President Maithripala Sirisena called a special meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera ahead of last week's Cabinet meeting. The matter in hand was the controversial Cabinet Memorandum on being signatories to the Ottawa Treaty which has already received the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers.
Even though the Cabinet of Ministers had given its approval when the Cabinet paper was forwarded amidst proposed tax revision proposals as this column reported last week, the matter was taken up for discussion with the Defence Ministry sending its observations strongly protesting against the move to hold the special Cabinet meeting that was held on 5 March.
The government following the Cabinet meeting held on Wednesday (2) announced it would ban land mines and be signatories to the Ottawa Convention.It also promised to destroy its accumulation of explosive devices, nearly seven years after the civil war ended.
The Defence Ministry had forwarded its observations to the Special Cabinet Meeting citing that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has forwarded this Cabinet paper without having a proper consultation with it.
This column from time to time reported that President Sirisena was not very happy with the Foreign Minister acting arbitrarily on certain crucial matters and he did not miss the opportunity to raise these concerns at this pre-Cabinet meeting between Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and Minister Samaraweera.
The meeting was held in order to avoid any embarrassment that it would cause if the matter was directly taken up at the Cabinet meeting and once the Cabinet met President Sirisena informed that though the Cabinet has approved signing the Ottawa Treaty there are serious concerns about the matter.
To every one's shock, President Sirisena also informed that he thought of having a separate meeting with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister as he has doubts about the origination of this Cabinet memorandum.
He said his personal inquiries from the top officials of the Foreign Ministry, who are normally involved in preparing a Cabinet paper, proved that they also were unaware about the existence of such a Cabinet paper. While informing the Cabinet of Ministers that this will be presented in Parliament only after all doubts on the issue are cleared and after serious insight into Defence Ministry's concerns, President Sirisena strongly advised Minister Samaraweera not to jump the gun, hereafter, without properly briefing him on matters.
If signed the Ottawa Convention will also prevent having landmines around military camps for security purposes as Sri Lanka and many other countries do at present.
Sri Lanka had been among a few nations to resist the treaty known as the Ottawa Convention, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of mines.
The Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention which is officially known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their destruction aims at eliminating anti-personnel landmines around the world.
There are 162 State Parties to the treaty which one State has signed, but not ratified it. Some 34 UN States including the United States, Russia and China are non-signatories, making a total of 35 United Nations States not being
party to it.
Within ten years after ratifying the treaty, the country should have cleared all of its mined areas.
The original international citizen's initiative launched in 1997 by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines gained 855,000 signatories worldwide. The Convention gained 122 country signatures when it opened for signing on 3 December 1997 in Ottawa, Canada.
Sri Lanka had previously refused to become a signatory to the treaty, arguing that it was forced to use land mines because the LTTE used them extensively.
Previously, when Mahinda Samarasinghe acted as the Minister of Human Rights during President Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, it was proposed to sign the treaty, but had to put off the proposal due to protest by the Defence Ministry.
Only Afghanistan (September 2002) and Bhutan (August 2005) have acceded the treaty, while the Malidives (October 1998) and Bangladesh (May 1998) have ratified it in the South Asian region.
Apart from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Nepal, in the region, have not signed the Ottawa Treaty, while among other notable opponents to the Treaty are Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Cuba.
President Sirisena on Thursday (10) called a few of his close confidants in the government to a highly confidential meeting. The group had less than ten members and the matter in hand was of utmost importance. Behind closed doors President Sirisena revealed to them the sudden secret meeting was to share details of extremely alarming intelligence reports that he received in the last few days.
While noting that these intelligence reports indicate drastic action from former First Family's side with the law net tightening on them, the President sought a possible course of action that could be taken to alleviate the damage it would create.
Those who were present were seemingly divided in opinion with few suggesting to go for an amicable settlement with Rajapaksa as he still holds the power of the majority of grassroots-level SLFPers. They were of the opinion that this will be the only way to stop the party from splitting and also to stop PM Wickremesinghe from capitalizing on the opportunity.
President Sirisena while pointing out that he is, at the moment, trying to get a hold of the situation on the matter revealed in intelligence reports, also said he will not budge on his decision not to get involved in the investigations against the Rajapaksas.
We cannot compromise the investigations as it will create a massive opposition from public who kept faith in us, he said while noting that the opinion polls carried out by various NGOs point to the fact that the people still believe in him. He also said the PAFFREL survey conducted recently proves that 56% of voters still approve him as the President, which is a good rate.
As the President expressed his unwillingness to compromise on legal proceedings a senior SLFP minister who also attempted earlier to broker a settlement between Maithri and Mahinda factions noted that whatever they do cannot be a mid-way course.
With Rajapaksas you have to go for a do or die plan and one should not stay on the fence. If you are taking a decision take a firm one, be it to act against them or go for a settlement. If you are not firm on whatever the decision you take then you are only calling for trouble, he said in an emphatic tone that could not be ignored by anyone present.
He also said that they must act fast to settle issues in the party as UNP Leader Wickremesinghe is ready to seize every opportunity he could from problems in UPFA and the SLFP to stabilize his party for future elections. He also noted that Wickremesinghe has already taken the reins into his hand by taking policy decisions on crucial matters and appointing UNP ministers to key portfolios.
