Ranasinghe sacked Silva and Co and After
Thankfully, there is at least one Cabinet minister who has the guts to stand up to President Ranil Wickremesinghe and do what he thinks is right. That is the Minister of Sports, Roshan Ranasinghe, currently at the centre of an ongoing controversy regarding Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC).

We are not great admirers of the political party or political ideology that Ranasinghe represents, but in this instance he has shown the courage to stand up and be counted- even at the risk of losing his portfolio. Very few, if any, of his colleagues have shown they are capable of that.

That SLC is a den of thieves is not news. The financial scandals involving the organisation are now a matter of record with the Auditor General outlining a series of financial irregularities that would make the Rajapaksas blush. Their most recent shenanigans at the 2022 Cricket World Cup in Australia received much publicity.

Moves to reform SLC and remove Shammi Silva and his cronies have been going on for some time. Silva is a proxy for Thilanga Sumathipala whose continuation in office would have posed a problem because of his connections to the betting industry.

It was about two years ago that a group of former cricketers of the highest calibre such as S. Skandakumar, Muttiah Muralitharan, Michael Tissera, Sidath Wettimuny and the late Vijaya Malalasekera petitioned the Court of Appeal asking for a change in the SLC’s Constitution which allowed the Sumathipala-Silva team to be re-elected ad nauseum.

This process was languishing because it lacked support from successive Ministers of Sport who were lobbied by Sumathipala and Silva. Then, Ranasinghe came along. He conveyed to court that he had no objections to the reforms which were then initiated through a committee headed by Justice K.T. Chitrasiri. This committee proposed sweeping changes and the appointment of an eighteen-member directorate to run SLC (eight appointed, ten elected).

As the process was being finalised, Silva petitioned the Court of Appeal in September this year and a stay order was granted by a bench headed Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne, the same judge who stayed the functioning of the Interim Committee a few days ago.

Thus stalled and in the wake of the disastrous performance of the national cricket team at the ongoing World Cup in India, Ranasinghe was being asked by the media and the public why he was not acting on the powers vested with him as Sports Minister. The real answer to that question was that he knew Silva had the tacit support of Wickremesinghe. A good example of this was Wickremesinghe’s inaction when financial irregularities at SLC were highlighted. To add insult to injury, Silva snubbed Ranasinghe and didn’t invite him to the recently concluded Lanka Premier League but invited Wickremesinghe instead who attended!

With Sri Lanka’s catastrophic defeat to India, being all out for 50 runs, Ranasinghe could no longer wait. He sacked Silva and Co. and invited former World Cup winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga to head an Interim Committee (IC). In choosing nominees, he was astute: Ranatunga himself is the brother of Cabinet minister Prasanna while the sons of staunch Wickremesinghe loyalists Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and A.J.M. Muzammil were also included.

That did not appease Wickremesinghe. He was livid. No sooner the announcement of an IC was made, there was an ‘inspired leak’ to mainstream media outlets saying the President was ‘unaware’ of the appointment of an IC and that the matter would be discussed at the Cabinet meeting later that day.

At the meeting, Wickremesinghe attempted to belittle and browbeat Ranasinghe into having his own way. As Ranasinghe was to later tell Parliament, Wickremesinghe asked him to annul the IC, threatening to take over the Sports portfolio. It was also announced that a Cabinet Sub-committee comprising of ministers Ali Sabry, Tiran Alles, Manusha Nanayakkara and Kanchana Wijesekera was appointed. This committee is packed with ministers who would say ‘yes, sir, whatever you say, sir,’ to Wickremesinghe would effectively undermine what Ranasinghe and the IC planned to do.

Ranasinghe’s response was very simple: he wouldn’t withdraw the IC, Wickremesinghe could go ahead and sack him and take over the Sports portfolio if he wished to.

All this hullabaloo also gave Silva time to rush once more to the Court of Appeal and ask for a stay order on the IC. This was duly granted. Officially at least, Silva was back in the saddle.

Ranasinghe attended Parliament the next day and revealed the gory details of Silva’s deals with people in high places, the connections to the betting industry and even strategies worked out to win court battles. The House listened in stunned silence. At the end of it, when Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa suggested that the House vote unanimously to throw out the SLC administration that had been re-instated by court, even those in government could not oppose it.

Wickremesinghe found himself cornered. He could have continued to support Silva & Co. but that would have earned the wrath of the public who were clamouring for their removal. Faced with this prospect, he quickly went into damage control mode.

The Chitrasiri Committee report which was gathering dust was quickly retrieved and the President’s Media Division (PMD) made a pathetic attempt of trying to portray that Wickremesinghe was saving Sri Lankan cricket. “In light of the current circumstances, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has decided to expedite the process by submitting the proposed new draft constitution to the Cabinet sub-committee and subsequently bringing it to the attention of Parliament”, the PMD said, but was silent as to how this would align with the stay order from the Court of Appeal. Perhaps Silva would be told that finally, it is time to go.

Ranasinghe has detailed how Silva enjoyed patronage from the government at the highest level and it is blatantly obvious why Wickremesinghe did nothing until he was pushed to the wall. Not for the first time in his political career, someone had outfoxed Wickremesinghe and done so cleverly.

We do not know whether enacting the Chitrasiri committee report will cure all the ills that plague Sri Lankan cricket. What we do know that Ranil Wickremesinghe has no love for Sri Lankan cricket. All he is in love with his own survival.