Preserving Cricket’s Integrity Requires Collective Responsibility, Free from Political Interference – President tells Parliament
President Ranil Wickremesinghe remarked during today’s parliamentary budget debate that the state of cricket in Sri Lanka has declined due to internal conflicts within the cricketing community. He emphasized the collective responsibility of safeguarding cricket from political interference. The President expressed a reluctance to take sides on cricket-related matters and stressed his repeated suggestion to enact a new cricket law based on the recommendations of the Chitrasiri report.
Expressing his views further President Wickremesinghe said;
To begin, I want to express my joy over the successful passage of the budget’s second reading last night (21st). My sincere gratitude goes to the one hundred and twenty MPs who supported it, providing us with the strength to move forward.
I extend my appreciation even to the 77 individuals who voted against us, as their dissent highlights the diversity of opinions within this House.
MP Lakshman Kiriella suggested that the court can now hold rulers accountable—an idea I initiated. I urge you not to oppose me, as our collective efforts have fortified democracy. Therefore, I kindly request your support, at least for this budgetary proposal.
Regarding the former president, who is a lawyer handling his legal matters, I emphasize our commitment to democracy. If he is innocent, he will be acquitted—a testament to the democratic principles we have instilled in our country. I am planning to conduct both presidential and parliamentary elections next year, followed by provincial councils and local government elections the following year.
In response to a recent question from the leader of the opposition, I want to highlight that I have received a report indicating that the Attorney General has filed a case against ABC Enterprises, Thyagaraja Vinayamoorthy, M.P.D.U.K. Mapa Pathirana, and 24 others.
The case has been filed to address the alleged violation of the petitioner’s human rights in connection to the awarding of the dry food and bread supply tender to ABC Enterprises for the Trincomalee prison in 2023 and 2024. The petitioner seeks compensation of Rs. 2.5 million. I can inquire with the Attorney General to provide the specific information required for this matter.
The report I received indicates a violation of a fundamental right, emphasizing insufficient evidence for a criminal case during that period. It suggests adherence to separate rules. It is crucial to address this issue, particularly concerning the matter of “Public Trust.” The report implies that the former president did not take necessary actions, necessitating a comprehensive analysis of events following that period.
In our tradition, when the leader of the opposition is invited to form a government and has the majority, they usually proceed. However, our opposition leader did not follow this tradition, constituting a breach of public trust. The premiership I assumed that day was not granted by the Rajapaksas; but several MPs approached me, and I accepted the responsibility to restore the country. I sought everyone’s support based on public trust.
While undertaking this responsibility, my residence was set ablaze, and the parliament was raided. Despite calls for my resignation, I stated that I would step down if anyone with a majority emerged. During the siege of the parliament, when the army commander arrived, party leaders fled. Ultimately, I instructed the army commander to take any necessary measures to safeguard the parliament. A thorough examination of these events will reveal who is responsible and who is not. I emphasize the need to avoid unnecessary delays, but if there is a desire to proceed, let’s thoroughly investigate the entire situation.
Speaking about cricket, I want to address accusations of protecting individuals. The cricket issue has been a long-standing challenge, with its decline attributed to a struggle between two groups. To address this, we consistently advocated for the enactment of a law and the selection of the right team based on that law. To facilitate this, we utilized the Chitrasiri report as a foundation for the proposed law.
On a specific occasion, I cautioned the minister against handling a case in a way that could lead to consequences such as losing the International Cricket Council (ICC) membership, forfeiting matches, and deterring tourists. During cabinet discussions, the minister sought legal representation, and we, including the former president and the Attorney General, urged the Attorney General to represent him. Subsequently, the case concluded, and I plan to request a report from the minister to understand the details.
While unsure of the court’s verdict, I believe that in cases with disputes, decisions should be sought from the court. Regarding the current situation, I conversed with the ICC, and they expressed concerns about political interference, emphasizing the need for a law rather than defending individuals.
Currently facing two charges, one pertains to the dissolution of the Cricket Board by this council, which awaits a legal verdict. The other alleges parliamentary involvement, as the opposition swiftly approved the decision when the minister announced it. I emphasize the presence of politics in this matter.
Acknowledging mistakes, our representative, Mr. Nimal Siripala de Silva, apologized to the judges, recognizing our wrongdoing. Despite the judges’ rebuke, blaming them was unwarranted. The temporary order could have been addressed the next day if necessary. It’s a common occurrence, and accusing the judges individually is unjustified. Importantly, the Chief Justice, not I, selected and appointed Rajakaruna as the President of the Court of Appeal.
However, this cannot be permitted. Launching attacks under the guise of parliamentary privileges is unacceptable. There is no privilege in this context. According to the standing orders, the proposal did not receive approval. Each branch of government has its own distinct responsibilities—the court performs its functions, and so does the council.
I consistently emphasize that Article 04 of the Constitution should remain inviolable. I have refrained from blaming judges directly. While we can critique judgments, accusing a judge should be done following standing orders; otherwise, claims of privileges are unwarranted. Placing the council in such a situation is unprecedented and regrettable.
In the past, we took action against Neville Samarakoon. Initially, we invoked standing orders to discuss his actions. Mr. Rakava, who collaborated with us in the United National Party in the 70s, was endorsed by President Premadasa to stand for a vote and later served as the vice-chairman of this council. It is perplexing why we are attacking someone President Premadasa trusted and someone I appointed as an ambassador to Vietnam. I know him personally, and I doubt his involvement in questionable activities. It saddens me to witness criticism against him and his son, considering their past association with us.
On a particular day, these individuals visited the president’s House, and we took a photograph. If anyone in this House desires a copy, I am willing to provide it; it’s not an issue for me. Let’s refrain from such actions. My focus is on adhering to standing orders. Engaging in conflicts with the judiciary is not the solution.
It’s essential to recognize that the Legislative Council is distinct from Parliament; it is a part of the executive. Their role involves supporting the president in appointments, assessing the suitability of names, and making suggestions. Any activity can be subject to a fundamental rights case. This aspect should be kept in mind.
We introduced the Anti-Corruption Commission Act, and I’ve been awaiting the names of the Commissioners for three months now. Despite our discussions on combating corruption, the appointment of the Commission members is delayed due to concerns raised by a few individuals. We sought the advice of the Attorney General, emphasizing that even if there is a minor issue, they should send the names for appointments. I am willing to face any legal challenges, and if we were truly committed to eradicating corruption, we could have proceeded with these appointments. The delay in this process hampers the effective functioning of the legislative assembly.
To address this issue, I propose the establishment of a selection committee to discuss the way forward. The current situation has created a backlog in the courts, and I suggest the Prime Minister initiate discussions to form a selection committee to determine future procedures.
Moreover, the primary purpose of this assembly is to pass laws. We often commence work late, and people do not pay us to merely perform; they expect us to pass legislation. Therefore, I recommend discussing with the cabinet the introduction of a new amendment, suggesting that we shift to the main agenda after the first hour. Many new laws are anticipated next year, and further delays are impractical.
Considering that MPs will need to return to their constituencies for development work next year, it is crucial not to get stuck here. Therefore, my suggestion is to prioritize the main legislative work after the first hour. I wanted to clarify these points, and if the opposition wishes to provide additional insights on this matter, it can be appropriately addressed.