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Maithripala Sirisena Meets Foreign Media Correspondents in Colombo and Issues Statement Attempting to “Defend the Indefensible”.

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Following is President Maithripala Sirisena’s statement at the meeting with foreign media correspondents on 25 November:

I see that there is some kind of political unrest with the development that took place on 26 October. I would not even consider this as a serious political crisis, though there is a minor political unrest. It is because of the removal of Ranil Wickremesinghe from Prime Minister and appointment of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as a Prime Minister and the dissolution of the Cabinet and the appointment of a new Cabinet.

You may ask, what were the issues for this change? This was not an unexpected sudden decision. This was not due to developments in two or three weeks. The period of differences is much longer. I appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe as a Prime Minister as soon as I was elected President on 9 January 2015 at about 6:10 p.m. When the Prime Minister was sworn in, 162 of the 225 members belonged to Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne. When Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed as PM, he had only 41 seats in Parliament.

According to the powers vested in me as the President and as clearly stated in the Constitution, the person who had the backing of 162 MPs was ignored and I appointed a person who had only 41 MPs. At the same time, when the Parliament met subsequently, Ranil Wickremesinghe was provided all facilities and privileges as Prime Minister.

However, in that situation, a contradiction had also taken place between Ranil Wickremesinghe and I as that was the beginning of our differences. That was in the first week of January 2015. In fact, there was a clash over our work methods.

Cabinet of Ministers

The major controversy is that in my own election manifesto as the common presidential candidate, it was very clearly stated that when the Cabinet of Ministers is appointed, it should be based on the principle of good governance and cabinet portfolios should be allocated on a scientific basis. As the common candidate, I remember that three university professors were appointed and then a committee headed by Professor Siri Hettige was appointed to divide the ministries on a scientific basis and a report was submitted by the committee.

When I was appointed as the President and Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister, I gave Ranil Wickremesinghe the report of that committee of professors. I told him that this was how to appoint the ministers and allocate ministries. Accordingly, this should be done. However, I do not think he even looked at the Professors’ Report or even opened the file. He arbitrarily decided to separate portfolios as he wished and took all the necessary decisions about ministries.

did not completely agree on the allocation of these subjects. I will give you some examples. That is about subjects of ministries without any scientific basis. One was the Ministry of Higher Education and Highways. These two subjects were not at all compatible. After being elected President, I visited several countries and signed agreements for development of the country. Ministers in some countries asked me at that time about Sri Lanka’s Higher Education and Highway Ministry. They asked if the subject of highways was taught in universities as a separate subject.

Since 1947, State-owned banks belonged to the Minister of Finance. However, for the first time in the history, Ranil Wickremesinghe removed State banks from the Ministry of Finance. The Central Bank had always been with Finance Minister. But, for the first time, Ranil Wickremesinghe took the Central Bank to his ministry. The Prime Minister had the Central Bank. For the first time the Minister of Finance was left out without any State banks. Then the Ministry of Cultural Affairs broke down and a part of it was given to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Wayamba Development.

ll these subjects were stuck together. There are no ministries assigned on a scientific basis. That’s where the first conflict was. I felt it was wrong. According to the committee of the three professors, the Prime Minister was asked to separate the ministries, but he did not do so.

Central Bank Governor

Next week, the Central Bank Governor was appointed. At that time he presented Arjuna Mahendran’s name. I said Arjuna Mahendran is not a Sri Lankan citizen. Therefore, he should not be appointed to this position. But, Ranil Wickremesinghe asked me stating that he was the greatest person for this position. Whatever I said about it, he did not agree. In the end, I gave into his request. But I had to sign that appointment letter as the President. I had done what I did not like to do, because of his request. He made a huge sacrifice in the campaign to elect me president as the common candidate as I was supported by the UNP and 49 other parties and organisations. Although there were many differences with him from the initial stages, I thought it was not proper to have a major clash on these issues from the beginning. Conflicts are not good when a government is just formed. So I acceded to his request. With good intentions, I allowed them to move forward without any clash. These kinds of incidents happened and they may be small, medium or major issues. There may have been huge incidents in the last three-and-a-half months. Over the years many such inconveniences and hundreds of incidents occurred.

The citizens of this country appointed me as the President to create a very clean state rule in this country. I was appointed President to usher in a pure and clean state, to strengthen law and order, establish a fair society and to act against of corruption, abuse of power, bribery and fraud. But, you can remember that, when three months had gone, the first Central Bank robbery took place when I was the President and he was the Prime Minister. It is a very serious issue. Three months later the Central Bank was robbed again.

