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Government deadlock ends as Sirisena backs down

President Maithripala Sirisena visits the scene of destruction after the Easter attacks/President’s Media

President Maithripala Sirisena has taken a step back in his stand-off with the Cabinet over the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter attacks.

Sirisena threatened to boycott Cabinet meetings last week, essentially making the Government dysfunctional, demanding that the proceedings of the PSC be stopped.

However, yesterday the customary Cabinet meeting took place, chaired by Sirisena, and the PSC also continued its hearings.

High-level sources said the standoff had been broken after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe wrote what was described as a “strongly worded” letter to the President reminding him of his Constitutional responsibilities as Head of State.

In the letter signed by all members of Cabinet, Wickremesinghe had said the Government would pass a Resolution in Parliament calling on the President to call and attend Cabinet.

Otherwise, the proposed Resolution would empower the Prime Minister to take the President’s place.  

The usual Cabinet meeting on 11 June was cancelled because of the standoff.

On 7 June, the President had called the Prime Minister and the Speaker and asked them to close the PSC hearings to the media.

Sirisena disapproves of bringing in top officials, including intelligence officers, before the committee and exposing them to Reporters.

Ministers who met at Temple Trees on 10 June evening at the pre-Cabinet meeting did not discuss Cabinet papers but pondered how the current deadlock can be broken.

They requested the Speaker to urgently request time with the President to resolve the matter.

In response to the President’s demands, the Speaker had earlier in a public statement rejected the call to hold the hearings in-camera.

Most members of the Government are unwilling to stop the media coverage as the inquiry has proved popular with the public, particularly the aggrieved families and their supporters who are keen to see who was responsible for possible lapses.

The inquiry up to now has shown a great degree of pettiness and a malfunctioning administration at the President’s level.

These revelations are damaging to Sirisena who sees the open inquiry as a politically orchestrated exercise to harm his reputation.

One point that has become clear is that the Intelligence Agencies had been made aware of the National Thowheed Jamaat and its activities for some years, but failed to prevent them.

On or around 8 April, these agencies received specific information about intended Islamic extremist attacks on Christian churches and places frequented by tourists.

More than 250 people died in the attacks in Colombo, Negombo, and Batticoloa.

As Minister of Defense and the current Minister of Law and Order the President is directly responsible f or the security of the state and law and order.

There has been startling testimony at the hearings. Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundera alleged that he was asked by the President to take full responsibility for the failure and resign.

In return, he told the hearings, the President offered him a diplomatic posting.

Former Secretary to the Ministry of Defense Hemasiri Fernando revealed that he had been instructed by the President not to invite the IGP and the Prime Minister to the National Security Council after the 52-day political crisis ended.