The Executive Committee of the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which met after one year, appointed Hambantota District Member of Parliament and Fisheries Minister, Mahinda Amaraweera, as its third General Secretary filling the position that fell vacant after the demise of Prof. Wishwa Warnapala.
Born in a remote village called Udayala in Angunakolapelessa in the outskirts of the Hambantota District, Amaraweera received his primary education at the Angunakolapelessa Government Mixed School and his secondary education at Vijitha Central College, Dikwella. He started his political journey by contesting for the Angunakolapellassa Pradeshiya Sabha on the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) ticket. He was the first Chairman of Angunakolapelassa PS.
When Provincial Council elections were held in 1993, Hambantota District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa nominated Amaraweera to contest from Hambantota following which he became the Chairman of the Provincial Council.
Amaraweera's induction to national politics was also under the patronage of Rajapaksa who proposed his name to contest 1994 General Elections. He was elected to Parliament along with Mahinda, Chamal and Nirupama Rajapaksa.
Even though Amaraweera was known for being a hardcore SLFPer, he never held any key post in the party during his two-decade political career. It is too early to gauge his capacity to carry out his massive responsibilities as the UPFA's General Secretary.
Amaraweera's appointment comes at a time when the future of UPFA is in balance with the majority of its allies being divided into two factions. It is not the first time that a political party left the UPFA since its formation in January 2004.
Amaraweera was appointed to the post at a time when remaining UPFA members, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), National Freedom Front (NFF), Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), Sri Lanka Communist Party (CP) and several others who have now been identified as Rajapaksa loyalists are contemplating on forming another political coalition posing a threat to UPFA's main coalition partner SLFP being split. During the last general elections, President Sirisena realized the value of the post of the Party's General Secretary and having a close confidant in the post in order to gain the administrative powers of the party. Therefore, he seems to have chosen a person who could be moulded as he wants rather than a person with experience and know how to deal with matters. This is why even the Constitution of the United National Party (UNP) continues to give the power of choosing party's General Secretary to its leader.
Even before the death of Prof. Warnapala, those who are in the Mahinda camp put forward an unofficial demand of appointing a Rajapaksa ally to the post of UPFA General Secretary and they renewed their demand after the demise of Prof. Warnapala.
However, President Sirisena's move to appoint Amaraweera has also signalled the lack of space for a compromise from his side in the efforts to bring the two leaders together.
As the Party's General Secretary, Amaraweera will automatically be compelled to live up to the notion of getting the most number of preferential votes in his district. This will lead him to be extra careful in nominations in future elections. In that context, President Sirisena also has been crafty enough to kill two birds with one stone by appointing Amaraweera to the post as the latter would be cautious to curtail Rajapaksa family's power in the area politically.
As Amaraweera has already made it loud that his relations with his State Minister Dilip Wedaarachchi have become sour, he will have to think not twice, but thrice before making any comment, in the future. Any statement he issues in future could reflect on the unity of the Yahapalana Government and it could boomerang on President Sirisena as well.
However, his maiden press briefing as the General Secretary of UPFA proved that Amaraweera has clearly understood the sentiments of his Alliance when he took a complete U-turn on the stance he held previously on certain matters.
Newly appointed UPFA General Secretary Amaraweera said he would initially build a cordial rapport with all parties under the UPFA banner aiming to create a broader alliance.
"My initial aim is to strengthen the UPFA. Discussions will be held mainly with parties which are in the UPFA aiming to create a cordial rapport with each party. Attention will be drawn towards attracting other parties which are currently not with the UPFA. As the final outcome, a broader alliance will be created under the leadership of President Sirisena," he said.
Amaraweera said SLFP members will never work towards splitting the UPFA as they have very clearly understood that the UNP will benefit if the party is split.
He seemed to have changed his earlier stance of being adamant on continuing the FCID when he said that inter party discussions are being held in regard to whether the FCID is needed further.
"Attention will be drawn on the conduct of these bodies. Accordingly, it is considered whether any investigations of these institutions are being conducted to fulfil personnel or political agendas or aiming at personal harassment," he said.
China is a friend again
International Trade and Development Strategies Minister, Malik Samarawickrema, and Minister of Law and Order Sagala Ratnayake recently paid a visit to China ahead of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe's Chinese visit planned for this April.
Following the visit, the outcome was made public for the first time during the Ceylon Chamber's Investment and Business Conclave 2016 held in Colombo last week.
Accordingly government revealed plans to give the management of Mattala Airport and Hambantota Harbour, which they during their election campaign referred to as being white elephants, to China.
He said that Sri Lanka had sorted out the differences with China on the major infrastructure projects begun during the time of the previous regime.
"The US $ 1.4 billion Port City real estate reclamation would be given approval. Very soon it can recommence. There will be few amendments to the original agreement, which can be done within the course of this month. For the said project, land will not be on a free-hold basis but on a 99-year lease. Once the land is filled, the whole project would operate under a joint venture between a Chinese company and the Sri Lanka Government," he noted.
In addition, 4,000 acres will be given to China to set up an Industrial Zone in Hambantota.
The Minister also revealed that ETCA will only be inked after consulting all the stakeholders and ensuring it is favourable to Sri Lanka. "We know exactly what we want but the discussion will take place over a period of time. We will naturally consult all the stakeholders."