Harin-Chathura cold war hots up
Maithri promotes Cabinet self regulation:
MR aide faces corruption charges:
SLFP internal feud continues :
Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure Minister Harin Fernando
was livid early this week as he got to know that UNP MP Chathura
Senaratne, the son of Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne, visited his
ministry in search of some documents pertaining to alleged deals done by
Senaratne, despite his links with the SLFP, he contested the last
Parliamentary election on the UNP ticket and got elected to Parliament
from the Gampaha district. In the run up to the last Presidential
election, he was a stalwart of the Pivithuru Hetak National Movement,
led by Parliamentarian Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera.
Chathura rose to fame a few months before the Parliamentary election
this year, when he challenged former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to
defeat him from the Beliatta seat. Although Chathura's challenge was
akin to David challenging Goliath, the statement went viral on social
media and the young politician instantly became a known character among
the country's political circles.
Those who made Fernando aware of Chathura's moves told the Minister
that a Secretary of the Deputy Minister of the same ministry assisted
the Parliamentarian. The Deputy Minister of Fernando's Ministry is
Tharanath Basnayake, a young Parliamentarian of the UPFA who received a
portfolio from President Maithripala Sirisena. Fernando received
information that the Secretary of his Deputy Minister was previously
affiliated with Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa.
Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and others at the
budget tea party
Fernando first raised this matter at a press conference he addressed
in Colombo on Tuesday, the day before the Cabinet meeting. Although he
did not explicitly mention Chathura Senaratne's name, he left enough
room for reporters to speculate that it was Rajitha Senaratne's son.
The cold war between the Senaratnes and Fernando started after the
latter appeared in two television talk shows immediately after the Avant
Garde controversy. During the talk shows, Fernando said there was no
real basis to point fingers at Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and Thilak Marapana
over the Avant Garde issue as their statements were based on the
observations of the Attorney General. Throughout the debates he
maintained that the conduct of the private security firm or its owners
could not be justified.
However, the statements made by Fernando, earned the ire of Minister
Senaratne, a vociferous critique of Avant Garde company. That was the
beginning of the feud between Fernando and the Senaratnes, which reached
new heights at the Cabinet meeting.
Speaking at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning, Fernando hit
out at "conspirators" within the ruling camp trying to sabotage the
understanding between the UNP and the SLFP for petty political gains.
The Minister said some ministers of the cabinet, including Senaratne,
unfairly criticized hm for defending the government's position on the
Avant Garde issue during television debates.
"I never tried to defend the conduct of the security firm. I always
stood by the government's position on the matter. I said the President
and the Prime Minister would make a final decision on the security
company. I also explained the legal background pertaining to the matter.
But, the next day, the Cabinet Minister criticized me. He dubbed me as a
person who goes to night clubs," Fernando said, directing his criticism
at Health Minister Senaratne who was not present at the Cabinet meeting
as he was abroad.
"I am a father of two and I have a good family life. It is unfair to
criticize me as a person who goes to night clubs," the Cabinet Minister
added, saying that he was the first to challenge the Rajapaksa rule when
he stepped down from Parliament to be the UNP's Chief Ministerial
candidate at the Uva Provincial Council election, last year.
He said former Law and Order Minister Thilak Marapana's resignation,
which clearly showed the government's commitment to good governance, was
overshadowed by "media shows" initiated by certain cabinet members who
only think about their personal agendas.
"It was the first time a Minister resigned from his portfolio, paving
the way for the government to conduct a free and fair probe into a
controversial matter. It was a great example of good governance. It also
strengthens the credibility of the government in the eyes of the people.
But we, unfortunately, failed to capitalize on this situation as a
result of the irresponsible behavior shown by some ministers. This
madness has to stop," the Cabinet minister asserted.
The Minister also alleged that Minister Senaratne's son barged in to
his ministry in search of documents of alleged 'deals'. He urged the
President and the Prime Minister to inquire into the matter and take
action against responsible parties.
"I have brought all my files to the Cabinet meeting today. I am ready
to hand over them to the President and the Prime Minister. I have
nothing to hide," the young Cabinet Minister said, showing
disappointment over the behavior of the UNP Parliamentarian.
Meanwhile, Plantation Minister Navin Dissanayake criticized a
statement made by Transport Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva against the
new government and its policies.
"The Transport Minister had said good governance did not exist in the
new government. He had also said the President would form an SLFP
government. Such statements are damaging to the unity between the two
main parties," Dissanayake said.
Responding to Dissanayake, de Silva said he never made such a
statement. The Transport Minister said media reports had quoted him out
of context and distorted his statement.
