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Major changes in UNP second tier leadership after reforms

Last week it was to be seen that UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was rendered helpless in the face of cries for reform within the party. On the 15th Saturday, Wickremesinghe spoke to the chairman of the party reforms committee, Joseph Michael Perera, and said that several party seniors had complained that their views had not been taken into account in preparing the reforms. He pointed out that these were senior people who could not be simply forgotten, and requested Perera to get their views as well. In the meantime Karu Jayasuriya had been talking to party activists in the Gampaha district on the party reforms. He promised to present the views expressed to the reforms committee. Tissa Attanayake visited his electorate of Kundasale for the first time after becoming a national list MP. Thereafter he participated in a religious ceremony organized at the Balagolla Buddhist Centre by his supporters.

The president left for Teheran for the G-15 summit on the 16th. He was accompanied by External Affairs Minister G.L.Peiris, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga and Sajin Vaas Gunawardena and others. A discussion with the Iranian president was held that evening. That night president Rajapakse held discussions with Iran’s spiritual leader as well. Eighteen heads of state participated in this year’s G-15 summit. The summit began with the heads of state posing for a photograph. It was addressed first by the President of Iran followed by the other heads of state who spoke for five or ten minutes each. The heads of state present then proceeded to elect President Rajapaksa as the Chairman of the Summit. On the sidelines, Prof. Peiris held two rounds of talks with the Indian foreign minister and the Malaysian finance minister focusing on the opportunities for investment in the north and east. Among the matters discussed with Iran was the 535 million USD concessionary loan promised to Sri Lanka by Iran for the Uma Oya project.

On the 16th Sunday, Tissa Attanayake was in Matale to attend the first death anniversary religious observances on behalf of the late Alick Aluvihare. Ranjth and Wasantha Aluvihare, Alick’s sons, were present among others. Somebody joked that the president had not turned up for the pinkama to which a family member said that had the president not been overseas, he would have come. On the same day the UNP parliamentary group met under the chairmanship of Ranil Wickremasinghe. The main matter discussed was the Gazette notification the government was going to issue regarding the food stuffs and economy legislation. Karu Jayasuriya said that it has been suggested at the party leaders meeting to hold sessions of parliament from 1.30 pm to 6.30pm. Tissa Attanayake said that this would increase costs and he wanted to know how the parliamentary staff would get home after being on duty until after 7.30pm.

Attanayake said that this suggestion had been brought for the convenience of ministers. Dayasiri Jayasekera said that there was a crisis in the country with vital drugs being unavailable in the hospitals. He also said that the weekend newspapers had reported that some MPs had got down medicines worth lakhs through the parliamentary medical centre. He said a list of names of those who had obtained drugs in this manner should be tabled in the house. The group meeting ended with the MPs singing happy birthday to you to mark the 49th birthday of Tissa Attanayake.

The Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara districts were affected by the torrential rains with the worst hit being Gampaha. Basil Rajapaksa toured the flood affected areas in his district. Mervyn Silva also toured the flooded areas in his electorate clad in shorts and wading knee deep in the water. Parliament met last week despite the torrential rain. Among the matters discussed in the corridors of parliament was the debate on education. Wimal Weerawansa told Minister Bandula Gunawardena to explain how education came to be in the present mess and how these problems could be solved. UNP MP Abdul Cader was heard to say that he had told Ranil that he can’t take things forward. He also said that he had told Tissa Attanayake that he will support President Rajapaksa until he dies and that Mahinda is an upright man.

When Joseph Michael Perera met Tissa Attanayake on the corridor of parliament, he told Attanayake who he had not come before the reforms committee to give his suggestions. Attanayake said that he had never been given a time and that there was no point in making suggestions after the recommendations had been handed over. Attanayake also observed that the recommendations had already been published in the weekend newspapers. Last week, everybody could observe changes in UNP MPs who were trying to become leaders. Ravi Karunanayake arrived in parliament clad in a national dress. Sajith Peremadas began to participate more actively in parliamentary debates. Ruwan Wijewardene came to parliament clad in western attire like DS and Dudley. Dayasiri Jayasekera began to wear spectacles for the first time.

Last week, several Chairmen of government institutions assumed duties. Among them was Nimal Welgama the new chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom. Telecom employees had wanted to bring the new chairman in a procession to his office, however he turned down all such arrangements and assumed duties in a simple ceremony with Ven Galaboda Ganissara chanting seth pirith and accompanied by members of his family which included Minister Kumara Welgama, Mrs Lakmani Welgama and their daughter. After assuming duties the new Telecom Chairman was having a discussion with SLT CEO Greg Young and others when the telephone rang. The chairman took the call and at the other end was a person complaining that his telephone connection was not functioning and that it should be looked into immediately. The chairman handed over the receiver to the chief operations officer Mahesh Atukorale, who issued orders to the relevant units. The complainant had been Deputy Minister Mervin Silva. After a few minutes, the chairman got another call from the deputy minister saying that he did not know that this was the chairman’s first day in office, and thanked him for getting his service restored within minutes. Silva had said that he was going to phone the president and tell him that what the country needed was chairmen like this who would act to rectify a matter within minutes.

After assuming duties as the Minister of Power and Energy, Champika Ranawaka had been making visits to various facilities belonging to his ministry and holding discussions with trade unions and studying the problems in the sector. He held discussions with trade unions representing the SLFP, UNP and the JVP as well. They were all appreciative of the fact that they had got a minister who was familiar with the subject. They said that those ministers in the past who tried to really do something had been thwarted by the CEB Mafia, which was a powerful force. Ranawaka asked the trade unions to help him to do what was necessary regardless of party politics because there was a national issue involved. He said that he intends turning things around within a period of one and a half years and he requested the fullest cooperation of the trade unions during this period.

The trade unions told the minister that the CEB was facing losses because of the deals the institution had with the private sector electricity suppliers. Private suppliers were now being paid Rs 80 billion a year, and all bills were settled promptly whereas the Petroleum Corporation was not being paid for years on end and this had led to losses for the CPC as well. The trade unions asked the minister to deal with this situation first. They also said that after the new CEB chairman assumed office, the Mafia had sent all the good vehicles in the institution, the Prados and Monteros to various substations so that the minister would get only the run down vehicles. It was the JVP led union that had been most supportive. They had said that about 20,000 families made a living out of the CEB and that they would make any sacrifice to safeguard the institution.

The DNA parliamentary group met on the 19th in parliament. Vijitha Herath said that the government was preparing to celebrate the first anniversary of the war victory but they are not saying a word about General Fonseka. Arjuna Ranatunga said that they were getting ready to commemorate war heroes but that a war hero who was seriously injured thrice, was languishing in jail. Ajith Kumara said that even though the government is now speaking loudly about war heroes nothing had been done for their welfare during the past one year.

The UNP reform proposals were handed over to the party leader on Thursday. A joint meeting of the UNP parliamentary group and the working committee was scheduled to be held on Friday to discuss the proposals.

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