with the UNF government, prompting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
to consider his own options for the long-term stability of his
Apart from the confrontationist posture of the president,
what got the prime minister, who was resisting moves by several
ministers to oust Kumaratunga,
activated were intelligence reports that the People's Alliance (PA) and
the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) were acting in concert to
destabilise the economy and plunge the country into chaos in a bid to
prevent the advantage of economic stability flowing from the ceasefire
Furthermore, the tough stance taken by the president in
consciously delaying nominating her appointee to establish the
constitutional council and thereby the independent police, public
service, elections and judicial service commissions were also indicators
to the prime minister that Kumaratunga was working to her own agenda
with a view to recapturing power in the short term.
Disadvantage to the PA
For, though it is to the advantage of any opposition to
have the independent commissions in place, the president is working on
the premise such commissions will not only dilute her authority but also
be disadvantageous to a future PA government where the party will be
constricted in its manoeuverability on key appointments.
The president has thus realised that if the
constitutional council is in place, then key appointments to the
judiciary such as the chief justice and the armed services would be out
of her control, resulting in a serious setback to push her political
agenda prior to dissolution.
In this context, the silence of the JVP over the
president's delay, having earlier insisted on the establishment of the
independent commissions as the basis for entering into a probationary
government with the People's Alliance, has also convinced the prime
minister that a sinister plot between the PA and the JVP was underway to
sabotage the peace process and plunge the country into economic chaos.
The developments last week where pro JVP and PA
university students demonstrated outside the commerce ministry and
Temple Trees, going to the extent of burning the effigies of the prime
minister and Minister Ravi Karunanayake demanding enhanced payments from
the Mahapola fund, further underscored intelligence reports that the
first line of attack by the JVP-PA combine was to disrupt the
universities and bring about a closure of the institutions.
Given this backdrop, the prime minister last week sat
with several senior ministers including Finance Minister K.N. Choksy and
Constitutional Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris and decided the government
must move its political agenda into top gear no sooner the local
elections are concluded.
It is as a result of these discussions Minister G.L.
Peiris himself hinted at a press conference, on Wednesday, March 13, the
delaying tactics of President Kumaratunga relating to key appointments
were viewed as an act of hostility that could lead to the end of
cohabitation between the UNF and the president.
In fact, the government is now firm in its resolve to
impeach Chief Justice Sarath Silva by end April, having taken the view,
the president is banking on a friendly supreme court to block any
challenge to her authority. The prime minister however is now convinced
that with a resounding victory at the local elections on March 20, he
will be able to lift the proscription on the LTTE to facilitate the
peace talks and marginalise both the PA hardliners and the JVP by
forging ahead with his political agenda.
Apart from dealing with President Kumaratunga, the prime
minister however, is having problems in his own ranks due to allegations
of impropriety and attempts at corruption both at ministerial level as
well as in corporations, prompting him to warn members he will not
hesitate to take action against any miscreant.
In fact, one case in point that has been brought to the
notice of the prime minister involves Cooperatives Minister A.R.M. Cader,
who having summoned a meeting of officials, expressed the need to
purchase new lorries for the cooperative movement, stating the present
fleet were run down.
Having said that, the minister proceeded quite candidly
to inform the officials present he was the agent for Tata and could get
new lorries at a reasonable price, a suggestion the prime minister not
only frowned upon but has immediately vetoed on being brought to his
notice. And it has now transpired, Minister Cader has defaulted payment
to the tune of over Rs. 192 million to a private bank, with the bank
deciding to foreclose on his properties.
To the prime minister's credit, having appointed a honest
John in Charitha Ratwatte as finance ministry secretary, any complaints
of impropriety are brought to his notice without delay, as was the case
with the Indian wheat deal enabling quick action.
Yet another incident to which the prime minister's
attention was drawn last week was a complaint against a corporation
chairman who had allegedly solicited a million dollar gratification from
an investor to sell a tea estate.
The investor concerned had promptly brought the alleged
solicitation to the notice of a confidante of the prime minister, who
has wasted no time in calling for an inquiry to ascertain the veracity
of the allegation.
Furthermore, the prime minister has to also contend with
the sensitivities of UNPers over the induction of former PA supporters
to government positions, which has led to quite a bit of heartburn.
This has also resulted in clashes among ministers, and a
case in point is between Minister G.L. Peiris and Rohitha Bogollagama as
underscored by Bogollagama's letters published below:
The letter to the prime minister states thus:
4th March 2002
Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe
Prime Minister's Office
Appointment of chairman, Ceylon Ceramics Corporation
(Brick & Tiles Division)
This was one of the corporations that came under my
supervision in terms of distribution of functions between Hon. G.L.
