A high powered Cabinet-appointed committee, tasked with coordinating and monitoring the implementation of 2015 Geneva recommendations has lost two of its key members, Ravi Karunanayake and Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, even before its inaugural meeting.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe named a seven-member committee on June 19, 2017 to ensure the timely implementation of the Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the government in Oct 2015.
The original eight member committee consisted of PM Wickremesinghe, Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake, Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, Justice Minister Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, Development Assignment Minister Tilak Marapana, PC, State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene and Deputy Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs Dr Harsha de Silva.
Karunanayake gave up his portfolio on Aug. 10 in the wake damaging revelations against him that surfaced at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry probing the alleged Central Bank-Perpetual Treasuries bond scams, whereas Rajapakse was removed by President Sirisena on the UNP’s request after being accused of taking a line inimical to the ruling party.
Much to the surprise of those who had been engaged in the port-war national reconciliation process, the UNP left Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera out of the steering committee though he was instrumental in finalizing the Geneva Resolution. Karunanayake switched portfolios with Samaraweera in May this year before PM Wickremesinghe named the steering committee.
Well informed sources told The Island that the committee hadn’t met even once since its establishment two months ago. Sources said the UNP led committee had been empowered to implement Geneva recommendations within the two-year period (March 2017-March 2019) in accordance with a resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka in March 2017.
Prime Minister’s Office was to undertake secretarial work connected to the initiative.
Now that Marapana, who had been a member of the original committee received foreign affairs portfolio, the government could bring in another UNPer to the committee, sources said, adding that Rajapakse’s successor, too, would have to be accommodated.
Political sources said that former Justice Minister Rajapakse, in spite of being in the Geneva steering committee took a hostile approach towards the process. Less than a month after the formation of the committee, Rajapakse clashed with UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson during a progress review meeting in Colombo. Emmerson is the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Sources said a committee consisting of Secretary to the Prime Minister, senior representative of the Secretary to the President, representative of the Attorney General and Secretaries to the ministries of defence, foreign affairs, justice and law and order were to assist the PM-led group. Since then veteran career diplomat Esala Weerakoon, secretary, foreign ministry and Karunasena Hettiarachchi , secretary defence had quit the officials’ committee with the latter securing a plum diplomatic post in Western Europe.
Sources said that Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as Prime Minister as well as Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs obtained cabinet approval to appoint steering committee.
Sources said that with former AG Marapana taking over foreign affairs portfolio and unexpected change at the Justice Ministry, the government was likely to take stock of the situation. Perhaps one of the primary tasks would be to resolve the dispute over the draft of the proposed Counter-Terrorism Act of Sri Lanka in place of the now suspended Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
A fresh look at the proposed law had been necessitated by the UN finding fault with the draft that was shown to Emmerson who called a joint Sri Lanka-UN effort to improve the draft before it being placed in parliament, they said.
Sources said in addition to the proposed Counter-Terrorism Act, the Geneva steering committee was tasked with addressing a spate of other recommendations, including Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Office of Missing Persons (OMPs) and far reaching security sector reforms.