President Maithripala Sirisena seems to have reached a decisive juncture since announcing his decision to become the common candidate in November 2014 by joining hands with United National Party. While there were many hiccups since then, both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe displayed a commitment towards continuing the political marriage they entered against all odds. Both leaders acknowledged the presence of differences of opinions amongst the government members who come from political parties that stood poles apart for decades. Yet, carefully thought measures were taken to nip those differences in the bud before an issue reached an uncontrollable stage as both parties had one common mission – not to let Rajapaksas return to power.
Much has been said and done since 8 January 2015, where the stakeholders who brought this President as well as the UNF led Government into power having to wonder whether the Government is still committed to what they pledged – to end impunity, corruption, fraud and establish good governance.
Sweeping matters under the carpet seemed to have reached the limit as members of both UNP and SLFP are now openly hurling accusations against each other and threatening each other with divorce; divorce from this political marriage.
President Sirisena, who came under scathing attacks from UNP ministers and backbenchers, finally broke his silence concerning allegations levelled against him over the past few weeks by several members in the Government, on Friday in Nikaweratiya by saying that he is willing to leave all positions and join the people to continue the struggle if there are continuous undue criticism and complaints against decisions taken by him to stop fraud and corruption.
“Because the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Government was engaged in fraudulent activities, the SLFP candidate lost in 2015.
If the United National Party (UNP) is committing the same faults and mistakes while being in the Government, the people will reject it too,” he said.
He said that the people elected a new Government, expecting it to be better and that it would change the existing corrupt system of governance.
Everybody should be ready to be a part of a correct journey to fulfil expectations of the people, he noted.
“It is easy to go separate ways but what is difficult is to be committed towards what we promised to the people – good governance and a corruption free country. Everyone should keep this in mind and priority should be given to fulfilling this target and not work in achieving their own political or personal agendas,” the President emphasized. “Regardless of whatever that is being said I have been committed to engaging in clean politics, and working towards a healthy political culture, throughout the course of 50 years of my political life. I will act with patience with my experience gained from that long political journey. I am not a novice to politics,” he elaborated.
Though there are complaints against the decision to postpone the Local Government Elections, even the SLFP wants the elections to be held soon, he said.
“We passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in Parliament at a time when the UNP had only 47 seats. 142 MPs from the SLFP and the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) voted for that. We should strengthen the SLFP not only to win elections but also to create a better political culture,” the President said.
President Sirisena, commenting on the current development programmes and projects to build the people’s economy, said that more than Rs 6 billion had been allocated to provide relief for victims of the drought.
His patience should have been lost following State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe accused him of being on a mission to destroy the UNP through the Presidential Commission appointed to inquire into the Treasury bonds scam.
International Trade State Minister Senasinghe on Tuesday addressing media at UNP Headquarters Sirikotha said that he was disappointed with President Sirisena for using the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the Central Bank Bond scam as a tool to sling mud at the UNP.
He said the PCol could have wrapped up its inquiry in three months as was stipulated but was extended for a further three months to bring the UNP into disrepute.
“We helped elect this President for the promises he made and we made sacrifices. I’m very disappointed with the President. He is using the Commission to sling mud at our party,” the Minister said, claiming that it was a conspiracy by the SLFP.
He also demanded to know why similar PCoIs have not been set up to investigate other alleged financial scandals.
“Where are the Presidential Commissions to investigate the MIG deal, the SPECTRUM deal?”
The State Minister also took the opportunity to respond to allegations against him pertaining to the controversial Central Bank bond scam.
He asserted that his phone conversations with Perpetual Treasuries chief, Arjun Aloysius had been to gather details for his book on the bond scam.
“Others may have brought up the issue of parliamentary privileges being violated but I never had an issue. My conscience is clear.
I have told President Sirisena that I had spoken to Aloysius in order to gather information so that I could complete my book on the bond scam,” he said, adding that he had written to the PCol volunteering to appear before the Commission.
His remarks came the day after Prime Minister Wickremesinghe appeared before the Presidential Commission. Even though Senasinghe kept on saying he was in conversation with Aloysius – while sitting at the COPE- to gather information for his book, he seemed to have forgotten that the book Eththa Naththa was published in 2015 and was launched in June 2015, a carefully thought measure taken to thwart criticism against UNP ahead of the August 2015 General Election.
