PM says rulers are ‘sensitive’ to public woes
|By Gagani Weerakoon|
An All Party Conference (APC), convened by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on the request of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, was held last Wednesday (23), at the President’s House, but the main Opposition, the Jathika Jana Balawegaya and some Tamil political parties boycotted it.
The APC took place in the backdrop of the ordinary people collapsing and dying while waiting in queues to obtain gas, kerosene, petrol or diesel and starting to kill each other in their distress.
The President while clarifying that “the APC is a genuine effort,” invited boycotting political parties to join the APC to discuss solutions to the current economic crisis and the country’s future. He said there is no political motive or narrow agenda.
The President urged parties to work together to find solutions to the crisis and move the country forward.
“I firmly believe that finding solutions to the problems we face today is the responsibility of all parties, including the Opposition. We urge other parties who are not present at this conference today (23) to attend in the future to discuss their solutions and move the country forward in the short term,” he said.
Party leaders and representatives of the UNP, SLFP, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, People’s United Front, TNA, National Congress, Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal, United People’s Front, SLMC, Sri Lanka People’s Party, the Eelam People’s Democratic Party, the All Ceylon People’s Congress, National Muslim Alliance, the People’s Liberation Organisation and the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi participated in the conference. LSSP’s Prof. Tissa Vitarana and Athuraliye Rathana Thera, representing 11 partner political parties, attended the conference.
Meanwhile, President Rajapaksa was compelled to extend an apology to former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the All Party Conference, over remarks made by Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, in which he continuously blamed the former Government for the present crisis.
Cabraal briefed the attendees on Sri Lanka’s present economic situation and laid blame on the former Government for the present crisis.
In response, UNP Leader Wickremesinghe expressed his displeasure and chastised Cabraal for making such a remark.
“You (President Gotabaya Rajapaksa) convened this conference at the request of the SLFP. I attended at the request of Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, who insisted on my attendance at the conference due to our long-time friendship. Therefore, we have convened to discuss the present crisis and propose solutions. However, this is not the time to play the blame game,” he added.
“If we drag this issue out, we will end up in the reign of King Vijaya,” Wickremesinghe said.
Following this, the President apologised to Wickremesinghe, saying, “My apologies if you are hurt. Cabraal explained the events leading up to the economic crisis. He did not try to make you (Wickremesinghe) uncomfortable. Not only the previous Government, but this Government is also responsible for this. That is why I said this is not a political conference, but rather a discussion on the country’s issues.”
Tongue in cheek
A heated debate ensued when UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe demanded that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) report be tabled in Parliament at the All Party Conference.
Wickremesinghe said the Government lacked transparency and accountability and has yet to submit the full IMF report. He asked whether the report could be obtained this week or next week, reminding that it was promised on several occasions. Interrupting Wickremesinghe during his statement, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa said the Finance Ministry has still not received the complete IMF report.
Wickremesinghe: “We have seen no transparency or accountability from the Government to-date. They have failed to obtain the necessary data or to submit the full report of the IMF to Parliament. Of course, we had been promised this on several occasions. Some of these parties, I believe, did not turn up for that reason. I am wondering if we will be able to get the report this week or in the next. Pakistan’s report has already been made public. There are 149 pages in total.”
Basil: “Sorry. The IMF report has not yet reached us in full.”
Wickremesinghe: “They said that they have already sent it.”
Basil: “No, no, we have not received it as yet.”
Wickremesinghe: “So, let us hear it from there. I think if the President asks the IMF representatives to come now, we can talk and resolve this.”
Basil: “It has not come as yet.”
Wickremesinghe: “So, what if we ask the representative to come?”
Basil: “I responsibly say that we have not received the report as yet.”
Wickremesinghe: “Alright, Minister. If not, tell him (representative) to send it.”
Basil: “No, so we have sent it. What has been sent to us is the Draft, with our inputs.”
Wickremesinghe: “The draft has been sent. OK.”
Basil: “The draft is sent first. They will finalise the report and send it to the Board.”
Wickremesinghe: “At least you accept that the Draft came. So far it has been said that nothing has come from the IMF.”