At this point, Minister Harin Fernando said he even had a video clip
of the speech made by the Transport Minister.
"We too can play various political games but we have realized the
importance of the MOU signed between the UNP and the SLFP. But we cannot
see the same commitment from some members of the cabinet," he asserted.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, intervening in the argument,
said members of the government should understand their duties and act in
a responsible manner.
"We all have a responsibility to protect the government. We have
embarked on comprehensive political reforms. Therefore, every member of
the government should support this process," the Prime Minister said
adding that members of the government should not forget their primary
Meanwhile, some ministers raised concerns on "cabinet secrets" being
leaked to media.
To address this problem, Minister Talatha Athukorala said cabinet
members should not be allowed to bring their mobile phones to cabinet
Responding to that claim, President Maithripala Sirisena said the
best solution was "self-regulation" among members of the cabinet.
" There is no point in holding meetings if we cannot act in a
responsible manner. It is the responsibility of cabinet members to
protect the confidentiality of our meetings," the President stressed.
It is against this backdrop that the Cabinet paper on the abolition
of Executive Presidency, presented by the President, was unanimously
passed by ministers.
The ministers approved two Cabinet Papers submitted by President
Sirisena aiming at abolishing the Executive Presidency and changing the
existing electoral system.
in line with his pledge in the common opposition's election Manifesto
last January, the President said he would take measures to abolish
Executive Presidency as it posed a threat to the country's freedom and
The cabinet papers, presented by him, proposed the abolition of the
Executive Presidency, entrusting executive powers to Parliament, the
amending of the Preferential Representative system of election and
introducing a more democratic system of elections.
The Cabinet decided to appoint a Ministerial Sub Committee, with the
participation of the Prime Minister, to study the matter and the sub
committee should submit a report to the Cabinet within two weeks
Thereafter officials of the Legal Draftsman's Department will prepare
the draft legislation.
The President expressed hopes that the Cabinet sub committee would
take into account the ideas and views of other political parties and
people's representatives interested in the subject, before submitting
There is still a dialogue on the 'extent' of constitutional reforms.
While some parties are pushing for a partial abolition of Executive
Presidency, civil society members, who strongly backed President
Sirisena at the Presidential election in January, are pushing for a
They also opine that the government should introduce a new
constitution, comprehensively rectifying the loopholes in the present
constitution. As exclusively reported in the Sunday Observer last week,
a committee, headed by Parliamentarian Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, has
already been appointed to take measures with regard to constitutional
amendments. Among its members are senior lawyer Suren Fernando and
Additional Secretary (Legal) to the Prime Minister Bimba Thilakaratne.
Prof. Suri Ratnapala, a veteran in the field of legal studies, is
likely to be the government's chief consultant when formulating the new
Prof. Ratnapala, who was in Sri Lanka for a brief visit last month,
held several rounds of discussions with the top rung leadership of the
government on the matter. During the discussion, Professor Ratnapala,
who is currently based in Australia, has agreed to take up the task.
Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Dr. Wickramaratne maintained that
the committee headed by him would only act as a body of experts, without
stepping on the toes of the legislature.
"My role has two dimensions. I will have to function as a member of
the legislature which will formulate and pass the new constitution. At
the same time, I will have to head the body of experts providing legal
and technical assistance. So, I will have to wear two cloaks at the same
time," Dr. Wickremaratne, a leading constitutional lawyer and a national
list MP, said.
Many political observers believe that comprehensive constitutional
amendments - or the proposed new constitution - will require a
referendum. They also express hopes that the reform process will reach
completion before September, 2017, as the MOU signed between the two
main parties was only valid for a period of two years.
It is fair to believe that former Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon's
ruling on the 'aborted' 3rd amendment to the constitution, in 1981, will
come into play during the process of formulating and passing
comprehensive constitutional reforms.
Former President J.R. Jayewardene's government attempted to pass a
third amendment to the constitution when Abeyrathne Pilapitiya, MP for
Kalawana, lost his position as the result of an election petition filed
against his Parliamentary seat. Following this development, a
By-election had to be held in terms of Article 161 (b) (i) of the
Constitution and Sarath Muttetuwegama of the Communist Party became a
Member of Parliament as the duly elected MP for the Kalawana seat.
In an interesting turn of events, On January 15th 1981, Abeyratne
Pilapitiya resigned as the Member of Parliament for Kalawana. He held
that seat not because he had been elected in 1977, but because he had
been nominated to fill the vacancy caused by his losing the seat after
he was absent from Parliament without leave for three months. He had
absented himself deliberately, as he was about to be disqualified by the
Courts after the hearing of an election petition.
