The Sunday Leader

New Cabinet Predominantly Green

Some political analysts have already dubbed President Maithripala Sirisena’s newly appointed cabinet of ministers as the proverbial curate’s egg – which is ‘good in parts.’

President Sirisena’s cabinet, led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, is pre-dominantly ‘green’. Over 70 per cent of the new Cabinet Ministers are front-liners of the United National Party and that is very much in proportion with the UNP’s share in Maithripala Sirisena’s overall vote-bank. The rest of the Cabinet, expect the ministries offered to Rauff Hakeem, Rishad Bathiudeen and P. Digambaram, is controlled by Parliamentarians who defected from the United People’s Freedom Alliance, BEFORE the presidential election.

Ruwan Wijewardena, Ravi Karunanayake, Arjuna Mahendran and Basil Rajapaksa

President Maithripala Sirisena, staying true to his promise that was given to the United National Party before the presidential election, kept only the Ministry of Defence under his belt. Ruwan Wijeyawardena, the cousin of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the head of the UNP Youth Organization, was appointed as the State Minister of Defence – a relatively high profile position in the Cabinet given the importance of its job role.


Cabinet issues

At the same time, a staunch loyalist of the UNP leadership, Ravi Karunanayake has been given the Finance Ministry, much to the surprise of some quarters of the party. However, what Karunanayake received was ‘part’ of the Finance Ministry as important areas such as Planning and Policy Implementation did not come under his purview.

Planning and Economic Development came under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Harsha de Silva, a prominent economist and a national list Parliamentarian of the UNP, was appointed as his deputy. Technically, the new government divided the Ministry of Finance and Planning into two institutions and assigned two Ministers to overlook each sector.

The other surprise move is the appointment of Akila Viraj Kariyawasam as the Minister of Education. Although Akila Viraj Kariyawasam played a role as a shadow Education Minister when he was in the opposition, it is still a question whether he has enough experience to handle a prominent ministry such as the Ministry of Education – which directly deals with hundreds of thousands of people across the country. However, one should not forget the fact that Ranil Wickremesinghe too became the Minister of Education in the early 80s under J. R. Jayawardena’s administration when he was a young Parliamentarian. The country is yet to see whether Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, who is known as a close ally of the UNP Leader, is capable of showing the same professionalism as his leader when discharging the duties of his position.

Meanwhile, it is also important to look into the prominent UNP Parliamentarians who did not receive ministerial or deputy ministerial portfolios this time. Four notable figures who did not receive government portfolios were Ranjan Ramanayake, Palitha Thevarapperuma, Ajith Mannapperuma and Buddhika Pathirana. Although Dunesh Gankanda did not take oaths on Monday as a Deputy Minister, he was given the position of Urban Development and Water Supply Deputy Minister two days later.

It is actually a bit of a surprise as to why Ranjan Ramanayake, one of the most vociferous critiques of the Rajapaksa government in the recent past, did not receive a deputy ministerial position. As an opposition Parliamentarian, he was specially focusing on problems faced by Sri Lankan expatriates working in the Middle Eastern region. Given his interventions to resolve problems faced by Sri Lankan expats, many were under the assumption that Ramanayake would be appointed as the Deputy Minister of Foreign Employment. However, the Parliamentarian was overlooked when offering positions under the national unity government, of which the main stakeholder is the United National Party.

Buddhika Pathirana too, who has served as a UNP Parliamentarian for nearly five years, did not receive a deputy ministerial portfolio from the UNP government. One can come to the assumption that the Matara District UNP Parliamentarian was not given a position due to his past track record as a ‘UNP dissident’. A staunch supporter of Sajith Premadasa, Pathirana faced a string of disciplinary inquiries over the past five years and even his party membership was suspended at one point. Although he was pardoned a few months later, it is clear that such things matter when offering positions at the United National Party.

Kalutara District Parliamentarian Palitha Thevarapperuma too faced the same plight following the election. Thevarapperuma also had serious disciplinary issues and it was charged that he even attempted to assault the UNP National Leader during the Parliamentary group meeting of the party. He also ran into another issue with UNP Leadership Council Leader Karu Jayasuriya, publicly criticizing the senior politician who is considered as a highly respected ‘elderly statesman’ among rank and file of the party.

