CAN JANUARY 8 MANDATE BE BRUSHED UNDER THE CARPET?
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the Treasury bond issue, appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena earlier this year, has now concluded hearing of evidence, leaving the Sri Lankan political sphere in suspense.
It is still not clear when the Commission would present its report to the President.
Although the Commission has concluded hearings, the commissioners have asked for an extension of its official term. This indicates that the additional time will be used to analyse evidence and compile the report which can snowball into a political volcano.
Before the Bond Commission announced the conclusion of its hearings, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe issued a bold statement saying he was ready to appear before the Commission, if necessary.
The statement came in the light of some political elements attempting to link the Prime Minister’s name with the bond controversy.
Their core argument was that the Prime Minister should be held responsible for the bond issue as former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran’s evidence says the Central Bank went for a bond auction upon the Prime Minister’s instructions.
By stating he was ready to appear before the Bond Commission, the Prime Minister showed he had nothing to hide and was ready to face any inquiry.
“The Premier is ready at any time should the commissioners require him to respond in view of references to him during the public proceedings,” the Prime Minister’s office said, last Sunday.
“Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is prepared to offer clarifications at any time to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Bond auctions in view of references to him during proceedings,” the statement also said.
It said, the government was committed to investigate allegations made against it or its employees in line with the mandate received on January 8, 2015 to restore democracy and ensure good governance.
The Prime Minister’s statement on giving clarification to the Commission was praised by many, including the MPs representing the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
On the sidelines of the Cabinet meeting, several SLFP Ministers said the Premier should be appreciated for offering to appear before the Commission.
They said it would silence the Joint Opposition members attempting to link the Prime Minister’s name with the Bond controversy.
Aside from the Bond Commission, the Prime Minister had to get involved in another contentious matter which arose as a result of a statement made by the Karaka Sangha Sabha of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters.
The Karaka Sangha Sabha met at the Ran Ayudha Mandapaya of the Sri Dalada Maligawa, Kandy. The Malwatte Chapter was represented by only a few senior monks and the Mahanayake Thera of the Malwatte Chapter was not in the country.
After the meeting, however, some Buddhist monks told media that the Karaka Sangha Sabha was against the introduction of a new constitution. They said they were satisfied with the current constitution and no amendment was needed at this juncture.
But, they unanimously agreed that a new electoral system was needed.
This news was reported in several newspapers as a lead story with the photographs of the two Mahanayake Theras. They made it look like the decision had originated from the two Mahanayake Theras – the most senior monks of the two Chapters.
When Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe saw the news item the next morning, he telephoned the Mahanayake Thera of the Malwatte Chapter to know if he was aware of the development.
The Mahanayake Thera said he had nothing to do with the development and he was not even in the country. The Mahanayake Thera is scheduled to return to the island today, (22).
It was clear that the Mahanayake Thera’s opinion on the constitutional reforms was positive and some sections of media had attempted to misrepresent the story by using the photographs of the two Mahanayakes.
It was in this context that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe questioned the conduct of Sri Lankan media when he spoke to the press in Parliament.
“The venerable monk said, he did not make such remarks nor was he in the country at the time,” Prime Minister Wickremesinghe told reporters in Parliament.
He challenged the newspaper editors who carried misleading reports to explain their reasons and also publish his (Prime Minister’s) comments in full in their publications.
“You have carried falsehoods about the Malwatte Chief Priest at a time when he was not even in the country,” the Prime Minister said pointing to reporters from the newspapers he identified as having carried the mischievous reports. “Can you give an assurance that you will give the same prominence to my comments on this issue,” the Prime minister asked the reporters, but none offered a response. He said, they could telephone their editors to get their reasons, but again no one accepted the challenge.
The Prime Minister noted that the views of the Most Venerable Malwatte Chief Priest on constitutional reforms was well known. The Mahanayake Thera told Dinesh Gunawardena, a stalwart of the Joint Opposition earlier this month, that he believed in honesty and the integrity of both Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena.
