer has said.

Lanza has also taken a swipe at businessman Dhammika Perera, who is among the frontrunners in the SLPP’s list of candidates for the Presidential Election. “Dhammika Perera is a successful businessman. Although he has a good business sense, he does not have a good political sense. No one in the ‘Pohottuwa’ (SLPP) has said that he is the party’s presidential candidate. The party has only given him 10 pre-conditions, seeking answers to decide on whether he should be made the SLPP’s candidate. Someone has given a false hope to Perera. I hope the SLPP will not break this belief. The person who had given this hope to Dhammika Perera should now say that he (Perera) is the SLPP’s candidate,” Lanza has claimed.

He has further noted that Perera had been given a d-rope by the SLPP.

Rajapaksa family issues

The split within the ruling SLPP, especially on the party’s political stances, is now becoming quite evident. From the discussion on deciding on the SLPP’s candidate for the next Presidential Election to the campaign, quite a few divisions have been caused.

However, the latest comments made by a relative of the Rajapaksa family, Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador to Russia Udayanga Weeratunga, during an online interview on the SLPP’s presidential candidate and the party’s stance on President Wickremesinghe, had stirred a hornet’s nest. Weeratunga had stated that the SLPP would not in any way support President Wickremesinghe at the Presidential Election.

SLPP Leader MR meanwhile has said that his extended family members have nothing to do with the SLPP and play no part in any political decisions. He has noted that the public should not get misled by unwanted remarks made against the party.

According to MR, the SLPP’s political decisions will be conveyed to the public only through party seniors and not by extended Rajapaksa family members.

SJBers concerned

Meanwhile, members of the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) led by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa have expressed concerns over the political crossovers to the SJB. Several senior SJBers, while noting the need for the party to be selective in accepting crossovers, have also urged the party leadership not to sideline the SJBers who have been with the party since its inception.

These concerns had been raised during a party Working Committee meeting as well. However, some SJBers, it is learnt, continue to feel sidelined, with the party leadership giving much prominence to persons who have recently joined the fold.

It is also learnt that some SLPP dissidents who have joined the SJB fold are being relied upon for advice by the SJB leadership on key fields like the economy, when there are experts in such fields in the SJB. There are rumours in the political field that SLPP dissidents Dr. Nalaka Godahewa and Prof. G.L. Peiris are now serving as Premadasa’s advisors on economic affairs and foreign affairs, respectively.

One stand

However, a group of SJB MPs had also approached the party leadership explaining the need for the party to have one stand on key issues, especially on the economic front.

They had pointed out that while SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva was known as the party’s economic advisor, Godahewa’s entrance to the SJB fold and his contributions to the party’s economic policies were creating some confusion among the party members. They had explained that it was the likes of Godahewa who had played a key role in the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government through the Viyathmaga movement.

Premadasa had then convened a meeting on Wednesday (10) to discuss the party’s economic policies and stance on solutions for the ongoing economic issues faced by the country and people. At the outset of the meeting, he had pointed out that it was essential for all party members as well as those intending to join the SJB to speak in one voice on the party’s economic policies.

Premadasa had then noted that the SJB was not in agreement with the economic policies implemented by President Wickremesinghe. “We will not carry out policies that burden the people. We are of the stand to continue with the engagement with the IMF; there’s nothing wrong in it, but we will think of the people first and pay attention to welfare schemes for the people as well,” the Opposition Leader had said.

De Silva and Eran Wickramaratne, who were also at the meeting, had agreed with Premadasa’s statement. However, the two MPs had pointed out that the SJB needed to be careful not to make populist statements and promises that could not be fulfilled to the public.

The final outcome of the meeting was that the SJB would stand by its economic policies but would also make certain amendments proposed by newcomers to the alliance in line with the foundation of the SJB’s policies.

The foursome

Following this meeting on Wednesday, Premadasa on Thursday (11) had invited de Silva, Wickramaratne, Kabir Hashim, and Godahewa to attend a meeting between him and Japanese Finance Minister Suzuki that was scheduled for Friday (12).