Another prominent Parliamentarian who did not receive a position was Gampaha District Parliamentarian Ajith Mannapperuma. An engineer by profession, Mannapperuma was appointed to Parliament following the demise of Dr Jayalath Jayawardena and he never had ‘disciplinary issues’ in his long political career. However, he too was overlooked when assigning ministries.

It is also interesting to examine the way ministries were divided among former ‘UNP dissidents’. Sajith Premadasa, who had serious and deep-rooted problems with the party leadership, was given the Ministry of Housing and Samurdhi. His father, the late Ranasinghe Premadasa, also held the same ministry from 1977 to 1989, when he served as the Prime Minister under the former President the late J. R. Jayawardena. One might assume that it was the most suitable ministry for the UNP Deputy Leader as he has always cashed in on his father’s legacy, without trying to create one of his own!

Ranjith Maddumabandara, another former dissident of the UNP, was given the Ministry of Internal Transport. It is still too early to say whether it is the equivalent of the ministry held by former Minister Kumara Welgama. Before arriving at a final conclusion on the matter, one has to wait for the gazette notification with regard to the ministries and institutions coming under them.

Rosy Senanayake, another ex-dissident of the UNP, was given a non-Cabinet ministerial portfolio as the State Minister of Child Development. Many were of the view that Senanayake, who served as a diplomat when Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister from 200 to 2004, should be given a better position under a UNP-led government. Although the new positions would last for only three months, it was a clear indication that former dissidents of the party were treated differently when allocating ministries.


Vexed question of Central Bank Governor

Among a number of new appointments made over the past seven days, one of the key moves was to appoint Arjuna Mahendran as the Central Bank Governor – the position which was previously held by Ajith Nivaad Cabraal. Mahendran, who was working overseas, was handpicked by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to serve as the Central Bank Governor.

Before appointing Mahendran, the government also considered the name of W. A. Wijewardena, who is a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank and a veteran economist. When compared to Mahendran, Wijewardena had a deep-rooted knowledge of the rural economy of Sri Lanka and other local dynamics. In addition to that, Wijewardena is also well-versed in global finance and global economic trends. However, the former Central Bank Deputy Governor had indicated that he was not too keen on accepting a government position at this stage as he was enjoying his retirement.

Mahendran, when he was approached for the first time, informed the government he was not in a position to return to Sri Lanka immediately due to his other professional commitments. He said he would be able to accept the new position from April. At this point, Dinesh Weerakkody’s name came up as an ‘interim’ Governor for the Central Bank until Mahendran’s return. However, after a few days, Mahendran expressed willingness to return to Sri Lanka with immediate effect to take up what seems to be the most challenging position in the country’s finance sector.

The son of Charlie Mahendran, former Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United Nations, Arjuna Mahendran has nearly 30 years of extensive experience in the financial services industry across Asia. He served as Chief Investment Officer of the Wealth Management Division at Emirates NBD Bank PJSC and has an experience of over 26 years in both private companies and public sector organizations, including senior positions with the Central Bank and Ministry of Finance of Sri Lanka as well as the World Bank. He also holds a Master of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from the University of Oxford.


Transition of power at SLFP

An important meeting took place at the official residence of the Speaker on Wednesday night was instrumental in determining the ‘political fate’ of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. The meeting was between two Presidents of Sri Lanka, namely former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena who were colleagues of the same party for nearly four decades. It was their first ‘physical’ meeting after they met at the Elections Secretariat on the final day of nominations. The meeting was arranged after former President Rajapaksa agreed to hand over the Chairmanship of the party to incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena, primarily to avoid a major split in the party. Rajapaksa decided to relinquish his position against a backdrop where a large number of UPFA Parliamentarians, PC members and PS members had aligned themselves with President Maithripala Sirisena.

Many wonder whether there was an ulterior motive on Rajapaksa’s part when he agreed to hand over the party’s top post to the incumbent President. It is important to understand that Rajapaksa had very little options left with the large majority of SLFP Executive Committee members and Central Committee members supporting President Mahinda Rajapaksa. One has every reason to believe that former President Rajapaksa decided to step down from the top post of the SLFP to fight another day. Although he had a strong intention to bounce back from this defeat, he has very little options at his disposal, at the moment.

