The Dressing Down of the Century: President Sirisena’s Scathing Sermon to his Captive Cabinet

Darshanie Ratnawalli’s Pithy Translation of President Sirisena’s Speech to His Present Cabinet … with some asides on the reception among his captive audience

Associated with our victory in 2015 there were many aspirations, hopes, wishes of the people. During the past three and half, almost four years, there were many victories and positive achievements we engendered as a government. At the same time there were harmful, inauspicious, undisciplined, wretched and lawless things that happened as well (Ranil W shrugs shoulders with impatient look of hauteur on face). While we can celebrate the good things, we must also join the people in bemoaning the lost opportunities. The pledges of our manifesto started getting violated from the moment the first Cabinet was appointed after the victory. The manifesto said the subjects and ministries should be assigned on a scientific basis, and a board of experts were appointed for that purpose. However, I don’t know if that file was even glanced at in making appointments. (Champika smiles contemptuously, like a civilised and noble leader forced to listen to driveling of an uncouth cur, who doesn’t maintain the decencies of polite society.)

There were good things [from the 2015 victory] as well as unexpected, bad developments. Establishing democracy and freedom of the people and independent commissions via the 19th amendment [were good]. As I see it, the only good thing of the 19A was the positive progress made by the independent commissions.

The other side [of the 19A] is a political fisticuff (RW looks dour and restless. Eyebrows permanently raised like a delinquent teenager forced to listen to a lecture from a parent he isn’t afraid or fond of). When 19A established independent commissions and in appointing persons for offices in the country by the Constitutional Council, how impartial was the Constitutional Council? Today, from the Chief Justice onwards, Attorney General, Inspector General of Police, as well as independent commissions are appointed by the Constitutional Council. What I see mainly in the Constitutional Council, when it made appointments to the judiciary, when names of senior judges were sent to them [the Constitutional Council], those names were rejected. Among some judges, there is an accusation against me that I don’t make appointments based on seniority. I have to be very clear that every name, which is thrown as an accusation against me, has been sent to the Constitutional Council by me. The Constitutional Council has rejected them.

The Constitutional Council has only selected names that they deem suitable among themselves. In that process, senior judges have been unfairly treated. The Constitutional Council, the process it follows in appointing judges, how impartial and neutral it is, are questions that have arisen. (Ranil looks disgusted but resigned). With regards to this [matters connected with the Constitutional Council], I have many facts and ample proof.

Let me now touch on my bitterest experiences. The people defeated an incumbent president for the first time and elected me with 62 lakh votes because of the previous regime’s grave errors and shortcoming, [with the main shortcomings being] fraud and corruption.

When the people had elected a new anti-corruption regime in January 2015, barely three months into its tenure, the great Central Bank robbery took place (Ravi K wears a look of horror and disgust). The events that took place on two instances in 2015 blemished completely our fight against corruption and shattered the hopes and aspirations of the people in that direction and negated completely the political concept of good governance. Even this morning, I called the CB Governor and asked if one of the recommendations made by the Presidential Commission, the forensic audit, has been carried out. No, it is yet to be carried out.

The Presidential Commission says clearly, the robbery of people’s money, the value of which has no determined limit yet, has gone on for years. The report says it has been happening from 2007/2008. Economic experts told me during a discussion even last week, “Mr. President, the people’s money that this corrupt robbery – that has been going on for years – has stolen exceeds Rs. 1000 billion. It’s a vast hoard of money which remains un-investigated and unaccounted for in any audit, according to the Presidential Commission report”

Honourable Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe knows, when appointing Arjun Mahendran to the office of CB Governorship, I objected strenuously. However, within one week of being appointed President, [[Presidents are elected in Sri Lanka by the whole country acting as a single electorate. Presidents are not appointed. Perhaps Prez Sirisena means here that but for the UNP, he would never even have run for President, let alone got elected. So, in effect, the UNP appointed him President]], as someone who knew about gratitude, as I did not want any clashes with Mr. Wickremesinghe, I appointed Arjun Mahendran acting upon the former’s pressing request. Through that Arjun Mahendran’s actions, these events took place and it was as if a fire had broken out inside the country. Things really warmed up, in Parliament, in the political arena, among people in media. At its hottest point, the staff of Central Bank became non-functional (At this point watch Thalatha Athukorala’s face. It is the face of a hostess beholding a dinner guest who is unwashed and reeking of BO).

