On Monday (13) morning President Ranil Wickremesinghe convened a Cabinet meeting to seek approval for Budget 2024. At the meeting, the Cabinet touched not only on the salient points of the Budget proposals but also on the Aswesuma welfare benefit scheme. It was the President’s Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayake who apprised the Cabinet regarding the Aswesuma relief project.
Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe, who had reportedly caused a stir in the House having claimed that he would not even touch a glass of water at the Presidential Secretariat, fearing he’d be poisoned, was also part of the Cabinet meeting.
After the Cabinet Meeting was over, Minister Kanchana Wijesekara was heard quipping “If you are scared to drink water from here, you can use mine,” when Minister Ranasinghe was passing by him to which the latter chose not to respond.
At the conclusion of the Cabinet meeting, the President stated that he will extend the powers entrusted to the Cabinet Subcommittee to look into the suspension of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) from the ICC. Before the Ministers dispersed, the President advised Minister Ali Sabry to meet him and he escorted the Foreign Minister to his office. The President instructed Sabry to summon the SLC President to the Presidential Secretariat and to keep him informed of the outcome of talks later. It was also reported that the President had decided to prevent the Sports Minister from forming Interim Committees for sports bodies henceforth sans the approval of the Cabinet. As per the advice from the President, Minister Sabry summoned the SLC President to the Secretariat and had taken the requisite measures.
The President and his entourage then headed to the Parliament Complex at around 11.30 a.m. armed with the briefcase containing the budget proposals. The Leader was welcomed at the entrance to the House by the Speaker, the Leader of the House, the Chief Government Whip, State Minister Geetha Kumarasinghe and the Sergeant-at-Arms Narendra Fernando. The President then headed to the Complex and delivered his budget speech and took care to complete it within a 120-minute period. Before winding up his speech the President also did not forget to invite the SJB-led Opposition to join forces with his administration to resuscitate the country from its parlous economic state. As the budget had been delivered in the afternoon a luncheon was organised at the Complex. The President, Former President/PM Mahinda Rajapaksa, Speaker Mahinda Yapa and a few other Ministers were seen having their lunch seated together. Most of the Ministers approached the President and commended him for having tabled a pragmatic budget for the country amidst the country’s dire economic outlook. Among other MPs who were involved in the luncheon reception were SJB MPs Dr. Harsha de Silva, S.M. Marikkar, Iran Wickremaratne and TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran.
The President on Tuesday, having concluded the NSC meeting, headed to the House. Before arriving in the Chamber he decided to be in the Lobby and seek views from both Government and Opposition MPs regards the pros and cons of his budget proposals. Opposition MP Waruna stated that he was surprised to see the Leader in a relaxed state of mind and the President merely quipped that he had only tried to say hello and look into their wellbeing. The President then turned to MP C.V. Wigneswaran and sought his vote to pass the budget as he had guaranteed land rights to farmers in the North and had channelled funds to those displaced in the war. He was of the view that the aspirations of the people of the North had been fulfilled by him via the 2024 budget.
An MP said that some are complaining that the Government had not addressed the grievances of doctors and university lecturers. The President opined that those issues had been looked into before the budget and insisted that the budget is a place where policies are discussed and it should not be construed as the platform to resolve issues. A few MPs also touched on sectors such as the fisheries and agriculture and the President instructed Ashu Marasinghe to apprise him of the outcome of discussions on such sectors through the Parliament Oversight Committees.
A group of Opposition MPs queried why the President had subtly clipped the wings of the Sports Minister, as he had entrusted the Cabinet Sub Committee, headed by Ali Sabry, to resolve the SLC matter and to henceforth ban the formation of Interim Committees without the consent of the Cabinet. The Leader then left the place smiling and without striving to respond. The President having spent around 30-minutes with the Opposition MPs then headed towards the Government MPs and also spoke to a group of MPs headed by former President Rajapaksa. MP Wajira Abeywardene said that though the former President has been supportive of the budget MP Namal Rajapaksa had been critical of it to which Mahinda said that his son may have swallowed a dead rope. MP Samanpriya Herath said that the Opposition was struggling to decide whether to either support the budget or abstain from the vote as the proposals put forth by the Leader had opened the door for a robust economy here.
The President, in the afternoon, met media outlet heads and there he was bombarded with queries on both the budget and the ongoing crisis plaguing the SLC. He simply mentioned that akin to the manner that he had revved the country’s stalled economy, he would do likewise to cricket. In the evening the President arrived at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre to grace the Presidential Cinema Awards ceremony. There, the most notable incident that took place was when the Leader opted to step off the dais and walk towards veteran songstress Nanda Malini to hand over an award to her. It was coordinated by Saman Athaudahetti. She had been invited to the event by the organisers as her name had been mentioned in the song category for an award. But, due to her ill health she was advised to be seated rather than stepping onto the dais in case her name was announced as a winner. Her daughter was supposed to collect her award on her behalf. Athaudahetti then read out her name and informed State Minister Shantha Bandara of Malani’s inability to step onto the dais to collect her award due to her health condition. But, the President having realised her plight was magnanimous enough to walk towards her to hand over her award. The President recalled how he had been present at the inaugural Sarasavi Film Awards in 1963 when the veteran vocalist had received her maiden award. He said that after six decades he had been fortunate enough to hand over another coveted award to her. The Best Actor award was presented to Kamal Addararachchi, who starred in the film Ginnen Upan Seethala portraying the late JVP Leader Rohana Wijeweera. When the actor came to receive his award the President quipped that he should be present at the UNP rallies to speak in his capacity as the former leftist firebrand politician. The President during the course of the week went to the Finance Ministry and discussed the budget.
Afterwards, he attended an event held at the BMICH to commemorate the 10th death anniversary of renowned educationist R. I. T. Alles. On Thursday night the President took wing to Male to attend the inauguration ceremony of his newly elected Maldivian counterpart. He was invited to the event by the newly elected Maldives President.