By Shamindra Ferdinando
The rebel SLPP group yesterday (04) urged the ruling SLPP not to protect Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella at the vote on no-faith motion against the Kandy District lawmaker.
Secretary General of Parliament Kushani Rohanadeera said the vote would be held on Friday (08) following a three-day debate, commencing on Wednesday (06).
SLPP National List MP Prof. G. L. Peiris, on behalf of the dissident group, warned that those who voted against the motion would have to face drastic consequences.
The rebel group consists of 12 MPs.
The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) moved the no-confidence motion against the failure on the part of Minister Rambukwella to halt the deterioration of the public health sector. The SJB won 54 seats at the last general election, though about four switched their allegiance to the government since then.
Addressing the media at the Nawala Office of Nidahasa Janatha Sabhawa, Prof. Peiris said the motion couldn’t be carried through without the backing of the SLPP parliamentary group, still the largest in Parliament, regardless of over 20 members quitting the government.
Rambukwella contested the Kandy electoral district on the SLPP ticket. Pointing out that the head of the National Medical Regulatory Authority (NMRA) Prof. Jayaratne publicly acknowledged the continuing crisis in the health sector, including the importation of inferior quality medicines, the former External Affairs Minister asked whether the SLPP was ready to pay the price for Minister Rambukwella’s misdeeds.
Prof. Peiris dealt with several other issues, including the possibility of the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa contemplating putting off presidential elections that are statutorily due October next year and pressure being exerted on the judiciary.
At the commencement of the briefing, the academic asserted that President Ranil Wickremesinghe couldn’t put off the presidential election, too, the way he deferred both Provincial Councils and Local Government polls. Referring to concerns expressed over the Referendum called by the then President J.R. Jayewardene soon after winning the 1982 presidential election, Prof. Peiris explained that was to ask the electorate whether to extend the life of Parliament by six more years.
Prof. Peiris said that by late July or early Aug., 2024, the presidential election process should get underway leading to nominations in Sept., elections in Oct., and new President in office in early Nov.
The SLPP elected UNP leader Wickremesinghe in July last year to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term, secured at the Nov. 2019 presidential election.
Regardless of bombastic declarations made by President Wickremesinghe and some members of his government, they feared the electorate, Prof Peiris said. There couldn’t be any other explanation for refusal to conduct Local Government polls months after the Supreme Court issued specific instructions to the relevant authorities in that regard.
Prof. Peiris explained how President Wickremesinghe relentlessly put pressure on the judiciary to reign in judges while issuing warnings to those who declined to toe the government line. The former Law Professor alleged that Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena played a central role in the despicable government project, directed at the judiciary. During the briefing, Prof. Peiris made reference to instances of controversial statements made by the President at Nuwara Eliya and at the Sri Lanka Foundation to justify criticism of Wickremesinghe’s actions.
Condemning the sharp increase of both petrol and diesel prices from Aug. 31 at a time the CPC was making huge profits, Prof. Peiris said that the increase of LP gas on Monday (04) would drive up the cost of living further. Accusing the government of being insensitive to the public woes, the former minister said that waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement continued unabated at every level.
There couldn’t be a better example than the crisis in the health sector to prove how corruption could destroy a vital service, Prof. Peiris said, pointing out the government never inquired about a spate of serious allegations made by the health professionals. Interested parties exploited the procurement process to their heart’s content while low quality medicine, discarded drugs and continuing shortage of life-saving drugs plunged the health sector to an unprecedented crisis situation.
The ex-minister declared that the damages caused to the public health sector were irreparable and those responsible should be punished, regardless of their social standing. Declaring that food security was cause for serious concern, Prof. Peiris said that the health crisis was far worse as unlike food, people couldn’t forgo medicine.