Every now and then Sri Lankan news reports give readers a bit of a shocker.
Just yesterday (July 7), for instance, reports came in of the appointment of a ‘shadow cabinet’ consisting of fifty members of the Joint Opposition, leaving many wondering what the sinister-sounding move could possibly mean, and whether or not we had reason to worry.
However, this rather unprecedented move ‒ although presented rather confidently, at first ‒ appears to have now confronted some roadblocks, either in the form of resignations, or conflicting views of MPs within the same faction ‒ all within less than twenty-four hours after the initial announcement.
As it turns out, not all Joint Opposition MPs are thrilled to find themselves a part of this new venture.
But, first things first.
What Exactly Is A Shadow Cabinet, Anyway?
The purpose of a shadow cabinet is to monitor and criticise policies and actions of a government, as well as offer an alternative programme.
The concept is a common feature in the Westminster system of government. This alternative cabinet will consist of a senior group of opposition members, including a leader of the opposition and will ‘shadow’ or mark each individual member of the government’s Cabinet.
The shadow cabinet consisted of fifty members ‒ all from the Joint Opposition ‒ with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed Prime Minister and Minister of Buddha Sasana, Religious Activities, and State Security.
MP Namal Rajapaksa was given the portfolio of Foreign Affairs, MP Chamal Rajapaksa the Ministry of Transport and Aviation Services, MP Dullas Alahapperuma the Ministry of Education, and MP Bandula Gunawardena the Ministry of Finance.
Many details about the functioning and current status of the shadow cabinet remain vague, however, including the reported ‘resignation’ of former president Rajapaksa from his assigned role of ‘Prime Minister.’
Roar spoke to members of the Joint Opposition to understand what’s really going on.
Opposition Within The Joint Opposition
United People’s’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MP Lohan Ratwatte, who was appointed Minister of Water Supply and Urban Development, was the first to resign from his assigned portfolio in the shadow cabinet.
Speaking to Roar, he revealed that he had received his appointment via a message on the Joint Opposition’s Viber chat group.
“I received [news of] my appointment through a message in the Joint Opposition Viber group yesterday. Until then I didn’t know [about the appointment]. Then I saw it on the news as well. I didn’t know the reasons as to why I have been appointed without being consulted on the matter in the first place. Therefore I asked on the group, to whoever who appointed me into the shadow cabinet to remove me,” he said when we contacted him this evening.
When inquired about the reasons behind his withdrawal from the shadow cabinet, Ratwatte said that he does not see the point of a shadow cabinet when every member of parliament has the privilege of making observations regarding the activities of government ministries.
“Sri Lanka doesn’t need a shadow cabinet. This is a feature that is observed in Western countries and their parliamentary systems. Not in ours. Here we have the privilege to criticise and observe whoever and whichever ministry or individual we want,” he said.
In response to queries on Rajapaksa’s reported resignation from his prime ministerial position, Ratwatte said, “The former President didn’t want to create a shadow cabinet and that is why he might have resigned as well. He wanted MPs of the Joint Opposition to monitor government ministries but not in the form of a shadow cabinet.”
The news of Rajapaksa’s resignation was earlier reported by the Daily News.
MP Udaya Gammanpila, however, refuted the news of Rajapaksa’s retreat from the shadow cabinet as “complete hearsay”.
Speaking to Roar, MP Gammanpila said that since the former president’s media unit has not released an official announcement of his resignation, the reports and the confirmation given by MP Ratwatte is “mere gossip.”
“I do not know whether the former president has resigned or not. If his official media unit has not released the information on the matter, then the rest is absolute hearsay. I have not received such information regarding former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation from the shadow cabinet,” he claimed.
Responding to MP Ratwatte’s remarks on receiving his message of appointment to the shadow cabinet via a Viber Chat message, Gammanpila said that MP Ratwatte was not present at Parliament on Thursday and that he himself had received a written letter of appointment to the portfolio of Law and Order Minister.
“I received my letter of appointment on Thursday at Parliament signed by MP Dinesh Gunawardena. It has been less than 24 hours since the appointment, we will have to wait patiently to see how our cabinet will act,” he said.
When contacted, the former president’s Media Unit told Roar that they had received no information regarding Rajapaksa’s alleged ‘resignation’ from the shadow cabinet.
“We haven’t received any information regarding this. Therefore we cannot confirm the credibility of the claim,” a spokesperson said.
‘Monitoring Corrupt Activities’
Roar also spoke to Joint Opposition MP Wimal Weerawansa, who revealed that the shadow cabinet had been the brainchild of MP Dullas Alahapperuma.
According to Weerawansa, the shadow cabinet was created in order to appoint members of the Joint Opposition to ‘monitor’ Government ministers, and, it appears, to keep a tab on ‘corruption’.
“The Joint Opposition members will monitor the corrupt activities that take place within ministries and through this shadow cabinet each member will be assigned to monitor a Ministry. Following this, the cabinet would openly criticise and offer alternative methods,” he explained.
When questioned on allegations of Rajapaksa’s resignation from his position, Weerawansa said that he is not aware of whether or not Rajapaksa had actually stepped down from the post.
“The former president has other stuff to do than monitor the Prime Minister’s activities and the other ministries he was assigned to. That must have been the mistake of whoever who compiled the list. However, I don’t know whether he stepped down from it or not,” he said.
Meanwhile, Roar tried contacting MP Dullas Alahapperuma for a quote on the issue, but could not get through to him at the time of publication.
Clearly, members of the Joint Opposition appear to have conflicting views on the recently appointed shadow cabinet. Whether or not they will proceed with the initiative at all, and if so, how they will go about it, remains to be seen.
Remember to check in with our Weekly News Roundup every Friday to get the latest on news and current affairs both local and international.
Featured image courtesy sundaytimes.lk/Indika Handuwela