At that point I decided to go to the Central Bank. On that day I decided to visit the Bank, the Hon. Prime Minister came to my house, having heard that I was on my way there. He asked me are you going there? I said yes. He did not like it. He said the CB was under him. I said yes, it is under you but I am the President so I can go, can’t I? and went. (Ranil’s face is set in a bored sneer, plainly communicating “oh yeah?”). When I got there, Arjun Mahendran was there with the PM. The sheaf of beetle leaves which Arjun Mahendran gave me, I took with one hand and walked inside without looking at his face. (Here we have a clear tutorial of how to snub an undesirable guest or host in Sinhala culture).

Arjun Mahendran is missing up to date. No real, effective procedure of capturing him was implemented by the government. The relevant officers were not enabled. The officers in the CID and other officials who assisted the Presidential Commission were threatened and influenced. Investigations were launched against them, alleging that phones of ministers were tapped. In the end, the Presidential Commission issued a statement that phones of PM and ministers were not tapped, but the phones of arrested suspects of Perpetual Treasuries were investigated for incoming and outgoing calls and for whereabouts and those yielded the numbers of ministers’ calls.

A robbery of over Rs 1000 billion which went on for years! For punishing those responsible, a bill was presented in Parliament, four days before I appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa on 26 October. It was recommended by the Attorney General’s Department and was necessary to make evidence presented before the Commission to Investigate Allegations Of Bribery Or Corruption admissible in a court of law- viz. the Bribery and Corruption Amendment Act.

Only a few words had to be amended. For over five months, it languished in some cupboard in Parliament. I spoke several times about this to Thalatha Athukorala as she was the Minister for Justice and to Lakshman Kiriella (Thalatha looks down at the table. Ranjith Maddumabandara nods). I spoke to them and somehow, with great difficulty, got the bill put before Parliament after months of languishing in cupboards. This was four or five days before Mahinda Rajapaksa’s appointment as PM, [but] you took it up for debate and postponed the amendment indefinitely. Why did you postpone it? Because of that, that Act will not get amended and for 15/20 years, this investigation of this Central Bank robbery, which exceeds Rs. 1000 billion in value won’t take place. The suspects will not be brought to justice. The money couldn’t be reclaimed. This problem is serious. (Bored, sleepy smile from Ranil).

Also, it must be mentioned, the PM’s CCM which was started on the recommendation of the Cabinet, gave rise to a lot of problems and clashes. To tell the truth, I discharged my debt of gratitude to the PM to such an extent that the PM [was allowed and] took over and used even powers devolved upon me. I did not challenge him. He acted like that. In dealing with heads of State, in international pacts, he acted with the powers of the President. The powers that haven’t been given to PM by the 19th amendment Ranil W used. I kept quiet as a man who understood gratitude.

I appointed a commission on the Singapore FTA. I received its recommendations last week. The recommendations say that in concluding the FTA, a lot of errors have been committed. I won’t go into detail now, except to highlight one para, which says the agencies associated with the ambit of the FTA, the relevant ministries such as Trade, Ports, Industry, Finance – there are many such agencies – have not been consulted in obtaining the approvals and recommendations that ought to have been obtained in the lead up to an agreement like that. Failure to get such inputs is stated as a grave shortcoming of the pact. Therefore, the Singapore FTA has become a grave problem. My personal view is that it should be suspended temporarily through government intervention. Amendments should be made to it. In amending it, more economic and legal experts should look into it and see if it can be retained with amendments or whether it should be entirely scrapped. (Rishad Badhiutheen nods. So do Ravi Karunanayake and Malik Samarawickrema and John Amaratunga. Gayantha Karunathilake listens like a professional historian who is forced to listen to a lecture claiming that Ravana was a historical figure)

