The Sunday Leader

Appointments To Top Government Posts Create Ripples!

People, needless to say, expect a lot from President Maithripala Sirisena’s government. During his short but emphatic election campaign, the President, who was then the Common Candidate of the opposition, made repeated promises on ending family rule, eradicating nepotism, establishing rule of law and ensuring good governance. Now, President Sirisena has arrived at a place where he has to walk the talk and start living up to the expectations of the people – something easier said than done!

Ranil Wickremesinghe, Ravi Karunanayake, Palitha Thewarapperuma and Mahinda Samarasinghe

Of course the President has already shown remarkable on certain fronts. One such decision was the reduction of oil prices which was a pleasant surprise for the people of Sri Lanka who were expecting such “relief measures” from the interim budget of the new government which is to be presented to the Parliament by the end of this month. However, the decision was made at the first Cabinet meeting chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena and this was one of the key promises which was made by the ‘Common Opposition’ in Sirisena’s run up to the presidency.

On the other hand, the new government has also taken some important steps in the direction of democratization of the country. Although the 100 day programme of President Sirisena has digressed from the initial “time-table”, it has so far retained the faith of the people. The National Advisory Committee is functioning now in full swing and the JVP and the TNA – the two political parties which did not accept ministerial portfolios from the new government – are actively participating in the activities of the NAC. The National Advisory Committee – which operates above the Cabinet of ministers – is the body which gives characteristics of a national government to the ruling coalition led by President Sirisena.

However, it is important to see whether the same ‘transparency’ has been when it comes to the state sector appointments of the newly formed government. At the point, the government is appointing heads of state sector institutions and decisions that have been made so far are greeted with mixed reactions not only by the public, but also by certain quarters of the ruling party.

 

Husbands and wives in top government posts

What needs to be highlighted is the ‘husbands and wives’ who hold positions as Secretaries of ministries under President Sirisena’s government. For instance, while Saman Ekanayake works as the Secretary to the Prime Minister, his wife, D.K.R. Ekanayake has been appointed as the Secretary of the Ministry of Social Services, Welfare and Livestock Development. J.B. Sugathadasa has been appointed as the Secretary of the Ministry of Food Security and his wife, N.D. Sugathadasa has been appointed as the Secretary of the Ministry of Youth Affairs. L.P. Jayampathi was appointed by the President as the Secretary of the Ministry of Ports and Naval Service while his wife D.S. Malkanthi serves as the Secretary of the State Ministry of Arts and Cultural Affairs.

Being the spouse of a Ministry Secretary is not (or should not be) a qualification or a disqualification for anyone when receiving a top government post. However, in the light of the policy of ‘good governance’, the government should also be mindful of the possible conflicts of interests and far-reaching consequences deriving from such appointments.

Another controversial move made by the new government was to appoint popular film maker Somaratne Dissanayake as the Chairman of Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation. Dissanayake was actively campaigning for former President Mahinda Rajapaksa during election campaigns in 2005 and in 2010 while being a vociferous critique of the opposition. He fell out with the government in protest of the National Film Corporation’s decision to prohibit film makers from printing more than 35 copies of one film. When the presidential election was announced in November, 2014, he aligned himself with Common Candidate of the opposition Maithripala Sirisena who was supported by a considerable number of artistes.

 

State media appointments

It was widely believed among political circles that Dissanayake was appointed due to the influence of Athuraliye Rathana Thera and Jathika Hela Urumaya who played a key role in President Sirisena’s election campaign. The film maker, who even supported the ‘Pivithuru Hetak’ organization formed by Athuraliye Rathana Thera, shares a close friendship with the Buddhist monk who is also a JHU Parliamentarian.

The appointments of ITN and Lake House Chairmen came nearly one and a half weeks after the appointment of the SLRC Chairman. The first and unanimous choice for both positions was Krishantha Prasad Cooray, who is a well-known person among the journalistic fraternity. Cooray was the founding CEO of Rivira Media Corporation, the publishing company of ‘Rivira’ and ‘The Nation’ newspapers. He is a Working Committee member of the United National Party, in addition to his role as its Media Director and a political strategist. When approached for the two key state media positions, Cooray politely turned down the offer.

The next choice for the post of ITN Chairman was Prof. Dhammika Ganganath Dissanayake who was previously the Chairman of Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation and a Media Advisor to UNP National Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Kavan Ratnayaka, the elder brother of former UNP Parliamentarian Sagala Ratnayaka, was appointed as the Chairman of Lake House, replacing Bandula Padmakumara.