It is very clear now. A Presidential committee has been appointed and it has conducted investigations and recorded evidence. Arjuna Mahendran is one of the key responsible parties here. Ranil Wickremesinghe is clear aware about the whereabouts of Arjuna Mahendran today, since he is one of his closest friends. Arjuna Mahendran was appointed by him without my approval. When the courts appealed that he should be presented before courts, Ranil Wickremesinghe failed to take steps to produce him. He has no intention to present him to the Judiciary. He had no concern regarding the matter.

The huge fraud and corruption occurred in this country due to these monetary deals. This is not the only issue. Since there was a huge protest from the public regarding the matter and because of strong criticisms, there were major problems for the Government. It made the country so insecure and uneasy. In this situation, the only thing I could do to calm the situation was to appoint a Presidential Commission to investigate. I appointed a commission comprising Judges of the Supreme Court. Before the appointment of the commission, massive agitations and protests took place in the country and that made the Central Bank inactive. It was not working. There I decided to go and talk to the staff of the Central Bank.

Accordingly, I spoke to the former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank. By then Arjuna Mahendran had not resigned due to that incident, but he took leave and he did not come to his job. However, I spoke to the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank at 8 a.m. and said that I would arrive at 10 a.m. When I was all set to go, one of my staff members came and said that the Prime Minister had come to visit me. Normally, the Prime Minister does not come to visit me. But I did not know why he came home that day.

I asked the Prime Minister why he visited all of a sudden. I know Ranil Wickremesinghe for a long time. I knew of his behaviour very well. Ranil Wickremesinghe did not inform me in advance when he came to meet me that day. I felt that he was very disturbed and depressed. He asked me whether I was going to the Central Bank. I said yes and explained that because of the unhappiness of the bank staff, I decided to go and speak to them.

Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the Central Bank is under his control. I said ‘yes, I know that. You have gazettes, but I can go to the Central Bank as the President of the country. So I’m going there.’ He asked at what time. I said ‘I will go very shortly.’ And then he went out. An hour later, I went to the Central Bank. When I get off from the car, Arjuna Mahendran comes forward and gives me betel leaves to welcome me. I was surprised how he got here. I did not show any courtesy to him because by then he was a suspect in the eyes of the people in the country because of the bond fraud. When I proceed three or four feet ahead, Ranil Wickremesinghe was there. Arjuna Mahendran, who was on leave because he was facing a big crisis, was present to receive me. I wondered who asked him to come. Who asked him to welcome me with a bunch of betel leaves? I went to meet the staff and talked to the officers. I asked them not to let the Central Bank collapse, as we are trying to resolve the issues. Therefore, I asked all of them to work on normal manner for the sake of the country. We held a short discussion thereafter.

ow we have to appoint a separate commission to see how such grave incidents such as frauds and corruptions have taken place in the past, during the time Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister. I intend to appoint a Presidential Commission to look into fraud and corruption committed by the government from 2015 to 25 October 2018. That’s such a serious problem. When we investigate them, we will find more serious things beyond the Central Bank. So, corruption, fraud, theft, misuse of State power, these were limitless.

National unity

The ethnic problem that exists in our country, and you know that there is a great interest among us to promote the creation of national unity. It’s among the Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils in order to strengthen reconciliation especially with regard to the devolution of power to increase the participation of our people. There is an interest in a powerless, federal system that does not break the country. There is an interest in devolving powers in a non-federal system that does not divide the country. We did some work on it. They did not succeed.

Ranil Wickremesinghe is a person who speaks greatly about this devolution. But over the past three-and-a-half years, he brought a number of proposals to the Cabinet to bring back the power to the centre. He wanted the powers devolved to the provinces to be taken back to the Government. He also brought a number of suggestions to wrest powers that were given instead of devolving power.

He made many proposals to get power back from provincial councils in the fields of education, economic activities, sustainable development, and environment and such areas. I think that his political vision is something which is not in this whole world. Even if you take President Donald Trump, he is trying to build his country on his own way through the extreme capitalist system. In his policy, he was committed to building his country. Whatever world political leaders have, they love their own country best. But, I definitely saw Ranil Wickremesinghe not having such love for the country. The extreme liberalism he speaks of has ruined this country. Due to his policies fraud and corruption increased.