With the benefit of all these experiences, one should consider how our methods of working together can be unentangled. In the disputes over all these things, if the executive and the legislature had succeeded in resolving their differences, we wouldn’t have taken seven weeks to arrive at a solution. I thank you all and Hon. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, because you attended the meetings, I called here with party leaders; Mahinda Rajapaksa and all members of the Pohottuwa (SLPP) came, the TNA came, the constituent parties of UNF came, all of them showed excellent co-operation. That is an important sign of the friendly and collegiate atmosphere that prevails among contending parties in a democracy. Whatever was said in political platforms and roadsides, we were humane enough to sit together in resolving problems. But we failed to resolve the problem between the executive and the legislature. So we went to the courts.

On the verdict of the judiciary, I enquired, what do the people say, what do the legal experts say? I have to say, in analysing the gazette notifications I issued, appointing and removing Prime Ministers, dissolving and proroguing Parliament, some people tend to be very infantile in their criticisms. The whole country knows, I am not a lawyer. I did not issue these gazettes as a result of a personal, unilateral decision. Involved in the decision were Presidents Counsel and the highest legal experts in the country. They came here, sat and discussed and drafted. Then my secretary and I signed and that was how they were issued (Ranil W’s mouth is a sardonic, reverse smiley). This was not done by infantile amateurs. The best testament to the professional nature of this is the Counsel who appeared for my side in court. I am thankful to them. They are the highest, reputed counsel in SL. How many President’s Counsel were there? How many senior expert Counsel who are not PCs? If I had done something infantile and immature and silly in issuing these gazettes, those PCs and experts would not have gone to Courts to defend those gazettes. They are reputed, top of the range and brilliant lawyers of the country.

Then regarding the verdict, specially on the dissolution of Parliament, your struggle was to prevent an election, you went to Courts to prevent an election. But in this crisis, an aspiration to dissolve a corrupted Parliament and elect a new, clean Parliament arose among the people, even among UNPers as far as I know. They said, we too have culprits, we want to send them home and we want an election. Those who came to rallies and protest marches were not the entire UNP vote base in the country. If all the UNPers were to be brought to Colombo, Colombo won’t have enough room, not even the entire Western province would be sufficient. Likewise, for other parties. Only a limited percentage of a party participates in these activities.

About the verdict, what people say is, we had a chance to resolve the issue of this corrupt Parliament and elect a new Parliament and we were deprived as a result of the verdict. Through the verdict, the opportunity of exercising the franchise of the people was taken away …..  that’s what the people, not I, say.

I inquire from the people, from journalists, lawyers, Buddhist clergy, other clergy, from academics, experts etc. Even today the majority opinion is that whatever the verdict, an election would have been best. 122 MPs signed and petitioned the court, rejecting an election [Slight mistake here. They signed, saying the cabinet was illegal]

But when considering how to shape the future through experiences and lessons from the past. I have to say one other thing. During the past, almost four years, various social forces and change agents were involved in anti-corruption activities. What I always say is that in our country, I won’t talk about other countries, cultural forces are more powerful than (Ranil W smiles in a way which is only describable as sardonic) political forces — cultural forces meaning religious forces, and forces actuated by language issues, traditions, customs, cultures. On these issues, our cultural forces are very strong and broad. Most of the time, governments are made and defeated by these cultural forces rather than political forces. In the recent past, especially in prosecuting bhikkhus over possession of elephants and tuskers, an outcry, a cultural protest came not only from temples and shrines housing elephants, but also from the wider Buddhist society, over the lack of elephants for processions. Then I said, let’s free these elephants, let’s see about the legal position on this, by all means. But do not continue with this serial arresting of monks. We lost the entire Bhikkhu society through this.