Premadasa’s intention of getting the four MPs to stand together with him at the meeting was aimed at dispelling concerns among other SJB MPs that the party’s economic specialists de Silva, Wickramaratne, and Hashim were being sidelined following SLPP defector Godahewa joining the party fold.

However, it is learnt that Premadasa’s move to include Godahewa in the economic discussions had not gone down well with some SJBers.

Divided on black

Meanwhile, a group of SJB parliamentarians were seen wearing black in Parliament on the first day of House sessions on Tuesday (9). The SJB had announced that the party members were in black as a mark of protest against the heavy burdens placed on the general public through the increasing cost of living.

It was interesting to note that MP Shan Wijayalal de Silva, who had recently joined the SJB, was barred from entering Parliament chambers for violating procedures with regard to his attire. 

However, there seemed to be a division among the SJB parliamentary group on wearing black for the opening parliamentary sessions, with several senior SJBers attired in their normal parliamentary attire. Among them were MPs Kabir Hashim, Thalatha Atukorale, and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, who were not seen wearing black.

When Fonseka was questioned by several Government members as to why he had chosen to wear white instead of black, he was heard saying that “it is an anti-corruption unity”. Of course, it is unclear whether the Field Marshal was referring to those dressed in white or black. 

Wijesiri’s departure

The first parliamentary session for the year also saw SJB Badulla District Parliamentarian Chaminda Wijesiri announcing his resignation from Parliament.

Following Wijesiri’s resignation from the House, there were various stories making the rounds in political circles starting from the talk that he was resigning due to an issue with Party Leader Premadasa and that he was retiring from politics. However, Wijesiri had later held a press conference where he had said that he was not retiring from politics and that he would contest the next election under the SJB. He had added that he would also support Premadasa’s candidacy at the next Presidential Election.

Meanwhile, Wijesiri had earlier been hauled up before the parliamentary Ethics Committee over a complaint that he had threatened the Assistant Secretary-General of Parliament. The other news that did the rounds in political circles was that he (Wijesiri) had been found guilty of threatening the Assistant Secretary-General and had been given the opportunity of apologising, but had refused to do so. It was said that the Ethics Committee had therefore recommended his expulsion and that the proposal had been sent to the Supreme Court for observations prior to the enactment of the expulsion. The talk was that Wijesiri had instead pre-empted his possible expulsion from the House with a resignation.

Following Wijesiri’s resignation, there were questions posed on social media platforms questioning the need to look at the person who would fill the vacant seat in the House. It was then reported that the individual who would fill the vacancy – Nayana Wasalathilaka – was a relative of Premadasa’s wife, Jalani Premadasa. 

Another political talk was that Wijesiri would be given Rs. 90 million and an all-expenses-paid trip to Australia with a promise that he (Wijesiri) would be brought back into Parliament at the next election.

Wasalathilaka was sworn in as an SJB MP on Friday (12). It is learnt that Wasalathilaka has several businesses in Australia. He had even sponsored the Galle Titans cricket team at the last Lanka Premier League (LPL) T20 tournament. 

It is also learnt that Wasalathilaka had, on several occasions, provided financial assistance to the SJB as well. These reasons are believed to have given way for the rumour that Wijesiri had been paid a sum of Rs. 90 million to resign from Parliament to make way for Wasalathilaka to enter the House.

Dilan slams Dullas

Meanwhile, the split in the Freedom People’s Congress (FPC) formed by a group of SLPP dissidents led by MP Dullas Alahapperuma continues to surface on a weekly basis.

SLPP dissident MP and FPC member who had recently expressed support to the SJB, Dilan Perera has slammed Alahapperuma and another member of the FPC, MP Prof. Charitha Herath, when explaining his decision to extend support to the SJB.

Perera had told the media during a press briefing last week that it was Herath who had first spoken of forming an alliance with the SJB. He had further noted that while the likes of President Wickremesinghe were trying to break the SJB-led alliance that was in the making, such efforts would be defeated.