Engrossed in defending himself from the 62 calls reported in the CID Forensic Report which eventually was tabled by the Leader of the House Minister Lakshman Kiriella in Parliament last week, Senasinghe also appeared to have forgotten that he was appointed to the COPE on 7 July 2016, more than a year later, after UNPer Velu Kumar resigned from COPE paving way for Senasinghe’s entry.
COPE probe on the alleged bond scam was carried out during the period of 6 May 2016 to 28 October 2016.
However, in an ironic turn of events, it was the Joint Opposition that has come to the defence of President Sirisena in this instance. Leader of the Joint Opposition, Dinesh Gunawardena rising to a Point of Order requested Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to investigate the matter alleging that it Senasinghe’s conduct violates Standing Orders.
Speaker Jayasuriya stated that he would see if the conduct of the President had been criticized by the alleged statement made by State Minister. Gunawardena said even though the conduct of the President cannot be criticized as per the provisions of Standing Orders 78 Senasinghe has done so.
“The Speaker should look into this matter and give a decision.”
The Joint Opposition yesterday pledged its unconditional support to President Maithripala Sirisena in his endeavour to hunt down those responsible for the Treasury Bonds scam.
Following President Sirisena’s explosive speech in Nikaweratiya on Friday, Bandula Gunawardena said that his group would stand in defence of President Sirisena against those who had launched a scathing attack on the latter when he spoke against the bond fraudsters.
Addressing a press conference held at the Parliamentary Complex, MP Gunawardena said the President has become the victim of a mudslinging campaign putting pressure on him to get the bond racketeers free from the biggest ever fraud in the country’s history.
“We support President Sirisena unconditionally in the legal process to be initiated to bring the culprits of the Treasury bond scam to book. After the steps were taken by the President to appoint a Presidential Commission to probe the Central Bank Bond Scam, an attack has been launched against him by some of the UNP Parliamentarians.
MP Gunawardena said they vehemently condemn various baseless allegations levelled against the President by certain sections of the Government.
“Whatever threats and pressures are made, we call upon the President to take legal action against those who are held responsible for the Treasury Bond scam when the Presidential Commission submits its report to him.”
He said those who are connected to this bond scam tried their very best in and outside the Parliament to sweep it under the carpet. They thought after the COPE investigations are completed, the issue won’t be further dragged on. However, the COPE has no powers to take legal action regarding this issue. We could witness as to how the UNP MPs in the COPE acted in the Committee.
They even added footnotes to the COPE recommendations and even levelled allegations against the Auditor General.
Gunawardena said the JO requested the President to appoint a special Presidential Commission to probe the Treasury Bonds scam. Even some of the Government Ministers extended their support to this. Following the information revealed by the Presidential Commission on Treasury Bonds scam, some of those who were involved in that lost even their ministerial portfolios.
While the JO was expressing solidarity with President on the issue, UNP backbenchers have launched a campaign to oust SLFP ministers from the consensus government and form a UNP government.
However, all this comes at a time where the SLFP and Joint Opposition’s, Mahinda Rajapaksa faction are planning on having serious talks on reuniting, under one umbrella. At the recently held Central Committee meeting of the SLFP, former Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne has also pleaded that the two parties must unite. He, in an emotional speech has pointed out that he had seen the party splitting on many occasions but coming together with time and thus assured this time too it will fall into place. Ministers Susil Premjayantha and W.D.J. Seneviratna have been entrusted with the responsibility to talk to former President Rajapaksa and work out a plan to unite. Many SLFP seniors have also expressed views in support. While Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva was speaking on how ‘egoistic issues’ of some SLFP leaders keep dragging the party down, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga had retorted asking whether he wants SLFP to deal with rogues. Unbeaten Siripala has shot back asking “Whether it is not better to unite with Rajapaksas as we are already dealing with international fraudsters.” Angry Kumaratunga left the venue even refusing to talk to media personnel, waiting outside the official residence of the President at the Mahagama Sekara Mawatha.
When it was speculated that at least 10 SLFP seniors will leave the Government in protest of UNP principles and activities earlier in the year, President Sirisena requested them to wait till the end of December this year.
It is widely speculated that several controversial arrests that would shake politics of the country would happen in the coming weeks. Recently, former President Rajapaksa at a public event revealed an alleged move to arrest former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. However, it was also reported that a group of the Maha Sangha met President Sirisena in an attempt to prevent an impending arrest of Gotabhaya if there was any. Even though there was no confirmation of such a meeting taking place from the side of President Sirisena, prosecutions will begin against at least a few controversial cases before the Court vacation begins.