(Excerpted From “Sunday Times”Political Column)
On the subject of a ‘major’ cabinet reshuffle, which President Sirisena sought, there were delays with some candidates for portfolios not getting his approval. The process has not been without dramas.
One was when Minister Malik Samarawickrema met Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiuddin at ‘Temple Trees’ to tell him that Sirisena was not happy with his performance. Hence, he planned a change in his portfolio.
In the alternative, he said, he may lose some institutions like the Food Department and the Consumer Affairs Authority.
This was on the grounds that he had not done enough on the rising cost of living. Bathiuddin asked how this could be when President Sirisena had asked to support him saying he would get additional subjects. He had politely turned down that request.
An infuriated Bathiuddin sought a meeting with Sirisena thereafter. He told the President he could not be accused of being responsible for the rising cost of living. There were floods, drought and the pricies of some commodities were high. It was Minister Samarawickrema who headed the Cabinet Sub Committee on the Cost of Living.
The Mannar District parliamentarian Bathiuddin asked Sirisena whether he had sought to make changes in his portfolio. He said it has been conveyed to him by Samarawickrema.
Sirisena was angry. He got Samarawickrema on the telephone and asked “ai ek ekkanawa maath ekka kotawanney” why are you pitting others against me?
Samarawickrema denied the charge and said Bathiuddin’s portfolio would remain intact.
Sirisena then handed over the telephone receiver to Bathiuddin.
Samarawickrema repeated the same assurance. Evidently the move to shift Bathiuddin failed.