On the 16th of December, Adam Werrity, the personal aide to British Secretary of Defence Liam Fox arrived in Sri Lanka. He arrived in advance to vet the arrangements that were being made for Liam Fox’s visit when he was expected to make the keynote speech at the Lakshman Kadirgamar commemoration. He first met with Mrs Suganthi Kadirgamar to go over the arrangements.
Fox visit cancelled
Werrity received an urgent message early next morning from England where he was informed that the visit to Sri Lanka by Liam Fox was suspended and that he should keep the Sri Lankan government advised. Adam Werrity then met with External Affairs Minister G.L Peiris and Sachin Waas Gunawardene, Monitor, External Affairs, the next morning to pass on this information. He also changed his travel arrangements and was to leave Sri Lanka later that day. Minister G.L Peiris and Sachin Waas Gunawardene had then requested him to change the status of the cancellation of Liam Fox’s visit to Sri Lanka into a ‘postponement’ in order to prevent embarrassment to the government of Sri Lanka.
Accordingly Adam Weritty kept Liam Fox informed and the official version was changed to ‘postponed’. His visit was postponed for the next year and his speech too would be made during an official visit to be scheduled in 2011 the communiqué added. The official communiqué also stated that as his visit to the Gulf had been extended hence his inability to visit Sri Lanka at this time.
Though Liam Fox’s visit to Sri Lanka to deliver the Lakshman Kadirgamar commemoration lecture was one of a private nature, the British Press had been critical of it nonetheless. Liam Fox came under criticism by his own party, when he was in the opposition for speaking favourably of the Sri Lankan government on his visits to the island, some undertaken at the invitation and expense of the host nation. His website states that these private visits to Sri Lanka were at the invitation and cost of the Sri Lankan government. Costs have been borne by Sri Lanka Development Fund. Who administers this fund is in question. The site depicts his visits overseas as such: His private visits to Sri Lanka and his seemingly close ties with the government of Sri Lanka was cause for concern to British Foreign Secretary William Hague. The media had hinted that these visits though of a private nature would have an adverse impact on British Foreign Policy and interests according to William Hague. The media was of the view that Hague’s concerns were the cause of the cancellation. Though Liam Fox had announced that he would visit Sri Lanka in his official capacity the following year, William Hague was to issue a statement that he would be sending a special envoy next year to Sri Lanka for a first hand observation of conditions here. Accepting that Liam Fox’s connections with the government of Sri Lanka could be useful to William Hague in sending a special envoy independently, he was making a statement that these private visits would not impact on British Foreign Policy. Reading between the lines one can deduce that future dealings between the British government and Sri Lanka at an official level would be through the special envoy.
About turn in Foreign Relations
This is not good news to the Rajapaksa administration. Thus far it had used Liam Fox and the British Public Relations firm Bell Pottinger to smoothen relationships between the two nations. The failure of this strategy was seen during the President’s recent visit to London. Public funds are spent to meet the bills of Bell Pottinger as well as the cost of Liam Fox’s visits to Sri Lanka and the results of these expenses have not yet borne fruit. Still our Ministers are running behind Bell Pottinger to draw in investors to Sri Lanka. It is reported that Minister of Fisheries Rajitha Senaratne had commissioned this company to find investors for deep sea fishing and canning of fish. They are using Wasantha Basnayake, the former Managing Director of the now defunct Union Trust and Investments, a company that defrauded public funds deposited with them. Basnayake was found guilty and sentenced to four years imprisonment but fled to England avoiding arrest.
