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I wrote last week, in rather sad vein, about the Cabinet reshuffle. But I did suggest that there might be a silver lining in the cloud, in that Ravi Karunanayake was less likely than Mangala to pursue the emasculation of our armed forces, and indeed the nullification of our victory over terrorism. I also argued that, absurd though Mangala was at representing the country internationally, he was supposed to be honest, and was also aware that he knew nothing about Finance.

It had been claimed previously that he had wanted Eran Wickramaratne to be his Deputy, and this has now happened. Indeed things are even better than expected in that Eran is now a Minister of State. Ministers of State are a preposterous concept when there is also a Cabinet Minister. This became clear when Kabeer Hashim was suddenly made Minister of Higher Education, after Chandrika told me I should watch out for who would be above me when I refused to summarily dismiss the UGC Chairman, and then, having assured me that he would not interfere, sacked the Chairman while I was away, lying to her in claiming that the President had ordered this.

In those days the President was wimpish and, let alone asserting himself when his Ministers lied about his instructions, could do nothing whatsoever to control the UNP or to work on fulfilling the promises in his manifesto. But, beginning with his finally getting rid of Arjuna Mahendran, he has begun to act a little bit like a President, and the reshuffle suggests that he is coming into his own. I believe Ranil was not entirely happy about what happened, and indeed Harsha’s tweet about Anoma Gamage waiting for a change of portfolio suggests that Ranil did want to place another unthinking acolyte in a position of responsibility.

The Gamages, a wonderfully Dickensian couple, are I should note nice enough in themselves, but they are an integral component of Ranil’s efforts to make himself Master of the Universe. Hence Daya Gamage’s elevation in the past to a position of great influence in the party so as to cut down more able people, and then Anoma’s being put into Parliament when Daya failed to get elected in 2010. Now they are both there, one a Minister and another a Deputy, but neither really with anything substantial to do except work on raising the profile of the party and its leader. Read the rest of this entry »

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper

 

Eliot’s conclusion to ‘The Hollow Men’ seems to sum up the general reaction to the Cabinet reshuffle that took place last week. To call it a Cabinet reshuffle is perhaps a misnomer, since there were very few changes.The most significant shuffle was that Ravi Karunanayake and Mangala Samaraweera changed places, the former moving to the Foreign Ministry about which he knows little, and the latter moving to the Ministry of Finance, about which he knows nothing.

As though to prove this, he also takes with him to that Ministry the control of Mass Media. This means that the main loser, as it were, of the reshuffle is the amiable Gayantha Karunatilleke, but to compensate for this he has been given Lands. It was not mentioned in the reports of the reshuffle that John Amaratunga had in fact been deprived of Lands, but this is understandable since it would seem that he did not know this was in his charge, and did nothing about it.

But while the sheer absurdity of, not just the whole exercise, but the previous allocation of responsibilities, is made crystal clear by last week’s gamesmanship, I should note that, if one uses rose coloured spectacles, one can discern something positive about what happened. Though the common view is that the President lost out completely, and has made manifest his weakness, I can argue in his defence that he got his way as to the main reasons for his wanting a change.

First and foremost it was clear that he was dead worried about the way in which Mangala was selling not just the armed forces but the whole country down the river. In that regard, he can feel that Ravi Karunatilleke will not be so callous. Ravi after all believes he has a political future – unlike Mangala who is so firmly tied to the Ranil-Chandrika mast that this is necessarily an Endgame for him – and will make sure that he cannot be characterized as a traitor to the nation. Unlike Mahinda Samarasinghe, whose experience would have allowed him to steer the nation out of the net Mangala had thrown, Ravi will not find his path easy, but I believe he will try. Read the rest of this entry »

I was away during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister and, with internet limited in Turkmenistan, could not follow what happened nor what was said. But enough came through to remind me of what happened 30 years ago, at the time of the Indo-Lankan Accord.

The recently founded Liberal Party found itself in a unique position on that occasion, since we welcomed the Accord but regretted three elements in it. One was the proposed merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, which we predicted would prove divisive. That regret is not my subject here, but it may be worth noting that, in addition to the practical problems we saw, we bewailed the fact that the whole concept of devolution was being perverted.

We had long promoted devolution on the grounds that government should be closer to the people. That is why we would have preferred District Councils, and why even recently we extolled the virtues of Divisional Secretariats for practical support to the people, given that Provincial Councils cannot now be abolished. In passing, I should note that the failure of the President to push through the commitment in his manifesto about Divisional Secretariats is another example of the sidelining of the structural changes this country so badly needs.

In 1987, President Jayewardene squandered the opportunity to streamline administration and, by proposing a merger, promoted the idea that devolution was about ethnic enclaves. That was a sure recipe for further dissension. Indeed what happened in the world afterwards has proved that. In the early eighties one could think of Federalism as a mechanism to bind different parts of a country closer together while allowing independent initiatives based on local needs (as with for instance the United States or Germany), But now it is seen as a precursor to separation, as has happened in the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia – and which is why India needs to be careful, not least with regard to one of the largest of its component states to still remain undivided.

But all that is another story. More relevant here is another of our caveats about the 1987 Accord, namely the elements in the Annexures which placed Sri Lanka firmly under Indian suzerainty. We had previously argued that the adventurism of the Jayewardene government with regard to India was potentially disastrous, and the manner in which India responded – which included strong condemnation using Argentina at the then equivalent in Geneva of the Human Rights Council – ensured our subjugation.

The Liberal Party had no quarrel at all with the actual restraints put upon Sri Lanka, for Jayewardene’s games with Trincomalee (including leasing the oil tanks to a Singapore based company, having cancelled the tender which an Indian company had won on good grounds), and the setting up of a Voice of America station at Iranawila, were unnecessary provocations. Given the then unremitting hostility of America to India, seen as a Soviet ally – and hence fair game for the terrorists being trained in Pakistan to attack not just the Soviets in Afghanistan – our getting involved in this latest version of the Great Game was idiotic. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2017
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