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Sri Lanka’s battle for finance portfolio intensifies

ECONOMYNEXT – The naming of the new finance minister in a coalition government has led to friction between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, political sources said today.

Even as the cabinet was being finalised over the weekend, there was uncertainty over the finance portfolio.

There was speculation that President Sirisena wanted to keep the finance portfolio. However, it turns out that the president’s choice for the job is Eran Wickramaratne, the former deputy minister of investment Promotion and Highways.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe wanted to retain Ravi Karunanayake in the finance ministry, but with some of the functions taken away for the new Strategic Development Ministry.

UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickrama is tipped to head the new ministry which will be a remake of the Economic Development ministry under Basil Rajapaksa.

The size of the cabinet is also an issue. In line with the 19th amendment, there can be only 30 cabinet ministers, but a "National Government" can have any number that is approved by parliament.

This means the induction of a new cabinet will have to be in two stages. In the first round, 30 can be named and after September 1 sittings of parliament another batch of ministers can be appointed with approval from the House.

Even the first stage is likely to be delayed by at least one more day and the sweaing in could now take place on Tuesday or Wednesday instead of Monday.

A crucial meeting was being held at Samarawickrama’s Kandy residence Sunday to finalise the allocation of portfolios.

Deputy ministers of defence and interior (police) are tipped to be Ruwan Wijewardene and Sagala Ratnayake.

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There is serious heartburn within the ranks of the UNP over the appointment of Tilak Marapone on the national list of the party because many felt that the 2004 collapse of the UNP government was mainly due to mis-handling of the defence ministry under Marapone.

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