With this development, there were two MPs for Kalawana electorate.
One was Sarath Muttetuwegama who won the by-election and became the MP
of the seat.
The other one was Abeyrathne Pilapitiya, who was re-appointed to
Parliament by the President to fill his own vacancy.
This situation required a Constitutional Amendment - the 'Third
amendment' proposed by the Jayewardene government - to allow the
Kalawana seat to have two Members. At this point, the Supreme Court,
headed by Neville Samarakoon, put a damper on President Jayewardena's
plans. The Supreme Court ruled that the third amendment to the
constitution required not just a two-thirds majority in Parliament, but
also a Referendum, since it affected the franchise and the composition
of the legislature
It is in this context that many political observers believe the
national unity government, which technically has a two third majority in
Parliament, will have to resort to a referendum after passing
constitutional reforms in Parliament.
A day before the President presented two cabinet papers on the
abolition of Executive Presidency and electoral reforms, the Central
Committee of the SLFP met at the President's personal residence at Paget
All Central Committee members of the party were informed in writing,
by its General Secretary Minister Duminda Dissanayake, to be present at
the meeting as the party wanted to discuss some urgent matters including
the Local Government election and constitutional reforms.
Taking disciplinary action against party members who criticize the
party and its leadership was a key topic at the SLFP Central Committee
meeting last Tuesday. As the Central Committee dealt with a highly
contentious matter, the meeting, chaired by the President, was full of
Several senior members of the Central Committee raised serious
concerns over recent remarks made by Parliamentarians Vidura
Wicramaranayake and Lohan Ratwatte.
Wickramanayake, the son of former Prime Minister Rathnasiri
Wickramanayake, said the SLFP would not have secured more than 35 seats
had the party contested the last Parliamentary election under President
Sirisena's leadership. Wickremanayake's criticism, needless to say, was
directed at the President who is also the SLFP Chairman.
Ratwatte, addressing a recent public meeting in Kandy, said the party
would suffer a certain defeat if the President decided to lead the
party's campaign for the forthcoming Local Government election.
Ratwatte's statement earned the ire of many top rung SLFP members
supporting President Sirisena.
When the matter was taken up at Tuesday's Central Committee meeting,
Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, a supporter of the President, said
a group was trying to create a division in the party.
"Recently, there was a meeting in the Kurunegala district. Some of
our Local Government members also took part in the meeting. At this
meeting, they had criticized the party and had discussed the possibility
of fielding a separate team at the local government election, Jayasekera
revealed, stirring what seemed to be a hornet's nest.
Kalutara District MP Kumara Welgama, at this point, stood up to raise
his objections against Jayasekera's statement.
"Sir, I too was present at that meeting and nothing of that sort was
discussed. We only discussed the former President's birthday celebration
in Anuradhapura as he is a Patron and a former leader of our party,"
Welgama told the President. It looked as if Welgama's explanation
satisfied President Sirisena who was chairing the meeting.But Jayasekera,
interrupting Welgama, said he had credible information to prove that
they had discussions about contesting separately at the local government
election. Irritated by this comment, Welgama slammed the Cabinet
minister saying the latter wanted to create divisions in the party by
slinging mud at other senior members.
"I am a genuine SLFPer. Madam Bandaranaike offered me the electoral
organizer post. I am not someone like you who kept jumping from one
political party to another," Welgama lashed out at Jayasekera.
"You want to throw us out of the party. You want to create divisions
in the SLFP. But that's not easy. I've been in this party for more than
30 years," Welgama added.
Although Jayasekera attempted to respond to Welgama's claims, the
President stopped him, knowing the argument was becoming heated.
Then the President started addressing the Central Committee meeting
and he said he was aware that some elements in the party were working
"I have never left the party. I was always an SLFPer. Some organizers
tell their supporters that they don't accept my leadership. When
organizers make such remarks, will the village-level voters ever vote
for the party? Why are they treating me like this? Is it because I am
not from the elite?" the President asked the Central Committee members
who silently listened to their party Chairman's brief but emotional
speech. After his speech, the Central Committee approved the special
Cabinet Paper aimed at abolishing the Executive Presidency and
transferring the remaining powers of the Executive Presidency to
Parliament. It was conveyed to them that the abolition of Executive
Presidency will come into effect after the incumbent President's first
term in office.