“When the two leaders ruling the country have given such an assurance there is no point in questioning its validity,” the Malwatte Prelate told Gunawardena. The monk told firebrand MP Gunawardena that a new constitution was yet to be drafted and it was only at discussion stage and urged the opposition to constructively participate in the process to ensure peace and stability in the country.
The Prime Minister said he was not opposed to newspapers giving space to dissenting voices, but it was unfair by the public to distort facts and mislead readers. However, the Prime Minister said, the basis for the newspaper report appeared to be a press conference given by the Diyawadana Nilame (chief lay custodian of the Temple of the Tooth).
“If the press conference you reported was given by the Diyawadana Nilame, should you not use his photograph rather than the picture of the Malwatte Chief Priest who is out of the country?” he asked.
The lay custodian had referred to a decision of a “Kaaraka Sanga Sabha (working committee of monks of both Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters) which had preceded the latest announcement of the Malwatte Chief Priest earlier this month supporting the efforts of the President and the Prime Minister in bringing about political reforms.
It is important to understand that a section of the Buddhist clergy has strong affiliations with the Rajapaksa camp and supports former President’s political campaign by attempting to sabotage the constitutional making process.
There is another section of Buddhist monks who have been misguided by the ultra-nationalist propaganda perpetuated by the Rajapaksa group. Although they have no clear understanding of the ongoing political reforms, they blindly repeat pro-Rajapaksa slogans, without analyzing ground reality.
What these groups must understand is that the ‘January 8’ verdict had a clear mandate for a new constitution. That was the promise with which the current government came to power and it was endorsed by 6.2 million voters.
They unfairly demand the government to renege on this promise and brush the January 8 mandate under the carpet. President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have already made it clear that they would not be deterred by those who want to derail the constitutional amendment process.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), a party that grappled with internal power struggles for over two years, is now making preparation for the Local Government elections fixed for January, next year. The party is revamping its organizational system by appointing new electoral and district organizers.
Many organizers who failed to toe the party line and defied the Central Committee’s decisions have now been axed. Fresh faces have been appointed to replace them and steer the party’s victory at the forthcoming LG polls.
As part of the same process, the SLFP appointed nine new district organizers last week. They were Nalin Gunasekara – Colombo District, Meera Lebbe Rebupasam – Ampara District, Nawanidaraja – Ampara District, I.H.Abdul Wahab – Ampara District, T.Rafaideen – Ampara District, Praneeth Padmathilaka – Matara District, M.H.M.Zakariya – Ratnapura District, Ariyarathne Wijewickrama (for Maha Oya Pradeshiya Sabha area) – Ampara District and Sijeewa Godaliyadda – Matale District.
The party has already paid special attention to give positions to politicians who do not face allegations over bribery, corruption or criminal activities.
As the next election would be held under the ward system, such candidates would be needed to draw the support of voters who are disillusioned with the current political system.
Party sources said, all organizers will soon be summoned to Colombo for a meeting with President Sirisena. They are expected to be given fresh targets at the meeting, with the aim of strengthening the party before the polls.
Meanwhile, UPFA General Secretary Mahinda Amaraweera invited former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to accept an electoral organizer post from the SLFP. Amaraweera, addressing a press conference at his residence, asked Rajapaksa to take cue from his predecessor, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who recently accepted a position as the SLFP’s organizer for Attanagalle.
“Similarly, Rajapaksa too can be the organizer for the Beliatta seat,” Amaraweera said.
Although Amaraweera’s remark did not elicit a direct response from Rajapaksa, the former President’s followers were livid at the request saying it was an insult to their leader.
They asserted Rajapaksa was not ready to accept any position from the SLFP as long as the party remained a partner of the national unity government.
The South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) has been as contentious an issue for the Government as the bond controversy.
At one point, President Sirisena went on to appoint a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) to dig into issues around the bond controversy. Although that has not been the case for SAITM, a so called Public Commission to find solutions to the issue has suddenly emerged.
This so-called commission is seeking the views of the public on the SAITM issue and is encouraging oral and written submissions on what should be the fate of the Private Medical College. The first of this Public Commission’s sessions was held on October 17 under the theme ‘Establishment, history and management of SAITM,’ at which several parties made submissions. A second session was held on the 19th to discuss ‘Adverse effects on medical education and the field of medicine due to SAITM’ where these submissions were taken up by the Commission.