He was the Chief Corporate Officer of Cargills PLC and the Chief Corporate Officer of Dialog Axiata. Before that Ratnayaka was the Chief Executive Officer of Dialog Broadband Networks. Kavan Ratnayaka was also the Country General Manager of IBM from 1998 to 2007. An old boy of Royal College Colombo, he holds a Bachelor of Science (physics) from the University of California.

 

President’s brother’s appointment as Telecom Chairman raises concerns

Meanwhile, President Maithripala Sirisena’s brother, Kumarasinghe Sirisena, has been appointed as the Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom. It has now been revealed that cabinet members of the United National Party, including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, advised the President not to proceed with the move since it would reflect badly on the head of the government. However, President Sirisena was intent on appointing his brother as the Telecom Chairman.

Perhaps, the President had fair reasons to proceed with the appointment. Kumarasinghe Sirisena, who was the General Manager of State Timber Corporation until December last year, was removed from his post when Sirisena announced his decision to contest the presidential election as the Common Candidate of the opposition. On the other hand, Kumarasinghe Sirisena had more than enough experience at the senior management level of the state sector.

He has also worked as a Board Director at Land Reclamation & Development Company Ltd. In addition to that, Kumarasingha Sirisena is working as Financial Consultant at Araliya Group of Companies (Pvt) Ltd, a company owned by his sibling Dudley Sirisena.

When Maithripala Sirisena was the Leader of the House in 2005, Kumarasinghe Sirisena was his Coordinating Secretary. He had also served as a board director of organizations such as Mahaweli Engineering Services Ltd, State Development & Construction Corporation.

Kumarasinghe holds Bachelor of Science (Public Administration Management) and B.Sc (Management) degrees from the University of Sri Jayawardenapura. He also holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Accountancy and Financial Management from the same university.

However, the United National Party, the biggest stakeholder of the government, is not entirely pleased with the decision. They are of the view that President Sirisena should have waited, at least until the end of the 100 day programme.

“Probably it is the right move. Being the President’s sibling alone should not disqualify an official from accepting a government position. But, this is certainly not the right time. You should not play into the hands of the opposition,” a Cabinet Minister representing the United National party told The Sunday Leader on Friday morning.

 

People Friendly Budget On The Way – Super Rich To Be Taxed Heavily

The National Democratic Front (NDF) will present its de-facto budget (it’s a vote on account) on the 29th. Frantic work is being carried out to accommodate various interests. The voyage has been one of great discovery – each and every day. The budget (vote on account) is set to create heroes of the UNP- all prices of essentials are to come tumbling down. In so doing the 100 day programme is on target to being accomplished. The super-rich including the so-called ‘newly created’ rich will find that their wealth will be taxed heavily. It is, said a source, “like 5% will be paying for the 95% – instead of the other way round”.

The issue which was highlighted by the Finance Minister raised the flag on how apparently legal means were used to reduce transparency, good governance and accountability.

As the hunt continues for more details of various excesses, sketchy detail is emerging of a 2.5% management fee agreed in connection with the building of the Defence Academy, a Rs 50 Billion project. A relative of the family is being investigated in this latest round of alleged abuse of power.

A senior politician not in government told us that in his view this is not a witch hunt or vigilante action. Whilst it was true that claims of huge fraud was made prior to the election, in the post election period the people of all walks of life with their own claims and allegations were being given a patient hearing. Rather than trial by media, he urged the people to realise how important it was to come forth and share any information they may have.

President Sirisena has made it very clear that everyone who had indulged in any form of corrupt practise will definitely face the full force of the law.

The forthcoming vote on account (budget) will see an extremely vote-winning, people friendly budget. All essential items will be drastically reduced to a realistic and sustainable level. Sugar in particular is expected to be reduced significantly as will the price of rice. Buoyed by the announcement of the significant cuts in the fuel prices the new government is keen to demonstrate their claim that the cost of living was unnecessarily high due to the massive cost over runs on projects and the wanton waste and corruption.

Colombo was treated to spectacular sights of row after row of vehicles from the Presidential secretariat having been recovered and the helicopter landing area in Galle Face was full of such vehicles as was parts of Galle Face green.

The super rich however will find that this government intends to make significant changes at the level at which they are being taxed. Import duties on vehicles are set to rise as will so-called luxury goods but essential items will be reduced – so that the effects of economic concessions will be felt throughout the country not just for a few.

Internally President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe have mutually agreed that Sirisena is in power thanks to the efforts of the UNP as a lead player. They acknowledge that this was a Sirisena-Wickremesinghe joint win. At lower levels there are claims being made to attempt to usurp the unity of the leadership. Both Sirisena and his Prime Minister are confident that these attempts will not make much headway.