Some officials within the Sri Lankan High Commission in London are disturbed by such associations and are in the process of petitioning President Rajapaksa. They have unearthed information of commissions to be paid and the unhealthy relationship between Bell Pottinger and such shady characters. However the President may have realized by now that international relations cannot be furthered through personal visits or by using a public relations company. His approach is also seemingly softer towards international opinion, particularly those of the western world in relation to the human rights issues that have been raised in the past. Rajapaksa’s change of stance by allowing the panelists appointed by Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the UN to visit Sri Lanka was the first signal. The Hindustan Times of India had addressed this change of heart and speculated on the reasons behind it. The person behind this change is none other than the Monitor MP appointed to the External Affairs Ministry, Sachin Waas Gunawardene who made the decision for the President’s visit to London. His advice to the President is to soften his stance towards the west in order to get the GSP plus back and for greater investments and aid from that hemisphere. There were others however who had advised him prior to this on this score to no avail. His reply to them was that they were caught in a western trap. Yet, Sachin Waas seems to have achieved much more in changing the President’s mind. By appointing Sachin Waas as the Monitor to this Ministry, Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to have given him a free hand to fashion policy. Extremists within the government have shown dissent at this turn of events. Wimal Weerawanse, Champika Ranawaka and the Hela Urumaya have castigated the government for allowing the UN monitors to visit Sri Lanka. There seems to be a split within sections of the government on Sachin Waas’ attempts to direct the President’s decisions on foreign policy. These are in addition to the discontent already festering amongst the Senior Ministers.
There was another incident last week which brought out the simmering discontent within the government ranks. Former Prime Minister and current Senior Minister Ratnasiri Wikramanayake’s vehicle and security convoy was stopped along Baudhaloka Mawatha, by the army. They were advised to pull up to allow a VVIP convoy to proceed. Ratnasiri asked his driver what was happening. On being given the reason Wikramanayake lost his temper, alighted from the vehicle and approached the army officers who had stopped his convoy. The officers had explained that no one was allowed to pass at this stage in order to allow the VVIP movement. “I am a former Prime Minister and Defence Minister. Are you going to stop me and allow an official to go or will you let me go?” he had thundered. Apologizing profusely the officers had said that they were under orders not to allow anyone through till the VVIP movement had passed. Saying, “I am going through. Shoot if you wish,” Wikramanayake’s convoy proceeded.
It is not as if the President is oblivious to the fact that there is discontent amongst Ministers. He uses his public relationship skills to keep them quiet. Recently Senior Minister A.H.M Fowzie’s grandson celebrated his birthday. He had invited a few senior ministers and also speaker Chamal Rajapaksa. Though an invitation was sent to the President, the Fowzie family was aware that he would not be attending. But to their surprise Mahinda Rajapaksa did attend. The President is of the view that his public relations efforts will suffice to keep them satisfied. Previously, it was Chamal Rajapaksa who was amongst those unhappy with the appointments made when the cabinet was reshuffled in 2010. Though he wanted a cabinet post Rajapaksa gave him the position of Speaker to thwart a possible future impeachment. Though he was unhappy at that time with this decision he accepted the post of Speaker, he seems satisfied in that position at present. He has the confidence of all the parties within the parliament. His independence from the family and the government was shown when he made a speech on the rising cost of living at the festival held in Hambantota to distribute “ranbima’ deeds to the people. He had stated that building ports, airports were of little importance if the people’s day to day expenses were rising.
Whilst the splits within the government seems to be coming from within the family, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was doing his best to stay in power by using the bogey of seeking an honourable exit. He is seeking a period of two years at the helm for the honourable exit. He has used the good offices of seniors such as Joseph Michael Perera and John Amaratunge to pressurize Sajith Premadasa. Ranil has Joseph Michael in his pocket by appointing him to parliament through the national list and John by diffusing the animosity against him from within the ranks when he undertook a trip to the US as a delegate to the United Nations conference with the President.
Last week he had discussions with John Amaratunge, Joseph Michael Perera, Lakshman Kiriella, Treasurer Kapukotuwa, Colombo Central Organiser Maharoof and Western Province Councillor Muzzamil, on this issue. Maharoof had pointed out that the biggest mistake Ranil made was not to be in full control of the convention. “If you took the convention in hand you could have finished Sajith”, he said and Muzzamil agreed with him. “Do not worry Sajith will not go beyond accepting the post of Deputy Leader”, said Joseph Michael with John Amaratunge agreeing. “He has promised us this”, they added. Lakshman Kiriella however said that he had not heard of such an agreement. “If Sajith is agreeable to the post of Deputy Leader, he should not be attacked”, said Ranil with a sigh.