Basil: “No, it is a Draft, so we will discuss the Draft first. You know better than I do.”
Wickremesinghe: “No, you have gone there. It does not matter. If you received a Draft, what is the date given to us? Say that.”
Basil: “Do you want the Draft now?”
Wickremesinghe: “The Draft? So, there is a Draft? All this while you have been saying that there is no Draft? I do not mind getting it. Give it to Parliament.”
Basil: “The Draft cannot be given because we have made some observations on the Draft.”
Wickremesinghe: “No. Don’t give it to me. Give one to Parliament. Our people will misquote it as a deal that has been struck.”
Are rulers really sensitive?
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, during a religious event held recently, said the country is being ruled by leaders with sensitive hearts who are well aware of agitations of the citizenry.
It is sad to say that this statement of the PM is nothing but an utterance of hollow words. It is impossible to understand who these sensitive leaders are.
Today, a 400g milk powder packet has been increased by Rs 250 while 1kg packet has been increased by Rs 600. Accordingly, the public has to spend nearly Rs 2,000 to buy just a 1kg packet of milk powder. A kg of dhal which was sold at
Rs 240 earlier now has been increased to Rs 400. Prices of Imported medicinal drugs have been increased by 28 per cent. Price of a 12 kg LP gas cylinder has been increased by nearly Rs 1,500. There is no need to list prices of all the commodities that were increased after depreciation of LKR.
Milk powder is used to fulfil nutrition needs of children. Families who are hit by poverty need dhal to make sure that their children are fed. They do not have alternatives. These increased prices are unbearable to those who do not have a stable income.
In a backdrop like this, we have to ask the PM why the ‘sensitive leaders’ in the Government do not show any sensitivity towards these unbearable price hikes which deprived the poor of their staple food –bread and dhal.
Concerned about life
Two special discussions of the Government MPs took place last week. One such discussion was convened under the aegis of the President, while the other one was chaired by the Prime Minister.
During the meeting convened by him, the President gave a detailed account of the current political situation here. After having listened to it patiently, MP Jagath Kumara aired his views and it was contrary to what had been put forth by the President.
He said in no uncertain terms that as MPs they were afraid to walk on the streets due to the public being irate at the Government over the economic mess the country was mired in. He said the wrath of the public on the Government was such that if they could get hold of the ruling party MPs, the public could even assault them. The anger and hatred they have for their politicians is such. He then implored the President to resolve the burning issues of the day before long as things could spiral out of control.
The views expressed by the MP concerned were listened to attentively by the President. The President then remarked that he was well aware of the ground situation in the country as he was being provided with information 24/7 by the intelligence units. He observed that he too was striving to do his level best to overcome the situation on behalf of the people. He stated that he had also spoken to a few countries with the goal of seeking a few dollars more and he urged the MPs to attempt to resolve the situation via coordination and team work rather than attempting to do so individually.
Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa conveyed to the MPs that he has decided to seek the support of the IMF to bail the country out at this critical juncture. He said already the Government has been liaising with the Washington based institution and noted that their instructions were being heeded. He however firmly stated that even if the IMF were to impose unreasonable conditions on Colombo, they will not halt development work currently being initiated.
SLPP MP embarrassed
An SLPP MP said that the people who had voted for the current Government with a two-thirds majority two years ago had at no stage envisioned an economic crisis of this sort in the country. He stated that presently the people were struggling to make ends meet. At times the wrath of the people has come out into the open and he stressed that some are even cursing the present regime and he claimed that he was even ashamed to call himself a lawmaker.
These remarks were made by SLPP MP Lalith Ellawela. He stated that the people had voted overwhelmingly for the SLPP having endorsed the President’s election manifesto titled ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’.
But, he emphasised that the masses are now terribly regretting their decision having voted for the present Government, as they feel the impact of the current economic crisis could be even felt by the future generations. MP Ellawela further stated that not only the Government, the people had begun to curse each of the 225 MPs currently as the economic hardships are felt by all and sundry. He mentioned that the people had also started to curse even the children and family members of the Government Ministers and MPs.
