By Gagani Weerakoon
President Maithripala Sirisena left for the Republic of Korea on Monday (27) commencing a three-day State visit on the invitation of the Korean President, Moon Jae-in. The visit fell simultaneously with the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and the Republic of Korea. After arriving in Incheon International Airport in Seoul on Tuesday (28) President left to pay homage at the Jogyesa Temple - an ancient Korean Buddhist shrine - where he encountered a pleasant surprise. Waiting to welcome him at the temple was President Moon together with the Most Venerable Seol Jeong, Head of the Jogye Order, the most prominent Buddhist sect in Korea.
According to President's media unit, this humble gesture by Korean President took Sri Lankan President completely by surprise, as the meeting between the two leaders was scheduled a day later on Wednesday (29).
President Moon said, although he was not scheduled to visit the temple that day, he decided to go there unannounced as he wanted to show his respect for President Sirisena. "We have so many things in common and I wanted to meet him and develop friendship and rapport before I meet him officially," President Moon said.
President Sirisena said that although he had visited many countries as President, he could not meet a single leader before the officially scheduled meetings. "This magnanimous gesture of humbleness shows the greatness of President Moon and his affection for Sri Lanka and its people," he said.
President Moon said that he has many things in common with President Sirisena as both came from rural areas and struggled for years and served the people amidst difficulties to reach the current high position. The two countries also have common historical experiences as both were under colonial domination, both faced militant movements, there were authoritarian regimes and finally both have re-established democracy and entered the path of rapid progress and taking effective steps to combat corruption.
Most Venerable Seol Jeong blessed the two Presidents and expressed the hope that the two humble leaders of their peoples would be able to carry forward the two countries and the people towards progress.
President Sirisena expressed his happiness about the opportunity to visit Jogyesa Temple in which the sacred Buddha relics gifted by Anagarika Dharmapala in 1913 have been enshrined.
Following his temple visit, President Sirisena went to meet the Sri Lankan community living in Seoul and assured that he would never betray the nation or the country. He said that he came to power with the pure intention of rectifying the historical wrongs and to ensure that the people of Sri Lanka would live in peace and harmony.
The office-bearers of the Sri Lankan Associations thanked the President for meeting them and clarifying issues. They also expressed gratefulness for President Sirisena's initiative to sign an agreement with the Korean Government to introduce a work permit system for Sri Lankan workers in Korea.
The President recalled the unexpected warm welcome from Korean President Moon Jae-Inearlier in the day at the Jogyesa Temple and said that it is evidence for his affection for Sri Lanka and its people.
During this meeting the President also launched the new website of the Embassy of Sri Lanka.
President Jae-In and President Sirisena emphatically declared that they would work towards raising the bilateral friendship and cooperation to a new high.
They made this declaration at the grand banquet held by President Moon in honour of President Sirisena at Cheong Wa Dae or the President's House popularly known as the Blue House on Wednesday (29) night.
A toast was proposed by South Korean Leader for the 40 years of friendship and the years to come between the two countries where President Sirisena in keeping with his anti-alcohol policy raised his glass of water.
On the final day of the visit, President Sirisena was conferred with the Honorary Citizenship of Seoul Metropolitan Government. It was conferred by Mayor of Seoul Metropolitan Government, Park Won-soon at a special ceremony held at the Mayor's Office in Seoul on 30 November.
The Mayor said that after signing the twin city agreement between Seoul and Colombo in 2016, he was fortunate to visit Sri Lanka and call on President Sirisena earlier this year. "I was highly impressed with the President's untiring efforts to develop the country, the city of Colombo and further strengthen bilateral ties with the Republic of Korea. Hence, the Seoul Metropolitan Government decided to confer the Honorary Citizenship to His Excellency President Sirisena as a symbol of our close friendship", he said.
The Citation of the Honorary Citizenship stated:
"On behalf of the citizens of Seoul Metropolitan Government, I am privileged to present this Certificate to, and hereby, confer Honorary Citizenship upon, Maithripala Sirisena."
President Sirisena thanked Mayor Park and the members of the Seoul Metropolitan and said that honorary citizenship conferred on him has made him a partner of this beautiful capital city of Seoul. He said it was an honour and respect bestowed on the People and the Government of Sri Lanka by the valued citizens of this great city.
The President, after viewing a video presentation on the Seoul City controlling Digital System, later visited the Control Room to see the impressive handling of the city through the digital electronic system. He said he would advise the officials in Sri Lanka to study the system as Colombo city planners could learn from the successful experiences of the Seoul Metropolitan.
The Joint Opposition (JO) faction led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday issued an ultimatum to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by President Sirisena for the two parties to come together at Local Government Polls to be held next year.
