BY Pamodi Waravita
Although Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekera told the media yesterday (4) that the Cabinet of Ministers had taken a “collective decision” to remove State Minister of Education Reforms, Open Universities, and Distance Learning Promotion Susil Premajayantha from his portfolio, Cabinet Spokesman Dullas Alahapperuma said at the cabinet decisions press briefing that this decision had not been taken by the Cabinet but by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
“The Cabinet took this decision (the removal of Premajayantha) as a collective decision. A Government can be criticised in two ways – negatively and positively. It is not fair to criticise the Government for everything. When cement prices increase, the Government cannot be scolded for it. When President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took the decision to ban the import of fertiliser, there was enough chemical fertiliser for one-and-a-half years. It should have been distributed properly by the officials,” Weerasekera told the media yesterday.
However, speaking at the cabinet decisions press briefing yesterday, Alahapperuma said that their initial reaction to the news of Premajayantha’s removal was also “instant disappointment” as they are close colleagues, but stressed that this was an Executive decision taken by the President and not one that had been discussed at the Cabinet.
“This was not discussed at the cabinet meeting on 3 January 2022 and nor did the party (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) discuss and make this decision,” he added.
Responding to a media query on whether Premajayantha’s removal is an indication that there is no space for criticism within the Government, Alahapperuma said that this is the Cabinet, from those that he had served in, where the broadest criticism takes place.
Premajayantha’s removal with immediate effect was announced early last morning by the President’s Media Division (PMD), which stated the removal was made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in accordance with the powers vested in him.
Meanwhile, Minister of Education Dinesh Gunawardena avoided several questions posed to him by the media yesterday on the dismissal of Premajayantha. When questioned by journalists on whether the Government can proceed forward with such decisions, why the ministers were quiet about the sudden dismissal of Premajayantha, whether the Government was breaking apart, and whether Minister Gunawardena was afraid as well, Gunawardena responded by saying that he had no reason to be afraid.
“Why should I be scared? Are you trying to fuel the fire? The Government is not breaking or cracking at all,” said Gunawardena.
When confronted with the question on his opinion of the dismissal of Premajayantha, Gunawardena responded by saying that this question should be asked from Premajayantha himself.
However, reacting to the removal, Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said that Premjayantha should have known better before taking a stance against the Government while remaining a State Minister in it. He said in a press release that Premajayantha had made public statements detrimental to the interests of the Government.
“He, being a senior politician, should have known better. As a State Minister representing the Government, he has responsibilities and should have acted within limits. He has a responsibility to protect the Government and its policies. If there were shortcomings of those policies, there are many forums where they should have been raised. There are many occasions when the President meets the ministers. Premajayantha should have raised the problems or opinions he had about the government policies then. We are bound by our duties and responsibilities and should uphold them. People have voted for us for that purpose. No one should do the Opposition’s job while remaining in the government ranks. Such actions would only please the Opposition. We cannot allow that to continue,” said Fernando.
Meanwhile, when Minister of Youth and Sports, Minister of Development Co-ordination and Monitoring, and State Minister of Digital Technology and Enterprise Development Namal Rajapaksa was questioned by the media about Premajayantha, he said that a few problems about discipline have arisen.
“He has been criticising his fellow ministers and the Cabinet. Many people asked why the President is not looking into it and why he is not taking action. We believe that if we are in a Government, we have a responsibility. If you do not like certain decisions, you can discuss them in the Cabinet, and not everywhere else,” said Rajapaksa.
Similarly, Weerasekera said that the President will take “proper decisions” this year to maintain discipline within the Coalition, the Party, and the Government.
Minister of Water Supply Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Minister of Energy and Cabinet Co-Spokesman Udaya Gammanpila, and Minister of Industries Wimal Weerawansa have severely criticised the recent sale of the Government’s shares at the Yugadanavi Power Plant to an American-affiliated company, allegedly without cabinet approval.
When questioned whether action should be taken against them as well, Namal Rajapaksa said that he believes that the President has “already made a statement about it” and that “it is a decision that needs to be taken by the President and the Cabinet”.
Premajayantha’s removal comes after a spate of resignations and removals that occurred over the past few months of government officials. The Morning reported yesterday that President’s Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, who resigned last month and who was due to leave his post on 31 January 2022, had been requested by the President to leave by 15 January 2022. Some print media outlets have reported this week that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa will resign from his portfolio and that current Minister of Finance Basil Rajapaksa will replace him. However, the Prime Minister’s Media Division has stated that these reports are “false”.
Former Ministry of Agriculture Secretary Prof. Udith K. Jayasinghe-Mudalige was removed from his portfolio last month, following his warning of a food crisis in Sri Lanka. His removal followed a number of resignations and removals of agriculture industry officials, including the resignations of Maj. Gen. Sumedha Perera and Rohana Pushpakumara, who held the post of Ministry Secretary, prior to Prof. Jayasinghe-Mudalige.