The political arena is still largely curious about the recent visit to the USA by Foreign Minister G.L. Pieris and Presidential Secretary Lalith Weerathunga. Speculation has been rife about the twosome handing over an Action Plan to GL on ensuring human rights in the country and implementing the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to Hillary Clinton during the visit. In fact it was the biggest topic prior to and post GL’s US visit.
Even though the Opposition questioned the Action Plan from GL in Parliament on several occasions, the government response was to deny the existence of such a plan. No one is actually buying that denial and the Opposition continues to allege that the government has clearly handed over a roadmap to the USA outlining how it would implement the LLRC recommendations.
Whether there is any truth to either side’s claim, what cannot be ignored is that the USA has altered its stance on Sri Lanka following GL’s visit. Though the government has vehemently denied handing over an action plan, the positive signals issued coming from the US makes it evident that diplomatic relations between the two countries have now taken a new turn.
The first such positive signal was the lifting of the sanctions regarding oil imports from Iran. Sri Lanka is one of the countries that stood to be victimized by the collapse of diplomatic relations between Iran and USA and the economic sanctions against Iran that followed. The Sri Lankan Government faced a major dilemma with these sanctions as 90% of its oil purchase was from Iran and getting some sort of preferential treatment was a priority for the government.
In this context, the lifting of sanctions brought a major relief to the government. Even though it did not make a statement about the new development, political analysts are of the opinion of this being a signal from the USA to the government, based on the Action Plan that had been handed over.
Nevertheless, government was seen swiftly making moves towards implementing the LLRC recommendations soon after GL’s US visit. The first such move was the decision by the President to appoint a special committee headed by Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, to attend to this, soon after GL’s return.
Since its appointment, the committee has met on more than five occasions and has identified several recommendations that could be implemented in the immediate future. During the last meeting, the committee decided to implement several recommendations that could take off before 30 July, utilizing this year’s budget allocations. During the discussions, the committee also realized that there is no proper mechanism within the government to implement certain other recommendations. Therefore, they stressed on the need for a proper mechanism to implement the rest of the recommendations.
It was also decided to allocate necessary funds in the 2012 budget to be presented in Parliament in November if the need for more funds occurs for the creation of the new mechanism.
As a side note, Weeratunga has reminded the committee of an utmost important factor that the Sri Lankan Government needs to keep in mind – that is ensure steps have already been taken to upgrade the human rights situation in the country before the UNHRC meeting in Geneva, which is schedule for March 2013, without disappointing the countries that supported Sri Lanka during the US-backed resolution.
What Pillay is capable of
The next major issue faced by the government is implementing the recommendations in the UNHRC Resolution and the action slated to be taken by Commissioner General Navanethem Pillay in this regard.
Pillay has already written to the government that she is prepared to visit the country. The government has also been informed of the visit of a special investigation team. The government decided not to respond to Pillay’s letter and kept mum about the whole issue. However, the government has unofficially told the Human Rights Council that though it has no objections to Pillay’s visit, it is totally against any visits by the special investigation team and that such a visit would in no way be tolerated.
Although Pillay has not responded to the government’s unofficial missive, sources in Geneva say there is every likelihood of Pillay visiting Sri Lanka within the next two to three weeks. The sources also implied that in the event the specialist team accompanying Pillay is not permitted entry to the country, the Commissioner General has two courses of action.
The first course of action is she could inform the next Human Rights Council session in Geneva that no action could be taken on the recommendation of the resolution adopted in March and propose that the issue be taken to the International War Crimes Tribunal in Hague.
The second option for Pillay is to make a special statement about the future actions required by the Government of Sri Lanka with regard to the resolution adopted in March to the Human Rights Commission and propose that a new resolution be brought up against Sri Lanka at the next Human Rights Council sessions.
Sources from Geneva say that one solution out of two elements will be granted if the government fails to obtain the required measurement in this regard.
PBJ to become a minister
The government is in a bit of a quandary with regard to Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundara. The reason for this is the slew of complaints against him from government ministers, MPs, party organizers and high officials during the recent past. All the complaints had a similar theme – the ministers, MP and officials couldn’t return to their constituencies or villages, or face their constituents or carry out their political activities because of PB’s actions. They have also complained that PB’s refusal to release funds for promised development projects had placed them in a quandary.
