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2 July, 2023
President Ranil Wickremesinghe at H. S. Sarath’s art exhibition at the Siam House. Pic: Courtesy PMD
President Ranil Wickremesinghe at H. S. Sarath’s art exhibition at the Siam House. Pic: Courtesy PMD

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who returned to Sri Lanka after his European tour, did not get a chance to even take a short break because the domestic debt restructuring mechanism had to be completed quickly.

He had prepared plans related to the restructuring of the domestic debt by giving advice to officials and Ministers from abroad. He continuously discussed with officials including the Governor of the Central Bank and the Secretary of the Ministry of Finance to sort out the problem without harming the country and the people.

In the end, they prepared a financial proposal that agreed with the International Monetary Fund, did not harm the country’s banking system, and did not harm employees retirement funds. The President disclosed this at the Cabinet meeting that evening.

It was decided to convene a special Cabinet meeting to approve the domestic debt restructuring proposal. Following which it was decided to explain this to the Government parliamentary group. Apart from that, President Wickremesinghe, who decided to inform the Party Leaders in the Parliament about this, also decided to submit the proposal to the Finance Committee of the Parliament after Cabinet approval.

The President came to the Security Council meeting on Tuesday morning and the appointment of a new Air Force Commander was also discussed. President Wickremesinghe made sure not to talk about the post of Inspector General of Police.

He attended the opening of the Gampaha District Secretariat that evening. It was there that the President publicly said that there will be no damage to the banking system or the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) in the restructuring of domestic debt. When the ceremony was over and the President was about to leave, Minister Prasanna Ranatunga along with MPs Sahan Pradeep and Milan Jayathilaka approached the President and said that the President had given a proper reply to the false propaganda of the Opposition.

They also pointed out that it dispelled people’s doubts due to the fact that it received a lot of publicity through the media. At that time, the President received information that the Bathalegala ecosystem was being damaged. At that very moment, the President called his Secretary Saman Ekanayake and instructed him to investigate and report on this. The President’s Secretary took steps to call for a report from the Kegalle District Secretary in this regard.

Bellanwila perahera

The President stayed at the Presidential Secretariat premises on Wednesday. A discussion about the annual procession of the Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara was held at the Presidential Secretariat that day on the instructions of the President. The Chief Incumbent of the Bellanwila Raja Maha Vihara Ven.Bellanwila Dhammarathana Thera and MP Gamini Lokage were also present. The Bellanwila Perahera Committee requested that the President’s office provide support to hold the perahera. The sponsors who came forward to organise last year’s procession were also present.

“Can you make the same contribution that you made last year this year as well?” asked the President’s Secretary. Those present said in one voice that they fully support it. One also announced that he would double his contribution this year. “Then Ven. Thera, let us know if there are still any shortcomings. We are giving full state sponsorship to the perahera festival,” Ekanayake said.

Happy with the answer, Ven. Bellanwila Dhammaratana Thera congratulated those present, appreciating the President’s intervention. Since the discussion ended in a short time, the Chief of Staff of the President, Sagala Ratnayaka, who was there, looked at the President’s Secretary and said, “You finished this quickly” and appreciated it because he was also very busy that day.

The President did not go alone to the emergency Cabinet meeting that evening. Finance Ministry Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe and President’s Senior Advisor on Economic Affairs Dr. R.S.H. Samaratunga had also been summoned. They explained to the Cabinet at length about debt restructuring. While they were explaining, the President joined in and presented facts.

It was after this that the Cabinet approved the proposal to optimise domestic debt. Following the Cabinet meeting, President Wickremesinghe attended the Government Parliamentary Group meeting. He came to the meeting with a cake. The President entered the discussion room saying “I brought you a present.” The group who did not know what the President was going to do, looked at him in astonishment.

But only one person guessed what was going on because it was his birthday. Turning to State Minister Shasheendra Rajapaksa, President Wickremesinghe called him “birthday boy” and invited him to cut the cake. Knowing that it was Shasheendra Rajapaksa’s birthday, everyone flocked to congratulate him. After eating the cake, the Parliamentarians listened to the speech by the Finance Ministry Secretary, Governor of the Central Bank and Dr. Samaratunga on restructuring domestic debt.

The Central Bank Governor and the President answered the questions asked by them. They explained how the banking system is protected and EPF is protected in domestic debt restructuring. The Central Bank Governor also explained how the interest rate of EPF will continue to be maintained at 9 percent. It was also explained about the program to be followed regarding Treasury Bonds in the restructuring of domestic debt.

Aswesuma

President Wickremesinghe instructed the group to present these facts in Parliament and asked them if there are any other problems. It was at this time that the problem arose about the Aswesuma program. A heated debate ensued as State Minister Shehan Semasinghe replied contrary to the idea presented by MP Jagath Kumara.

Intervening, the President said that a full study will be done on this matter. After that, the President left to meet the Party Leaders of the Opposition. Many Opposition groups including Samagi Jana Balawegaya, Tamil National Alliance were present.

The President and his team explained to them about the restructuring of domestic debt. Many Opposition members expressed their pleasure, appreciating the President’s effort to solve this problem without debt reduction.

