President Maithripala Sirsiena has allocated all state media institutions to the ministry of Finance and Media ending speculation that he may keep some of them under his direct control as the country heads for an election year.
In an Extraordinary Gazette notification dated December 24, but published Saturday, the President listed the two state television stations as well as Lake House under the ministry headed by Mangala Samaraweera.
Many loyalists of the newly established coalition of Sirisena and opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa had been banking on the President retaining direct control of Lake House, the country’s largest newspaper publishing company.
Some of the men who grabbed positions at Rupavahini, ITN and Lake House on the night of the October 26 coup had said they will stay put until the gazette is published allocating subjects to ministries.
Both Sirisena as well as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have warned their respective supporters that 2019 will be an election year and they should start campaign work immediately.
In the Gazette published only in Sinhala as at Saturday morning, Sirisena retains the state printing corporation as well as the police, the subjects he allocated to himself soon after the October 26 power grab.
It is reliably understood that the president had wanted to retain the police under him until it concludes an investigation into an alleged plot to assassinate him.
The constitution allows the president to keep only three ministries – Defence, Mahaweli and Environment.
Diplomatic sources said Sri Lanka could risk strictures from the Commonwealth by keeping the police department attached to the defence ministry. The civilian law and order function is usually separated from the defence ministry in line with good governance principles of the Commonwealth.
In order to host the November 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo, the then president Mahinda Rajapaksa had to remove the police from the defence ministry and hand it over to a new ministry of Law and Order he created three months earlier.