The UPFA Government yesterday bowed down to a JVP ultimatum this week to boycott Cabinet meetings and decide on its future with the UPFA Government after a month by deferring plans to re-structure the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) into nine companies.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse worked out a deal with JVP trade unions after a three-hour meeting from 9.30 am at Temple Trees and agreed on two main issues -- that the JVP accepts the need to re-structure the CEB on the one side, while on the other, the re-structuring of the CEB will be deferred for at least one month when JVP trade unions together with CEB officials and Power & Energy Ministry officials are expected to come up with the details on how it should be done.
The Cabinet, presided over by President Chandrika Kumaratunga decided only last Wednesday, despite a vehement opposition from the four JVP ministers followed by a protest walk-out by them, to convert the CEB into a public company with nine subsidiaries. Yesterday`s decision taken at the meeting presided over by the Prime Minister now over-rules the cabinet decision.
The Prime Minister`s intervention came last morning after President Chandrika Kumaratunga had called him late on Friday night and asked him to settle the growing threat of a JVP union-inspired strike in the electricity sector, a continued boycott of its cabinet ministers, and the possibility of a total collapse of the UPFA Government after that night`s discussions with JVP leaders on the Joint Mechanism also failed (Please see story above).
Prime Minister Rajapakse had called in Power and Energy Minister Susil Premajayantha, Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and later Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama for the talks along with senior officials from the Power & Energy Ministry and the CEB.
The JVP unions agreeing to the re-structuring programme was seen as a victory by those pressing for reforms in the loss-making CEB, while the decision to defer the cabinet decision, in the face of strike threats by JVP unions was seen as a victory for the JVP unions yesterday.
In the meantime, the JVP is still to go ahead with a letter from its General Secretary Tilvin Silva to President Kumaratunga placing on record the decisions taken at its politburo meeting the day after its cabinet ministers staged a dramatic walk-out from the cabinet last Wednesday.
A spokesman for the JVP told The Sunday Times last night that despite whatever memorandum was signed today with the Prime Minister, the party would still be asking for a firm commitment from President Kumaratunga to invalidate last Wednesday`s cabinet decision to re-structure the CEB into nine companies.
The JVP Politburo decided that its four ministers will not return to the cabinet until last Wednesday`s cabinet decision taken in the absence of their ministers was reversed. It also decided to give the UPFA Government headed by President Kumaratunga one month to take a `serious decision` regarding the future of the coalition under these circumstances and warned that its Central Committee has been empowered to take any decision in this connection.