I must confess to a sense of déjà vu in reading about the disappointment Kabir Hashim has expressed about the recent changes in Ministries. Two articles on the subject present very different perspectives, which together suggest that he is being the classic spoilt child, upset about his own powers and dignity – since he ‘cannot suffer the ‘indignity’ of an emaciated Ministry’. Typically, he lies like a Trojan about his situation, claiming indeed that, when Sirisena’s first Cabinet was appointed, ‘Ranil Wickremesinghe thought that he could be more useful in Skills Development’.

That Kabir Hashim tells lies with no shame has been clear to me, from the time he demanded that Kshanika Himburuwegama resign as Chairman of the UGC with the claim that the President had instructed this. Sirisena assured me that he had done nothing of the sort, but he did nothing to undo the damage that had been done.

Contrary to his current grand claim about why he was given Skills Development, Hashim told me when he was made Cabinet Minister that he knew I was the expert on education, and he would leave everything to me – since in any case, as both Chairman and Secretary then of the party, he had to concentrate on the forthcoming election. And in fact making him Cabinet Minister of Higher Education was an afterthought, since initially he had only been made Minister of Highways – which was of course where he could work on the election, given the manner in which his Prime Minister awarded contracts for unsolicited bids at much higher rates than those paid during the Rajapaksa days.

Hashim was made Minister of Higher Education – along then with Highways, a ludicrous combination that still continues, with an even more incompetent though perhaps less deceitful Minister in charge – after Chandrika Kumaratunga threatened me when I refused to summarily dismiss Kshanika Himburuwegama as she demanded. She told me to wait and see who would be put on top of me, a metaphor that accords with her assumption that government is about power rather than productivity.

Initially Hashim pledged not to interfere, but soon enough he started pushing the envelope, beginning with trying to collect evidence against S B Dissanayake. I suspect that was not his idea, but rather thrust upon him by Chandrika and possibly Ranil, given their technique of trying to ensure submission by threatening prosecution. Of course, once S B joined the government, he was let off scot free, and typically the first thing Kabir did after I resigned was requisition some of the 14 vehicles S B had used (of which I had returned 12 to the pool).

Hashim’s arbitrary dismissal of the UGC Chairman was again under pressure though, without citing the dreadful duo, he claimed that it was FUTA that insisted on this. FUTA it should be noted was then on a high, thinking it could dictate terms, and also determined to feed from the trough itself (which was put paid to when the Minister of Education sacked its Chairman from the Board of the National Institute of Education, where he seems to have nothing to control Gunapala Nanayakkara, the UNP’s first choice to run the place.)

Incidentally, the corruption that Kabir Hashim too seems to find essential was explained obliquely in Ravi Karunanayake’s interview regarding his own move. Though the question did not mention the Prime Minister, Ravi made it clear where responsibility lay, when he noted that, ‘The Treasury bond issue has nothing to do with the Finance Ministry. It was something completely outside. It is incumbent on me to defend the Prime Minister when something wrong is said of him’.

That commitment to defending the Prime Minister is I suspect why he signed a letter of dubious provenance declaring that the country needed more money, the letter that Mahendran’s team produced as though it justified the award of so many bonds to his son-in-law. However, the stress at COPE when we were investigating the issue back in 2015, was on Malik Samarawickrema and Kabir Hashim having come to the Central Bank to assert the need for more money, the claim being that this was necessary with regard to Highways. If anyone in government had any powers of induction, they would realize that this is the troika which ensured that the UNP had enough money with which to fight the subsequent election, which Hashim told me he had to concentrate on. And that is why the Prime Minister awarded contracts contrary to the principles he had laid down, contracts as to the provenance of which his confidantes were Malik and Hashim.

Unfortunately, though Ravi now seems prepared to make clear the dirty games being played by Malik Samarawickrema, he still affects to believe that this is nothing to do with the Prime Minister. Indeed he even attributes the change in the portfolios of Arjuna Ranatunga and Chandima Weerakkody to the ‘singleton’ black sheep he so clearly identifies, without accepting the fact that neither would have been changed without Ranil’s sanction. Indeed it was Ranil’s plan for selling off petroleum that Chandima Weerakkody so bravely opposed.