Fraud and corruption

Let me tell you another serious corruption committed in the past. According to his advice, the financial agency belonged to Swarnavahini Group, which was owned by Bank of Ceylon after the company was bankrupt, was sold to a foreign party. Accordingly, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Cabinet Subcommittee on Economic Management called for bids for the sale of EAP to the private sector. Several bids were submitted to this deal. A local businessmen offered a price of $ 65 million or 70 million. But regardless of the local businessmen, he gave the EAP to a Singapore company for $ 35 million. It was a big loss to the Government. I have very clear evidence of this. In addition to the bid amount of $ 35 million, a large sum of money was given to other politicians. It’s a big deal. I would like to say that deal was the most recent one. The fraudulent Hilton deal is another.

The fraud, corruption and irregularities that occurred within the past three years were severe. The land deals that took place within the Colombo District and the Western Province were highly corrupt. He presented two new Cabinet papers to introduce new acts on lands the week before he was removed. Before that he made efforts to present it to the Parliament more than a year ago, but it was withdrawn due to my persistent objections to the proposed Acts. Yet he presented it again at the final Cabinet while I was totally against it.

One was a Special Act on Land Regulation. Another was to establish a Land Bank. The Special Land Regulation was not accepted in the Cabinet. I postponed it, promising that it will be taken up later. If by any chance it was approved in the Parliament after being accepted in the Cabinet, any businessman in the world could buy private lands as well as lands belonging to the State. This would have allowed foreigners to buy the whole country. I interrupted in this matter. The Land Bank was also similar to this. These were totally against national land policies.

Karu and Sajith

Thus the conflict between Ranil Wickremesinghe and I wasn’t one that dated back to the recent past. That is why I said from the beginning that within the first week after he was appointed as the Prime Minister and since the appointment of the first Cabinet, our differences have arisen. I told him after the results of the provincial election held on 10 January this year were declared that we faced a severe setback and such drastic failure occurred due to his political and economic policies. I asked him to resign several times and to appoint another. He didn’t accept it.
Due to this incompatibility I asked Karu Jayasuriya to accept premiership so that I can appoint him. It was eight months back. I asked him three to four times to accept premiership so that I can appoint him. I said I couldn’t work with Ranil Wickremesinghe since he is so corrupt. He doesn’t love our country. His political and economic policies do not match the needs of this country. So that a person with local cultural values be appointed to develop the economy of the country.

Then I asked Sajith Premadasa several times, three months before Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed on 26 October. I told Sajith Premadasa that I cannot continuously fight with Ranil on this matter as the country is being destroyed and the economy is being destroyed. There are heavy frauds and corruption. I told Sajith Premadasa that I had asked Karu Jayasuriya and he said no, and I asked him to be the prime minister. He refused to do so although I repeatedly offered this proposal to him for two months. This situation worsened within the past three years that the issue could not continue further and I asked Ranil Wickremesinghe to resign.

Assassination plot

With all these severe conflicts taking place, finally there was an issue regarding the assassination plot against me. This conspiracy was revealed for the first time and the person who revealed this presented a cassette recording. Before any investigations were made regarding the parties connected with this conspiracy, the Inspector General of Police issued a statement that the recording was very doubtful. When a conspiracy of an assassination of a president of a country is being revealed, without further investigations, the Inspector General concludes that the recording was untrustworthy. Then the person who presented this recording made a revelation about the involvement of a minister of the Cabinet. He says that a Cabinet Minister was connected with this matter. Then two months lapsed since this issue came up and the time Mahindra Rajapaksa was appointed as the Prime Minister. Yet Ranil Wickremesinghe didn’t even vaguely ask me about this matter or how the inquiries were being conducted and the recent status of this issue. He didn’t ask me anything.

But the officers of the Criminal Investigations Department say that this investigation came under heavy pressure and there was so much influence over this investigation. Then they admitted that the foreigner was being taken into custody over the matter. Then there’s a DIG of Police who has been taken into custody. There exist huge barriers for investigations. The report presented by the Government Analyst says that 96% of the voices in the recordings are authentic. I think the recording was sent overseas to trace the deleted parts of the recordings that are missing. The courts instructed the Criminal Investigation Department to send the recordings to a foreign analysis. DIG Nalaka Silva who has been detained over this matter had obtained two heavy weapons from the IGP without assigning any reason. The Inspector General of Police also received a request from the DIG for another heavy weapon.

