Maithri plans New Year surprises One to gain ‘superpowers’ while three tipped to be stripped
By Gagani Weerakoon
Rescinding a colonial-era British order naming 19 Kandyan chiefs as traitors did little to help momentary suppression of public outcry against the current government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for its failure to live up to the expectations of the people in it, soon after 8 January 2015.
Instead, a strong undercurrent taking form within the government is evidently pushing President Sirisena to put his foot down firmly on the ground by taking the reins to his hand in the name of 'good governance'.
It was on Thursday (8) that President Sirisena took measures to cancel the Gazette Notification issued by British colonial regime naming these 19 Kandyan chiefs led by Rajapaksa Wickramasekera Mudiyanselage Bandaranayake Monarawila Keppetipola aka Keppetipola Disawe for launching their revolt in a bid to restore the rule of Sinhala kings, nearly 200 years ago.
Call to be tough
Following the move, President tweeted "cancelled the Gazette Notice issued by then Governor of Sri Lanka Robert Brownrigg in 1818 naming the ... Sinhala leaders as traitors."
Within minutes, the twitteratti and others on social media platforms including Facebook went viral with posts that did not lack sarcasm as many responded to the news saying 'finally, President Sirisena put his foot down and addressed one of the most burning issues of the people and the country.'
This decry against him for not standing firmly on the ground when needed, seems not only limited to social media platform or to the general public as members of his Cabinet called both President and Prime Minister to be 'tough' on certain issues.
This call was made when the President met a group of ministers led by the Prime Minister on Thursday (8). Ministers Malik Samarawickreme, Kabir Hashim, Ravi Karunanayake, Rajitha Senaratne, Mahinda Amaraweera, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Champika Ranawaka, Duminda Dissanayake and Arjuna Ranatunga were the others present.
Like at last Cabinet meeting it was Minister Champika who pointed out that the stream of protests that continued in the country, predominantly blocking roads around Parliament was mainly due to leniency both leaders displayed in handling matters.
"There comes a time where you have to act tough. Here what happened was they block roads, demonstrate as they wish, and later come under tear gas attacks. This is exactly what they want. In that way they block roads and show their displeasure and once the roads are blocked other general public who are inconvenienced start criticizing the government saying that government is unable to bring such situations under control. On the other hand, another portion of the general public criticize the government saying it is unable to solve matters of the people unless they took to streets. Police who do not do anything, resort to tear gas and water cannons as last resort. This is what protestors mostly prefer as they can gain all the attention, while showing the world that this government too is oppressing them," he said briefing the group in detail.
Therefore, they insisted on having separate locations exclusively to carry out protests and other demonstrations.
It was during this discussion that an incident of Prime Minister's Secretary Saman Ekanayake being stranded on the day of private bus strike came to the limelight.
"When protesting they go wild and become unruly at times. For instance, when they block Negombo Road with containers even Prime Minister's Secretary got stuck. When he contacted the DIG of the area as the Police personnel in the scene seemed to mind their own business, he was informed that they have not received any order to disperse the crowd," when Minister Champika said this, Minister Senaratne was seen backing him, saying that Police officers are reluctant to take any action because they ultimately find themselves in a dilemma as politicians who give orders do not stand by them when in trouble.
It was insisted at this meeting that tough action should be taken to maintain discipline and order in the country.
"Good Governance is not tolerating everything. What is happening now is not what people expected from us. They need tough action to end misdeeds in the society and see that culprits are punished," they pointed out.
Even though the Prime Minister had to leave for another meeting, the President decided to continue with the meeting as three ministers present representing the UNP were all holding important positions in the party too.
As the meeting went ahead, SLFP Ministers and others who were considered as President Sirisena's close confidants had vehemently attacked a prominent Cabinet minister stating the latter's infamous dealings with former first family and those who were already facing corruption allegations, have caused yahapalana government much embarrassment.
They had also discussed how this minister had allegedly facilitated a top bureaucrat in the previous regime to occupy his house when this official was staying in the USA.
The personal connection that the alleged minister has with the former bureaucrat is said to have gravely influenced to manipulate the ongoing investigations on mega deals of the previous government on number of occasions.
They had identified two other Cabinet ministers who are evidently obstructing government's effort to combat corruption and fraud. The recent incident of the Attorney General withdrawing a case against former minister Basil Rajapaksa had also contributed to raising doubts about one particular minister.
With pressure mounting on President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to take tough decisions against these three Cabinet Ministers who are allegedly causing destruction to Yahapalana government, it was suggested from the UNP side that the President and the Prime Minister should then discuss and go for a Cabinet re-shuffle and assign these ministers portfolios where they cannot exert influence or engage in corruption.
Meanwhile, a Gazette notification published on development (special provisions) on the instructions of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has proposed establishing a post of powerful minister of development.
Ten public institutions including Board of Investment (BOI) are to be taken under this new Ministry.
By now, the responsibilities of national development have been distributed among a number of Ministers.
The new Minister is responsible regarding all the decisions on the development of the country. Under the Gazette notification, the Ministers who are now responsible for development will have to seek the permission of the new Minister to implement their projects.
However, the SLFP ministers said such a minister with superpowers will be within the parameters of existing Cabinet powers and vouched it will not be a repetition of a certain minister in the Rajapaksa Government.