This too has to be said clearly about the arrests of the members of the tri forces. A country which conducted a victorious war against a barbaric outfit like Prabakaran’s doesn’t put them in prisons. This is something I said continuously. But I was not listened to. Since our Army is a disciplined, civilised and good army, they are tolerating this. But today, according to the international community, our Army should be punished, but the people of Prabakaran, people who destroyed our armed forces, face no punishment. They are in various countries in the world, these strongmen of the LTTE. The so-called international community is pointing the finger at us, urging investigations against the Army. All allegations; violations of HR, international laws of conflict, are directed at us. Members of our tri forces; of the civil defence force; the President of the country; civilians; around 100 000 all killed. Those responsible are still alive and in hiding. Is there a process which can bring them to this country to stand trial? No such thing!! No one talks about such a process. Not even by any party in Sri Lanka is such a process proposed. If those in the Forces are punished, those people from the other side must also be punished. Otherwise, all prosecutions should be given up and an amnesty agreed upon. We conducted a war and both sides died. This side will say, together with Prabhakaran, so many died. Then from our side too, the President died, tri force commanders died, from Navy Chief onwards, Generals died, then Tamil political leaders, Amirthalingam, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Neelan Thiruchelvam died. My stance is this: all should be prosecuted, or we should clear our armies by negotiating with those sections of the international community that are pressing for accountability. Then there is the request that Tamil prisoners, with links to LTTE, should be freed. We have had several discussions. But if we are to free them, all must be freed. During the past years, several members of our Forces with pending cases, were imprisoned.  All must be freed. That is fairness. One-sided prosecutions are not tenable.

After what happened [since 26 October], some people who participated in press briefings and conferences said that I should be dragged along like Gaddafi and killed. Also, your MPs said my house in Mahagamasekera Road will be burned, demolished and all the people killed. Those NGOs that gang together with you all and destroy the country, held press conferences and said they will do a Gaddafi on me.



Why has no other head of State in this country been threatened with that particular fate? During the time of JR, who is talked about as a very tough leader, there were many problems. I went to prison for fighting against that government, when Mrs. Bandaranaike’s, civic rights were taken away. JR signed the Indo-Lanka pact after imposing an all island curfew. We slept on the road in protest. If there had been no curfew, people would have spoken out about what they were going to do to those leaders, just like what they are threatening to do to me. Those people did not get to say it.

How many problems had Premadasa? He is someone I respect a lot. There were so many problems, instances when he faced enormous objections from people. No one said we will surround houses and do what was done to Gaddafi. Of course, those days Gaddafi was alive, but you get the idea. Chandrika Kumaratunga was there and people were against her. But no one threatened her with a Gaddafi. Mahinda Rajapaksa faced enormous resistance. That brought about his defeat. Did anyone say, we will do a Gaddafi? No!

Then why say it against me? Because it can be done to me. I am the kind of man who will just look on quietly when the mob comes. If from JR down, if they tried to do that, not a single, threatening individual would be left. But, they know that to a man like me, these things; surrounding houses, burning, dragging out like Gaddafi, can be done. That’s why the dark element makes threats like this just like the good element rejoices in the kind of man I am.

With regards to the conspiracy to assassinate me, I did not see anywhere an acknowledgement that there was something like this. Not that it has been proved, but there are a lot of facts. These days as the Police was under me, there was significant progress in the investigations. However, when the assassination conspiracy was being heard, on that last Court date, not a single person from CID attended. Then I called CID officers to ask why, and they said, yes, yes, Sir, that was an oversight, sorry, sorry. They said sorry a hundred times. But it’s not a question of saying sorry a hundred times, but the degree of neglect which is revealed.

