Cabinet reshuffle a damp squib
Posted on May 22nd, 2017

By C. A. Chandraprema

The much spoken of cabinet reshuffle has now been completed and in the end it turned out to be a damp squib. Whether this will help the government to get its act together is highly debatable. As foreign minister, how different will Ravi K be to Mangala Samaraweera? Perhaps Ravi K may not have agreed to the controversial UN Human Rights Council resolution of October 2015 with the same enthusiasm as Samaraweera had he been the foreign minister at that time. But that depends on the extent to which that decision was actually taken by the foreign minister. If the decision not to contest or negotiate the Obama administration’s draft resolution actually came from Colombo as we suspect, Ravi K would have had no option but to fall in line even if he had been holding that portfolio at that time. Ravi K may be less controversial as foreign minister than Samaraweera. But then all the major foreign policy issues have already fallen into certain tracks from which there will be little deviation for the rest of this government’s term and Ravi K will find himself administering what has been bequeathed to him by Samaraweera.

Samaraweera for his part will not get into the same controversies in the financé ministry that Ravi K seemed to always found himself in. But as far as running the economy is concerned, Samaraweera will find himself administering what was bequeathed to him by Ravi K. The latter implemented the yahapalana election pledges of increasing the salaries of government servants, and reducing the taxes on fuel, gas, and some selected foodstuffs so as to win the August 2015 parliamentary election and the country went into a tailspin after that and taxes on cars, liquor, tobacco and the VAT was increased to earn more revenue to meet the election related expenses. With the IMF breathing down Sri Lanka’s neck the government has had no option but to put various assets on sale to meet the shortfall in revenue. Whoever comes into the finance ministry will have to follow through with that programme. Hence there will be little or no difference policy wise in the way the finance ministry functions either.

The removal of Arjuna Ranatunga from ports and shipping portfolio may have been to facilitate the lease of the Hambantota port to the Chinese. Arjuna and his brother Dhammika had been trying to negotiate a better deal for Sri Lanka. If the government thinks that by putting Mahinda Samarasinghe there the lease of the Hambantota port will become easier, that may not turn out to be so because it was not just the Ranatungas who wanted a better deal but the employees of the Ports Authority in general. In fact the removal of Ranatunga may galvanise the Port unions into putting up a stiff resistance the same way the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation workers are opposing the leasing of the Trincomalee oil tank farms to India. The government has been given notice by the CPC unions of a strike without advance warning unless the government shelves all plans to lease the Trinco facility to the Indians.

The CPC has also asked for the bunkering facility in the Hambantota harbour and hey feel that the government was trying to fast track the lease of the Hambantota port to the Chinese by changing the minister in charge, there will be strident calls for tranferring that facility to the CPC immediately. So in the end, what we may end up with may be more trouble rather than less as a result of this cabinet reshuffle. Other than the changes of Karunanayake, Samaraweera and Ranatunga, none of the other changes signify anything. After all the hype over a cabinet reshuffle that had built up for months, by noon on Monday people were already talking of other things and everything was back to business as usual. The government and especially the SLFP component of that government may try to gain some political mileage by making public statements to the fact that they got rid of Ravi K from the finance ministry,

How Ravi K reacts to any SLFP attempts to portray his ouster from the finance ministry is yet to be seen. Over the past two years and more, the SLFP element in the government has been using the UNP as a doormat. They have been telling the public that it is they who had been preventing all the bad things that the UNP has been trying to do to the country and the UNP for its part has more or less been passively accepting this portrayal. Ravi K, who became embroiled in various unpleasant controversies in trying to recover the money spent to implement Maithripala Sirisena’s election pledges was shown by the SLFP group in a bad light and now he has been removed from that ministry by Sirisena himself.

After that removal, President Sirisena has been reported in the press as having said that the cabinet reshuffle will provide new impetus to development. That is an indirect way of saying that ministers like Ravi K and Arjuna were obstacles to development. The truth however was that Ravi K only implemented the economic policy of the yahapalana camp and he tried to manage the fallout from that very policy as best as he could. As for Arjuna, he was trying to protect the interests of the Ports Authority as best as he could. Ravi K has been offered as a sacrifice to placate public opinion but whether the public is impressed is another matter altogether.