The SLFP had another important meeting on Friday evening, after the
budget speech, when its All Island Executive Committee met in Colombo
under the patronage of the President. The meeting was held at the Sri
Lanka Foundation Institution, after the traditional post-budget tea
party in Parliament, hosted by the Speaker. The All Island Executive
Committee meeting primarily focused on the local government election
which will take place early next year. The President, addressing the
meeting, promised that he would turn the SLFP into a victorious party at
the local government polls.
He said the party would join hands with progressive political parties
at the local government polls to form a strong front.
The President's statement gave a clear indication that the SLFP would
not contest separately at the Local Government polls - as speculated by
some a few weeks ago.
A senior Parliamentarian of the party who wished to remain anonymous
told the Sunday Observer that the party would be 'choosy' about its
allies when forming a broad political front targeting the local
The President also added that electoral reforms would be fast-tracked
keeping in mind the time-frame of the election.
Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga too attended the
SLFP's Executive Committee meeting and she was among the party seniors
who addressed the gathering. In her brief speech, Kumaratunga said the
party should take measures to field members who are ready to be
answerable to their electorates when naming candidates for the local
While the SLFP was preparing for the local government election under
tumultuous circumstances, former President Rajapaksa, one of the main
actors in the SLFP's internal feud, attended religious events in
Anuradhapura and Kandy to mark his 70th birthday.
The former President, on November 18, attended a Bodhi pooja held at
Anuradhapura with the participation of a group of UPFA MPs.
Interestingly, UPFA Anuradhapura District Parliamentarians Tissa
Karaliyadde and W B Ekanayake were conspicuous by their absence at the
Bodhi pooja held at the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Anuradhapura on
Wednesday.Karaliyadda and Ekanayake, SLFP chief organisers for
Medawachchiya and Anuradhapura West respectively, were considered
staunch supporters of Rajapaksa when they contested the recent
When asked about his absence, Karalliyadde said he was not invited by
the organizers to attend the function. Other notable absentees at
Wednesday's religious ceremony at the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi were North
Central Province Health Minister K.H. Nandasena, Provincial Council's
SLFP (UPFA) Chief Whip Kalyani Karaliyadde and Provincial Council member
Susil Gunawardene as well as Horowpotane SLFP chief organiser M Herath
Banda and Kekirawa SLFP Co-organiser Rohan Jayakody
The former President was also in Kandy to pay homage to the tooth
relic at Dalada Maligawa. The ex-president met with the Diyawadana
Nilame of the Dalada Maligawa, Pradeep Nilanga Dela and called on the
Anunayake of the Malwatte Chapter, the Ven Niyangoda Vijitha Siri Thera
and had a private discussion.
The Venerable Thera spoke to the media afterwards and said that,
considering what is now taking place in the country, the former
president was now seen to be worthy of merit. The former president also
paid a courtesy call on the deputy registrar of Asgiriya Chapter, the
Ven Narampanawe Ananda Thera. Even when he was the President, Rajapaksa
maintained a close connection with the Dalada Maligawe and the
Mahanayakes of the Malwatte- Asgiriya chapters.
However, when the former President celebrated his 70th birthday, one
of his close associates found himself in hot water over several scams
and financial misappropriations. He is Champika Karunaratne, a former
Coordinating Secretary of the former President.
Police received information that Karunaratne, a British national, had
misused vehicles, remuneration and other incentives when he was a
presidential coordinating secretary. According to investigators,
Karunaratne had settled in Sri Lanka after Rajapaksa became the
President in 2005.
Police Media Spokesperson, Ruwan Gunasekara said that Karunaratne had
allegedly misappropriated over Rs, 10 million during the tenure of the
former President. The former Coordinating Secretary was remanded for
alleged frauds and corruption.Police found out that he had used two
passports and breached the Immigration and Emigration laws of the
country many a time.
While being a British national, he had done four jobs in Sri Lanka
attached to well known state-sector institutions such as the National
Lotteries Board, the State Timber Corporation and the Sri Lanka Ports
Authority. In addition to that, he had also worked very closely with
Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa's team.
Namal Rajapaksa, the son of the former President, played multiple
roles under the previous administration. Karunaratne had managed to
obtain two passports form Sri Lanka's Immigration and Emigration
authorities, violating standard practices.
One of his passports is an official one which he had obtained with
the support of a senior official attached to the Temple Trees under the
Rajapaksa administration. A top CID souces, speaking to the Sunday
Observer, said Karunaratne, who operated without much media fanfare
under the previous rule, was linked to several anti-corruption cases
currently being investigated by law enforcement authorities.