Who is China trying to warn by inviting Rajapaksas to its soil?
Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara was on his way to attend the passing out ceremony of the 73rd Batch of Special Task Force (STF) Probationary Sub Inspectors of Police at the STF Training College, Katukurunda on 23 November afternoon when he got the news of former STF Commandant retired DIG K.M.L. Sarathchandra being remanded over an allegation of misusing a State vehicle.
During this ceremony, IGP Jayasundara witnessed the passing out of 50 Probationary Sub Inspectors of Police, three Probationary Women Sub Inspectors of Police and 34 STF Officers who have completed the Special Weapon and Tactics (SWAT) course and who are well trained in VVIP protection and rescue operations.
The former Commandant of the Special Task Force (STF) retired DIG K.M.L. Sarathchandra, who was arrested by Police for allegedly misusing a State vehicle was remanded till 7 December. He was arrested by the Police Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and produced at the Colombo Chief Magistrate's Court.
Police informed the Court that he was arrested in connection with an incident of misusing a vehicle belonging to the Police Special Task Force (STF) and requested that he be remanded as investigations regarding the suspect have not being concluded. DIG (Retired) K.M.L. Sarathchandra served as the Commandant of the Special Task Force (STF) from 24 March 2008 to 19 March 2011. He has also served as the Coordinating Secretary of the Security Division of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
It was not a secret that the IGP was not amongst the favourites of government hierarchies in the recent past as his relations with the Minister-in-Charge of Police soured over few issues. The soured relationship between IGP Jayasundara and Minister of Law and Order Sagala Ratnayake reached its peak when the latter realized his name was not included in the plaque of the Jaffna Police Complex declared open by President Maithripala Sirisena few months ago.
Jayasundara who is said to have been increasingly losing his popularity amongst his peers and other ranks in the Police Department, also came under criticism when Minister Ratnayake protested his exorbitant expenses in celebrating 150th Police Anniversary.
The Prime Minister was irked about the attitude displayed by Jayasundara lately which was aggravated by the omission of Minister Ratnayake's and Northern Province Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran's names from a plaque marking the opening of a new Police Complex in Jaffna.
President Sirisena who was seemingly embarrassed to note the omission pointed out the shortcoming to the Police Chief at the event itself. He was also criticized for leaving out the Northern CM's name at a time it the government is working closely with the provincial administration to push reconciliation.
Things did not turn good for Police Chief as both President and Prime Minister were disappointed that Minister Ratnayake was relegated to a seat next to Jayasundara's wife at the 150th Police Anniversary celebrations in Colombo, despite protocol demanding that the minister be placed next to the President.
However, IGP would have made a conscious effort to evade such situations as there was no recurrence of such arrogant behaviour from his side to provoke the rulers. Yet, with the arrest of Sarthchandra, it seemed to have arrived, the end of the ceasefire between the Executive and the IGP, as the President did not think twice to reprimand Jayasundara for not being able to settle the matter within the Police Department.
President Sirisena who telephoned IGP Jayasundara demanded to know the need for taking the matter to Court at once without attempting to settle it within the establishment as the misuse involves less than Rs 150,000. The President had demanded to know as to why the IGP and his Department had failed to take such swift actions against those who have committed grave crimes and involved in defrauding State funds mounting to millions of rupees.
However, it was also learnt that IGP Jayasundara did not offer any explanation on the issue or tried to clear himself.
State media warned
It was not only the IGP that came under President Sirisena's scrutiny last week, but the behaviour of State media as well. He called a meeting with State media heads where almost all chairpersons of State media institutions attended at the Parliament Complex.
President emphasising that State media have continued to ignore their responsibilities pointed out that they have in fact failed to give publicity to development activities and reconciliation efforts.
"In fact, all you are busy doing is trying to create a rift between me and the Prime Minister. The placement of news and even bulletin line-up in electronic media is such that it would only lead to misunderstandings between me and PM Wickremesinghe. What you should do is not create problems, but to cultivate good relations between the two parties," he opined.
President also warning about the contents in Lake House publications said he too, will have to take tough decisions if they continue to be ignorant. Reminding the heads of media institutions that he too, was contributing to Lake House publication back in the 1970s, he said that he is well aware of the agendas behind each and every news item or article published.