Pubudu Jayagoda, Propaganda Secretary of the Frontline Socialist Party, Susil Premajayantha, Minister of Science, Technology and Research, Architect Naalaka Jayaweera, N.M.D. Bandara, Representative of Railway Department Labour Unions and Ashoka Ranwala, Representative of the Parents’ Committee of State Medical Faculties and Petroleum Unions made submissions at the first meeting of the commission. The submissions were taken up by a panel appointed by the Commission consisting of Prof Chrishantha Abeysena (President of the Commission), Prof Ananda Ranasinghe (Engineer), Kanishka Vitharana (Attorney at Law), Prof S.M.S. Samarakoon, Engineer Upali Ratnayake and Specialist Dr. Sarada Kannangara (Secretary of the Commission).
All the submissions were against SAITM, mostly on the basis of it being a threat to the country’s free education system. However, Minister Susil Premajayantha appeared to give some valid reasons as to why certain standards needed to be brought in to resolve the issue although there was some doubt on the agenda of this Commission itself.
The definition of a Commission is ‘a group of people entrusted by a government or other official body with the authority to do something.’ While a presidential commission is not an uncommon thing, there appears to be some mystery surrounding the authority behind the formation of this Public Commission.
What is known is that there is such a Commission calling for submissions via a notice placed in the newspaper which has a gmail, contact address and telephone/fax numbers. The address given 275/75, Prof. Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha, Colombo 7 is incidentally the address of the Organisation of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka (OPA).
It is not immediately clear whether the OPA is behind this, and mandated a Commission on the SAITM Crisis and Finding Solutions; but from the accounts given by those present, it is clear, this Commission was not independent.
For one, several of the SAITM protest leaders were seen hobnobbing with the Commission office bearers at the beginning of the proceedings. Questions asked by the panelists at the head table seemed loaded towards collecting public opinion against SAITM. In fact, some of the oral submissions mentioned that there was not enough public support for the SAITM protest. If this so-called commission lacks transparency and the precepts of good governance, then it would be the OPA that will have to take responsibility for it.
A breath of fresh air at Thursday’s hearing was Minister Susil Premajayantha who gave a balanced view on the issue and spelt out what course the government should take to resolve the matter.
The Minister who said he was making his submission as a member of the public and not as a representative of any party or government, expressed deep concern over the current situation of medical students being out of university for more than 9 months.
He said, over 6,000 students from 8 state medical faculties and another 800 odd students from SAITM being on hold for such a long period is extremely unhealthy for the producing of medical doctors for Sri Lanka. He said, the students must go back to universities soon and a solution has to be brought by the government for SAITM students as getting an education is a fundamental right.
However, as pointed out by the GMOA the SAITM model is flawed as higher education should not be for profit. This has some merit since most of the top universities in the world such as Harward, Cornell, Stanford, Princeton, University of Michigan etc. are run on a non profit model.
In economic terms the non-profit organization uses its surplus revenues to further achieve its purpose or mission rather than distributing its surplus income to the organization’s shareholders as profit or dividends. These universities are funded through endowments, tuition (fees) and donations. All fundings they receive is put back into the curriculum, instruction and other college operations that support students and faculty.
This therefore, may well be the way forward for non-state sector education in Sri Lanka, where it would be not-for profit and not owned by any government entity.
Meanwhile, President Maithripala Sirisena said at the Annual Convocation of the Aquinas University College, that the Government’s final decision on the SAITM issue will be announced in the coming week. He said, the decision would be sufficient for many people who were against SAITM, including students who were protesting against the medical institution.
The President reiterated that the responsibility of creating intellectuals to meet the needs of Sri Lanka’s innovation economy lies with the State Universities as well as the private sector and that these institutions should safeguard the quality and standards of the education they provide.
That being said, looks like the situation is in hand and the public as well as students would have a final solution to the problem soon enough so that life as usual can resume for everyone.