Meanwhile, the former President’s brother and former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa has also resigned from his position as the SLFP National Organizer, giving another blow to Mahinda Rajapaksa. Basil Rajapaksa, who is now in the US with his family, resigned from the post on Thursday, January 15 after accepting full responsibility for the defeat of President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential Election held on January 8. Basil Rajapksa led the UPFA Presidential Election campaign.

Informing his decision in a letter to SLFP General Secretary Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Basil Rajapaksa has stated that he will continue to function as a UPFA backbencher in Parliament. In the letter he had thanked SLFP members and all members, activists and leaders of the constituent parties of the UPFA, especially UPFA leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, UPFA Secretary Susil Premajayantha, SLFP General Secretary Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and all officers who assisted him in organising the election campaign.

He had further stated that the dedication of the Elections Commissioner, all Government officers, police and security forces personnel to their duties and the cooperation extended by the people and their representatives in the Gampaha District and the rest of the country, who voted for the UPFA presidential candidate and obeyed election laws helped to maintain peace and law and order in the country.

At the meeting with President Sirisena, Rajapaksa raised several concerns that he had – mainly on the safety and security of his family members.  The former President said his son Namal Rajapaksa had also lodged a complaint with the Tangalle Police over some death threats he received. It is reported that President Maithripala Sirisena had agreed to look into the matter and take necessary steps to ensure the security of the former President’s family members.

It has now come to the limelight that the former President also expressed willingness to contest the forthcoming Parliamentary election under the UPFA ticket. However, Rajapaksa can only contest the Parliamentary Election with the consent of President Sirisena who now holds the top post of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. With Basil Rajapaksa resigning from the National Organizer position, the former President has lost clout in the main decision making bodies of the party.

6 Comments for “New Cabinet Predominantly Green”

  1. Ma Per

    If everyone is to be given ministerial pportfolios – this wd break the promise of restricting the cabinet to 35.. Yes, but peeople like Buddhika Pathirana, Ranjan Ramanayake,,Ajith Mannaperuma shd hv been appointed at least deputies. But the promise was more imporetant. Akila – being for Education – isnt he better than the tuition master Bandula, oor Susil? Yees, peoople like Rosie, Sujeewa shd hv got more import portfolios. Ranjan Ramanayakke is improving in his image – judging by the TV programmes he hs been participating in – his image and manner of speech is haiiled well. Let’s hope he will continue in this trend – ann image of statesmanship and gentlemanliness

  2. John de Livera

    As Sri Lanka tries to form a government with good governance and transparency, the leaders who have been entrusted with this duty need to keep to their original promises. If politicians are demanding cabinet posts, let the people of Sri Lanka know their names and at the soon to be held general election, those power hungry politicians will be thrown out. So go ahead Maithri, Ranil and co. do the job you promised to do ….i.e. you said 25 cabinet ministers….now you have appointed state ministers too. Sri Lanka is a poor country, we cannot afford and we don’t need so many ministers in fact we do not need so many politicians who only come to power to serve their own interests.

  3. The Blues had their time, now let the Greens do their best, but not increase their individual bank balances,,!!!

  4. daggy

    It appears Akila.K will have to look for another Gonawela.S.

    Ravi K the fox handed the chicken pen. first master stroke in the Yahapalanaya – “mini budget” fixed for 29/Jan the day Ravi has to appear in court for violation of foreign exchange regulations. The first wiff…………

    Ex- UNP dissidents pinned…..

    “There are Tamil and Sinhala Catholics in Sri Lanka,” said Devi Malar, a 45-year-old woman from near Puliyankulam in the north of the Island. “I am Tamil. When Pope John Paul came 20 years ago, there was still fighting, I could not travel to Colombo but this time I made it and see what he has done!”- TWSJ of 17/Jan.

    Honour the man whatever his faults may be who invited the HOLY FATHER to visit Sri Lanka. HOLY FATHER united the country.
    Remember the word he repeated over & over again – RECONCILLIATION

  5. daggy

    If Ranil came forward as the 03rd candidate, he would have won hands down.

  6. As I have found that the majority of these recently sworn in ministers are MP’s of UNP,and most of them have lost their electorates when analyze recent presidential election results.Even though this cabinet is for so called “Hundred Days” Can some one explains who appointed them,Was it Te President or on a list of names handed over to him by Ranil.Irony is UNP didn’t win.Ranil became The default

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