MR in China
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa started his China tour last Wednesday (23) and he is expected to return on 1 December to Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa was undertaking this tour under an invitation by the Chinese Government and this has raised much curiosity amongst various factions in the political and diplomatic arena.
Earlier, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe instructed the Foreign Ministry to fully facilitate Rajapaksa's visit.
While, many were surprised at this gesture as government was earlier concerned about China's dealings with Rajapaksa family even after they were defeated, it was revealed that Premier's instructions were issued as the tour is based on the Chinese Government's invitation.
His visit also follows Chinese Ambassador in Colombo Yi Xianliang openly criticizing Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake by referring to his name three times during a rare press conference recently.
He said it was unfair for Sri Lanka to term loans given by China's EXIM Bank as 'expensive' and questioned the government as to why it had sought fresh loans from China if the interest rates were 'too high'.
"I know he has criticized this matter many times, publicly. All the Chinese business people complain to the Chinese Government as to why loans are given to other countries at 2.0 per cent. For them it is at least 5 per cent. So, this is really unfair for Sri Lanka to call these rates expensive," the Ambassador said.
The Ambassador also said Minister Karunanayake told him about securing a 50 million dollar loan from Europe last year at 5.8 per cent and was saying the 2.0 per cent Chinese loans were expensive.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Karunanayake, when asked about these allegations said Chinese envoy may have got 'his wires crossed'.
He said the money Sri Lanka had raised through Bond sales could not be compared with project loans which come with many conditions that favour the lender.
"If China had given loans at 2.0 per cent, then Sri Lanka would only pay 2.0 per cent. If he says they have not given loans with an interest of more than 2.0%, we are happy because we will only have to pay 2.0% then," he said.
He further lashed out at the Ambassador stating, "I reject his statement. I am not the Chinese Finance Minister; I am the Sri Lankan Finance Minister."
However, Rajapaksa who was known for his love to China and under whose tenure major investment plans were initiated under Chinese funds was seen criticizing the government's move to handover lands and some national properties to China.
"We agree with the Finance Minister of the fact that he presented a different Budget, which is aimed at taxing, penalties, levies and selling State assets. It is nothing more than a traditional UNP budget and an extension of the regaining Sri Lanka of 2002. Hopefully, you will remember how they started selling State properties and increased taxes. They sold almost 80 State properties but were unable to bring down debt. In 1977, the national debt was 68.6% of the GDP, by the time the UNP left in 1994, the national debt stood at 95% of the GDP. By the end of 2002, national debt went over 100% under Chandrika's regime, even after the sale of insurance, telecom, and gas."
According to Rajapaksa, his Government discontinued privatization and reduced foreign debt. "We had put a stop to privatization during the period 2005–14. When I gave the country back in January 2015, the national debt was reduced to 70.4% of the GDP. By the end of 2015, the national debt had gone up to 76%. It could go up to 78% by the end of this year. Instead of strengthening the Central Bank the Government proposes to hand over the entire payment system to a private operator. More plans are being made to privatize many State assets. Chances are high that expressways, railway lines, and the Moragahakanda Project too could be privatized. It is unfortunate that a part of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party has joined this group," he said.
Rejecting government charges of evading book entries and hiding foreign borrowings during his presidency, Rajapaksa said: "At one time the government was charging us for unwritten borrowings. If there are unrecorded debts, please reveal the names of the lenders. But if you say these are undocumented loans, then why worry? You don't have to pay for loans that are not in the books. Even after heavy borrowings, the government was unable to launch a national project of importance or take forward the programmes we had planned before."
"We have built almost all infrastructure facilities using international borrowings. So, it is unfair to sell national properties at much higher prices compared to the investments made. By selling the Hambantota Port, a monopoly will be created," he said.
Despite his reservation about giving 15,000 acres to China, the Chinese Government took measures to provide a special VVIP security contingent to Rajapaksa upon his arrival. Even though local media has not taken Rajapaksa's visit seriously to the extent it has provoked Indian media, many have opined China's resumption of relations with Rajapaksas at a new level was not only a warning to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government, but also to New Delhi.
