President sacks Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe; gives in to UNP demand
Wijeyadasa justifies speaking against Govt’s new Chinese deal on Hambantota Port
Claims there is no greater shame than staying in a Cabinet which sells national assets
Alleges attempts to protect bond scam offenders by reducing AG independence through his removal
Former Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe gestures as he leaves the ministry’s premises yesterday after President Maithripala Sirisena approved a request made by the UNP to take away Rajapakshe’s ministerial portfolio - Pic by Pradeep Pathirana
Ceding to expectations, President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday sacked embattled Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe for breaching the collective responsibility of Cabinet and criticising the Government’s deal with a State-run Chinese company to revive the debt-ridden Hambantota Port.
Rajapakshe was criticised by his party for questioning the Cabinet decision to lease the port of Hambantota to China. He said it was akin to selling national assets. After he failed to deliver an apology on a deadline given by the United National Party (UNP), the President was asked to remove Rajapakshe by the UNP on Monday.
Despite days of speculation and pressure to recant his statements, Rajapakshe remained defiant till the end and was removed by President Sirisena on Tuesday. However, he remains a member of the UNP.
“Historically all the previous justice ministers of our country are normally accused of influencing the Attorney General’s Department and the Judiciary. I am accused of not pressuring the Attorney General’s Department and the Judiciary. Our Constitution has been violated by our Cabinet. Our constitution states that in the event of an agreement such as the Hambantota deal, it has to be presented to Parliament and approved by a two-thirds majority. So the agreement to transfer the port is just a piece of paper, it does not have any legal powers,” he told reporters.
“The Sri Lanka Ports Authority has the power to administer the country’s ports but it does not have the power to transfer ownership. A group of people became angry with me because I revealed this. My conscience is telling me there is no greater shame than staying in a Cabinet that is selling State assets. I declined a ministerial post under former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, I gave up my post in former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government after five months, and I am talking here as a person who has been removed from this Cabinet.”
Rajapakshe also alleged that with the names linked to the bond scam being revealed by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, efforts to remove him were intensified as Justice Minister to avert any consequences to a wide number of people linked to the alleged fraud. The Presidential Commission is only mandated to investigate the bond transactions and recommend whether or not legal action should be taken.
“With my removal they are trying to break the backbone of the Attorney General’s Department, which I have allowed to operate independently,” Rajapakshe told reporters.
“This is why the Attorney General was summoned to the President’s House on the 15th where top ministers threatened him and told him to start legal proceedings against their political rivals within two weeks. By saying that I am suppressing the investigations against former President Rajapaksa and sacrificing me they are creating the possibility of hiding the consequences of the bond scam,” Rajapakshe alleged.
Rajapakshe also called on the public to remember that most of the allegations levelled against him stem from people who continued to be loyal to former President Rajapaksa even after he resigned and left in 2007. He also recalled that when he was Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) Rajapakshe worked to re-nationalise State assets and protect them from being privatised.
“I call on the people to make up their own minds about a government that is selling State assets. I will give further details about my political journey another day. No one can direct any accusation against me concerning Avant-Garde as the presidential commission that investigated it has clearly said no crime has been committed.”