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.

Anoma being at the Presidential Secretariat was alarming, but it seems she received nothing and, while Eran is State Minister of Finance, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, who was pretty good on COPE when the bond scam was being investigated, is Deputy Minister, and of Mass Media too. So, while Mangala would not in himself have instigated anything dishonest, I cannot see Ranil’s agents being allowed a free hand with finance, or even with the media.

Incidentally, while it is clear that this time round Mangala was moved against his will, the normally circumspect Sinha Ratnatunga has totally misrepresented what happened in 2007 when Mangala ceased to be Minister of Foreign Affairs and then subsequently left President Rajapaksa’s cabinet. Sinha does usually study his briefs so, though it is possible that he has in fact forgotten what occurred, it is more likely that he is rewriting history so as to present Mangala in a better light, and concomitantly Mahinda Rajapaksa in a worse one.

What actually happened in 2007 was that Mangala, who had held two portfolios (having asked for Foreign Affairs too, which was why the President did not, as he had initially expected to, appoint Rohitha Bogollagama) was asked to drop one, the Cabinet having been expanded with the addition of crossovers from the UNP. To everyone’s surprise – and I should note my disappointment, for he seemed a good Minister of Foreign Affairs in those days – he chose Ports and Shipping, on the grounds I was told that that was a Ministry through which he could serve his constituency too. He was not dismissed from the position, but rather chose what he thought would help him politically.

Nor was he sacked from that portfolio. What happened was that Anura Bandaranaike suddenly attacked the President, and was then dismissed from the not very important Ministry he had been given in 2005. He had been Foreign Minister before, briefly, following Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination, but had behaved so badly during the election campaign that he was lucky to have been made a Minister at all. Despite this, typically, he shot his mouth, and was dismissed.

Mangala and Sripathi Sooriyarachchi then resigned, doubtless thinking that this would help to develop a bandwagon against the President, a concept that was being busily peddled by the internationals such as Norbert Roepers of the Berghof Foundation who hankered after a realliance which would bring Ranil and Chandrika to the fore (and which would doubtless have led to what a few of them really wanted, a semi-autonomous state under the Tigers).

Typically, Anura Bandaranaike then realized that he could not do without a Ministry, and begged to be taken back. Mahinda Rajapaksa granted his wish, and it was reported that there were talks with Mangala about him too returning to office. But he was reported to have wanted Ports and Shipping back, and that the President was unwilling to grant. So the poor man had to stay outside, in isolation in fact since Sripathi Sooriyarachchi died soon afterwards, and that is why I suspect he has turned so bitter and kottavela, as my aunt Ena used to describe those who had turned stale.

This time round, perhaps understanding that he had no independent political future, he did not ask for a portfolio that would benefit his constituency, and instead relished his role as the voice of Sri Lanka to the world. That he said nothing the country wanted him to say did not matter, for I suspect he saw his next step as advancing onto the world stage after Hillary Clinton became President and took control also of the United Nations.

But Hillary lost, and Maithripala Sirisena made it clear that Mangala was not in step with the country. Ranil then finally had to accept the reshuffle, and as noted Ravi is not likely to fall in with the destructive agenda that had been prepared. And he also has with him as Minister of State Vasantha Senanayake, who has finally been treated with the respect he deserved for having had the courage of his convictions throughout the last few years.

He is the only person now in Parliament who broke ranks with the last government and supported Maithripala Sirisena without an axe to grind and without asking for any position. And because, unlike the others who supported Sirisena, he had previously made clear to the President that he was unhappy with the way things were going – and indeed proposed a Constitutional Amendment to try to induce at least some reforms – Mahinda Rajapaksa has not resented his move as he has done what he sees as the betrayals of the rest.

But, perhaps because of his decency, Vasantha was treated appallingly by the terrible twins. When I expostulated with her about how he had been fobbed off with a useless deputy ministry, she told me that he had joined the UNP so she had not done anything for him. She then added that I did not know what he was like, and that he had kept barging into her house. This was rich from the woman who, on the day of Maithripala’s press conference, had expected others (such as Reginald Cooray), none of whom turned up, so that it was a relief that Sirisena was not flanked only by those known as her acolytes, which was the case with Arjuna Ranatunga (now himself betrayed) and M K D S Gunawardena and Duminda Dissanayake.

Vasantha, having languished in Wildlife, though at least Naveen Dissanayake did give him a couple of crumbs from the table, was then made Deputy to Vijithamuni Zoysa, another example of Ranil’s bizarre sense of humour. That position has now gone to Palitha Ranga Bandara, who might at least understand what makes Vijithamuni tick. It is a mark of the sheer callousness of decision makers in this government that both of them should be in charge of Irrigation at a time when the country needs a solid Water Policy – something which I am sorry to say Mahinda Rajapaksa also neglected though I did point out to him over several years that this was one of the most pressing problems in the country.

Ravi I gather understands Vasantha’s worth and will doubtless make good use of him. I suspect the same will not be the case with Harsha de Silva, who does understand Economics, but Ranil is not likely to give him a chance to ensure sanity and probity in the mega-Ministry he has taken hold of (I discovered last week that he has also grabbed the Department of External Resources, detaching it from the Ministry of Finance, which must make planning a nightmare).

But though Harsha does have a schoolboyish streak and still regards Ranil with some awe, he is not a pushover, and will at least argue the case for better planning, and more coherent economic policies. He will also I hope take charge of some of the think tanks that Ranil has set up, which seem incapable of thought or even of studying their briefs intelligently. He will at least be able to deal with the golden brains Ranil now employs, his old school chums Malik Samarawickrema and Charitha Ratwatte, neither of whom was thought to have much upstairs when they were at school.

And even if Ranil does not entrust educational policy to Harsha, I hope he will study what is going on and try to drive some sense, if not into Akila Viraj (which may be too much to expect), into those charged with reforms. Recently yet another ADB team told me of yet another wheeze, which does not however seem connected with the previous wheezes that have sprung from the brains trust Ranil has put together. The ADB had been quite harsh in its critique of the original proposals, and these have now been whittled down, but plans keep changing, with neither consultation nor coherence.

But when it is clear that this most vital area is a disaster, and Akila Viraj is promoted to yet another area he cannot handle, doubtless Anoma Gamage will be waiting in the wings to take over.

Ceylon Today 6 June 2017 – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=22649

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