The apparent delays in granting the letters of appointment to both Arjuna Mahendran as Governor Central Bank and Thilak Karunaratne as Chairman SEC were due to some unhappiness from certain quarters. In the case of Mahendran the cause was apparently two-fold: one was that a relative by marriage had been granted a primary dealers license and that was cause for concern citing a possible conflict of interest. The other was more to do with settling old scores other than anything to do with Mahendran’s undoubted ability to lead the Central Bank, with some older members unhappy with Charley Mahendran. Ever the strategist Wickremesinghe has managed to massage the different concerns and has won the support of the President to go ahead with these appointments. The delay was also attributed to the fact that the two institutions were listed under a separate Ministry away from the Finance Ministry. Wickremesinghe having wanted to keep the regulatory bodies away from the Finance Ministry is a clear separation of powers.

The government were in no hurry to allocate an official residence to the previous head of state. Officials acknowledged that this was the right of the defeated President but that there was no timeframe they had to work to. A search they say is ongoing to find a suitable house. Meanwhile the former President is a house guest when the need arises at the official Speaker’s house in Colombo. Chamal Rajapaksa has been noticeably absent from any allegations and is considered above these matters by the opposition.

The work at Hambantota port phase 2 will definitely be stopped according to our sources at Economic development. A hunt is underway to attract an operative for Mattala airport. Ranil Wickremesinghe has already said that in the absence of environmental and feasibility report the Colombo port city project will be shelved and invitations given to others as well as the Chinese to develop the project. That the Prime Minister has done so at the risk of straining relations with China is an indicator of his non partisan approach and also to broadbase Sri Lanka’s inward investments. The Indian government would probably be applauding Wickremesinghe for his stance. The PM had an early quick win when the European community lifted the ban on Sri Lanka fish exports.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe received plenty of plaudits. A group of visiting south Indian businessman told the PM and later his Finance Minister, that South India was overjoyed. Businessmen from there would now have little qualms of doing business with Lanka because as they explained ‘the very idea of doing business with a government that was stained by allegations was dangerous for Indian businessmen from the south. Now with a new government in place the Tamil and Muslim communities can start with a clean slate – and with Wickremesinghe and Sirisena working hand in glove, Sri Lanka may actually move forward. Certainly for us South Indians this is a welcome new page in our outlook of our neighbour.”

 

Thewarapperuma in hot waters

UNP MP Palitha Thewarapperuma found himself in hot waters this week when he wreaked havoc in Kalutara and forced a PS member to kneel down in public as a punishment. Former Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe was the one who lodged a complaint with Police over the incident and accused Thewarapperuma of attacking activists of the opposition.

“When we set up a party office in my own electorate, a group of thugs led by UNP Parliamentarian Palitha Thewarapperuma, came there and threw rotten eggs at the office,” Samarasinghe said addressing a press briefing at the SLFP Headquarters.

Although Thewarapperuma’s unruly behaviour was captured on a widely circulated video footage, Police failed to take immediate action to arrest the UNP Parliamentarian. A lot of pressure was exerted on the government by online and social media over the incident and finally Thewarapperuma surrendered to the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD). He was subsequently remanded until February 2

Thewarapperuma too had a story to tell. He said Samarasinghe’s supporters were breaking laws while disrupting peace and harmony in the area. The UNP MP also added that Samarasinghe was supported by what he termed as the “underworld” of Matugama, while saying the party office of the UPFA was set up in a government building in the Agalawatte area. But it was clear that Thewarapperuma had no licence to responds to ‘violence’ with violence.

 

How ‘Matugama Chandi Malli’ became Palitha Thewarapperuma

Palitha Thewarapperuma is widely known as “Chandi Malli” in his own area. He studied martial arts in his early youth and had some reputation as a Robinhood-like personality in the area. His pictures first appeared in newspapers during the Cricket Board’s election in 1999 when Clifford Ratwatte and Thilanga Sumathipala vied for the position of Chairmanship. Jayantha Dharmadasa openly supported the candidature of Ratwatte during the heated election and finally it all ended up in a major clash. During this period, Thewarapperuma, a youth from Matugama, worked as a personal bodyguard of Dharmadasa. The lesser known youth’s pictures were also carried in media those days along with those of the clash which occurred on the day of election.

Later, he worked closely with politicians such as Rajitha Senaratne and Kumara Welgama, who represented the Kalutara District. However, Mahinda Samarasinghe was the person who first gave him a ticket to contest a local government election from the United National Party. He contested the local government election in 2002 and became second on the preferential votes list in Matugama. With Samarasinghe’s blessings, Thewarapperuma was appointed as the Chairman of the Pradeshiya Sabha and from that point on he became a loyal follower of Mahinda Samarasinghe.