The JO group which met in a committee room in Parliament Complex last afternoon under the patronage of MP Rajapaksa thus decided to demand the SLFP to show its commitment and uprightness by casting the final vote on 9 December against the Budget 2018.
With SLFP responding negatively to this demand, the meetings between two sub-committees appointed by the two parties also came to an end with the last one being held at the Parliament Complex the same evening.
"It was decided that there is no point in dragging discussions between the two factions if they do not show any commitment. We are confident already in contesting alone and if the SLFP did not vote against budget on 9 December, we will go ahead under the Lotus Bud and contest under Sri Lanka Podujana Party banner. Our supporters at grassroots level do not encourage any further discussions with no end in sight," MP Gamini Lokuge said after the meeting.
According to him, former President led group has also informed their committee members C.B. Ratnayaka, Pavithra Devi Wanniarachchi and Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to discuss this demand with Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and Lasantha Alagiyawanna last evening.
The main demand from the Joint Opposition to the SLFP in order to come to an agreement on contesting future elections together was to leave the UNP led government.
UPFA General Secretary Mahinda Amaraweera pointed out that the Joint Opposition faction came up with this 'impractical demand of the hour' as they, from the beginning, did not want to see these discussions to end successfully.
And with this, all three main parties- UNP, SLFP and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) have now be gun the headhunting to form a 'broader alliances' to contest at the upcoming Local Government elections.
It is in the midst of this that former President Rajapaksa was seen having a good chat - despite his mood quite often shifted to a pensive one - with the Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress during a rugby match held at the Police Park on Friday (1).
While, it is not immediately known as to what has been discussed, it surely cannot be the performances of the players in CH & FC or Police teams.
Incidentally, a few hours apart on the same day, President Sirisena was seen having a good chat with JO's 'economic specialist' MP Bandula Gunawardena at the recently opened Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. This was at an event organized by the Emirati Mission in Colombo to celebrate the National Day of the UAE.
Many politicians from both Government and Opposition parties had been invited for the event apart from local business tycoons.
President Sirisena attended the ceremony at around 7.30 p.m. with Ministers Faiszer Musthapha and Rishad Bathiudeen. Former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake also attended the ceremony briefly but had excited the premises before the arrival of the President.
Apart from Gunawardena, MP Gamini Lokuge and the leader of SLPP Prof. G.L. Peiris were also among the VIPs. However, Prof. Peiris was seen taking careful measures to avoid meeting the President. The brief talk between President and MP Gunawardena caught many eyes as there are speculations that at least seven members in the Joint Opposition would join the SLFP and are already having secret discussions with the President in this regard.
Meanwhile, the Government is planning on introducing laws to protect each individual's right to privacy. A discussion to this effect has been initiated on the directive of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
According to informed sources, the need for such laws has been identified with data of telephone conversations of several members of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) being publicized in media.
Parliamentary Privileges Committee chaired by Minister Malik Samarawickreme is all set to probe the matter in the coming week as it has already been referred to the committee. It is also expected that Editors of newspapers also would be summoned before the committee as the allegations were mainly levelled against the media for publicizing what was discussed at the Presidential Commission.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya referred matter of parliamentary privileges being breached of several MPs as a result of CID forensic report on telephone conversation of Arjun Aloysius being publicized in the media.
The Speaker recently informed the House that the Parliamentary Privileges Committee will ascertain whether MPs' privileges were violated.
"I have taken the privilege matters raised by the Leader of the House Minister Lakshman Kiriella and several other Ministers and Members of Parliament over the past days. It was said that their parliamentary privileges have been breached as a result of the CID forensic report submitted to the Bonds Commission. I think it would be appropriate for the Parliamentary Privileges Committee to decide whether the matter amounts to such breach. Apart from that I would also have lengthy discussions about the matter with the party leaders in the coming weeks," the Speaker said.
Soon after the Speaker announced his stance, JO member Bandula Gunawardena raising a point of order noted that the Leader of the House, Kiriella, has misled the House by stating that telephone conversations were tapped.
"The Chairman of the Presidential Commission on Monday clearly stated that the conversations were not listened to by the CID.
All they have reported was the details extracted from the phone call details of Arjuna Mahendran and Arjun Aloysius. Therefore, it is wrong to say that privileges of the MPs were breached."
It was only in August this year that the Indian Supreme Court upheld the right to privacy of its citizens. The ruling is the outcome of a petition challenging the constitutional validity of the Indian biometric identity scheme Aadhaar. Interestingly, the Sri Lankan Government too discussed the need of such laws - though inspired by personal agenda - also comes at a time it has already begun issuing smart National Identity Cards (NIC) as an initiative to introducing an e-NIC carrying biometric data of citizens by the end of 2018 or at the beginning of 2019.
Ceylon Today, December 5, 2017