Then a sniper weapon was lost, and a skilled former sniper of the LTTE was reported to be missing or kidnapped. These investigations are carried out with many interruptions even today. The Inspector General of Police has not yet given a statement to CID. The Inspector General was informed constantly to be present at the CID to give his statement. Yet, he has ignored the notice until now.

Then there was a charge that a member of the Cabinet is also connected to the matter. Here an assassination plot against me is being revealed while there is an attempt to slow down the investigations on it. There is an allegation that a Cabinet minister is connected to the issue. The Inspector General of Police has issued weapons without going through rules and regulations. There is an assassination plot against the president of a country so that a prime minister has an ethical responsibility to even ask about it from the President on what has really happened. He had not even inquired about it, yet his party members have looked upon this matter mocking it in social media, internet and other sources. This is looked down sarcastically calling it ‘President’s assassination plot comedy’.

In such circumstances can I move forward with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe? Can I sit together in such a government? Fraud and corruption has risen up high, so many unethical deeds have taken place, major fraudulent dealings and conspiracies are taking place while there is a lot of influence over everything. Can I work with such people? What leader of a country has worked with such corrupt people and such situations and conducted a government unless he too is corrupt?

Acted in line with Constitution

I have moved forward with certain political principles in my 51 years of politics. I am totally against corruption. I am highly against the misuse of power unethically. I respect democracy. I have worked in accordance with the Constitution all the time. I respect democracy, human rights, fundamental rights, freedom of media, and rule of law and the independence of the Judiciary. I am dedicated to these principles. Have you ever heard within recent years of a president who has given up his powers voluntarily? I haven’t heard of such an individual yet. After I became the president, I devolved my Executive powers to the Parliament.

Appointing a Prime Minister, removing the former Prime Minister, proroguing the Parliament, dissolution of the Parliament, dissolving the Cabinet, were all done legally. It is in accordance with the Constitution. Nothing was done against the Constitution. What is challenged in the Supreme Court is whether I as the President has the power to dissolve the Parliament. No one has challenged appointing a Prime Minister, removing the former Prime Minister, proroguing the Parliament, dissolution of the Parliament, dissolving the Cabinet. Only the dissolving of the Parliament has been challenged. It has not been accepted by the Supreme Court initially and it has taken up for a hearing. A court case is being conducted. The Parliament brought a no confidence motion against the Prime Minister on 14 November. It was not presented to the Parliament in accordance with the Standing Orders and not conducted respecting the Parliamentary traditions. The Parliament has the power to suspend the Standing Orders. There is no problem in it. Yet in such an important issue that related to the appointment of a new Government and removal of the previous Government, I strongly believe that the Parliament should have been conducted in a proper way. I always said that claiming votes through voice vote about the issue of changing a government was not ethical or acceptable. I said it to the Speaker as well as the party leaders. I am happy that the Speaker accepted this appeal and conducted the voting under electronic system without claiming votes through voices. I believe that the Parliament should be conducted properly until this calamity is over.

As a democratic political leader I always respect the majority of the Parliament. But this majority should be shown transparently. The other thing is, we pointed out to them that the Proposal No. 1 of the Motion presented on 14 November stated that the President had violated the Constitution and has worked against it. So I kindly appealed to the Speaker as well other parties that I will accept whatever the decision made by the Parliament but that Proposal No. 1 should be removed from the proposal as it stated that I had worked against the Constitution. Since I cannot accept such a wrong proposal, it should be removed before passing it adopting the proper procedure. Only the Supreme Court has the power to interpret the Constitution to decide whether I have violated the Constitution. The Parliament has no power to interpret the Constitution by any means. I am happy that under such circumstance the Parliament is now more disciplined.

From the beginning I admit that if a no confidence motion is to be presented, it should be done adhering to the Standing Orders. Even if there are provisions in the Standing Orders, the votes should be obtained through electronic systems rather than counting votes through merely by collective sound. It is just one method. In such a way the majority should be proved. If there’s majority for the United National Party, Mahinda Rajapaksa will take a decision on how he should act further. Even if the majority is there, it also should be legal. As far as I am concerned yet the majority is not shown properly. The voting on yesterday was only on the appointment of the Parliamentary Selection Committee.

We cannot say which party will obtain the majority on 29 November. If the majority is shown precisely by correct means I would have to accept it as a proper voting. But I will not make Ranil Wickremesinghe the Prime Minister again under any circumstances. Even if the majority is shown I have asked them not to bring back Ranil Wickremesinghe to my sight. I will not appoint him at all. There’s no personal issue but it is an issue on policies.

Courtesy:Daily FT

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