Heads roll and re-fixed in Lanka

Heads roll and re-fixed in Lanka

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In a move that has disgruntled some, and in the immediate aftermath of frantic eleventh hour overnight lobbying, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Monday, reshuffled his cabinet and appointed new ministers to nine key posts.  Some of the key portfolios which were changed were that of Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake who was appointed as the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, while Mangala Samaraweera who was previously the Foreign Minister was appointed as Minister of Finance and Mass Media. Arjuna Ranatunga who was Minister of Ports and Shipping was appointed as the new Minister of Petroleum Resources Development.

This is the first major reshuffle since the national government was formed in 2015 which consists of the two main political parties, the United National Party led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party led by President Sirisena.

Talks of a reshuffle had been rumoured for several months but had been put off due to objections raised by mainly the UNP ministers.

The most upset over the reshuffle was reportedly Ravi Karunanayake, credited with playing a key role in the regime change in 2015, and who apparently had been reluctant to accept the Foreign Minister portfolio even upto the  last minute.

President Maithripala Sirisena announcing the decision said that the Cabinet reshuffle will provide a new impetus to Sri Lanka’s development and requested the ministers who took oaths in their new portfolios to be diligent in working for the betterment of the country.

The re-shuffle represents the recent developments in the country. Arjuna Ranatunge was a notable firebrand in opposing any sweeping bestowing of the Hambantota port to the Chinese. Mangala Samaraweera was highly critiqued by some Sinhala Nationalists for what was seen as his pro Tamil representation at the 34th session of United Nations Human Rights Council earlier this year. There were calls in the immediate aftermath of the UNHRC sessions to remove Samaraweera from his position stating that he had ‘betrayed’ the country. With regard to Ravi Karunanayaka, his two year tenure as Finance Minister was overshadowed by a history of allegations of financial irregularities and corruption along with an inability to resurrect Sri Lanka from its mire of debt trapped chaos that had been building up for years, especially heightened by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s extravagant personal insignia projects such as the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in the South of the country that led to heavy borrowing, especially from the Chinese.  

In mid 2016, the IMF approved a $1.5 billion loan to Sri Lanka, with $168 million disbursed in two tranches to support the country’s ailing economy. The loan approved for Sri Lanka in 2016, to be paid in 6 installments, was subject to the Lankan government meeting the IMF’s targets which focuses on restructuring state-owned enterprises by privatisation, slashing subsidies and increasing taxes. The new government of President Sirisena, elected in 2015 is increasingly unpopular for its tough taxation that affects the common man.

The cabinet re-shuffle of the current regime comes amidst the Joint Opposition led by Mahinda Rajapaksa urging  the masses to rally around him and his aims of ‘toppling’ the government in 2017.  In the background of Rajapaksa’s seeming popularity, the government is dragging their feet over the holding of the Local Government (LG) elections which was due by April 2017. Observers point out that the changing of Monday’s key cabinet portfolios is a bid to propel some positive change into governance in a backdrop of the Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe SLFP-UNP coalition facing many challenges both at local and international level.

However observers point out that Ravi Karunanayake maybe getting a push from the hot pan into fire as he becomes the face of Sri Lanka in a global platform which is demanding for foreign judges and tribunals to judge alleged war crimes by the Lankan military. Eight years after the war, Sinhala nationalism has spiraled in Sri Lanka alongside Tamil nationalism and any criticism of government troops is viewed lethally.

Following are the new portfolios:

Mangala Samaraweera appointed as the new Minister of Media and Finance.

Mahinda Samarasingha appointed as the new Minister of Ports and Shipping.

S.B. Dissanyake appointed as the Minister of Social Empowerment, Welfare and Kandyan heritage.

W.D.J Seneviratne sworn in as the Minister of Labour, Trade Union relations and Sabaragamuwa Development.

Gayantha Karunathilleke appointed as the new Minister of Lands and Parliamentary Reforms.

Chandima Weerakkody appointed as the Minister of Skilled Development and Vocational Training.

Tilak Marapanna appointed as the Minister of Development Assignments.

Mahinda Amaraweera appointed as the State Minister of Mahaweli Development.

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