Marapana goes amidst Avant-Garde uproar, ahead of crucial Cabinet meeting
President informs Cabinet he has received Law and Order Minister’s resignation
Marapana says he never interfered with Avant-Garde probe; says he is resigning to protect Govt.
Outgoing Minister insists Avant-Garde will be cleared of all charges
Says it is legal; Attorney General’s opinion is correct
As of December 2014, Govt. earned Rs. 3.8 b from the Avant-Garde operation
President Sirisena to oversee Avant-Garde investigations
Civil society calls for explanation from Justice Minister
By Dharisha Bastians
In a historic twist being hailed as a great tribute to good governance crusader late Maduluwawe SobithaThero who passed away on Sunday, Law and Order Minister Tilak J. Marapana submitted his resignation to President Maithripala Sirisena, shortly before his Cabinet colleagues looked set to demand his sacking at a special ministerial meeting yesterday.
Marapana’s resignation marks the first time a cabinet minister in Sri Lanka has been forced to resign following public outrage over a perceived conflict of interest and an alleged implication in a corruption scandal.
“I have never interfered with the Avant-Garde investigation, but because these investigations are being conducted by the Police, there is a belief among MPs and the general public that if I remain in this position the inquiries could be impeded,” Marapana said, addressing the media from his residence last morning.
Minister Marapana said that he had met with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sunday night to inform him of his decision. He told reporters his resignation letter had also been dispatched to President Sirisena yesterday. “I hoped that the special Cabinet meeting could be settled peacefully after my resignation,” the former Minister explained.
Tilak Marapana at the media briefing yesterday - Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
During a special Cabinet meeting convened for 10 a.m. at the Presidential Secretariat, President Sirisena informed the Ministers that he had received the Law and Order Minister’s resignation. The Daily FT learns that a group of Ministers were planning to put forward a resolution calling for Marapana’s sacking. But the outgoing Law and Order Minister dismissed the reports.
“Nobody was planning to sack me,” he scoffed during the news conference.
Activists are hailing the resignation as a major victory for the ‘yahapalanaya’ mantra, the anti-corruption platform on which the new administration was swept to power in January and August.
Marapana’s resignation ends a five-day controversy over the private maritime security firm Avant-Garde that shook the cohabitation Government to its core and created a massive public outcry. At least two other Government Ministers have also been implicated in the scandal, after JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake told Parliament that several Government members were involved in striking ‘deals’ and delaying action on corruption cases like Avant-Garde.
The Law and Order Minister took to the floor of the House last Wednesday to put up a staunch defence of Avant-Garde, and accused the Police Department, which functions under his own Ministry, of “trying to score a point” with the raid of the floating armoury belonging to the private security company.
He began his speech with the disclosure that he had appeared as legal counsel for Avant-Garde Maritime Services Ltd. and its controversial Chairman, Nissanka Senadhipathi. During the now infamous speech, Minister Marapana even referred to the company as “my client”.
During yesterday’s press conference, the former Law and Order Minister proceeded to pronounce upon his client’s innocence, and predicted that the private company would be cleared of all charges. Marapana claimed that as of December 2014, the Government of Sri Lanka had earned a profit of Rs. 3.8 billion from the Avant-Garde operation.
“Avant-Garde’s operation is legal, the Attorney General’s opinion is correct,” Marapana said. When investigations are completed and this is proven, the people will finally accept it, the former Minister said.
However, he said he was resigning as Minister to “protect the Government”.Marapana said if there was a threat of an explosion within his Government, it was his duty to resign to prevent that.
“I have no regrets, no blood on my hands and I am not of unsound mind,” he charged. The Minister said he would continue to serve in Parliament as a National List MP.
Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksheis also under fire for his defence of Avant-Garde in Parliament and his declaration to the House that he had “prevented” the arrest of former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in connection with the case.
PurawesiBalaya Co-Convenor and respected academic Dr. GaminiViyangoda said the Justice Minister’s admission was tantamount to interference in the judicial process.
Addressing a press briefing yesterday, PurawesiBalaya, which is a powerful civil society grouping that emerged during the presidential elections in January, hailed Marapana’s exit as a victory for good governance.
“We are glad President Sirisena felt the pressure on this issue and was forced to act. This resignation also offers some hope for good governance, with the Government showing that it is still sensitive to social outrage and public outcry – such a resignation would be unthinkable during the Rajapaksa regime,” Dr. Viyangoda asserted.
Home Affairs Minister Abeywardane meanwhile is facing criticism from Opposition groups for his association with Avant-Garde Chairman Nissanka Senadhipathi and his alleged attempts to introduce the controversial businessman to high-level Government officials, including the President.
JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, addressing a press briefing yesterday, insisted that Marapana was not the only Government Minister culpable in the Avant-Garde controversy. “There are other ministers and they must all be removed,” the JVP Leader charged. The JVP Leader said the Justice Minister was also implicated by his statements on the Avant-Garde controversy.
Civil society groups and activists had mounted pressure on the new Government for its tolerance of Marapana and demanded his immediate resignation.
Issuing a special statement yesterday, the Center for Policy Alternatives said Marapana’s statement in Parliament last week had smacked of “a cavalier disregard for conflict of interest as a key and integral element of good governance in Government”.CPA said the Minister’s remarks “flies brazenly in the face” of fostering a political culture of governance since the historic January elections and its reinforcement seven months later in August.
“At the heart of what transpired is the issue of declared conflict of interest on the part of the Minister for Law and Order, who appeared for Avant-Garde before he took over his ministerial portfolio and his use of Parliamentary time and privilege to defend his former client and his criticism of the Police.”
In its statement CPA also called for an immediate clarification by Justice Minister Rajapaksheon his remarks in Parliament.
“CPA calls for the resignation of the Minister of Law and Order and a clear public statement, without delay, from the Minister of Justice as to what precisely his role was in the investigation,” the think-tank headed by Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu said in its statement.
Following the special Cabinet meeting, Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said the Avant-Garde investigations would henceforth be overseen by President Sirisena. Senaratne said President Sirisena would summon all officials involved in the investigations for a meeting, including armed forces personnel. The probe would be fast-tracked, he said.