6 Responses to “Cabinet reshuffle a damp squib”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    Cabinet reshuffle is NOT MUCH useful for the country BUT look at the alternative!!

    1. Between Ravi K and Sajin Vaas & GLP for foreign minister is there any REAL DIFFERENCE?

    2. Between Wijedasa and HACK-HIM for JUSTICE minister who is GOOD?

    3. Between Mahinda Amaraweera and RAJITHA for fisheries minister who is GOOD?

    4. Between Run-nil and DM Jeyaratna for PM is there any REAL DIFFERENCE?

    This is the problem of SL. SHUFFLING the TWO SAME card packs won’t solve the problem.

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    The Cabinet Reshuffle is indeed a DAMP SQUIB!

    Appointing the same miscreants DESTRUCTIVE to the National Interest to different portfolios is a ATUWA KAMALA PUTUWA HADANAWA kind of activity. The same flawed wood is used.

    The BASIC PROBLEM that the SERIAL BUNGLER Sirisena has missed is that both Avamangala Samaraweera and Ravi Karunanayake are UNPATRIOTIC individuals carrying put the policies of the PATA-GATHI AGA-MATHI for their personal and narrow-minority-community advantages.

    What Sirisena should have done is to completely OUST the ineffective UNPATRIOTIC Monisters and REPLACE them with experienced NEW BLOOD ignoring Party lines!

    In this Cabinet Reshuffle Sirisena has managed to transform a MOUNTAIN into a MOLEHILL!

    He will soon come to REGRET SQUANDERING this opportunity to FIRE THE UNP and bring in the JO with MR as PM to form a PATRIOTIC reunited-UPFA government!

    Anichchawatta Sankara Aiyooooo Sirisenaaaa!

  3. Ananda-USA Says:

    Oops! Meant to say: ” ATUWA KADALA PUTUWA HADALA”

  4. Ananda-USA Says:

    Anura Kumara Dissanayake characterized the reassignment of Ravi Karunanayake from the Finance to the Foreign Affairs Ministry THUS:

    “Karawala Kala Duwana Ballata Umbalakada Kaalakin Gahanawa Wagey!”

    HOW VERY APT! NOTHING beats the native Sinhala IDIOM in expressing SCORN! LOL!

  5. Ananda-USA Says:

    Sri Lanka President ruffles feathers in cabinet make over
    Mon, May 22, 2017, 07:37 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

    May 22 (ECONOMYNEXT) Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena appealed for friendship and unity among his cabinet of minister after his long-awaited reshuffle which left both sides of the unity government bitter. The change could also undermine the administration.

    Despite Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s resistance, Sirisena had his way in removing Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake and replacing him with Mangala Samaraweera, a liberal who had earned praise for his diplomatic skills.

    “This Cabinet reshuffle will provide a new impetus to Sri Lanka’s development,” the president said while calling his ministers to show friendship to one another and work to 8uphold collective responsibility.

    “Commit yourself to ensure the progress of the country,” he told the ministers according to a statement issued by his office.

    There was no comment from Prime Minister Wickremesinghe or his United National Party (UNP).

    Political observers said neither the president’s side nor the prime minister’s camp could claim victory from Monday’s reshuffle. Both appeared to have been forced into a compromise. The two power centres are in a deadlock with neither able to demonstrate superiority.

    “There are some UNP ministers that the president clearly wanted to shift, but could not,” a source close to the administration said. “The reshuffle has also not helped the president to tighten his grip on the SLFP.”

    The swearing in ceremony at the sea-front Presidential Secretariat was off limits for the media, but footage released by Sirisena’s office showed glum faces except for Karunanayake who forced a smile as he received his new letter of appointment as Foreign minister.

    Samaraweera had publicly declared that finance was a subject that was foreign to him and expressed a desire to remain in the foreign affairs portfolio. However, he was given a sweetener by way of attaching a second portfolio, Media, placing him in charge of the government propaganda machine .

    The senior partner in the government, the United National Party of Premier Wickremesinghe, is clearly unhappy with the reshuffle they believe was instigated by the junior partner, the Sirisena faction of the SLFP.

