In a move that shocked most people, the Cabinet has decided not to allow political gatherings, rallies and musical shows at Galle Face Green from April 20.
The Government defended the decision, noting that Rs. 6.6 million had to be spent to repair Galle Face Green due to the damage during last year’s aragalaya period. It said from April 20 onwards, Galle Face Green will be used exclusively for the people to relax, enjoy the scenic beauty and watch sunsets.
There was much speculation over the sudden move. Some suspected it was hastily put in place to prevent any rival political parties applying to hold rallies at Galle Face on May Day. Others insisted it must be an attempt to thwart any future protests planned to commemorate the attack on peaceful protesters on May 9 last year.
Presidential Media Division (PMD) officials also appeared to be surprised by the decision. Last Sunday, the PMD announced that the State-sponsored “Wasath Siriya 2023” National New Year celebration would be held at Galle Face Green on April 22. However, with last Tuesday’s Cabinet decision to ban such events at the venue, seemed to have thrown the PMD officials into confusion.
Soon after the Cabinet decision was announced, a hastily sent SMS from the PMD claimed that “Wasath Siriya 2023” National New Year celebrations would be held at the “Shangri-La Green” on April 22.
Some journalists voiced amusement at the way the PMD had hurriedly spelled what should be “Wasath Siriya” in English as “Wasath Syria,” and wondered why the PMD was mentioning the war-ravaged West Asian country in a message about a New Year celebration in Sri Lanka.
Others also pointed out the PMD was stating the event will now be held at “Shangri-La Green.” It was the first time they had heard the area in front of Shangri-La hotel being referred to as such.
Other Government agencies were even slower to get the memo. A tweet put out by the official Twitter account of Sri Lanka Tourism on Wednesday still said that “Wasath Siriya 2023” will be held at Galle Face Green. A subsequent tweet put up a few hours later clarified that the event would be held at Shangri-La Green.
Oil anointing: State Minister wanted Ruwan to go before him
The national oil anointing ceremony for the New Year was held at the Heiyanthuduwa Temple in Biyagama last Sunday. The event was held under the patronage of Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and was organised by the Indigenous Medicine State Ministry.
Indigenous Medicine State Minister Sisira Jayakody, Parliamentarian Yadamini Gunawardena and senior Presidential Advisor and former Parliamentarian Ruwan Wijewardene were also in attendance.
Prime Minister Gunawardena and the temple’s Chief Incumbent Ven. Welimitiyawe Seelarathana thera first anointed oil onto the temple’s tusker and presented it with food. Thereafter, it was State Minister Jayakody’s turn and after him Mr Wijewardene.
Mr Wijewardene invited Mr Jayakody to go first.
“No, no. You are the most qualified among those here to present food to a lone elephant,” State Minister Jayakody said to Mr Wijewardene, who is the United National Party (UNP)’s Deputy Leader.
Gotabaya in hot water
Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office has written to the Presidential Secretariat directing its attention and seeking further advice on how to proceed with the water bill for the official residence allocated to the former president.
The letter forwarded by Mr Rajapaksa’s office, said the bill for last month amounted to more than Rs. 46, 000. This included arrears unpaid by previous occupants. As such, the letter had sought further instructions on how to proceed with the matter.
While Rs. 46,000 was not a lot of money compared to the electricity and water bills certain ministers and MPs owed for their official residences, it appeared the former president was also sticking to the principle set by these same individuals in arguing why he needed to pay for the arrears left by previous occupants.
Serious allegations against top official at key ministry
The Presidential Secretariat has launched an inquiry to look into allegations that an official allegedly being investigated by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has been appointed to a top post at a key Government ministry.
The inquiry has been launched after staff of another ministry wrote to the President’s Office detailing a list of serious allegations of corruption and wrongdoing against the top official.
Among the allegations levelled by staff members is a claim the official is under a CID probe over his role in a massive fraud scheme involving the importing of rice.
The President’s Office has now launched an inquiry to ascertain the veracity of these claims, and if the matter is true, how it did not come to the attention of officials there, before the appointment was made.
