Sri Lanka’s govt faces first major threat to unity

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s uneasy cohabitation between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe faced its toughest test Friday over the replacement of controversial central bank chief Arjuna Mahendran.

Sirisena was forced to eat humble pie as he failed to deliver on a promise Wednesday to name a new Governor as Wickremesinghe stood his ground defending his school-buddy Mahendran over anyone else, political sources said.

The cold-war between the two men had escalated after the appointment of Constitutional Council appointed Wickremesinghe’s choice Pujith Jayasundera as the new Inspector General over Sirisena’s favourite S. M. Wickramasinghe.

The president did not take a hard-line stance over the IGP appointment and shifted responsibility to the Constitutional Council even though he had the power to make a choice and then seek the CC’s concurrence.

But, in the case of the appointment of Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the two leaders are pushed by their respective pressure groups with  vested interests.

In a face saving exercise, the UNP said Friday that the President and the Prime Minister were on the same page and they had agreed to await the return to the island of Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake to make a final decision.

The Monetary Law Act says the President shall appoint the governor on the advise of the Finance Minister, but although Ravi Karunanayake is holding the portfolio, he is not in charge of the bank.

The Prime Minister in a move to clip Karunanayake’s wings after the elections, took away the central bank and assigned it to himself. Therefore, in practice, there is no for the finance minister though because it is  Wickremesinghe who is actually in charge, though the legal requirment still exists.

However, delaying the bank chief appointment till Karunanayake allows a cooling of tempers, sources said.

The prime minister argued on Thursday that since Arjuna Mahendran had not been found guilty by any court, he cannot be removed.





If the same principle is applied to the public sector, then the establishment code may have to be re-written to allow officials accused of corruption to remain in office till courts find them guilty.

However, political sources within the ruling UNP said there were wider ramifications for the President-PM rift and the issue of the governor could be a watershed for the government. (COLOMBO, July 1, 2016)

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