Prior to his visit, several reports came in some media indicating that his visit was to get Chinese support to the newly established political party. However, denying this at a meeting he held with Editors of selected newspapers, he said it was entirely a private visit and he was not expecting to meet any political leaders in China.
"I do not want Chinese assistance to topple the government. If the need is there I know how to do it," he told the Editors in what many viewed as resuming his infamous 'Breakfast Meetings' held at Temple Trees when holding the office of the President.
This invitation points to a public display of support, observers noted, weeks after pro-Rajapaksa actors floated a new political party and invited him to lead it. It also comes about a month after his brother and former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa travelled to China to attend a defence seminar, the Hindu Newspaper reported referring to Rajapaksa's visit.
Rajapaksa did not miss the chance to criticize India's silence at the meeting with Editors saying that India had adopted a softer line with the new government even after publicizing its plan to give away 15,000 acres to China.
"They made a big fuss about the Chinese submarines in Colombo Harbour. It seems India does not consider it a problem even if the government gives away the entire Colombo Port to China. This is clearly double standards in international relations," he noted.
COPF finds faults
The Committee on Public Finance (COPF) has found that the Draft Budget Estimates 2017 presented to Parliament do not accord with the actual figures by which the Finance Ministry was working.
Committee Chairman and TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran presenting the COPF report on 'Assessment of the Fiscal, Financial and Economic Assumptions of the Budget 2017' to Parliament, said they were given a set of figures on 2 November which later turned out to be not the basis on which the Finance Minister presented this Budget.
"Thereafter, when we asked for clarification, another set of figures were given to us on 12 November. We based our report on that new set of figures. We recommend that the government distributes to the members the second set of figures given to us, which is not published yet. We recommend this to be done at least during the Committee Stage debate."
COPF report tabled yesterday stated even though the total revenue mentioned in the Budget speech was Rs 2,088 billion the corresponding figure given in Draft Budget Estimates Vol I-III was Rs 1,890 billion. The difference is Rs 198 billion. Likewise the figures on Tax Revenue, Income Tax and Tax on Goods and Services also have significant differences.
The report has also found out that the total expenditure mentioned in the Budget Speech, which was Rs 2,723 billion, differs from the new set of figures given on 12 November. This figure in the Estimates of 12 November was Rs 2,645 billion. The same figure as given on red books (Draft Budget Estimates 2017) was Rs 2,534 billion.
Sumanthiran tabling the report also thanked the independent experts who volunteered to give their time and expertise without remuneration. "The Committee wishes to thank Dr. Anila Dias Bandaranaike, Rose Cooray, Themiya Hurulle, Sarath Mayadunne and the team of economists working through Verite Research led by Dr. Nishan De Mel for their invaluable input and assistance," he said.
"This report is prepared under a challenging time constraint of four days. Although the Committee worked without a Parliamentary Budget Office this year we are indebted to the above few individuals for their service rendered to us," he said.
The assessment provided in the report is set out in two sections as 'Assessment on the revenue estimates in the Budget' and 'Assessment on the expenditure estimates of the Budget.'
Chief Ministers concerned
President Sirisena pledged that he would make sufficient provisions to the Provincial Councils in addition to the funds allocated by the Budget 2017, after Chief Ministers met him to voice their concerns about minimal funds provided to provinces through the budget.
The President met Chief Ministers of the provinces at the Parliamentary Complex and the meeting followed Chief Ministers making public statements that provisions made to the Provincial Councils except the Northern Provincial Council had been pruned down in the Budget 2017 compared to the allocations made by Budget 2016.
Chief Ministers of all nine provinces including Northern CM C.V. Wigneswaran attended the meeting. Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, Secretary to the Treasury and top officials of the Finance Ministry were also present.
The Northern Chief Minister pointed out that the Provincial Councils have not been granted the permission to charge stamp duty.
Chief Minister of the North Central Province Peshala Jayaratne pointed out that there was a huge scarcity of desks and chairs for the schoolchildren in his province.
Southern Province Chief Minister Shan Wijayalal de Silva requested the President to make sufficient funds available to upgrade health facilities in the hospitals coming under the purview of the Provincial Councils.
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