By Kassapa

Trouble was brewing in cricket circles for some time now and the evidence was piling up against the game’s administrators, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), run by Shammi Silva and a handful of his cronies. It came in the form of the report from the Auditor General as well as the findings of a committee headed by retired Justice Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena. Add to this the disastrous performance of our cricket team at the World Cup and questions were being asked from Ranasinghe as to why he was not doing anything about it.

That was when Ranasinghe decided to act. He appointed an Interim Committee (IC) headed by former Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga. The sequence of events that followed reads like a poorly written script of a drama, it was that predictable: Silva rushed to the Court of Appeal and obtained a stay order against the IC while at the same time pleading with the International Cricket Council (ICC) to suspend Sri Lanka, which they did with lightning speed without hearing the Sports Minister’s reasons for appointing an IC.

The opposition stepped in and proposed that Parliament adopt a resolution calling for the removal of the SLC administration. This did happen but carried no weight especially when it became apparent that Wickremesinghe, with his Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayake in his ear, was firmly on Silva’s side.

Wickremesinghe appointed a Cabinet sub-committee to try and sideline Ranasinghe. He went a step further. At a time when Ranasinghe had left the Cabinet meeting he got ministers to approve that any decision by the Minister of Sports to appoint an IC must first come before Cabinet for approval- a clear violation of the Sports Act.

Ranasinghe was trying his best to fight the stay order from the Court of Appeal when the witch hunt against him began. There was an amateurish attempt to frame him for importing a vehicle using fraudulent documents which even the Police spokesman was compelled to deny.

Clearly sensing danger, Ranasinghe took to Parliament to voice his concerns. To his credit he was willing to call a spade a spade. He asked, “who is Sagala?” and stated that if his life was to be endangered, Wickremesinghe and Ratnayake should be considered responsible. He also revealed that Namal Rajapaksa had sent him a message asking him to be careful of Wickremesinghe. Rajapaksa allegedly described the President as a “snake”, a claim which Rajapaksa promptly denied but the denial was unconvincing as Ranasinghe named the third party carrying the message.      

Ranasinghe would have known that after making such a direct statement implying complicity from the President, he could not possibly remain in Cabinet. He may have also reasoned that there was no reason to remain when his wings were being clipped in his powers and duties as Sports Minister. Nevertheless, the manner of his sacking displayed a devious, diabolical side of Wickremesinghe that he seldom reveals.        

Ranasinghe attended the Cabinet meeting. There, Wickremesinghe lashed out at him, asking why he discussed cricket issues with Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa and also alleged that he was preparing a list of lands to be distributed to his friends and relatives.

The President’s Media Division claimed Ranasinghe was “speechless” when asked these questions. Ranasinghe, raising a matter of privilege told Parliament later that he had responded to the allegations, clarifying that he was invited by Premadasa for a discussion and also denied that he prepared such a list of lands to distributed to his associates.

Thereafter, the President handed over a pre-prepared letter to Ranasinghe informing him that he was being relieved of his portfolios. Ranasinghe then left the meeting. The manner in which this was done showed Wickremesinghe’s vengeance: not only did he want to sack Ranasinghe, but he also wanted to humiliate him as well while the rest of the Cabinet watched in stony silence.   

Wickremesinghe promptly appointed Harin Fernando as the new Sports Minister. Fernando is on amicable terms with Silva and will be in cahoots with him to maintain the status quo. The IC is likely to be withdrawn, Silva will convince the ICC to revoke Sri Lanka’s suspension and both Wickremesinghe and Fernando will try to portray themselves as the ‘saviours’ of Sri Lankan cricket.

What Wickremesinghe either doesn’t realise or doesn’t wish to see because he is blinded by anger against Ranasinghe is that his decisions to sack the minister is exactly the opposite of what the vast majority of the cricket loving public in the country- who also form a sizeable number of voters- wish to see. Wickremesinghe could have become a hero had he allowed the court battle play out and complied with its verdict, even if it meant sacking Silva. Instead, he chose to sack the person fighting against corruption at the SLC proving that he no better than the Rajapaksas: he will back his cronies, no matter what. That is of course consistent with his track record, a la Arjuna Mahendran.

Although the outcome for cricket in the country will be bleak as a result of all this, being sacked from the Cabinet is politically the best outcome for Roshan Ranasinghe. Very few politicians of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) have a guarantee of re-election at the next general election because of the general public anger towards the Rajapaksas and the party they lead. However, Ranasinghe- who will most likely contest from the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB)- is now likely to emerge a hero from this fiasco and rightly so, for few government ministers have had the courage to stand up to their Presidents when the latter are so powerful.

As a footnote to the political repercussions, it must be noted that the Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB) was rather shy to back Ranasinghe in his crusade against SLC when their slogans until now have been based almost entirely on anti-corruption themes. It could be a costly mistake for the leftists because, at least in this instance, it was the SJB that scored the brownie points from the voter, standing by Ranasinghe when he most needed the support of the Opposition.         


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