Peiris, minister of enterprise development, industrial policy &
investment promotion & constitutional affairs and the undersigned.
Hon. G.L. Peiris agreed with me on the nomination of the chairman of the
above corporation to be one of my nominees. Accordingly, I nominated Mr.
Namalsiri Ekanayake, Attorney-at-Law and former provincial council
member from Wayamba to be the chairman of the above corporation. But to
my surprise, I found that Mr. Upali Senaratna has been appointed as the
chairman of the said corporation by Minister G.L. Peiris.
I regret to state that Mr. Upali Senaratna is not a
suitable person to hold the above office due to his antecedence in the
People's Alliance administration. He was the chairman of the land reform
commission and the coconut development authority under the previous
government and has brought about untold misery to sections of the UNP
supporters both in the Colombo district and those out in his
administration at the two corporations. Already, Hon. Gamini Lokuge,
minister of tourism, has complained to me the manner in which he has
conducted himself at the previous parliamentary elections in supporting
the People's Alliance party. Workers at the ceramics corporation (brick
& tiles) are dismayed with this appointment when in fact they looked
forward to an appointment in keeping with the qualities and traditions
of the United National Party.
Hence I would request your intervention to remove Mr.
Upali Senaratna from the chairmanship and to appoint Mr. Nimalsiri
Ekanayake for the above post.
Minister of Industries.
The prime minister in a bid to diffuse tension has now
agreed to speak with Minister Peiris and have Senaratne removed.
These are but three instances with many no doubt going
unnoticed and it is such incidents that can quickly bring a government
to disrepute and reduce to naught the good work done by Wickremesinghe
and fully realising the dangers in such developments, the prime minister
has put in motion a plan of action where any allegations of corruption
and impropriety can be brought to his notice for necessary action.
In fact, the prime minister has told party Chairman Malik
Samarawickrema and close confidantes that it is due to President
Kumaratunga consciously turning a blind eye to corruption that brought
her government and herself into public ridicule and he will ensure such
a fate will not befall his administration. And Samarawickrema and
Charitha Ratwatte, both with unimpeachable reputations for integrity,
have been requested by the prime minister to keep an ear to the ground
and report any acts of impropriety on the part of UNF members.
Be that as it may, the prime minister last week also got
cracking on shady deals entered into by the previous government of
President Kumaratunga given the growing public demand for justice and
sent out instructions that the activities of Kumaratunga's close buddy,
Ronnie Peiris' business activities be inquired into.
This followed representations made by Commerce Minister
Ravi Karunanayake on the Kotte golf course deal, where the BOI and the
urban development authority on a cabinet paper originally submitted by
the president and later Mangala Samaraweera had granted the necessary
approvals and Ronnie Peiris acting as a middle man collected huge
commissions, details of which apart from being earlier published in this
newspaper have now been brought to the notice of the minister by some of
those involved in the project itself.
With Karunanayake bringing these facts to the prime
minister's notice in the presence of UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickrema,
the minister was told to speak with BOI Chairman Arjuna Mahendran and
cancel the project if there is evidence of impropriety and
nonfulfillment of the conditions of approval.
Accordingly, Minister Karunanayake immediately called the
BOI chairman and discussed the issue after which Prime Minister
Wickremesinghe himself spoke to Mahendran and said the project should be
cancelled if there is evidence of corruption and nonfulfillment of the
conditions of approval agreed to by the parties.
With that out of the way, the green light was also given
for a full scale investigation into the business dealings of Ronnie
Peiris including his links to the Bahamas based Blueclass Incorporation
company, his involvement in the Colombo-Katunayake expressway deal
amongst others, including his stake in the ABC radio network.
In fact, Ronnie Peiris is holding shares in ABC radio
network through his Bahamas based Blueclass Inc and attempts were
recently made through ABC to operate a television station as well but
Mahendran, turned down the request stating there was no basis to give
ABC such approval.
Furthermore, with ABC not having brought in the monies
pledged in terms of the approval granted by BOI during Kumaratunga's
tenure, Mahendran has now informed the company, they will be given two
months from the time the new telecommunications regulatory commission is
nominated to bring in the pledged capital, failing which, the approvals
would be cancelled.
What has added fuel to the fire of the Ronnie Peiris
business dealings is the open manner in which he has been pushing
business deals and lobbying for commissions, quite openly touting
President Kumaratunga's name. And some of the investors so approached
have brought it to the notice of Prime
Minister Wickremesinghe no less.