Because of these constant and continuing complaints, speculation was rife among political circles last week that PB’s fate had been decided by the hierarchy. It was speculated that a decision had been made by the hierarchy to remove PB from his post as Treasury Secretary and get him into Parliament as a National List MP, and then, to appoint him as either Deputy Minister Economic Development or Acting Minster of the Finance Ministry. This was the topic of discussion for the better part of last week within the government, Parliament and among Treasury officials and staff.
The twin development to this was the speculation about the quarrel between PB and Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal. It was speculated that the confrontational situation between the heads of the two prime financial institutes of the country had an impact on the policy decisions taken with regard to the country’s economic wellbeing.
It is also being mentioned that all the details about The Finance Company shares being purchased by the National Savings Bank had been revealed to the media as a result of this confrontational situation. Fearing that the situation would worsen, the talk among those in the higher echelons was the urgent need to resolve the dispute. Failure to do so, they feared, would lead to further troubles for the government. The suggestion that PB be removed from the Treasury and be sent to Parliament is being made with a view to separating the two. It is hoped the move would help thaw the ice between the two.
Supporters demand Sajith
With the media buzzing with news related to the dissolution of the North Central, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern Provincial Council, the UNP was seen gearing up for an imminent election. During the past few days the UNP had been busy opening electoral branches in every possible corner.
Last week, UNP parliamentarian Anoma Gamage, who is the wife of the party’s National Organizer, Daya Gamage, attended the opening of an electoral office in Dehiaththakandiya, Ampara. She had been busy canvassing from 9 June to14 June in the area. During her campaign trail, she had to deal with UNP supporters who asked for UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa. Some of the UNP supporters seemed uneasy as they continued to demand for Sajith.
“We always loose because of Ranil’s attitude. The party is always in a destitute state because of Ranil. If you can, try to bring Sajith for these meetings. If that’s not possible, then we will not let anyone hand green flags or put up a single UNP poster in this area,” a youth from the area, who is a passionate supporter of Sajith, had said.
At that moment a heated argument had transpired between Anoma and the UNP supporters. Much to the consternation of the supporters gathered at the meeting, Anoma had replied condemning Sajith, implying that he was the cause of the downfall of the UNP. Sajith supporters had countered this by pointing out that Ranil, Ravi and Mangala are attempting to lead the party towards destruction.
They also threatened that if young upcoming politicians like Sajith and Dayasiri Jayasekara are to be sidelined, they would abstain from voting for the UNP.
During her campaign tour, Anoma had been visiting Wev Madagama, Nawa Madagama, Ihalagama, Henanigala South, Sadamadulla and Therupitiya in order to open new UNP electoral officers.
JHU hunting for Wijedasa
Ven. Hadigalle Wimalasara Thera updated the Central Committee of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) with the latest news last Friday. “Wijedasa Rajapakse is going from one Mahanayake to another, campaigning support for his Bill against Buddhist monks engaging in politics, and requesting them to issue statements in this regard,” he said. In response, Athuraliye Rathana Thera had said that Wijedasa seems to be unaware that creating divisions among the Sangha is an unforgivable sin.
“The Bill he brought to show his knowledge in Buddhism, made his lack of knowledge obvious. We should hold a debate on television so that we can prove his lack of knowledge,” Rathana Thera noted.
“He not only lacks knowledge of Buddhism, but of legal affairs as well. Even though it was said this was an act to ban Buddhist monks from contesting in elections, what has been cited in the Bill is clergy. He has disgraced those who made him a President’s Counsel by bringing in this Act,” Legal Advisor of the JHU Udaya Gammanpila charged.
Party Leader Ven. Omalpe Sobhitha Thera advised Gammanpila to challenge Wijedasa to a public debate and accordingly, Gammampila announced this to the media on 8 June.
Responding to the challenge three days later, Wijedasa said he is not ready to debate the issue with Gammanpila, but will come for a debate with a learned Buddhist monk.
This remark brought a smile to Minister Champika Ranawaka as he told Gammanpila that Wijedasa has indirectly said ‘no’ to him.“He first attempted to impose disciplinary measures on the Maha Sanga assuming he is the Buddha and is now calling for a monk to debate with him. We’ll accept it only if he too becomes a monk,” Champika retorted.
However, Nishantha Warnasinghe was of different opinion. He said the JHU should participate in the debate setting aside all differences, for otherwise, they would not be able to reveal the truth to the world.