The Cabinet’s co-spokesman Rajitha Senaratne insisted yesterday that the National Unity or consensus government would continue whatever happened at the February 10 elections to 341 municipal, urban councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas.
Addressing a Cabinet news conference and responding strongly to questions on various issues, Dr. Senaratne said the consensus government between the UNP and the SLFP was an historic alliance worked out for the first time since independence. He stressed that President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were committed to the National Unity Government and its vision 2025 programme for sustainable, eco-friendly and all-inclusive development. The minister said the President and the Premier had a close relationship and trusted each other, therefore he believed the Unity Government would continue till 2020 or even 2025 though there were disputes and divisions and some leading SLFP members were critical of the UNP especially after a report was issued by the Presidential Commission which probed the Central Bank bond issues from February 2015 to March 2016. Some UNP members have also been critical of the President. When a journalist asked the co-spokesman about one MP who had referred to a pickpocket President, Dr. Senaratne responded by saying it was former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and close associates who had pick-pocketed the country in a massive way.
About 11.15 am yesterday the bond commission report with annexures and recommendations -- running into about 1,400 pages -- was handed over to Parliament. The minister said Speaker Karu Jayasuriya had called a party leaders meeting later yesterday to discuss what should be done about the report. Last Wednesday Parliament held a special session to discuss the report. But as it had not yet been made available to members, the speaker gave permission to the Prime Minister to make a statement on the issue.
This led to a rumpus and pandemonium which some observers described as one of the most disgraceful days in parliament. President Sirisena has also said that 32 major cases of serious frauds, bribery, corruption and other political crimes had been spotlighted by a Presidential Commission appointed earlier. These cases and the bond commission’s full report had been handed over to the Attorney General’s Department and the Criminal Investigation Department for prosecution.
While the cleanup of political corruption has become a major issue and President Sirisena insisting he would take action against those found guilty whatever party they belonged to or whatever rank they held, an equally important issue for the country is ethnic reconciliation in the aftermath of a catastrophic 26-year war.
Tamil National Alliance front-liner M.A. Sumanthiran, playing a prominent role in the party and in lasting reconciliation efforts, on Tuesday night gave a two hour interview in Sinhala to the Independent Television Network (ITN). He said that despite some small sections still speaking with separatist tendencies, the TNA was committed to a united Sri Lanka and was with the National Government in its truth and reconciliation efforts. The progress was slow, Mr. Sumanthiran said, but the Tamil people especially needed to understand that the issues were highly complex and had to be handled in a delicate way so as not to provoke another racial or religious conflict.
Mr. Sumanthiran said the three key issues involved were the handing over to civilians of the lands taken over by the military, expeditious action by the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) set up to probe what had happened to people who had disappeared and the case of so-called “political prisoners”. He was thankful that the military had handed back some 50 per cent of the land taken over from the civilians. He was also hopeful that the OMP would act fast because there were thousands of people who were still heart-broken because they did not know what had happened to their loved ones. As for political prisoners, Mr. Sumanthiran who speaks Sinhala fluently said the problem was that these suspects were being held without trial for more than ten years and he hoped the government would either produce them in courts for necessary action or release them if there was no substantial evidence.
For the first time the main Tamil political alliance TNA is supporting the national government and most analysts believe the continuation of this consensus process would not only bring sustainable economic development but also racial and religious unity in diversity.