While Perera, Peiris, and Godahewa have extended support to the SJB and its Leader Premadasa, the rest of the FPC members are yet to make a final decision on forming an alliance with the SJB. 

Sirisena’s candidacy

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), not wanting to be left behind in the Presidential Poll race, has said that Party Leader, former President Maithripala Sirisena will be the presidential candidate of the alliance that is being formed under the leadership of the SLFP.

SLFP Vice President Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa has told the media that this has been agreed upon by the SLFP Central Committee while the party’s All-Island Working Committee has also proposed and seconded the same.

Sirisena has already noted that the said SLFP has decided to reorganise the now-defunct United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). However, the SLFP’s current stance is that the party will not form an alliance with the SJB, SLPP, or the UNP.

Maithri-CBK meet

Meanwhile, Sirisena and former SLFP Leader and President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK) met on Monday (8) at Galle Face at the event held to mark former Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s 125th birth anniversary.

While Sirisena and CBK have not attended the event together and have taken steps to avoid each other in the past few years, this year both leaders were seen attending the same event and smiling and acknowledging each other.

Dayasiri’s injunction

The SLFP also saw some form of victory in court when the Colombo District Court on Monday (8) issued an injunction order on former SLFP General Secretary MP Dayasiri Jayasekara, preventing him from hindering the affairs of the party’s Acting General Secretary MP Sarathi Dushmantha Mithrapala, and submitting inaccurate recommendations to the Election Commission in relation to the matter.

Colombo District Judge Sandun Withana had ordered that the relevant injunction be effective until next Sunday (21). This order had been issued after considering a petition filed by the SLFP Leader Sirisena and Mithrapala.

Disciplinary action

Following the court case, Sirisena, who had also attended the court session, had arrived at the SLFP Headquarters on Darley Road, Colombo and congratulated Mithrapala. “Dayasiri’s motions have been defeated in court on three occasions. The Acting General Secretary can now carry out his work without an issue,” he had told Mithrapala.

The Executive Committee meeting that had been held afterwards had seen Sirisena explaining how he had appointed Jayasekara as the party’s general secretary despite objections being raised by many party seniors. 

Sirisena had also noted that Jayasekara had taken many arbitrary decisions as the party’s general secretary without even informing him (Sirisena). “The top floor of the UPFA office had been given to Thilanga (Sumathipala). The keys are still with him (Sumathipala). How can such a decision be taken without the knowledge of the party leadership?” Sirisena had noted.

Sirisena had also spoken of Shan Wijayalal de Silva, who had defected to the SJB. “What didn’t I give to Shan? I appointed him the Acting Leader when I travelled overseas. I gave everything I could in the party to Shan.”

The SLFP Leader had also noted several incidents that had taken place following de Silva’s appointment as Southern Province Chief Minister for a third time. He had said that there had been objections raised over de Silva’s re-appointment to the post for a third time by MPs in the Hambantota and Matara Districts. The Party Leader at the time, MR, had asked Sirisena (General Secretary at the time) about the issue. “I then said that since there were several looking to be appointed as chief minister at the time, appointing Shan would prevent these issues. MR agreed and de Silva was appointed for a third time,” Sirisena had explained.

Sirisena had convened the SLFP Central Committee after the Executive Committee meeting, where it had been decided to initiate disciplinary action against de Silva and Dayasritha Tissera for joining another party while being members of the SLFP.

New Tamil leadership

Meanwhile, the political arena in the country’s Northern Province is also undergoing some vital changes, with a new leadership expected to take charge of northern politics before the end of this month.

It is learnt that a decisive election is to be held this month within the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in order to decide on the next leader of the main Tamil political alliance in the north. With incumbent TNA Leader R. Sampanthan suffering from ill health due to his age, there is now a battle for supremacy within the TNA.

The frontrunners in the race for leadership are M.A. Sumanthiran, S. Sritharan and C. Yogeswaran. While Sumanthiran is favoured to win the election for leadership, over 320 party members are expected to vote for the new northern Tamil leader this month.

More News..