Thewarapperuma fell out with Samarasinghe when the latter crossed over to the UPFA to support former President Mahinda Rajapaksa following the presidential election in 2005. A few years later, he became a Provincial Councilor representing the Kalutara District, but he again contested the local government council election mainly to show his ‘electoral strength’ to his erstwhile political guru Mahinda Samarasinghe. He was granted nomination by the UNP to contest the parliamentary election in 2010; but he was arrested by Police just weeks before the election. Thewarapperuma had to run his campaign from prison; but he easily managed to secure a parliamentary seat as a UNP MP.

Thewarapperuma has served as a Parliamentarian for nearly five years and has been in politics long enough to understand his limits. The UNP has decided to hold an investigation into the conduct of Thewarapperuma and take stern action. Speaking to media, UNP General Secretary Kabir Hashim said in no uncertain terms that the party condemned the behaviour shown by Thewarapperuma in Agalawatte on Sunday.

 

16 Comments for “Appointments To Top Government Posts Create Ripples!”

  1. Hadeniya

    These appointments made by the government do not speak well of its stated policies to be transparent and above board. It will be bad for the country if this trend continues.

  2. Nissanka

    Apita one yaha palane. eka denna bari unoth oyalatath bye bye thamai , kauru unath hari de karanakam api innawa waradi de kaloth sorry thamai. maha mathiwaranedi api uthara dennam oya hitapu jara , sakkli mathi amathi waruntai, dan inna Sakkili mathi amathi warunati.

  3. SB

    Where is the Yahapalanya?

  4. the most suitable person for jaffna post of governer, MR LIONEL fernando,srilanka civial servant, one time GA jaffna.he is a people man,hewas a governer for north east, Tna will accept him with warm welcome,the present person worse than major mr srisena,

  5. Sol

    This is about maitripala’s brothers qualification .
    He holds BCom or. Management deg
    from jayawardena pura . There are thousands of such graduates in the country with no jobs .board of directors position he held was only political appointments his Bro being big shot in the SLFP.
    FINACE CONSULTANT TO ARALIYA GROUP?
    That s his Brothers dirty family business like rice and sand mafia,
    Telecom is highly technological business not just sand and rice

  6. Kingsly

    Political decency has to be restored. The new govt. has to lay down standards of public office and uphold them. What ever the provocation, the politicians should not cross a red line. In fact any decent politician or a professional normally do not stoop down to such levels. What ever the political affiliation law should be applied as well as seen to be applied to regain credibility.

  7. Reality

    The other day I came across a new type of journalism called yellow journalism.
    These days its the in word for all journalist in Sri Lanka

    The world oil prices were the same as today in 2006.

    Then in Sri Lanka Petrol was sold at 0.98 USD/Lit, Diesel 0.58 USD/Lit, Kerosene 0.39 USD/Lit

    Today after all the so called taxes are removed Petrol is selling at 0.91 USD/Lit, Diesel 0.72 USD/Lit, Kerosene 0.49 USD/Lit

    You can work out who’s fooling whom !!

  8. Dr M.L.Najimudeen

    Matugama chandi malli lost his golden opportunity of becoming a deputy minister due to his unruly behaviour.
    One should never ill treat a human being
    He has to do a lot of repair works to impress the leadership of UNP to get the nomination for the forthcoming parliamentary election

  9. I’d support the Presidents move to appoint his brother as chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom. Refraining from nepotism, when a connected candidate does not qualify on merit is an aspect of good governance. Standing firm when a connected candidate has merit on his/her own is quite another thing – and the latter appears to be the case with Mr. Kumarasinghe Sirisena. He appears to have a Management pedigree, both in qualifications and experience. What he seems to not have is experience in Communications, or ICT for that matter.

  10. Sangaralingham

    Conflicts confusion will always be there. Clear minds good conscious must prevail all the time to see justice done and honourable conclusions made

  11. Freddy

    The old regime was ousted for performing but instigated for being dictator whereas the new regime is no better. All people are confused. Looks like 100 days of witch hunt and revenge with lies and deception and no arrest. Using police resources. Only a dog chasing its tail. Back to the drawing board. And back to the people.what next?

  12. tikira

    Ranil is showing his true LTTE colours by trying to appoint Arjuna Mahendran which will be dangerous

  13. lankaeu

    back to the future.? about il price. momment lowest world oil price after 14 years due to extra prouction etc. sri anka can go down more than this present price.

  14. charly

    I feel very sorry for SL.We were in a fast track train with china and got off from it to take a obsolete one.
    .

  15. Super rich , how do you categorise them? What about those Tender agents of multinational companies who get their agencies by demonstrating their connections with heads of State,m who had made over 100 million USD without declarations of their offshore deposits not paying tax. They constitute a large number in Sri Lanka who has assets abroad including homes and businesses and live laviashly on the commissions on State funds ?

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