Colombo, December 17 (newsin.asia): Despite a severe and manifest reversal of fortunes in which he had to eat his words about never ever re-appointing Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister, Sri Lankan Presdent Maithripala Sirisena has not lost his belligerence and sting.
Speaking to members of the United National Front (UNF) led by Wickremesinghe after re-appointing the latter as Prime Minister on Sunday, Sirisena said that the re-appointment was against his conscience and that he still maintains that he was right in saying that he would not appoint him even if 225 MPs called for it.
“However, I did so respecting parliamentary traditions and in the true spirit of democracy,” Sirisena stated.
The President justified all his actions since October 26, including the sacking of Wickremesinghe from the Premiership, the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place and the dissolution of parliament.
“My intentions were sincere and well-intended. I dissolved parliament for the benefit of over 11 million voters and not pander to the interests of a few hundred MPs,” Sirisena said.
“Dissolution was warranted because there was a large number of corrupt MPs. A fresh election would have given the people an opportunity to select honest MPs. One day my sincere and well-intended actions will be recorded in the history of Sri Lanka. I am currently writing a book in which my actions will be explained,” Sirisena revealed.
Alluding to the many executive actions he had taken against the Wickremesinghe government, the President, Sirisena said there was criticism that these were “childish and foolish”.
“But if this were so, a team of President’s Counsels and other senior and eminent lawyers would not have taken up the case on his behalf,” Sirisena said.
Frontal Assault on Wickremesinghe Regime
Wickremesinghe came under direct attack over the appointment of Arjuna Mahendran as the Central Bank Governor and the subsequent LKR 17 billion bond scam in early 2015.
Sirisena said that he was personally against the appointment of Mahendran but was under an obligation to Wickremesinghe to give his assent. Wickremesinghe had propped him as the Joint Opposition candidate in the January 2015 Presidential election.
“Today the main suspect in the Central Bank bond scam (Arjuna Mahendran) is absconding, and the Wickremesinghe government and the UNP’s partners were slow to act, thereby protecting the corrupt. They stifled investigations or subjected those investigating to threats,” Sirisena charged.
He further said that early on Saturday he asked Central Bank Governor Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy whether the forensic audit as recommended many months ago by the Presidential Commission probing the bond scam was done and the answer was not yet.
“This audit is critical to ascertain and recover the actual loss from the bond scam. Certain economists have estimated the loss from the bond scam as LKR 17 billion,” Sirisena said.
He faulted Wickremesinghe and his party colleagues for delaying the passage of key legislation that would have strengthened the hands of the authorities to take quicker and sterner action against those responsible for the bond scam. He alleged that the cabinet had corrupt members.
Call To Re-visit FTA with Singapore
Sirisena faulted Wickremesinghe and the UNP for rushing to sign a Free Trade Agreement with Singapore “without due consultation and advice”.
He said that the Presidential Commission on the Lanka-Singapore FTA had made a series of recommendations and called for a review of the FTA “with proper consultation and advice to determine whether the country should revise it or scrap it altogether.”
The President also found fault with the appointments made by the Constitutional Council, saying that his recommendations were ignored and junior officers were appointed.
Sirsena also criticized the arrest of army personnel accused of various crimes. He said government should not agree to release Tamil political prisoners unless military personnel are also released.
President To Test New Government
The President said that he personally prefers to avoid confronting the newly appointed government. But at the same time he expressed doubts if the present bunch of Ministers will be able to deliver on the promises made ahead of the August 2015 parliamentary elections.
Shiral Lakthilaka, a top adviser to Sirisena, said that the President would give a sporting chance to Wickremesinghe and his team to deliver on its election promises.
“Early signs of good or bad governance will be seen shortly when Wickremesinghe names his cabinet of ministers. If the same corrupt ministers are given the same plum portfolios, one can conclude that the government is heading for a disaster,” he said.
However, to stem a serious deterioration, the President will not hesitate to use his powers as Executive President, Lakthilaka said.
Udaya Gammanpilla, an United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MP allied to Mahinda Rajapaksa said that the President can take any department under his wing if he feels that it is being misused or is subjected to maladministration.
In the previous administration, the President had held the portfolios of Defense, Mahaweli Development and Reconciliation. Defense is generally held by the President.
Asked if 21 MPs of Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) are planning to defect to the UNF, Shiral Lakthilaka said that only six might do so.
It is learnt that 21 SLFP MPs want to crossover “as a group” apparently because there is strength in numbers and the Wickremesinghe government can be termed as a “National Government” with the facility of having a larger cabinet of 45 ministers.
But the UNF has said that it will not accept all those who cross over. “We will be selective,” said UNF leader and MP, Mano Ganeshan.
However, to the potential defectors’ dismay, President Sirisena said that the SLFP, as a party, will not be part of the new government, though individual SLFP MPs could join in their personal capacity.
As of now, Sirisena will be the lone SLFP member in the Wickremesinghe cabinet. As an Executive President, who is at once the constitutional Head of State, Head of Government and Head of the Cabinet, Sirisena can hold ministerial portfolios and take over departments.
(The photo at the top shows Ranil Wickremesinghe being sworn-in by President Mairhipala Sirisena)