ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday (16) reshuffled the cabinet of ministers with seven key portfolios including health, education, power and transport swapped between senior members of the government.
According to president’s spokesman Kingsly Rathnayaka, former education minister Prof G L Peiris and foreign minister Dinesh Gunawardena have traded places.
An ongoing teachers’ strike over salary anomalies, now into its second month, under the watch of Peiris as education minister has crippled online education in the country amid constant school closures due to the pandemic.
Gunawardena will inherit the teachers’ crisis and related issues along with a raging controversy over a defence university bill, while Prof Peiris will have the task of clearing Sri Lanka’s name in the eyes of the international community with regard to its human rights record. In June this year, the island nation was on the receiving end of criticism by the Human Rights Watch over problematic provisions in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) following the release of murder-convict former MP Duminda Silva. The HRW statement came close on the heels of a resolution adopted by the European Parliament that proposed a temporary withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s access to the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) concession, also over the PTA and other concerns.
Pavithra Wanniarachchi, who held the health ministry till Monday, has been appointed the new minister of transport, with former media minister Keheliya Rambukwella taking her place as the new health minister.
Wanniarachchi, who has been seeing the health ministry through the COVID-19 crisis, has been out of the limelight in recent weeks, with opposition members calling for the appointment of State Minister for COVID Control Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle as health minister instead. COVID-19 in Sri Lanka has taken a turn for the worse in recent months, with daily deaths and case numbers surging as hospitals run out of capacity.
Rambukwella just last week defended a government move to introduce legislation that will target websites that post content deemed “defamatory” and have no visible ownership. He also went on record saying last week that the government will continue to fulfill its responsibility in vaccinating the population against COVID-19 and that the rest is “in God’s hands”.
Gamini Lokuge, who held the transport portfolio, is the new power minister, while his predecessor Dullas Alahapperuma replaces Rambukwella as media minister.
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Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son Namal Rajapaksa, meanwhile, will take on a new role as minister of development coordination and supervision, in addition to his existing portfolio of sports and youth affairs. (Colombo/Aug16/2021)