Prez draws fire over Archaeology Chief’s shock resignation




President’s Office denies accusations

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Dissident SLPP MP Gevindu Cumaratunga yesterday (13) said President Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Wickeremesinhe-Rajapaksa government owed an explanation regarding the resignation of Director General of the Department of Archeology Prof. Anura Manatunga under controversial circumstances.

The SLPP National List MP and leader of the Yuthukama civil society organisation insisted that the government had pressured Prof. Manatunga to quit as his stand on matters pertaining to archaeology quite clearly clashed with that of President Wickremesinghe.

The rebel SLPP MP said so when The Island sought his response to the sudden resignation of Prof. Manatunga who received the appointment as DG, Archeology, on 01 January, 2021, following the retirement of Dr. Senarath Dissanayake.

The Island raised the abrupt resignation with the Presidential Media Division (PMD) in the wake of MP Cumaratunga, and Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-Law Udaya Gammanpila, pointing the finger at President Wickremesinghe. A senior spokesperson for PMD emphasized that the President’s Office didn’t demand Prof.

Manatunga’s resignation. “There is absolutely no basis for such accusations,” the official said.

Minister of Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs Vidura Wickramanayake Monday (12) night said Prof. Manatunga tendered his letter of resignation to the Ministry last Friday, 09 June.

Cumaratunga said that a letter written by Saman Ekanayake, Secretary to the President to Prof. Manatunga, in January this year, is in the public domain. That letter revealed how President Wickremesinghe interfered in the Archeology Department, MP Cumaratunga said, while comparing the government’s response to the exposure of gold smuggling MP Ali Sabri Raheem and DG, Archaeology taking a stand in spite of heavy political pressure. “Why should DG, Archeology, consult the Cabinet of Ministers in performing his legitimate responsibilities,” MP Cumaratunga asked.

The MP found fault with President Wickremesinghe for giving into demands of Tamil members of Parliament representing the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Responding to another query, the MP said that the government obviously felt uncomfortable with Prof. Manatunga adhering to Archaeology acts and Ordinances in dealing with developments.

The nationalist MP said that MPs representing one community shouldn’t have been called for a meeting to discuss land-related issues and DG, Archeology, had been placed in a difficult situation. The President in his capacity as the leader of the UNP could consult TNA or any other political party but a national issue couldn’t be discussed with a select group of MPs, he said.

Cumaratunga said that the TNA wields immense power regardless of sharp drop in its parliamentary representation and splits within the grouping.

President Wickremesinghe could be in a mood to be generous to the TNA in view of the presidential election next year, MP Cumaratunga said, urging political party leaders not to seek electoral advantages at the expense of genuine post-war national reconciliation.


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