X-Press Pearl disaster: Dispute between Justice Minister and Parliamentary committee
A dispute has arisen between Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and the Parliament’s Sectoral Oversight Committee on Environment, Natural Resources & Sustainable Development Chairman Ajith Mannapperuma over the case relating to the X-Press Pearl disaster.
On April 4, the committee had held a meeting related to the X-Press Pearl sinking, where officials from institutions such as the Attorney General’s Department, Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) and the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) were present.
Mr Mannapperuma, who is also a Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Parliamentarian, has now written to the Cabinet Secretary and the Attorney General summoning them to another committee meeting on April 25. He has also instructed them to submit all files and reports related to the investigation and compensation recovery process.
Minister Rajapakshe though, has ordered his ministry’s secretary to write to both the Cabinet Secretary and the Attorney General informing them not to go before the committee and to refrain from submitting any documents to it.
A Sectoral Oversight Committee has no right to question officials regarding an ongoing court case. Even raising a question in Parliament over an ongoing court case is prohibited. Moreover, the request is also a violation of the Parliament’s standing orders, Minister Rajapakshe said.
He said the committee was playing into the hands of those who insist it would be better to file a compensation case in Sri Lanka over the matter instead of doing so in a foreign jurisdiction.
“This is a case of national significance. The Cabinet has already decided where the case will be filed. The Attorney General will file action in the necessary court at the right time,” the minister said.
Lotus may tumble from tower
The Government is mulling changing the name of the Colombo Lotus Tower to “Colombo Tower” by dropping the “Lotus” from the name. The proposal to drop the “Lotus” from the name has come amid opinions that it is not a fit name for the tower.
Sources also said some in the Government believe a name change would help the tower to at least partly rid itself of being constantly described as yet another Rajapaksa white elephant.
It is already being called the “Rajapaksa Tower” and is criticised for being a prestige project of the former government while causing a huge financial loss for the country.
Agriculture Ministry wants lions also exported
The Agriculture Ministry which was having discussions with a Chinese company to export 100,000 toque macaque monkeys to China, has now mixed up monkeys and lions.
The Ministry issued a media statement on April 16 saying farmer associations support the plan to remove the toque macaque monkeys that damage crops.
However, in the second paragraph of the media statement, instead of mentioning the toque macaques, the ministry has said the plan was to export 100,000 “lions.”
The Ministry, which was holding meetings and talking about shipping monkeys to China, has forgotten there is not a single lion in the country’s forests, and the prehistoric lions who used to roam Sri Lanka went extinct long ago.
Two-day ordeal of SriLankan Airlines flight from Melbourne to Colombo
Passengers on a SriLankan Airlines flight from Melbourne to Colombo had a two-day ordeal before they reached their destination earlier this week. This is how a passenger on the flight described the ordeal.
The flight was initially scheduled to leave Melbourne Airport at 4.10 p.m. on April 15 and after boarding the flight around 10.00 p.m., the flight was cancelled due to a technical problem.
Passengers were informed to collect their main luggage and were told accommodation would be provided. But after collecting the vouchers they realised it was only for a taxi.Only Business class passengers and those with medical issues were given hotel accommodation.
On the second day passengers were told to come around 3.00 p.m. for the 6.30 p.m. flight. Passengers were given boarding passes and were waiting in an area to board the flight.
Around 8.00 p.m., the departure time shown on the screens as 10.00 p.m. was deleted. This prompted people to go up to the Australian Aviation counter and inquire about the flight.
Australian Aviation staff and its Chief handled the situation thereafter and an announcement was made the flight would depart after 12 midnight. An aviation chief arranged a separate counter and brought in a SriLankan Airlines Manager to make alternate arrangements and talk to the passengers.
Australian Aviation staff came and spoke to all passengers personally. Food and drinks were provided without delay. The flight finally left only around 1.45 a.m. on April 17. Passengers felt that better communication could have been one of the better ways of resolving the issue, though a delay of flights is not unusual.