The President went to the main hall of the former Thai Embassy on Thursday morning to see the exhibition of artist H.S. Sarath. While there he also did not forget to visit the house where he lived for almost 50 years, which was burnt down by protestors. He couldn’t hide the tears in his eyes from those around him as he saw how the ruined house was slowly being rebuilt. Because it had been built with his own sweat and toil.

Then he came to the President’s office. A group of Ministers were already there.

“Sir, an Inspector General of Police (IGP) has not been appointed yet. There has been no Inspector General of Police in the country for the past four days,” MP Madhura Withanage, who was present said.

MP Wajira Abeywardena said, “There is no problem that there is no IGP. The Police are doing their job.” The President smiled but he did not respond.

“People have come to the streets asking for Aswesuma benefits,” Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said.

State Minister Shehan Semasinghe said, “A team of officials are bringing the people to the streets. At first, these people said they could not do this survey. Only a few henchmen are behind the scene.”

The President gave a long explanation saying, “We get this support from the World Bank. We are getting this relief because of the IMF program. So, we should take advantage of it. Debt restructuring is one thing. We are now solving problems one by one. We got 50,000 tons of fertiliser free. When we met people such as the IMF Managing Director, Commonwealth Secretary General, and the German Chancellor, they said that they support our program. So everyone has to decide whether to support this effort or not. If we go through this program, the country will be better off and we will be better off.”

MP Wajira Abeywardena said that the doctors have informed that the medical field will be grateful for the President’s involvement in extending the retirement age of specialist doctors to 63.

That evening, the President met bank officials and explained the facts about debt restructuring. The President left for Kandy on Thursday evening to attend the ceremony of presenting credentials to Ambassadors. The event was held at the President’s House, Kandy on Friday morning. President Wickremesinghe went to Nuwara Eliya, Hambantota and Kataragama over the weekend to attend several events.

Romanian State Minister of Foreign Affairs Traian Hristea, who arrived in the country last week, met Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at Temple Trees and made a request. “Nearly 25,000 Sri Lankans are currently working in our country, but there is still no Embassy,” said Hristea.

When Premier Gunawardena said, “We need your help to increase more employment opportunities,” the State Minister of Foreign Affairs said, “It is possible to increase the number by over 5,000 and go to a target of 30,000. When you were the Foreign Minister, you laid the foundation for opening an Embassy in Romania, now as the Prime Minister, let’s finish that work.”

Then the Prime Minister said, “Definitely I will give priority to it, because Romania is a friendly country which has given many opportunities to Sri Lankans.”

State Minister Hristea said, “You have been a friend of the Romanian people since then, and it was your son, MP Yadamini, who restarted the Sri Lanka-Romania Parliamentary Friendship Association which had stopped functioning.”

Following the meeting, the Romanian State Minister met the Speaker in Parliament, and the Convener of the Sri Lanka-Romania Parliamentary Friendship Association, MP Yadamini Gunawardena. Member MPs of the Association were also present.

SJB opposes

The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) opposed the autocratic process of the Government saying that there is no need to restructure the domestic debt. The SJB maintains that the Aswesuma is a complete fraud and they have decided to oppose it.

The SJB had started a campaign against the Government which had decided to convene Parliament over the weekend. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa decided to participate in the Finance Committee meeting as soon as the Government decided to present the Government’s domestic debt restructuring proposal to Parliament’s Finance Committee.

The Opposition Leader had planned to severely question this by accusing the Government of restructuring domestic debt in a way that would affect the people’s funds. But the members of the Committee representing the Government were completely against it. At that time, the Opposition Leader only got a chance to participate in the meeting.

Opposition Leader Premadasa advised the SJB Parliamentary Group to build public opinion against the Government’s Aswesuma program and debt restructuring. Accordingly, the electoral organisers of all the electorates of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya started to mobilise the people against the Government.

Even the Opposition crowd has got together.

Dullas group, Gammanpila faction, TNA, Mano Ganesan, Digambaram, Rauff Hakeem and Rishad Bathiudeen have also extended their support for this.

The Executive Committee of the Opposition met last Monday and continued to discuss the process of the Government.

“There is a big problem with the selection of beneficiaries and concessions by the Government for the relief program,” said MP Prof. G.L. Peiris.

“As an Opposition, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya proposed to carry out the work through a proper survey. As even the Verity Research Institute has pointed out, if the beneficiaries were selected based on electricity consumption, it would have been a scientifically correct choice. The Government did not do that,” the Opposition Leader said.

“According to a survey conducted by the LearnAsia Institute focusing on 10,000 households in 13 districts, the country’s poor population has increased by 17 percent from 14 percent to 31 percent. The number of poor people has increased from three million to seven million. Under this Government’s selection methodology, of the seven million poor people, a section of them are not getting these concessions,” Sajith Premadasa said.

“It’s a good program, but the way it runs is a complete failure. This needs to be rectified,” MP Chandima Weerakkody said.

Under the supervision of SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara, a Bhikkhu Advisory Council was set up for the Samagi Jana Balawegaya. Its inaugural meeting was held at the Solis Reception Hall on Friday. The hall was filled with members of the Maha Sangha and the offering of alms to the Maha Sangha was held at the head office of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya.

 

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