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Crisis worsens as Sirisena clashes with Parliament

President storms out of meeting upset at revelations at the Parliamentary Select Committee

By Arjuna Ranawana

Photo Credit: PMD

Sri Lanka is hurtling towards another crisis as tensions between Parliament and the Executive reach new heights over the decision to open the proceedings of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday suicide bombings to the Media.

President Maithripala Sirisena disapproves of bringing in top officials, including intelligence officers, before the committee.

On Friday evening, Sirisena summoned the members of the Cabinet of Ministers to the Presidential Secretariat. He appeared to be angry several people who were in the room said.

The President is said to have berated Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and accused him of selecting the members of the Committee. Testimony given by witnesses called by the Committee has been widely reported in the Media, this past week.

Several Ministers had pointed out to the President that the House had made a unanimous decision to appoint the PSC.

They had also told the President the selection of the Members of the committee had been made at the Party Leaders meeting chaired by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and not by the PM.

The Ministers had also pointed out to the President that the PSC was made up of very competent people.

According to several sources RepublicNext spoke to, the Ministers had also informed the President that amongst others, the Committee was made up of a Field Marshall, three lawyers and two from the medical profession.

The meeting had ended with Sirisena threatening not to Chair Cabinet meetings in the future and walking out of the room.

The Ministers had then told Sirisena that if he chooses to do so, he would have to explain to Parliament why he was boycotting Cabinet

President pledges not to send serving officers to PSC
Intelligence Chief Sisira Mendis, who has since quit his post, testifying at the Parliamentary Select Committee

Before meeting with the Cabinet of Ministers, the President had also met with senior police officers.

At that meeting, he had said that he will not allow active officers to be summoned before the PSC and that he would take full responsibility for the decision.   

“The Attorney General has informed me in writing that the sittings of the PSC, while five petitions on the Easter Sunday attacks are pending before the Supreme Court, could adversely affect the court proceedings,” the President was quoted as saying, in a statement released by the President’s Media Division. 

If any officers do not answer the summons of the PSC, knowledgeable sources told RepublicNext they would be held in contempt of Parliament.

The President is also said to have forwarded the AG’s submission to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.

Responding to the Presidents statement to ban police officers from attending the PSC, the Speaker has pointed out that opening the proceedings to the Media was a decision taken by the PSC in a bipartisan manner. While stating that he is in no way challenging the powers of the President, Jayasuriya’s Press Release states that “the decision to open the proceedings to the Media was taken by the committee concerned. The Speaker has no part to play in it.”

He also observes that five opposition Members had been appointed to the committee, however, the UPFA MPs have chosen not to be on the committee.

“If they were in the committee then these issues could have been resolved” adds the Speaker.

Further testimony will reveal incompetence

President Maithripala Sirisena inspecting the Katuwapitiya St Sebestian’s Church after the bombing/Facebook.com

According to the testimony given so far, the Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundera and Former Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando have claimed that President Sirisena had prevented the IGP from attending Security Council meetings.

They have both also testified that Sirisena had instructed that the Prime Minister should not be summoned to Security Council meetings after the latter was reinstated as Premier in December 2018, following the 52-day political crisis.

It was also revealed that no proper Security Council meetings had been held since October last year.

The President’s disquiet with the proceedings of the PSC is probably because further public scrutiny could reveal incompetence on his part and the Intelligence Officers loyal to him.

In a petition filed before the Supreme Court challenging his Compulsory Leave order, IGP Jayasundera alleges that the President asked him to accept responsibility for the lapses that led to the Easter Bombings and resign his post.

In turn, his petition states, the President had promised to reward him with a diplomatic posting.

Sirisena’s term as President runs out in five months.

If the crisis continues say constituitional experts state that the government has the option of moving an Impeachment Motion against the President.

For nearly two years, the country has been assailed by various crises brought about by the shenanigans of the Executive and the government and these fresh developments could mean that Sri Lanka faces a point of no return.