A Cabinet sans credibility

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Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Cabinet of Ministers is coming into shape and it inspires very little confidence or credibility. Nine Parliamentarians who represented the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya were sworn in as Cabinet Ministers before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa last week. Many of them have dubious records at the very least and some should actually be in jail rather than be in charge of the executive branch of the State.

For example the newly appointed Minister of Trade, Nalin Fernando was arrested by the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) of the Police in 2018 at the Bandaranaike International Airport while attempting to flee the country. Ironically the FCID was established by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe during the Yahapalana administration to investigate grave financial crimes committed by those in positions of political and administrative authority. Fernando was accused of misappropriating Rs. 39 million while serving as the Chairman of State-owned Sathosa.

Irony is clearly not lost on the prime minister in his appointment of the Minister in Charge of Public Security either. Tiran Alles, who himself had claimed that he acted as an intermediary in providing hundreds of millions of rupees to the LTTE in 2005 to ensure a boycott of the presidential election in the areas dominated by the terrorist organisation is now the Minister in Charge of the Police. It is due to this orchestrated boycott that Wickremesinghe lost the presidency to Mahinda Rajapaksa in the closest ever presidential race in the history of the republic. 

Alles was arrested and charged for the misappropriation of Rs. 124 million while he was the Chairman of the Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA) in 2005. The money was allegedly channelled to the LTTE to ensure the boycott that defeated Ranil Wickremesinghe. He was discharged from the case in 2020 after the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The newly appointed Minister of Health made what he called a ‘humble’ statement in Parliament last week when he boasted that he had come into Parliament in a luxury car and would maintain his lifestyle come what may. Flaunting his wealth is the personal business of Keheliya Rambukwella but however if done so by an individual with actual financial integrity it would have stood in higher stead. For all his supposed personal wealth he is an individual who had been accused by the FCID for claiming a colossal Rs. 20 million medical expense from the President’s fund while recovering the same from a personal insurance company. The President’s fund which is not an entitlement but a source of funding for desperate and underprivileged Sri Lankans who usually receive a few hundred thousand rupees for dire needs. 

The minister had claimed medical costs for an accident that occurred while attempting to jump through a hotel window while in Australia. It was recently revealed that he owed the State many millions in unpaid electricity bills and has not been shy to secure plush State sector employment opportunities, including diplomatic posts, for his underqualified children.  The records of the rest of the recently appointed Ministers is equally long and unflattering. This then is the team that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe presents to the people to save the country in its most dire economic crisis. By accepting the premiership Wickremesinghe had prevented a once in a generation chance to change the executive presidential system and given a political lifeline to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his extended family. Even though many had hoped for him to succeed, it should now be abundantly clear that the stability and economic recovery he had promised cannot be achieved with a Cabinet of Ministers who are crooks, wheeler-dealers and political opportunists. 

Sri Lanka needs to end its dependency on individual leaders to save the country and trust in its democratic institutions. The day such democratic institutions, including an independent and competent police force and a judiciary are established, many in the current Cabinet of Ministers should end up in jail rather than the executive office in charge of the country’s finances.

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