- MR criticises British HC
- Basil advised MR against the tour
- RW in last ditch effort to keep the Treasury
It has been the practice of President Mahinda Rajapaksa hitherto to hold his Cabinet meetings at Temple Trees. But after the recent Cabinet re-shuffle he decided to have it at the Presidential Secretariat last Wednesday. This was because the new Cabinet is enormous and Temple Trees Hall where it is usually held was not adequate to accommodate all. Mahinda Rajapaksa attended the first cabinet meeting following the re-shuffle after having listened to all the gossip, tales about others told to him and the stories woven around his London tour fiasco.
Those who sneaked to him on others had told him that the organiser of his London tour Sajin Vaas Gunewardena, the Galle District MP, is the target of vicious criticism among the ministers and government MPs who are having discussions in dark corridors regarding his tour. Amidst these accusations, Vaas himself had made a complaint to the President that when JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake accused him in Parliament for being responsible for the failure of the President’s London tour, the ministers and government MPs did not defend him. Dissanayake had made a hard hitting speech against the tour and praised Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris saying that he has high regard for him, but unfortunately, today, Peiris is unable to perform his duties because of the interference of Sajin Vaas.
Sajin then began obstructing Dissanayake’s speech and at this provocation, Dissanayake alleged that it was Vaas who had encouraged the President on the tour and finally let him down. Dissanayake went on to castigate Vaas for encouraging the President to go on the tour contrary to the advice of the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Britain. Though Vaas was yelling out in self defense, no other minister or MP stood up to support him and Vaas had complained about this to the President later.
As though to add fuel to fire, a weekend Sinhala newspaper too had pinned the entire blame on Vaas. To the President’s consternation, he had come to know that this news had been released to the newspaper by a group within the government. Rajapaksa who attended the Cabinet meeting with his head ‘reeling’ from listening to all these tales and complaints began by saying, ‘‘A national newspaper had reported various stories. All these are erroneous. I believe that as ministers, all of you must know what truly occurred.”
“I received an invitation from the Oxford Union. On an earlier occasion too I was invited and I responded to it. On this current tour it was my intention to communicate to the world via my address to the Oxford Union how communal harmony can be accomplished in Sri Lanka and I thought the Oxford Union would have been a splendid forum to do this. The Oxford Union President who invited me was scheduled to relinquish his post on 4th December . It was during those final days of his term that I received his invitation. I accepted the invitation and toured the UK. I was to deliver my lecture on the 2nd of December, but on the 1st of December I was informed that my lecture had been cancelled. This was ludicrous. Had I become aware of this earlier I would not have undertaken this tour.
“ After this intimation of cancellation, another team of the Oxford Union came and met me. Among them was the new president of the Union who was to take over duties on the 4th. He suggested that if I could stay on for three or four days more he would make arrangements for me to deliver my speech after he takes over duties. Had I heeded his request I believe I would have voluntarily walked into deep trouble. By that time, the LTTE Diaspora had gone to courts to take out a warrant to arrest the former army officer who had gone with me. I therefore decided to return to Sri Lanka as swiftly as possible. The President of the Oxford Union cancelled this lecture at the instigation of the Tamil Tiger Diaspora.’’
At this point G.L. Peiris asked him whether to issue the letter of invitation from the Oxford Union and the cancellation letter to the media. The President after agreeing to this, continued with his speech, ‘‘I wish to emphasise one thing. The British government accorded me the maximum security. My plane was to stop at Terminal Four, but for my sake they stopped at Terminal Five and summoned all the security vehicles to the tarmac and whisked me away under a heavy security blanket. The protests were being staged at Terminal Four. Had I arrived at Terminal Four I would have had to confront serious problems. We must express our profuse gratitude to the British government for these arrangements.”
“However the British High Commission conducted itself in a most untoward manner. When I included Minister Douglas Devananda in my delegation his visa was refused. Even the issue of visas to my security division was deliberately delayed and consequently my flight got delayed. The British High Commission did not give recognition to the fact that the President of the State was traveling. I know how the British High Commission treats our Sinhala children when they seek visas to study abroad. Those children whom I met in London complained about the harassment meted out to their parents by the High Commission when they request visas to visit their children. But they issue visas without any hesitation to those who are trying to attend meetings of the Tamil Diaspora. If Devananda had requested the visa to attend a Tamil Diaspora meeting they would have gladly granted it.’’