Hashim on the contrary attributes Arjuna’s transfer to the SLFP grabbing a UNP portfolio, ignoring the fact that Arjuna had raised hackles by opposing UNP schemes – not only Malik’s foolish agreement with the Chinese, to make up for the gratuitous insults flung at the Chinese earlier, but also the thoughtless abandonment of Trincomalee to foreign interests, both Indian and American. And I suspect it is because Ranil and Malik think Mahinda Samarasinghe will be a pushover compared to Arjuna that they accepted his appointment to this portfolio.

But Mahinda’s first loyalties are to the President, and I suspect Arjuna now will feel the same, since clearly his view of where Sri Lankan interests lie is closer to that of the President than to that of Chandrika and the now dominant strain in the UNP. And now that he has no reason to feel any allegiance to Chandrika, I suspect we will now see a reversion to the more traditional SLFP outlook of Reggie Ranatunga. So we can hope that he will also stick to the principles Chandima Weerakkody enunciated, and forget what his UNP masters want.

It is less likely that Ravi too will move soon, but in time I suspect a man who feels he has a political future is bound to jump ship. After all, contrary to his claim in the interview, he has not represented the UNP for 24 years. He first came into Parliament through the DUNF which was then in alliance with the SLFP, and indeed he was then on the National List. It was at the next election that he chose to join the UNP, when his fellow National List nominee Kesaralal Gunasekara opted for the SLFP.

And he was certainly solidly on Ranil’s wing of the party in those days, being one of those who advised against compromise when Chandrika took charge of some portfolios way back in 2003. I remember him telling me then that Chandrika would not dare to go for an election, since the country would not vote for the SLFP when it was in combination with the JVP.

This was the young Ravi Karunanayake, oblivious to the fact that the more dominant perception in the country was that the UNP was in cahoots with the LTTE (and the party on which Ravi was counting on then to shore the UNP up, the TNA, was totally in thrall to the Tigers, with Sambandhan then claiming that they were the sole representatives of the Tamils).

Ravi stuck to that perspective over the next few years, and was one of those to belittle our war victories, like Ranil and Mangala. But though he still claims that Mangala is on a similar wavelength to himself, the fact that he is so pleased about Vasantha Senanayake being made his Deputy (and indeed asked for him, as I was told by yet another Minister who had wanted Vasantha, recognizing that he is one of the brightest politicians around) suggests that he will work towards getting Sri Lanka out of the noose Mangala had prepared.

But what then of Hashim, Secretary of the Party, with the black sheep now its Chairman so that the responsibility of winning elections by hook or by crook is now shared? Hashim is concentrating his fire on the SLFP, which suggests he still dreams of a pure UNP government (though not on the lines on which Ranil is reconstructing the UNP, since he was pretty firm about the limited role to be played by Sarath Fonseka). And it is in this light that we must see his rejection of Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena who was appointed as State Minister in his Ministry.

I can now understand why Anoma Gamage was at the Presidential Secretariat, awaiting a new job and evidently joyful about what she thought she was going to get. Given that Ranil had finally had to register Eran’s talent by promoting him to a State Ministry, and Finance at that in a context in which the Minister is ignorant of the subject – and given too that he had to accommodate Harsha in his own Ministry, and now has someone who knows something of Economics and will not let him get away with absurd policies – it seems likely that he wanted a dumb acolyte also in place in this area.

It looks then as though Hashim was expecting to have Anoma Gamage as his Deputy, so that Public Enterprises could be developed on the same principles as governed Hashim’s conduct at Highways and Higher Education – which Eran I assume would have advised against. But now he has Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, who is committed to the President and his agenda, and will blow the whistle on the sort of Enterprise Hashim engaged in together with Malik Samarawickrema according to the evidence furnished to COPE.

By the time this column appears we will know whether the President has given in, on removing Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, on handing over Sri Lankan Airlines to Ravi, on giving poor Gayantha Karunatilleke the National Film Corporation. I hope he will stand firm, but I think that now we can at least hope that, when he gives in, he does so to fight another day.

I was horrified at his weakness in 2015, but last year, having set the removal of Arjuna Mahendran as a litmus test, I could see that he was not a pushover. This year I felt the same about the Cabinet reshuffle, but now that this has been achieved, I think we can be happy that, given the massive opposition to it that Ranil evinced, there has been at least some progress. And given how Ranil and Chandrika have managed to alienate their former close associates in the process, perhaps the long hoped for reassertion of traditional SLFP values, nationally and internationally, is not a distant dream.

Ceylon Today 13 June 17  – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=23165

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