Now, about the gazettes that are the subject of Fundamental Rights cases. I issued them in good faith, with instructions from experts in the field who drafted them. I had no intention of violating the Constitution. My intention was pure: {I sought] to resolve the grave political crisis in country and [considered] the best way to solve this is to go before the voter. A letter was signed by 122 MPs but there are 155 lakh voters. To empower those 155 lakhs voters, I issued the gazette, according to my conviction that rather than the 122 MPs in Parliament, the will of this voter-base is the crucial factor in sovereignty.

If you want to bring FRs, punish me, impeach me, please go ahead. History will write the correct version. If no one else will write, I will write. At the moment, as I revealed earlier, I am writing a book on my co-rule with Mr. Wickremesinghe. I am writing that (Ranil W shakes head as if to clear it of an insect landed on it). I will be able to publish it at the end of January, or in February. I will say in that book what my intention was, despite what the Courts say, despite FRs because, I know, giving the right of franchise to 155 lakhs is more important than 122 MPs who reject elections.

In my political life, I have died 5/6 times. In 1971 they arrested me saying I was a Che Guevara, took me to the cemetery in Polonnaruwa, beat me and told me to kneel. I waited for the shot in the back but no, they kicked me into the jeep and took me to the prison in Batticaloa. I was there for one and half years. That’s the first time God saved me.

I believe in my heart that in previous lives, I have led a righteous life that’s why my life was saved. The LTTE hit me five times. They could not harm a single hair on me (goes into details of the five attacks and the fate of the LTTE assailants involved, two of whom took cyanide while one was pardoned by him). From 1971 at 19, now I am 67, I am living a charmed, bonus life, having been saved by God. So those wanting to drag me like Gaddafi can do so. I will not attack them with the Army or the STF. I will be quiet. When I know they are coming I will open the gates. I will ask my security detail to leave.

With these happenings, we must look ahead to ways of moving forward. Will the government go forward, if it goes on like it has been?  Some of your MPs have been calling me and saying, let’s go this journey together. But with all these, I do not see what guarantee there is of any togetherness. I don’t want clashes. They cause the country to fall behind (Ranil W shrugs sarcastically, sardonically).

The prevailing corruption is very great. There is a very corrupt group of politicians in Parliament, a very corrupt group in Cabinet. The good governance concept we aspired to, has been raped and the culprit is not me, I proclaim clearly. I have sacrificed everything and all that has been destroyed. The UNPers who voted for me do not know the internal, cancerous dynamics of the situation. If they knew, I do not think they will come to shout and join in protest marches. We say this country is blessed with fortune. Yes, it is. But how many uncorrupted politicians are there to work in its interest? Which is the grouping necessary to build a non-corrupt political campaign? We want a team of those to develop the country and rule without corruption. For good governance, a clean team is needed. This is what I have to say to people. One may ask, I said that even if Mr. Wickremesinghe had 225 MPs in parliament, I will not give premiership. There will be various satires and witticisms. That is my political opinion. It is so strong and that strength was the reason I said it. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that Parliament can order President to appoint a particular person as PM. Even the Courts can’t order a President to make a particular appointment, as far as I know. That discretion rests clearly with the Executive President. But as someone who believes in the Parliamentary tradition, when the speaker said 117 MPs want Mr. Wickremesinghe as PM, even though my political opinion was unchanged, I resolved to appoint him in accordance with Parliamentary tradition and ethics. I see this as a sign of a democratic and ethical society.

THE OFFICIAL TRANSLATION can be located here:

aaa the three … at some point earlier, maybe just before the failed ‘coup’  in October 2018 








Filed under accountability, american imperialism, landscape wondrous, legal issues, life stories, performance, politIcal discourse, power politics, Rajapaksa regime, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, taking the piss, truth as casualty of war, unusual people, vengeance, war crimes, world events & processes

5 responses to “The Dressing Down of the Century: President Sirisena’s Scathing Sermon to his Captive Cabinet

  1. In my opinion this whole rotten corrupt lot must go, top to bottom. They should be replaced with young , educated, honest , hardworking and dedicated individuals, if this country is to progress.

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