When the President made all these remarks critical of the British High Commission he did not however utter a word about the harassment and embarrassment that were caused to their High Commission in Colombo when his ministers staged violent demonstrations in front of it hurling rotten eggs and tomatoes. Mahinda Rajapaksa then turned his vituperative speech in the direction of UNP MP Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena and NSSP Leader Dr. Wickremabahu Karunaratne whom he made scapegoats for his ‘catastrophic’ tour .
‘‘I met a lady from the media by the name of Rajeswari Balasubramaniam in London. She asked me whether I was not aware that Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena and Dr. Wickremabahu Karunaratne came to London and held a series of meetings with the Tamil Tiger leaders. These are the people who advised the Tamil Tiger leaders and the Tamil Diaspora leaders to hold demonstrations and protests on your arrival there. ‘These are the people who have incited them’, she declared. It was then and only then that I came to know of the involvements of these two individuals in the protests,” the President said.
It was clear that Mahinda made this announcement in order to justify the attacks launched on Dr. Jayawardena in Parliament and on Dr. Karunaratne at the airport. Later on, a minister wished to know the view of Rajapaksa on Karu Jayasuriya’s statement published in a weekend English newspaper wherein he had recommended that an investigation into alleged war crimes be conducted. In response to this the President said, “I know Karu’s capacity. He is incapable of issuing such statements. It is Mangala Samaraweera, the UNP MP who is behind all this. Today, Karu is a captive of Mangala and his team. Mangala is hatching conspiracies using Karu as a shield. I am also aware that behind Mangala and his team there is a huge Tamil lobby. This is the group which is running websites to undermine the forces and tarnish the image of the country. We have started investigations into this. We are bound to expose the ghosts of the LTTE hovering around the country.” He then unleashed his fury on Karu and Mangala who were next on his hit list.
After the cabinet meeting was over, Rajapaksa had a separate discussion with Ministers Dinesh Gunawardena, Wimal Weerawansa and Susil Premajayantha. This discussion focused on how to weaken the opposition inside Parliament. From all this it became obvious that the President was at the bottom of all the attacks launched against Dr. Jayawardena, Dr. Karunaratne and the mudslinging against Karu Jayasuriya. At any rate the ministers who were leaving the cabinet meeting made a parting shot that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s speech was fully oriented towards searching for scapegoats for his flopped UK tour and an attempt to defend those who organised it and inspired him.
Minister Basil Rajapaksa playing an uncharacteristically silent role during the sessions caught the attention of the other ministers and that became the topic of their conversation thereafter. Sources close to Basil disclosed that three days before the President embarked on his tour he had discussions with Basil and asked him for his opinion about it. Basil had also advised him against making the tour pointing out that this is not an opportune moment to address the Oxford Union adding that he too had received invitations to tour Europe but had postponed them because the Tamil Diaspora is violent and very active these days. But the President had rejected his advice explaining that keeping away from the tour could be interpreted by the Tamil Diaspora as a defeat inflicted on him. Basil had however advised his brother to re-consider his decision.
The SLFP Union London branch is taking measures to probe conclusively as to who were the culprits responsible for the President’s tour. They had discovered that about a month ago Sajin Vaas had come to London in advance on a fact finding tour to make a study of the situation there along with two of the President’s security division chiefs, DIG Wickremesinghe and SP Tuduwatte. Two reports were compiled based on their tour. One advised Mahinda Rajapaksa not to undertake the London tour as it was ‘untimely.’ It is learned that the London Branch Union has requested the President to find out who suppressed that report.
While the government is preoccupying itself with conducting a post mortem on the President’s tour, the main opposition party, the UNP is making preparations to hold the party convention with the objective of reviving it by getting the new party constitution ratified at the convention today (12). The UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who is well aware that if the new constitution is ratified, he will tumble down from his leadership is moving heaven and earth to put aside the convention falsely blaming the government and describing the convention move as a government ‘contract’.
