BY GAGANI WEERAKOON-2017-06-25
There is no secret about President Maithripala Sirisena looking up to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in many instances, be it doing yoga to mark International Yoga Day or following his dress-code during pre-election campaign. This time it was about ministers using mobile phones during Cabinet meetings.
Last October, in a move to prevent leakage of sensitive information on important policy matters and decisions, Prime Minister Modi issued a directive to his ministers not to carry smartphones and other mobile phones to Cabinet meetings. The fear of those being hacked was also involved when taking the decision.
Banning the use of mobile phones during Cabinet meetings in last October due to security reasons was the first such instance in India while Britain has banned using mobile phones at Cabinet meetings since long ago.
Using mobile phones during Cabinet meetings was the topic from time to time since the time President Chandrika Kumaratunga chaired the meeting as she accused her senior ministers of leaking information to ‘some’ journalists by getting them to hear the discussions as and when it happened. It did not take long for President Mahinda Rajapaksa also to ban his Cabinet Ministers from bringing in mobile phones to Cabinet meetings, due to reasons well known.
However, President Sirisena’s directives to keep mobile phones switched off during Cabinet meetings has got nothing to do with an apparent security threat like in India, but was made to end a pure nuisance. It was said, the decision was taken to make sure that every minister pays attention to what is being discussed.
“The President took this decision after observing that most ministers were either on phone calls or logged on to social media platforms like Facebook, twitter or instagram,” a well-informed source claimed.
UL trumped by ministers
President Sirisena decided to take a ‘decisive decision’ against the controversial Board of Directors of the national carrier SriLankan Airlines in the near future when the Board of Directors were summoned to a crucial meeting after the weekly Cabinet meeting at the Presidential Secretariat.
Minister Rajitha Senaratne said the government also decided to implement in full, the recommendations by the Board of Inquiry led by J.C. Weliamuna.
The Board of Directors were summoned to clarify and explain the situation with the allegations of them acting in an arbitrary manner and SriLankan accumulating continuous losses. SriLankan currently has 25 aircraft, 360 pilots and 7,200 employees.
Commenting on the issue a week before, Cabinet Spokesman Minister Senaratne said that the airline has accumulated a loss of Rs 22 billion after the present administration came into power. He added that the SriLankan Airlines is being administered observing in the breach all regulations and ignoring all instructions issued by the line minister, Minister of Public Enterprises Development, Kabir Hashim.
“1,300 people have been recruited without the minister’s knowledge. Those who were appointed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa to top positions have not been removed and they are running the show,” he said.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the national carrier has pointed out that about 1,400 employees have resigned and to fill those vacancies, they recruited 1,250 afresh.
Minister Senaratne had argued with proof that what the CEO was stating with regard to the recruitments was in fact not accurate.
Ministers Rajitha Senaratne, Sarath Fonseka and Ravi Karunanayake had pointed out corruption and shortcomings of the Board of Directors, at length. According to sources four members of the director board have also levelled accusations against the conduct of the CEO.
While President Sirisena emphasized that the accusations levelled against the director board by ministers were true, and that it is evident the board is divided, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had noted that the national carrier has been able to reduce the losses under current management despite having shortcomings. Minister Kabir Hashim, under whose purview the SriLankan falls, had also endorsed accusations that recruitments were carried out without his knowledge.
Docs lock horns
Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne was having lunch at his residence after returning from the weekly Cabinet media briefing when he got a call informing that his ministry has been stormed by university students causing colossal damage to properties.
He quickly gave instructions to top officials and informed of the situation to President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.
It was later informed that despite security would be beefed up at the surrounding area of Town Hall in Colombo and Ministry of Higher Education when university students are holding protests, authorities were clueless about the Health Ministry coming under attack. Though in a normal situation, the intelligence services would inform relevant authorities to take precautionary action, it was revealed that the students had outsmarted the intelligence services.
After turning Town Hall area into a virtual battle field as students clashed with the STF members, it was alleged that doctors had refused to treat the STF members who were admitted to Colombo National Hospital along with the 80 students.
An individual identified as Mahinda Rathnayake has written to the President of Sri Lanka Medical Council to conduct a proper investigation against the doctor who refused attending to STF personnel citing the medical officer has breached his oath as a doctor.
In addition to this, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) called a strike – which they called off after two days, last morning- in support of the anti-SAITM struggle by university students and to condemn the police attack.
However, the GMOA made headlines as a fellow medical officer who came for a discussion held at the Sri Lanka Foundation leaving behind hundreds of patients who came seeking treatment was sent back to the hospital, to taste bitter medicines, with a broken nose.
Doctors discussing the current crisis over private medical education were later found exchanging fisticuffs as one member hit the other one on the face using a ceramic cup.
MR in Pakistan
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa left to Pakistan last Monday afternoon to participate, as the guest speaker, at an event held at the Pakistan National Defence University.
Speaking at an event organized by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) and Global Village Space (GVS) Rajapaksa said terrorism is against the spirit of humanity and no country can prosper if people are compelled to live their lives under fear.
Delivering his speech on the topic of the talk which was ‘Sri Lanka’s Struggle for Peace and its Lessons for Pakistan and the Region,’ Rajapaksa said that Pakistan and Sri Lanka’s mutual relationship is sustained by cultural heritage, economies, and common stand on international issues.
“We are grateful for the unconditional and steadfast support we received from Pakistan.
It is a matter of deep satisfaction that I was able to raise Sri Lanka’s voice with Pakistan.
They have stood by us through thick and thin,” he said. Rajapaksa added there is no distinction between terrorists, mirroring the good versus bad Taliban debate in Pakistan.
He also said that in the case of Sri Lanka, armed forces provided unrelenting support, backed by actual and concrete actions on part of the government.
The former President said that successful anti-terrorism operations depend as much on internal factors as they do on external factors. Public education and support is necessary to thwart any sympathy or help for the enemy. There is no room for hypocrisy or double-dealing, he stressed.
In his concluding remarks, Rajapaksa stressed: “We must learn from one another, be productive and provide practical solutions.”
He further stressed on the need for more such dialogues and platforms to better understand the menace of terrorism and employ measures to combat it and achieve peace in the region.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that stronger Pak-Sri Lankan partnership was key to promoting greater cooperation in the region and also a bulwark against the challenges facing the region including the issue of terrorism and poverty besides warding off any self-assumed notion of hegemony in the region, Pakistan’s ‘The Nation’ reported.
“This he said while talking to former President of Sri Lanka Rajapaksa, Percy Mahendra, at Punjab House in Pakistan on Thursday when the latter called on him along with his delegation,” says a statement issued by the Interior Ministry.
According to Pakistan media, Lt. Gen. (Retd.), Asif Yasin Malik has said, Pakistan has a lot to learn about peace-building from Sri Lanka, and there are a lot of parallels between the situations in the two countries vis-à-vis terrorism.
Former Pakistan High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Seema Baloch has stated that the Sri Lankan Government took decisive action against terrorism.Following its success, Sri Lanka began to open its routes and increasingly integrate with the international community.
Speaking on the issue of human rights, she has blamed the international community for its double standards.
“In some cases we describe the lives of others as collateral damage and in other cases we emphasize it as civilian casualty,” she said.
Former Chief of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar who now heads the National Defence University while commending Rajapaksa has said that they do not find the accusations levelled against Rajapaksa when commanding the country towards peace by defeating terrorism as fair and just.
“Pakistan will stand by you at any given time,” he had said.