    For three months, Wickremesinghe managed to put off the changes, but insiders say it had become a prestige battle after Sirisena declared he would make drastic changes in the administration after Vesak, the full moon day of May.

    In a sop to the UNP, Sirisena removed Ports Minister Arjuna Ranatunga who had been blocking the government’s plan to enter into a partnership with China to develop the loss-making Hambantota port.

    Ranatunga, who contested under the UNP ticket but considered a SLFP politician , has objected to the proposed lease agreement with China delaying the government securing the $1.1 billion deal.

    The other SLFP minister who was demoted was Chandima Weerakkody from Petroleum to Vocational Training.

    Weerakkody was accused of instigating petroleum workers to stage a strike this month over government plans for a joint venture to develop the World War II-era oil storage tanks corroding away in Trincomalee. He also had reservations about any deal with the Indian oil giant IOC.

    Ranatunga now takes over Petroleum.

    Ranatunga appointing one of his elder brothers as the Managing Director of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority had been criticised, but he insisted he trusted his brother Dhammika.

    Ranatunga’s job goes to Mahinda Samarasinghe, another member of parliament nominated on the SLFP national list by President Sirisena.

    Another SLFP Minister John Seneviratne who had publicly asked to be relieved of his labour ministry was given the additional responsibility of trade union relations.

    A surprise reinstatement to the cabinet was that of Tilak Marapana , former Justice minister and a UNP national list MP. This time he enters the cabinet as minister of Development Assignments.

    It is not clear what exactly this ministry would do, but Marapana was forced to step down last time after he defended the controversial Avant Garde company at the centre of a corruption scandal involving former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

  6. Ananda-USA Says:

    Arjuna removed from Ports Ministry amidst turmoil over H’tota harbour deal with China
    May 22, 2017, 9:51 pm

    By Shamindra Ferdinando

    Ports and Shipping Minister Arjuna Ranatunga who has thwarted repeated attempts to finalise a controversial agreement with China on the Hambantota port lost his ministerial portfolio to Mahinda Samarasinghe in the mini Cabinet reshuffle yesterday.

    Of the changes made yesterday in keeping with an agreement between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the SLFP took over the Ports and Shipping Ministry from the UNP.

    Ranatunga received Petroleum Resources Development Ministry previously held by SLFPer Chandima Weerakkody.

    Galle District MP Weerakkody was given the Skills Development and Vocational Training Ministry, previously held by Mahinda Samarasinghe.

    Having switched his allegiance to the UNP, Ranatunga contested the Gampaha District on the UNP ticket at the last general election in August 2015. Samarasinghe was brought into parliament on the UPFA National List after he failed to retain his Kalutara seat.

    Minister Ranatunga and his brother, Dhammika, Chairman, Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) succeeded in amending what they called an agreement inimical to Sri Lanka. However, Sri Lanka and China hadn’t been still able to finalise the agreement in spite of several rounds of talks.

    Ports and Shipping Ministry has changed hands in the wake of Ratnapura District MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara on behalf of the Joint Opposition moving Supreme Court against the Hambantota port deal.

    Dhammika Ranatunga is on record as having said that the Hambantota deal had been finalised without the consent of the Ports and Shipping Ministry hence their decision to oppose it. Ranatunga alleged that repeated attempts had been made to work out the agreement in favour of the Chinese.

    Political sources pointed out that the Ports and Shipping Ministry had been brought under the SLFP at a time the yahapalana government was on a collision course with a powerful trade union collective opposed to Indian role in Trincomalee port development as well as Trincomalee oil tank farm project.

    Both Ranatunga brothers, Arjuna and Dhammika repeatedly attacked the Hambantota port deal through the media much to the discomfort of those involved in negotiations. Development Strategies and international Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema played a crucial role in working out the Hambantota port deal.

    Political sources said that the JO would closely watch developments, particularly a change in government’s approach to Hambantota port deal in the wake of ministerial change. Sources also speculated about Dhammika Ranatunga being replaced. Dhammika Ranatunga couldn’t be contacted as he was out of the country.

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