The MP added that his own family had been urging him to resign as a lawmaker and stay at home without coming in for ridicule by the people due to the Government’s inability to tackle the economic downturn here.
Lanza offered perks
State Minister of Rural Roads and Other Infrastructure Nimal Lanza informed the President in writing, on 22 March, that he was resigning from his State Ministerial post. He had previously conveyed his reasons to the President also in writing, on 22 February, on his inability to carry out his State Ministerial duty.
In his letter sent to the President in February, Lanza had brought to the notice of the President several cases of fraud and corruption which had taken place in the said State Ministry and he urged the President to probe the charges. According to informed sources the President had not acted diligently or taken any constructive measures on the allegations mentioned by Lanza in his letter.
Then, after about a month had lapsed, Lanza decided to tender his resignation from his State Ministry portfolio as there were no tangible measures taken by the President over the issues raised by the former State Minister. In his letter of resignation Lanza had informed the President that at a time when people are oppressed due to the daily rising cost of essentials, he cannot act impervious to it and as his conscience does not allow him to function in his State Ministerial post, he was stepping down. He had further pointed out in his letter that for him, his conscience was far more important than perks, privileges and other benefits which are accorded to Ministers and MPs of the Government. The former State Minister had further observed, in his resignation letter, that the issues raised by him, in his letter to the President on 22 February, were still prevalent at his State Ministry and that he was hoping for the President to intervene and act on it for the sake of the people. Lanza had also thanked the President for the State Ministerial post that had been offered to him.
Though the President had informed Lanza to meet him on 22 March, after he had submitted his resignation letter, the former State Minister only met the President the following day. At that meeting it was reported the President had discussed the issues raised by Lanza in his resignation letter and that the President had also proposed to give him a Cabinet Ministerial post.
However, Lanza had insisted that due to the current economic woes in the country as well as due to the hardships faced by the people, he was not interested in receiving such benefits. But, at the same time the former State Minister had maintained that if the Government is able to provide relief to the masses within a span of one month, he will probably consider the President’s gesture favourably and not otherwise. It is also said that the ex-State Minister had conveyed to the President that he was more keen, to remain as a Government backbench MP in the House. It was also reported that 24-hours before the submission of Nimal Lanza’s resignation letter, a certain quarter had requested the Secretary to the State Ministry of Rural Roads and Other Infrastructure to resign. But, Lanza having known about it had rung the Secretary and had intimated to him of his own intention to leave the State Ministry. He had told the Secretary that as there was no point in both of them resigning he had advised the Secretary to continue in his post.
Threats to deprive majority in House
Sacked Minister Wimal Weerawansa says action will be taken soon to deprive the Government of its majority in Parliament.
The former minister mentioned this during his visit to Kandy to meet the Mahanayake Theras of Malwatta and Asgiriya.
The former minister also said no Rajapaksa would be brought back to power.
Commenting on the APC, he said the manner in which the former Prime Minister was addressed showed that Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa was once again an “arrogant man”.
“An all-party conference is being convened to work together in unity. The Finance Minister has shown at it, that he is a man who is arrogant enough to call a former Prime Minister ‘you’. He does not want unity in that either. A country can’t go on like this,” he said.
Former Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila said the Minister of Finance is a citizen of America and he would flee this country if problems arise.
Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Leader of the United People’s Party Tiran Alles, Member of Parliament Gevindu Kumaratunga and Senior Vice President of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Professor Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa were also present at the occasion.
People’s power in Nugegoda
A massive protest, organised by the Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB), took place in Nugegoda. The protest was against the Government that had severely burdened the public. MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake and many other party members participated in the protest.
Under the theme ‘Let’s oust the oppressive Government and end the 74-year curse’. The protest started at 3 p.m. from Delkanda Junction and marched to the Ananda Samarakoon open stage in Nugegoda resulting in heavy traffic congestion along the road.
“The Rajapaksas should go now. This country is filled with chaotic rulers. This is a time of great economic downturn but the President does not care. The economic and political policies pursued will plunge this country into the abyss,” MP Anura Dissanayake, Leader of JVP, said addressing the crowd.
