By Sandun Jayawardana
On Parliament’s first sitting day on Tuesday, Badulla District Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) parliamentarian Chaminda Wijesiri, making a shocking announcement, told the House that he chose to resign as the people had rejected all 225 MPs in the present Parliament and that it no longer had the people’s mandate.
Mr. Wijesiri also said the immense difficulties he faced the previous week compelled him to submit his resignation as an MP.
Those difficulties related to a complaint against him being taken up by Parliament’s Committee on Ethics and Privileges. What caused him “immense pain” and finally prompted the disillusioned MP to resign was the sense of betrayal he felt after some of his own SJB colleagues failed to support him at this inquiry, Mr. Wijesiri told the Sunday Times.
He said he had to appear before the Ethics and Privileges Committee due to a complaint that he had used abusive language against a senior Parliament official. According to the former MP, the complaint stemmed from an incident several months ago when he wanted to make a speech earlier than scheduled as he had to pick up his child. Mr. Wijesiri claimed Assistant Opposition Whip Gayantha Karunathilake had asked Parliament officials to allow him to make his speech earlier, but one Parliament official did not permit this. “I was incensed by this action, and when the opportunity was given to speak, the tone of my speech changed according to my emotions. I called the official a thief and a political thug.”
MPs have said far worse things in the Chamber and even got into fights without facing censure, Mr. Wijesiri claimed, adding that he was, however, called up before the Ethics and Privileges Committee.
In the months leading up to this incident, the former MP had been alleging that the government was trying to get out of answering questions he raised over culpability regarding the Central Bank bond scam. “The bond scam contributed immensely to the collapse of the Yahapalana Government. President Ranil Wickremesinghe is the main accused in this matter, and current ministers in the government accused the president directly when they were in the opposition. When I kept raising questions on this issue, these ministers chose to duck the issue or use various tactics to avoid answering them. That also raised suspicions in my mind that some Parliament officials too might be aiding them.”
Mr. Wijesiri said he was able to argue his case successfully and was subsequently ruled innocent at the inquiry. “What caused me immense pain, however, was that some of my own party colleagues who were supposed to give evidence on my behalf changed their testimony despite audio from Parliament clearly picking up what was said,” he said, accusing some SJB MPs of making “false statements” when giving evidence. He said he could not speculate why.
He alleged that the Hansard of the speech contained a word he had never used during the speech and that the Committee had been given a fake list containing the names of MPs who were due to speak on the day in question. “I asked the committee to check the video and audio of my speech to see if I had used the word I had allegedly used, but they could not find it. I was also able to show that I could have been given an earlier time to speak since the MP who was supposedly above me on the speakers’ list did not have a speech allocated for that day.”
While it was the inquiry before the Ethics and Privileges Committee that ultimately pushed him into resigning, Mr. Wijesiri said his “disillusionment” with being a parliamentarian started sometime before, particularly after a wave of public disgust over the current group of MPs.
“I have retired from active politics. If I return, it will again be from the SJB, but I don’t believe the SJB wants my brand of politics. I am at peace with my decision, said the former MP, who was first elected to Parliament in 2015 before being re-elected in 2020.
He also scoffed at allegations made by some government MPs that he had taken Rs. 900 million to give up his Parliament seat. “The reputations of those who level those allegations speak for themselves. They are people who started with a salary of Rs. 1,800 but have gone on to buy houses overseas after becoming MPs. I was a successful businessman before entering politics. I earned around Rs. 5–6 million a month. My father, too, was a successful businessman with vast business interests.”
Despite his disillusionment with parliamentary politics and the SJB, Mr. Wijesiri insisted he had no ill feelings towards Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa. “He is not a deal-maker. It was he who led the effort to hold those who bankrupted this country to account, and it was thanks to him that the Supreme Court ultimately found them guilty of doing so. Others just showed files to the media. We have faith that he will create a more civilised brand of politics,” Mr. Wijesiri said of his former leader.
Nevertheless, this did not mean that he supported Mr. Premadasa in all his decisions, he said. “I regret some of the decisions he took, but I will not go into them as I see signs that the SJB is in the ascendency and its victory will be advantageous to the country. I don’t want to rock the boat by airing those regrets in public,” he said.