Sri Lanka’s Justice Minister Wijedasa has been sacked on the charge of inaction against the corrupt putting former President Rajapaksa, and his cabal, who are facing corruption charges, on notice.
President Maithripala Sirisena (on Wednesday Aug 23, 2017) sacked Wijedasa Rajapakse as justice and Buddhist affairs minister, following demands from the United National Party (UNP), the main partner in the “unity government.” He is the second minister to go, the first being Foreign Minister Karunanayake, who had resigned following allegations that he was involved in the massive bond scam.
The charge against Wijedasa is that as minister he had failed to introduce new anti-bribery and corruption laws and delaying action and criminal cases against former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and key members of his regime. There are in all 87 corruption investigations, but only 12 resulted in legal action.
He is known to have close connections with the Buddhist hierarchy and sympathises with groups, such as Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Brigade) and Ravana Balakaya (King Ravana’s Brigade).
So much so, Wijedasa’s dismissal is a calculated move by the Sirisensa-Wickremisinghe combine. It is designed to undermine supporters of Mahinda Rajapakse et al who have been sharpening their attacks on the Sirisena government. In fact, Rajapakse is directly challenging the government and has threatened to topple the regime. The former president has called on SLFP parliamentarians backing Sirisena to withdraw their support from the UNP-SLFP “unity government.”
Wijedasa is a senior UNP leader and he became a minister against UNP quota. When UNP working committee headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met and called for an end to Láffaire Wijedasa, the axe fell on him without much ado.
Coalition politics do not give much turf space to the head of the government. Berths in the ministry are allotted proportionate to the legislative strength of an ally. More over who should be the minister is a decision of the coalition partner.
Significantly, till about two years ago, Wijedasa was front ranking leader of Mahinda Rajapakse –led Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). He was a lawmaker on SLFP ticket too. But he switched his allegiance to the UNP and backed Sirisena’s presidential bid in January 2015. He was appointed minister of justice and Buddhist affairs after parliamentary elections later that year.
In recent days, UNP’s political hierarchy was also angry over Wijedasa’s public criticism of the government’s decision to lease the Hambantota Harbour project to a Chinese company. After originally supporting the deal, he changed his mind, declaring that the government was selling public assets to foreign countries and that he would campaign for the abrogation of the agreement.
Leading lights of the UNP, notably Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne, claim that the attorney-general’s department, with Wijedasa’s help, delayed corruption cases against Mahinda Rajapakse and his associates. Wijedasa was also accused of having dealings with the Rajapakse-led opposition group.
On August 15, the Sirisena cabinet discussed how it could “speed up” corruption cases against former government officials. It considered the possibility of establishing “High Courts” expressly devoted to corruption and criminal cases.
According to Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake, it is not necessary to amend the constitution to increase the number of High Courts. “If the attorney-general and the chief justice can agree to this, it can be done,” he declared. “This will clear up the doubts people have as to when the thieves will be caught.”
Going by reports in Colombo media, the Sirisena government appears to be moving toward legal action against former President Rajapakse and his cabal, including former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse and other family members. All this action as a part of anti-corruption campaign!
Sunday Times ran a lengthy piece entitled, “Major corruption cases: Wheels of justice begin to grind following President’s outburst.” The article was a reference to Sirisena’s earlier remarks about corruption case delays.
The government’s drive has received the backing of Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP), National Movement for Social Justice and Purawesi Balaya (Citizen’s Power), amongst others. Before the recent cabinet meeting, these formations held a public meeting in Colombo calling for the establishment of special anti-corruption courts.
Addressing the meeting, Dambara Amila, a Buddhist monk who supports the government, declared: “Set up special courts, hear cases against Rajapakse’s day and night and put them in the jail.