Having found that this excuse is proving futile, steps were then taken to seek court action to stall the holding of the convention which too did not meet with success. His latest ploy now is to clandestinely alter the proposals contained in the new constitution that was to be given for printing. Last Wednesday, when UNP Hambantota District MP Sajith Premadasa’s group met, Madduma Bandara, MP, who came for the meeting showed a secretly altered copy of the constitution to the dismay of all present. At that stage, Sajith had with him a copy of the Reform Committee Report, the report approved by the Working Committee and that of the Legal Committee which drafted the constitution. When this altered report was compared with it, it was clear there were disparities. The most notable alteration was the clause which stipulated that the Treasurer shall be appointed by the Party Leader. According to the reports of the Reform Committee, Working Committee and the Legal Committee the Treasurer should be elected with the consensus of all and not by the Party Leader alone.
Sajith’s group who noticed this was of the opinion that Ranil was more greedy for the party’s treasury than the party. The group then immediately spoke to the Reforms Committee Chairman MP Joseph Michael Perera and Committee Member Ronald Perera. They both confirmed that this was a very grave mistake pointing out that they did not approve such a clause and that it is unimaginable that a party leader is capable of descending to this level so as to make unauthorised alterations. They had then decided to meet the Party Leader the following day and rectify the error. When Tilak Marapone, the legal advisor to the Legal Committee was contacted, he too had stated with shock that such an alteration is unacceptable. Party Secretary Tissa Attanayake was not available for comment. When attempts were made to reach him, his security officers said that he was asleep.
On the following day, Sajith’s group along with the Reform Committee members had met Ranil with a view to demonstrating their opposition to this alteration and have it rectified. At that moment Ranil was on his way to the Assembly Hall and when he realised that the Sajith’s group was coming to meet him he got cold feet and rushed into his Parliamentary Office. The Sajith team then met Ranil and exposed the illegal interpolations made in the proposed constitution while expressing their bitter opposition to this kind of underhand activities. Ranil was thoroughly ashamed and embarrassed at the exposure.
When Sajith’s team was emerging from Ranil’s office after successfully achieving their purpose, Sajith received a telephone call from a Tangalle Municipal Council UNP MP who had told him gleefully ‘as you instructed us we have been able to defeat the budget of the government side in the Tangalle Municipal Council’. Sajith who was delighted broke the news to those around him. Recently, Sajith has successfully maneuvered to see that the budget of the government side is defeated in the Beliatta Pradeshiya Sabha too which comes within the electorate of the President. All those who were with him began cheering Sajith by remarking ‘if you are capable of defeating the President in his own fiefdom even before you have become the UNP leader then toppling Rajapaksa after your becoming the leader is no difficult task’.
Last week in Parliament, Sajith when answering a question posed by Wimal Weerawansa, said the war crimes were committed by the LTTE. This answer incurred the pleasure of Weerawansa and others. Indeed Minister Rajitha Senaratne openly lauded him. A minister who is very close to the President and his family had conveyed Sajith’s speech to him but with mischievous intent and disappointment. He had said, ‘though Sajith’s speech was apparently in favour of us, it is the stance of the UNP clamoring for war crime charges investigation that is operating to our advantage. It is only then, we can fasten the LTTE label on them and defeat them. We have therefore to be watchful over Sajith. He is trying to use your campaign slogan and some day cook you in your own fat.’
Mahinda Rajapaksa replying to this had said with confidence that there is nothing to worry about for he is sure Ranil is capable of resorting to some subterfuge and retaining his leadership. The minister had then asked him whether this was the reason why he ‘did not attach the Tiger label to Ranil on this occasion after your London tour unlike previously and maligned Dr. Jayawardena and Karu instead?’ Rajapaksa who is possessed of the Medamulana cunning had only grinned. It is now clear that Ranil has lived up to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s confidence as it was learnt that Ranil’s proxies had gone to courts on Friday to take out an injunction to stall the convention.