He said the leaders in the Government are the same people who fled to America, leaving this country when it was in a bad shape. This is a Government that steals from the citizens despite such a crisis.
“National resources of our country are being sold to different countries and it is not right,” he said.
Dissanayake urged the youth and the elderly to think correctly and make the right decision in the future.
Tilvin Silva General Secretary of JVP said nobody was able to sabotage the event.
“Nobody is able to scare the JJB, we won’t let anyone ruin our programme since the people are with us.”
He further said this treacherous Government should be ousted and the curse of 74 years must be brought to an end.
Also addressing the crowd, MP K.D. Lalkantha, executive member of JVP said the Government is only persecuting the people.
“Citizens of this country spend the entire day in queues. Now people are queuing up and collapsing, some are dying. The Government should be held responsible for this,” he said.
Saroja Polraj, Mahinda Ratnayake, Munir Mulaffar and many other NPP executive members also addressed the gathering regarding the current crisis that has overtaken Sri Lanka.
Man of the match
UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe celebrated his birthday on 24 March. A number of politicians including President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and PM Mahinda Rajapaksa called him to wish him on his birthday. SLBC Chairman Hudson Samarasinghe who is a critic of Wickremesinghe too contacted him during his morning political talk show to wish Wickremesinghe a happy birthday.
After Samarasinghe conveyed birthday greetings, Wickremesinghe stated that the best possible birthday gift that anyone could give him is to reduce the prices of essentials for the people.
Many people had arrived at Wickremesinghe’s residence with birthday greetings.
After having a cordial chat with them Wickremesinghe, who went to Parliament, was warmly greeted by MPs. Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena, who was a schoolmate of Wickremesinghe, also wished him in Parliament.
A Government MP stated that it was Wickremesinghe who had become the man-of-the-match at the All Party Conference (APC). The MP said that Wickremesinghe spoke to the point in raising vital issues at the APC.
“I said what had to be said at the APC on behalf of the oppressed people. They should be the heroes, not me,” Wickremesinghe said, while thanking for the greetings extended.
An Opposition MP also stated that ultimately Wickremesinghe had unmasked the true face of the on-going crisis situation in the country. Wickremesinghe claimed that the CBSL Governor had strived to play a blame game at the APC.
Many MPs praised the leader for the views expressed by him during the APC.
During the APC, Wickremesinghe revealed as to why he decided to attend the conference. He said one of the reasons for that was the personal invitation of Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva.
Although he was invited to attend a luncheon held after the APC, he declined it saying that he had to be present at a meeting scheduled at Sirikotha in the afternoon.
Wickremesinghe then visited Sirikotha to look into the arrangements for the Sathyagraha held on Friday (25).
He had entrusted that task previously to UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardena, Deputy Chairman Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, National Organizer Sagala Ratnayake, Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene and General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara.
All of them praised Wickremesinghe for his remarks at the APC. Abeywardena said everyone saw that Wickremesinghe is the only alternative to solve the crises in the country.
Range Bandara agreed with Abeywardena and insisted that it was only the UNP Leader who broached the issues facing the masses in an effective and efficient way at the APC.
During the discussion, Ruwan Wijewardene revealed that the SJB, which boycotted the APC, had reportedly sent several proposals to President Rajapaksa through MP M.A. Sumanthiran. Wickremensinghe said the news was correct.
Afterwards, Wickremesinghe inquired into the arrangements for the Satyagraha and Akila Viraj Kariyawasam briefed him about the progress. Wickremesinghe remarked that its success or failure will lie on the shoulders of the organisers.
The Satyagraha kicked off at 3.00 p.m. on Friday (25). Four groups reached the destination of the Satyagraha at Hyde Park from four different routes.
The people holding candles reached the location from Darley Road, Victoria Park, Union Place and Braybrooke Place clad in white. The event commenced under the patronage of Wickremesinghe. Those who gathered at the venue gave an oath at 5.30 p.m. They prayed in one voice that future of the country may be prosperous and a national policy may be established.