However Sajith’s group had other ideas. They were of the opinion that Ranil should be kept on as the Leader of the Opposition and as the Senior Leader of the UNP whilst Sajith took over as the Party Leader and this proposal was conveyed to Ranil’s confidante Malik Samarawickreme, through Bodhi Ranasinghe. Though, Sajith’s group had insisted that he should take over both positions, that of Party Leader and Leader of the Opposition, he was not inclined to do so by pushing Ranil aside.
Ranil had told Malik that there was little use in speaking to Bodhi Ranasinghe since Sajith had agreed to accept the position of Deputy Leader. Ranil’s game plan was to cause dissention between Sajith’s group and Sajith by using Joseph Michael and John. When Malik called and informed Bodhi of this, Bodhi lost his temper. When he cross checked with Sajith, he showed surprise and said that they should not change any decisions made as a group and therefore they should discuss this further on Thursday and make a public announcement. Accordingly parliamentarians Dayasiri Jayasekere, Sujeewa Senesinghe, Thalatha Athukorale, Rosy Senanayake, Asoka Wijeysinghe, Gayantha Karunathileke and Sajith together with Upul Jayasuriya, Ronald Perera, Daham Wimalasena and Bodhi Ranasighe met at Bodhi’s residence. It was made clear that Sajith would run for the party leader’s position and should inform such to the seniors within the party such as Joseph Michael, Jayawickreme Perera and John Amaratunge in the first instance and if there is no response, for Sajith to inform Ranil himself. Some were of the view that Ranil should not be accommodated in any post, but Sajith was vehement that he did not want to make the same mistake that his father made, but if he is pushed then he would take appropriate action.
Ranil knows of this position and so do John and Joseph Michael. Though Ranil uses John and Joseph Michael to cause dissention within the Sajith camp they feel that this has only strengthened their group. Firstly, Ranil’s group itself sends a message that Sajith is not greedy for the leadership. They say though Sajith is grateful to Ranil for having helped his father get over the impeachment. Sajith’s group does not feel so. The other is by agreeing to give Sajith the Deputy Leadership post Ranil is completely sidelining Karu and also Ravi who has openly opposed to Sajith. They feel Ranil has let them down by trying to save himself. Having learnt that Sajith will not accept the Deputy Leader’s slot Ranil tried a new tactic. He sent Gampaha District parliamentarian Ruan Wijeywardene, Badulla District MP Harin Fernando, and Moneragala District MP Tissa Kuttiaratchi to Welikada prison to meet Sarath Fonseka. The message to Sarath was that since Ranil will not be able to face another election as the leader, Sarath should accept the position of Deputy Leader of the UNP thereby strengthening Ranil for the moment, but he could contest the next election from the party for Presidency. This too had failed and Ranil has said as much to his friends. Whilst all what Ranil planned had failed, Sajith went to seek the advice of the Chief Prelates of Asgiriya and Malwatte. Lakshman Kiriella too joined Sajith on this visit. “Though the government did not do much during the 2011 Sambudha Jayanthi programme, Sajith’s “Sasunata Aruna “programme did help,” said the Malwatte Maha Nayaka Thero. Despite the Prelate speaking of the problems that beset the nation, he felt that he was talking in isolation as the opposition led by the UNP was weak. “Hence Sajith should give proper leadership to the UNP by taking over”, he added. Ranil naturally was very keen in finding out what had transpired between the Chief Prelates and Sajith.
Whilst all this was taking place Mahinda Rajapaksa used his informants within the UNP to find out details of the latest happenings, but mostly with the view of keeping Ranil on as its leader. His plan is to face the next Presidential election due in four years, whilst keeping Ranil as the Leader of the UNP. Yet, Basil Rajapaksa had warned the President before he left overseas that Ranil is a politically dead personality and Mahinda Rajapaksa should not prepare his political time table with him in view.