In fact, Peiris has reportedly solicited as much as one
million US dollars from an investor in the Middle East seeking to
purchase the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation just to give an introduction
to President Kumaratunga and the investor has informed the prime
minister he was prepared to divulge all particulars at an inquiry.
And having discussed the project, Peiris has gone so far
as to demand US$ 40 million once the deal is concluded, terms with which
the investor has refused to comply.
The Sunday Leader is now in possession of documentary
proof of this deal, one copy of a fax which is published below.
In that fax dated May 26, 2001, sent by the foreign
investor to the London fax number 0044 1923853100 of Ronnie Peiris, it
is stated thus:
Confirming our recent phone conversation. I am somewhat
disappointed at your consultancy terms to assist us in the development
of a power project in Sri Lanka. ..............
(name of company withheld) is unable to provide a retainer agreement as
we normally pay consultants on a success fee basis upon the reaching of
certain milestones in a project. Likewise, the net profit fee of 2 1/2%
is much higher than normally acceptable in the Middle East.
Unless we are able to reach an agreement on other terms,
we regret that we will not be able to use your services for this
SS (name withheld)
Regrettably for Peiris not long after, the PA government
collapsed and he was not in a position to renegotiate his commission and
push the deal through.
Interestingly, several PA top notchers themselves have
now urged the prime minister to probe the business dealings of Peiris
and trace where the blessings came from in a bid to have their names
cleared from any taint of corruption during the seven-year PA rule.
Not stopping at that, serious negotiations are also
underway between several PA members and the UNF for a national
government to address the burning issues of the country whereby the
government can obtain the 2/3rd majority necessary to move ahead with
its political agenda.
In this respect, the necessary legislation is already
being drafted by Finance Minister K.N. Choksy and Constitutional Affairs
Minister G.L. Peiris, to ensure members who join the government do not
lose their parliamentary seats. Movement in that direction will be
expedited after May especially in view of the president's refusal to
nominate the constitutional council.
This talk of a national government of course is causing
serious concern within the PA, with the pro-Kumaratunga group targeting
Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse in the belief, he is spearheading
And giving vent to this line of thinking was Kumaratunga
loyalist Sripathy Sooriyarachchi to PA Colombo district MP, Bharatha
Lakshman Premachandra, a Rajapakse loyalist, during a party to celebrate
the launch of the two party newspapers Lakmina and Dinakara.
It was Premachandra who broached the subject inquiring
why the Lakmina was attacking Rajapakse when he has being elevated to
the post of opposition leader and Sooriyarachchi was not averse to
making his mind known.
"Why, he is for a national government. We have no
problem in him being the opposition leader for one year after which we
can make him prime minister under President Kumaratunga. But he can
never be our presidential candidate," Sooriyarachchi said.
Possibly taken aback at revelation, Premachandra asked
whether the president was thinking of Anura Bandaranaike as the
candidate, adding he and a number of other members would oppose
On that score however, Sooriyarachchi did not commit
himself, simply stating the president has her own strategy of dealing
with the situation.
Contemplating a high jump
But the PA is in such a state of disarray, even
Bandaranaike is contemplating a high jump once again though publicly he
is taking the position of being the party's presidential candidate.
In fact, Bandaranaike is quite critical of sister
Kumaratunga now in private conversations with his friends, particularly
due to her failure to appoint him as opposition leader and has made no
secret of the fact he was prepared to consider any attractive offer from
the UNF government.
While publicly rejecting any attempts at joining the UNF,
Bandaranaike has being heaping lavish praise on the prime minister's
handling of the peace process and said to friends and confidantes, the
PA is looking at a long stint in opposition.
He has however expressed concern whether there will be
strong opposition to his re-entry from the likes of Ministers Karu
Jayasuriya, Ravi Karunanayake and Rajitha Senaratne, a matter the prime
minister in fact discussed in passing with Minister Rajitha Senaratne
As for the prime minister, he is working on the basis
that the government needs a 2/3rd majority to push ahead with the peace
process and economic reforms and given Kumaratunga's intransigence on
cohabitation, the numbers must be got irrespective of the individuals
concerned to ensure the overall national interest is advanced and
And in anticipation of a huge mandate at the local
authority elections for the political and economic process he has set in
motion, the prime minister has decided to up the tempo after the Sinhala
and Tamil new year with drastic reforms in the pipeline.
The question however is whether Wickremesinghe's own
members will support him in the task of nation building or distract the
prime minister by indulging in corruption practices and petty bickering.
That of course will remain the million dollar question.