President declares he will abide by stand taken by majority of Cabinet

A new alliance emerges as Avant Garde controversy rocks govt


by Shamindra Ferdinando

With the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government in deepening crisis over the stinking Avant Garde affair, a last-ditch-effort is being made to reach a consensus on the issue, political sources said

President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will meet warring members of the cabinet on Monday morning (Nov 9) to discuss a way out of the turmoil. With those wanting to clear Avant Garde of any wrongdoing and other demanding action expected to stick to stand, Monday’s meeting is likely to be a stormy affair.

Well informed sources told The Sunday Island that the majority seemed to backing the stand taken by Ministers Rajitha Senaratne and Patali Champika Ranawaka that the Avant Garde enterprise should be thoroughly probed and those responsible for violations punished.

Addressing a public rally at the Laggala police grounds on Friday, President Maithripala Sirisena revealed his strategy to tackle the worst political crisis since his victory at the January, 2015 presidential polls. Emphasizing his resolve to go ahead with investigations into the Avant Garde enterprise as well as other transactions, President Sirisena declared that the cabinet would be authorized to decide on the matter.

"As always, I’ll work according to the opinion of the majority," he said.

Pledging that he would do everything possible to tackle waste, corruption and irregularities, the president vowed not to allow anyone to reverse January 8 revolution. He insisted that the corrupt wouldn’t be given an opportunity to pursue their projects and also ruled out his meeting those corrupt elements.

Ongoing investigations into corruption and irregularities involving Avant Garde Maritime Services during previous SLFP-led UPFA administration had sharply divided the ruling coalition with Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, and Law and Order and Prisons Reforms Minister Tilak Marapana strongly defending the controversial enterprise widely accused of receiving unprecedented state patronage during the previous Rajapaksa administration.

A veteran politician told The Sunday Island that the grouping that campaigned for Maithripala Sirisena’s victory at the presidential election was in tatters with an influential section of the UPFA (Rajitha-Patali team) Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka as well as the JVP demanding action against Avant Garde and its supporters within the ruling coalition.

Democratic Party leader Field Marshal Fonseka last Thursday accused Justice Minister Rajapakshe of receiving bribes from Avant Garde boss retired Army Commando Major Nissanka Senadhipathi. Denying the accusation at a special media briefing on Friday noon at the Justice Ministry, Rajapakshe declared his intention to file a Rs. 500 mn law suit against Fonseka, who hit back at the minister later in the day.

Fonseka told a public rally at Kiribathgoda: "I receive Rs. 50,000 pension therefore I lacked the resources to pay Rajapakse. He may even move court demanding a much bigger damages. But, whatever happens, I cannot pay him."

Recalling his two and half year imprisonment during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, the war veteran warned Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe that he couldn’t be silenced under any circumstances.

Meanwhile, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, also on Friday joined the fray with a strong endorsement of Minister Marapana’s stand with regard to the Avant Garde affair.

Addressing a public rally at Walasmulla, Kurunegala District MP Rajapaksa said that former Attorney General Marapana knew what he was talking about. National List MP Marapana, much to the astonishment of his colleagues as well as those on the Opposition benches declared in parliament that there was absolutely no basis for raid on Avant Grade vessel.

Marapana accused the police of cooking up a story to appease their masters and went to the extent of comparing police action with the raid on a safe-house operated by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) in January 2002.

The former president said that investigations launched by the Yahapalana government into Avant Garde as well as other issues were the same. Rajapaksa loyalist and National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, too, endorsed Marapana’s stand.

Political sources said that both the UNP as well as the SLFP parliamentary groups had been divided over the Avant Garde affair with the Rajapaksa loyalists basically backing the stand taken by Messrs Marapana and Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe.

The Justice Minister said that his stand was based on the Attorney General’s Department’s stand. During Friday’s meeting, the minister claimed that both President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe had directed the AG to do the right thing and not to be influenced by anyone.

When The Sunday Island pointed out to the Justice Minister that his position on Avant Garde was contrary to what the Yahapalana leaders said, the minister said that it wasn’t a corrupt deal though the previous government committed many.

Field Marshal Fonseka told The Sunday Island that he would pursue the matter until all those who had benefited from Avant Garde were exposed. The people have a right to know what was happening, the former Chief of Defence Staff said.

Fonseka insisted on tangible action against all those responsible regardless of their standing in society or clandestine relationships and understanding among various parties. He called for Major Senadipathi’s arrest forthwith and a thorough investigation meant to expose those involved in the lucrative business.


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