President Sirisena, meanwhile attending the National Anti-Corruption Conference said the most important decision in the process of preventing and eliminating bribery, corruption and malpractices, is to avert circumstances which provide an environment for corrupt practices, rather than punishing the offenders.
He said that all the ministries, departments, corporations and statutory boards should meet at least once in three months, under the patronage of the respective head of those institutions, to discuss the methods and procedures that should be taken to prevent bribery, corruption and malpractices within their institutions.
The President pointed out that acts of bribery and corruption are being committed in some departments and institutions even at present in an organized manner and it is the responsibility of all the heads of these institutions to stand against those malpractices, as well as to provide revenue to the General Treasury without any fraud and corruption practices.
"Not only Government Officials but also some politicians refrain from signing certain documents fearing that they might have to go before FCID. If one performs his or her respective duties in proper manner they should not be fearful in that way. I request all not to use inappropriate slogans in the current context where the government runs with the concept of Good Governance," he said.
He also pointed out the unfair nature of conducting investigations targeting only one section of the society and said that neutrality and equality is expected from all the institutions which are established to enforce the law against the bribery and corruption.
Giving bribes is also a wrongful act, similar to taking bribes and the aim of this Conference is to deliver a message to the politicians, State officials as well as to the public for a more precise and correct journey, the President said.
This Conference was jointly organized by the Ministry of Law and Order and Southern Development, the Presidential Secretariat and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, under the theme "Supilipan Palanayak", according to a concept by the President to apprise politicians, State officials and respective parties regarding the importance of creating a corruption- free society to achieve the development goals of Sri Lanka.
President Sirisena also participated in the Session on 'Corruption through Election Expenditure,' chaired by the Chairman of the Elections Commission, Mahinda Deshapriya.
Recalling his experiences in six Parliamentary elections, he contested since 1989, he said that the electoral system should be held responsible for election malpractices than the candidates.
In order to prevent election corrupt practices, the preferential voting system must be abolished and a new system must be established, he said.
In a rare incident, last Friday (9) saw Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and several Joint Opposition members sitting together with Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan for a special meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Parliament to discuss the proposed constitutional reforms.
Former President Rajapaksa and Joint Opposition members said, the government should first reveal what its proposed as they cannot comment on anything without knowing what the government had in mind.
"How could I express my opinion when a key party representing the government acts in this manner?"Rajapaksa asked.
At this meeting, Anuradhapura District UPFA Parliamentarian, Shehan Semasinghe urged the Prime Minister to hold the long overdue local government elections. He said it had been delayed for two years.
The Prime Minister said the SLFP had not revealed its stand on the proposed Constitution.
At this meeting Opposition Leader Sampanthan urged the Joint Opposition to back the constitutional reforms.
The Joint Opposition was represented by Parliamentarians Dinesh Gunawardena, Bandula Gunawardena, Vidura Wickramanayake, Shehan Semasinghe and Lohan Ratwatte.
Following this meeting, Constitutional Assembly's subcommittee that looked into the relationship between Parliament and the Provincial Councils presented its report recommending that powers and role of Parliament that exist under the current provisions of the Constitution should remain unchanged while only the subject allocation under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution needed to be reviewed.
The report of the subcommittee set up by the Steering Committee to look into the relationship between Parliament and the Provincial Councils stated that inclusion of subjects in relation to the Reserved List and Concurrent List into Provincial Council List and Local Government List according to their subject relevance and the fact that deciding on national policies relevant to whatever subject should be a subject assigned to Parliament.
The report was presented to the CA yesterday by the Head of the Steering Committee, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
He said that the CA has so far received seven reports by sub-committees. Members of the CA would present their positions with regard to the content of those reports when the CA meets again on 9 January, 2017. The government would take the standpoints of all main parties in formulating the new Constitution. Opinions of both majority and minority would be considered, he said adding that the Steering Committee is scheduled to meet on 5 and 6 January.
The report presented yesterday had been prepared by its members, MPs Susil Premajayantha, Prasanna Ranatunga and Dr.Thusitha Wijemanna.
Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan said that the new Constitution should be formulated with the inclusion of all parties and that Constitution needed to be approved by the people at a referendum.
Speaker on conduct of MPs
The final draft of the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament tabled in Parliament by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya enabling general public to lodge complaints of unethical conducts of MPs, their breach of provisions outlined in the Code of Conduct of MPs and hiding of any information with regard to their assets at a new Parliamentary Committee to be set up in the future.
Such complaints have to be countersigned by an MP and to be forwarded to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges proposed to be set up under the new Standing Orders.
Tabling the draft, Speaker Jayasuriya said that these had been prepared with the intention of raising the conduct of MPs to international standards.
MPs are barred from assaulting, harassing or intimidating another person, according to the draft Code of Conduct which says that MPs shall act in a manner that is respectful of their fellow MPs and citizens including parliamentary staff with dignity and courtesy, without diminishing the dignity of the parliamentary institution.
MPs shall disclose sufficient information regarding their business relationships and financial interests including information about close family members. This would increase the public trust in MPs, according to the draft Code.
It says: "Where it has been found that a Member has indulged in unethical behaviour or that there is other misconduct or that the Member has contravened the Code, the Committee may recommend the imposition of one or more of the following sanctions – (a) censure (b) reprimand (c) suspension from the House for a specific period not exceeding the limits set by the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act and (d) any other sanction the Supreme Court may prescribe on a matter that has been referred to the Supreme Court by Parliament under the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act."
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