Candid talk at ‘Ape Gama’

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By 2017-11-13

By Sugeeswara Senadhira

In the capital city of Sri Jayewardenepura, is the seat of Parliament and most of the important political statements are made in the August House, situated in the centre of the Diyawanna Lake.

Some leaders had chosen places in the vicinity of the capital to convey important decisions. One such incident comes to mind is the famous 'Chtthavivekaramaya speech' of late President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1989; in which he gave quit notice to Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). Last week, President Maithripala Sirisena has chosen a different platform, 'Ape Gama' (Our Village), on the opposite side of the Diyawanna, to make an earth-shattering speech that rocked the Unity Government ship sailing in stormy waters.

Without mincing words, he made a forthright statement that some people in the Government were using the media to attack him; because he appointed a Commission to inquire into the Central Bank Bond issue.

Speaking at the event held to mark the second death anniversary of Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, he said that he appointed the Presidential Commission in order to fulfill the promise given to the people that he would take action to end corruption and fraud. He lamented that within three months of forming the Yahapala Government the Central Bank bond issue had taken place.

The President added that if Sobhitha Thera was alive, today, he would have endorsed the step he had taken. He charged that some persons were going to the extent of making payments to foreign-based websites to level undue allegations and slander him. "Why did we form a Government after toppling a wrong and corrupt regime? It was to do our job properly; while pointing the finger at wrongdoers and punishing them. A few people are doing wrong analysis about my appointment of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to look into the Central Bank Bond issue.

Few people in the Government are accusing me through websites and Facebook campaigns," the President said and continued, "I can handle the criticisms from the Opposition, but the ones who are criticizing me from within the Government, are, in a way, acting against the principles of Ven. Sobitha Thera," he said.

After lambasting those who level undue criticism, President Sirisena, however said that the Government still has the time to correct some wrongs committed by a few people within the Government and move forward. "The highest tribute which can be paid to the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera is to be committed to building a fair society which was his vision, philosophy and expectation."

Late President Premadasa

Nearly three decades ago, when the late President Premadasa spoke at Chitthavivekaramaya, the Indians were angry, but decided to recall the IPKF from Sri Lanka, though deliberately overstaying the deadline of 31 December, 1989.The last IPKF soldier, General Harkeerat Singh bordered the INS vessel at Trincomalee in March 1990.

The fact that India did many things, later, to harm President Premadasa is another story. The question now is will the UNP ignore the speech made by President Sirisena and continue as if nothing happened or will this lead to a major split in the Government. The United National Party (UNP) has not offered a knee-jerk reaction to the speech. But there are indications that it would carefully study it before offering any possible reaction.

At least a section of the UNP is likely to raise it within the Party as the President's allegations are obviously levelled at some UNP members in the Government. In fact some UNPers plan to seek a meeting with the President to raise the issue.

The strength of the Unity Government of the UNP-SLFP is the trust and understanding that exists between the leaders of their respective parties. Whenever there was a major difference between the positions taken by the two parties, the two leaders managed to defuse the situation because of this bond.

When, Finance Minister - later Foreign Minister - Ravi Karunanayake's name prominently figured in the Commission looking into the bond issue, President Sirisena patiently waited for the UNP to take action. Similarly he expressed his dissatisfaction about actions of some other UNP ministers, but gave space to the UNP to take action. One case in point was removal of Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe.

However, last week, President Sirisena deviated from his path of quiet diplomacy and used a public forum to bring out the issue of corrupt practices and malpractices. That speech was a clear warning to some UNP members in the Government to mend their ways.

They should take the President's criticism in a positive manner as he emphasized that it is not too late to take corrective steps and fulfil the promises given to the people: the main intention was to establish good governance and eliminate corruption and fraud. Any weakening or crack in this basic policy would certainly signal an irreparable damage to the consensual Government of the SLFP and UNP.

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