Sri Lanka President demands honesty from politicians, officials

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s President appealed to fellow politicians and government servants Saturday to be honest and shun bribery and corruption as the war-battered country struggled to rebuild itself.

Maithripala Sirisena in his address to the nation on the 69th anniversary of independence called for the commitment of both the political establishment and officials to ensure good governance.

"While rebuilding our nation, it is essential for politicians and civil servants to ensure there is no corruption, waste and malpractice," the President said.

He said he expected political leadership to commit to honesty and dedicate themselves to reviving the economy.

The remarks came amid speculation of an impending cabinet shuffle in which Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is tipped to take over financial responsibilities.

The president took swipes at his critics who oppose the government’s ethnic reconciliation and national unity efforts and called them anti-national.

"Those who oppose our commitment to ethnic reconciliation and national unity are working against the country," the President said.

Stopping short of naming his predecessor, former president Mahinda Rajapakse, Sirisena said those who opposed him were against stability and the rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure battered by decades of war.

"Those opportunists who oppose ethnic reconciliation and national unity are working to achieve their narrow political objectives (of gaining power). They are anti-national forces," Sirisena said.

The ceremonies at the Galle Face promenade ended with school children singing the national anthem in Tamil despite repeated opposition from hardliners in the majority Sinhalese community.

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Last year too, the President had the national anthem sung in Tamil during independence celebrations. That was the first time in over six decades when the anthem was sung in Tamil at an official event in Colombo. Tamils called it a "giant step" in ethnic inclusiveness.

The previous government of Rajapakse had banned the singing of the national anthem in Tamil at official ceremonies.

Security forces under Rajapakse crushed Tamil rebels in a no-holds-barred military campaign and ended a 37-year separatist war. It also sparked allegations that 40,000 civilians were killed by troops.

While the main Tamil political party joined Sirisena’s independence day celebrations in Colombo, a handful of Tamils staged a street protest in the Tamil heartland of Jaffna, 400 kilometres north of the capital.

Protesters led by local Tamil politician, M. K. Shivajilingam, demanded that Sirisena agree to an international investigation into war crimes under his predecessor.

Police said a dozen protesters wearing black bands dispersed peacefully after an hour-long demonstration near the main administrative building in Jaffna.

The election of reconciliation-minded Sirisena in January 2015 has helped mend relations although core Tamil demands for political power-sharing with the minority Sinhalese is yet to be addressed.

Sirisena had pledged to set up special war crimes courts, but there has been little progress in addressing accountability issues in the past two years. (COLOMBO, February 4, 2017)

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